Phillies' rotation: Low-risk, high-reward options
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By acquiring Ben Revere and Michael Young to fill holes in centerfield and at third base, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. saved the Phillies plenty of money but paid the price in young pitching.
The notable major-league losses were Vance Worley and Josh Lindblom. While Lindblom was expendable because of the rest of the young talent the Phillies have in the bullpen, Worley’s absence creates a hole in the Phils’ rotation that has to be solved either internally or externally.
If the Phillies go in-house, Tyler Cloyd would appear to have the inside track after going 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA in the minors last season and 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 33 innings in the majors.
But despite the success, Cloyd’s stuff (mid-80s fastball) may not play at this level. So the Phillies now find themselves in the market for a starting pitcher.
“We’re trying to shore up some of the holes we created with Vance Worley going to Minnesota in the [Ben] Revere trade,” Amaro said Sunday on "SportsNite."
“We could go with Cloyd or [Jon] Pettibone or one of the youngsters and have them step up as the fifth [starter]. But it’d be nice to add a little bit of depth there if we could, and really kind of the same thing in our bullpen, as well.
“[We’re] certainly looking to perhaps add a low-risk, high-reward starter.”
There are some free-agent starting pitchers who fit that low-risk, high-reward description, possessing talent but figuring to make a low salary in 2013 because of injury risks or recent ineffectiveness.
Let’s take a look at some:Jair Jurrjens (medium risk)
Non-tendered by the Braves, the 26-year-old Jurrjens is a free agent a year earlier than expected. A terrible April earned him a demotion, and he spent much of 2012 in Triple A. In 11 appearances (10 starts), he had a 6.89 ERA.
But Jurrjens is just a year removed from going 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA, and in 2009 he had a 2.60 ERA in 34 starts. Jurrjens doesn’t have strikeout stuff, but when he’s on he generates tons of ground balls. The Phillies know that first-hand, as they’ve hit just .201 with a .593 OPS in 313 plate appearances against him. Shaun Marcum (medium risk)
Because of their age and past success, Jurrjens and Marcum are the two players in this list in line for multi-year deals. Like Jurrjens, Marcum’s career has been derailed by injuries. Marcum made just 21 starts last year and missed the entire 2009 season.
But over his last four seasons, Marcum has a 3.57 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He’s struck out almost three times as many batters as he’s walked. His fastball isn’t overpowering, but Marcum has one of the best righthanded changeups in the game.
The injury concerns are real with Marcum. He missed time in spring training last year with shoulder soreness and two months in the middle of the season with elbow tightness.
Marcum might be better described as high-risk, high-reward since he figures to make more money than the pitchers listed below.Carlos Villanueva (low risk)
Long an underrated pitcher, Villanueva has been a swingman in his career, starting and relieving. After another solid year in 2012 -- Villanueva was 7-7 with a 4.16 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts per nine in 38 appearances and 16 starts -- the 29-year-old righty will likely find a job as a back-end starter.
Villanueva has always racked up the strikeouts while maintaining pretty good command. He perennially allows fewer hits than innings pitched, and his fastball-slider-curveball-changeup combination gets plenty of swings-and-misses.
Villanueva would be a good fit for the Phillies team as a starter or reliever.Erik Bedard (medium risk)
Another pitcher with good stuff who can’t stay healthy. Bedard struck out 8.5 batters per nine last season for the Pirates but was released after going 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts.
Bedard’s best days are behind him, but nine of his 24 starts in 2012 were fairly dominant. That includes Opening Day against the Phillies, when he allowed one run on six hits over seven innings.
Bedard won’t be in high demand this winter, so if you can sign him to an incentive-laden one-year deal, it may be worth the risk if you’re committing only about $1 million in guaranteed money.Dallas Braden (medium risk)
The outspoken lefty hasn’t done much since his perfect game.
In 30 starts in 2010, Braden was 11-14 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He walked just 43 batters in 192.2 innings.
Then Braden suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and ended his 2011 season after three starts. He had another shoulder procedure in mid-2012 and missed the entire year.
The A’s non-tendered Braden earlier in the offseason. At 29, he’s still relatively young.Kevin Correia (low risk)
Correia doesn’t have the ceiling of a Jurrjens, Marcum or Bedard and is probably a fifth starter at best. Still, the 32-year-old righty could create competition in the back-end of the rotation.
Correia, a 2011 All-Star, has a 4.54 career ERA. He pitched pretty well at the end of last season, putting together a 3.14 ERA over his final 10 appearances, seven of which were starts.(UPDATE: Correia has since agreed to a deal with the Minnesota Twins.
)Rich Harden (high risk)
Another high-strikeout guy with potential who can’t stay healthy. Harden’s last full season was 2004. He failed a physical in mid-2011 after being traded to the Red Sox. He missed all of 2012 with a chronic muscle capsule injury that he’s had since 2007. He’s had injuries to his rotator cuff, oblique and elbow as well.
But when Harden is going good, few can touch him. In his first seven seasons Harden was 50-29 with a 3.39 ERA and 783 strikeouts in 753.2 innings. But his fastball velocity has dropped and his two most recent years were fraught with struggle.
Still, Harden may be worth a look the way the Phils experimented with Dontrelle Willis last year. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jonathan Sanchez (high risk)
Two guys with great raw stuff but no idea where the ball is going.
Daisuke only had one good year with the Red Sox, 2009, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. But he also led the AL in walks that year with 94. He had an 8.28 ERA and 1.71 WHIP last year in 11 starts for Boston.
Sanchez has been traded twice in the past 13 months and has been dreadful since leaving the Giants. He was 1-9 with a 8.07 ERA last season for the Royals and Rockies, and had 53 walks to 45 strikeouts.
Sanchez will find a job somewhere this winter because, let’s face it, he’s just two years removed from a 205-strikeout, 3.07-ERA season.
All of these pitchers have easily visible flaws, but they fit the description of the pitcher Amaro claims to be looking for. Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez and Ryan Dempster all offer much more consistency but will receive multi-year deals with eight-figure annual average salaries.E-mail Corey Seidman at firstname.lastname@example.org