Speculating on the 2011 DBack Rotation

Last month I decided to take a look at the DBacks bullpen and speculate on some possible moves after Kevin Towers was named General Manager.  With the offseason in full force, I wanted to expand upon another area of the need: the starting rotation.

Here is where the DBacks rotation stood at the end of the 2010 season (in no particular order):

Both Saunders and Hudson will sit comfortable at the top of this rotation next season while Kennedy is a solid back-end starter with the potential to be a very effective number three starter. 

Rodrigo Lopez will be a free agent this offseason and probably threw about the most un-exciting 200 innings you’ll see from a major league baseball starter in 2010.  Lopez middles around an 88 mph fastball with below average stuff.  He has shown the desire to toss a cutter every now and then (9.3% of all pitches thrown last season) and based on this recent article by Dave Cameron, maybe it would benefit a soft-tosser like Lopez to become more familiar with this pitch.

Barry Enright is expected to make this rotation as a number five starter.  He was effective in 99 IP last season and showed capable command.  Enright’s fly ball percentage was a bit high and did translate into a HR/FB rate of 12.6% - as long as Enright keeps his BB’s down and eats up a fair amount of innings, I’m sure the D-backs will be happy and find his fly balls tolerable. 

Obvious needs: top to mid rotation starter, Towers will be on a budget so I don’t expect them to chase high profile pitchers like Cliff Lee but I figured it would be fun to look at a full range of FA options available this winter.

 Free Agent Possibilities:

Among the top tier sits Cliff Lee.  Obviously every MLB team would welcome his services but his probable asking price (6 years $120M+) and desire to pitch for a playoff contender will limit his eventual destination.

Next, Jorge De La Rosa and Carl Pavano would be intriguing.  Despite their Type A status both of the D-backs first round picks would be protected due their place in the standings if they were signed… this was something I forgot to factor in regarding my piece concerning the bullpen

The Rockies seem determined to keep De La Rosa and could be willing to offer him a three-year contract similar to the one the Dodgers offered to sign Ted Lilly

Both pitchers are very different from each other – De la Rosa is a high K/high BB who gets a few more value points since he is a lefty while Pavano is a low K/low BB groundball specialist – but both could be in line for similar three year deals this offseason.  However, Pavano’s age (34) and De la Rosa’s health (injury to his pitching finger earlier last season) could make this dicey.

Jake Westbrook is currently a free agent.  After his brief stint with the Cardinals under pitching coach Dave Duncan, I’m sure Westbrook would like to return to St. Louis.  Westbrook did benefit from a move to the National League and seems like a worthy opponent to throw against low OBP teams.  Speculation about how much he may demand could be close to what the Dodgers just gave Ted Lilly.

In the next tier sits Brad Penny who was hoping to cash in after taking a one year flyer in St. Louis as a GB specialist.  The injuries he sustained may keep him away from his pot of gold so he may be listening to some more one year offers.

A move to the National League could do Jeremy Bonderman some good, he is young enough to look at possibly gambling on a one year deal but with his miniscule K/9 and high HR rate numbers his days as a viable starting pitcher.  Bonderman did eat up 171 innings in 2010 but after two years of struggling to stay on the mound he comes with a lot of risk.  Bonderman’s only serviceable pitch seems to be his slider, he probably has a few more years left as a starter but I’m sure he’s closer to working out of the bullpen before he sees time as a “mid-rotation” possibility.

Sergio Mitre definitely isn’t top of the rotation material but his low BB rates and high GB rates would make him fit into the middle of this rotation nicely. Since recovering from TJ, Mitre has served as Girardi’s long relief man in New York but he may be looking to stretch himself out as a member of an MLB rotation.  He’ll be 30 next season and is a strong non-tender candidate.

Jeff Francis would also be intriguing.  He’ll be 29 next season and showed excellent command in 109 IP after returning from TJ surgery.  Francis does come with middling peripherals, he averages around 6.0 K’s per 9 but his increase in GB percentage this past season to 47% could make him an easy one year gamble.  Recent reports coming from Denver have the Rockies interested in re-signing him but for no more than a modest one-year deal.

After failing to cash in on Brandon Webb returning in 2010, I doubt they will offer Erik Bedard a one year deal to test out his shoulder in Arizona.  Seattle recently opted out from Bedard’s $8M mutual option.  I’m sure a good portion of MLB teams will wait for Bedard’s public try-out and see if they can grab him at a discount but it would be wise (and probable) for the D-backs to keep looking elsewhere.

Javier Vasquez will be looking to salvage his career for some NL team in 2011.  However, his velocity issues and increase in fly ball output should alarm most teams.  Even with a modest one year contract I think the DBacks could do better with their resources.

Finally, Chris Young (the pitcher from San Diego, that is) will get a few looks this offseason but the D-backs would be wise to avoid him.  I know I’ll hear the argument that Young was actually successful in his 6 games at Chase Field going 2-2 with a 3.67 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a batting line of .158/.233/.342 with 37 K’s in 34 frames – however, in those said 34 frames he did allow 6 HR’s to find a way over the fence.  These are small samples, I’m aware, but Young’s partiality to the fly ball can be a dangerous thing in this park.

Trade Possibilities:

Here is where things get interesting, Towers has always been active in the trade market and with recent reports stating that a trade will most likely net a starting pitcher for us next season.  Let’s take a look at some possibilities:

Zach Greinke:  from a trade standpoint, Greinke may be too costly in terms of prospects.  I’m sure Jarrod Parker would have to be mentioned as a centerpiece but would it make sense for a franchise who previously let their number one starter go in order to free up $30+M and grab some low-level pitching prospects turn around, a few months later, and trade their top pitching prospect for another quality number one starter with two years and $27M left on his contract?

CJ Wilson: he is due a hefty raise with arbitration looming but I’m sure the Rangers will do whatever it takes to keep Wilson, especially with Cliff Lee’s offseason plans still unknown.

James Shields:  he would be a great buy low candidate, the Rays have mentioned their desire to shed payroll and hope to salvage something for Shields before he becomes a free agent in 2012.  I think Shields would benefit from a move to the NL.  Despite a really bad season, Shields still posted some very good periphs (8.28 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9) and an xFIP of 3.72 miles away from his ERA of 5.18.  Shields was hit for quite a few HR’s last season with 34 in 203 IP.  This seemed high compared to his career numbers and his low fly ball percentage (38.4% last season).  Among his multiple reasons for struggling in 2010, Shields’ fastball and cutter was demonstrably lacking as a quality pitch according to Fangraph’s Pitch Value chart – both rated worse than previous years and could also explain why he struggled vs. RHH (.304/.337/.529 vs. opposing righties last season).  Against lefties the numbers were slightly better (.286/.338/.458) but he still gave up almost the same number of HR’s to both sides – some of this has to do with pitching in the AL East but with a changeup that still rates as a quality pitch and with improvements made on his approach to righties (he doesn’t throw a slider so emphasis on re-establishing his cutter and curve are vital) he could fit in near the top of this rotation.

Shaun Marcum is eligible for arbitration and I’m sure the Blue Jays would be open to talks about his services.  Of course, Marcum would be a buy-high candidate but would still come at price more affordable than Greinke.  However, I don’t think it would be wise for another team also looking to rebuild to trade away potentially valuable prospects for a starter that’s good but not number one material.  Keep in mind, Marcum isn’t young (he’ll be 30 next season) and is a contact pitcher that leans slightly flyball-ish.  He does have excellent command and one the better changeups in baseball.  He will be a free agent after the 2012 season.

Matt Garza is another name being mentioned but his trade price would be a bit more steep than Shields.  He is under team control until through 2013 as he is arbitration eligible and is expected to get a raise from last season’s $3.5M.  Garza, so far, has made a career out of out-pitching his FIP and xFIP.

2007: 83 IP, 3.69 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.54 xFIP

2008: 184.2 IP, 3.70 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.48 xFIP

2009: 203 IP, 3.95 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.21 xFIP

2010: 204.2 IP, 3.91 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 4.51 xFIP

Obviously pitching in the AL East will cut Garza some slack but these trends combined with a decrease in groundballs (from 47% in ’07 to 35% last season) and K rate does invite some risk. 

Manny Parra is eligible for arbitration and will always interest those who follow advanced pitching stats.  In terms of raw stuff, Parra is exciting but something is keeping him from putting it together.  He just turned 28 a week ago and does have promise in his secondary pitches but his lack of command in his fastball along with recent surgery to repair a labral tear in his hip will knock his value down a bit.  He is expected to be back and healthy this spring.

Jason Vargas is arb. eligible and with the Mariners looking to shed payroll I get the feeling they would love to listen to offers for a pitcher at sell-high status.  Vargas did make the minimum last season but with arbitration set to kick until he qualifies for free agency after 2013, but can he sustain his 2010 innings output?  Last season he threw over 195 innings and his previous high was 140+ innings between the majors and AAA in ’09 after sitting out the entire ’08 season recovering from torn hip surgery.  Vargas high fly ball output and meddling numbers also draws question marks about how well he could transition from the comfy confines and elite OF defense in Seattle to Arizona.  Acquiring Vargas wouldn’t make sense since his expected return would be too low and not worth the price of a few lower tier prospects.

Minor League Possibilities:

Since the DBacks will expect some back-end rotation help in 2011 to come from their minor league pool, here is a list of a few expected to garner attention next season.

Jarrod Parker: the obvious prize among our minor league pool.  Parker has front-end stuff and is expected to make a major contribution to our rotation for many years to come.  His ETA did take a step back after he spent last season recovering from TJ surgery but he has looked good in limited offseason action.  If  Parker can perform close to his higher projection levels, he will certainly change the entire complexion of this starting rotation for years to come.

Wade Miley: groundball machine who looked impressive through two levels in 2010.  He finished up in AA and has a lot of people excited about his 2011 season. 

Kevin Mulvey, Bryan Augenstein, Matt Torra and Cesar Valdez did have their share of struggles in the PCL.  Mulvey is still showing some command issues while Augenstein’s 2010 season looked promising from a peripheral standpoint (gotta love his groundball percentage).

Matt Torra is showing great command but his age (27 next season) and struggles vs. lefties does limit him to a possible bullpen addition next season.  Cesar Valdez will be 26 next season and if he can get his command back to his lower minor levels while keeping up his K rate, he could surprise.

Other prospects not quite MLB ready but could be seen come mid-season:

Kyler Newby:  worked as a reliever/starter in AA.  During the offseason, Newby has been starting for the winter league in Puerto Rico to work on his mechanics.  At 6’4” and 225 lbs, he does have the frame scouts love.

Josh Collmenter:  he hit a rough patch last season in the PCL but ironed things out in AA.  He looked very good a few days ago in the AFL and despite underwhelming stuff he seems to benefit from a deceptive delivery.  He’ll probably start 2011 in AAA and if he can put together some good starts he could be in line as a possible #5 starter next season.

Charles Brewer: will be 23 at the start of the season but needs to see some time in AA before he gets serious mention.  Brewer did perform well in the Cal League and is expected to climb fast.


That about does it for the possible D-back starters;  I know this piece is a bit long but I wanted to make sure I covered every possible angle there is.  Next, I will try to get out a post looking at the positional players for Arizona. 

Hopefully I can find time for that before all this hot stove news takes off.

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