Maybe it’s not exactly panic-worthy, but the news of Johan Santana’s elbow tightness is unsettling at the least. Especially considering the Mets’ recent mishandling of injuries. Serviceable starting rotation depth looked like a strength heading into spring training, but in the last few weeks we’ve seen Tim Redding struggle with a shoulder injury, Freddy Garcia display less-than-stellar velocity during a putrid Mets debut, and now Santana missing scheduled appearances with a barking elbow. While trying my best to be a “glass half-full” Mets fan, I’m having nightmares of a Pelfrey-Maine-Perez-Niese-Hernandez rotation. This scenario seems unlikely, but regardless, here are a few unsigned free agent starting pitchers who are worth keeping an eye on. Their projected 2009 performance based on CHONE and Marcel is also included.
Pedro Martinez, age 37
97 IP, 4.65 FIP
Until Pedro signs with another team, I would not completely rule out his return to the Mets. Hopefully the rotation situation does not get dire enough that he is brought back. Pedro is symbolic of the old, injured, and expensive players Omar Minaya acquired in recent years, and most would agree that it’s time to move on. However, he’s still one of the top two or three most dominant pitchers of all-time. He’s using the World Baseball Classic as a showcase to prove he’s still got it, and a strong showing in the tournament could net him a generous one-year deal from some team. If the Mets do bring him back, it shouldn’t be for any more than $2-3 million in guaranteed salary.
Paul Byrd, age 38
158 IP, 4.82 FIP
Byrd has said that he plans to sit out the start of the 2009 and may sign with a contender mid-way through the season. He’s worthy of the backhanded compliment of “innings eater”, as he doesn’t strike guys out, doesn’t walk many, and gives up his share of long-balls. Byrd spent the last four seasons in the American League and would benefit from a switch to the National League. His major league debut was with the Mets, and although I doubt he is nostalgic for Flushing, it would make a nice story if he finished his career in New York.
Mark Mulder, age 31
56 IP, 5.40 FIP
The big lefty, who Billy Beane once traded for 2009 NL Cy Young Award dark-horse Dan Haren, has been injured or ineffective since 2006. A ground-ball pitcher in the mold of Brandon Webb and Derek Lowe, his best years in Oakland seem like ages ago. The projection systems are not very kind to him with good reason. It’s not often you see 31-year old former 20 game winners like Mulder go un-signed, but his 2008 performance (1.2 innings before suffering a season-ending arm injury) did not help his chances of landing on an opening day roster.
Chuck James, age 27
106 IP, 5.23 FIP
James’s biggest asset is his age. His biggest liability is a propensity for giving up home runs, evidenced by his career 1.77 HR/9. His 2008 season at the major league level was just awful (8.36 FIP), but he finished strongly in the minor leagues with the Braves Triple-A team (3.79 FIP in 86.1 IP). The Mets gave an inconsistent lefty named Oliver Perez a three-year, $36 million deal this offseason. Why not offer James, also an inconsistent lefty, a minor league deal?
Curt Schilling, age 42
78 IP, 4.10 FIP
The most intriguing name on this list, Schilling recently stated that he’d like to pitch in 2009. The Cubs and Rays were mentioned as his preferred teams because he wants to pitch for a team that has never won a World Series (or in the Cubs case, hasn’t done it in a very long time). He also said he’s not looking for a guaranteed opening day roster spot and that money is not an issue, but we’ve all heard that refrain from pro athletes before. Assuming he wants to be a starter, I’m not sure either the Cubs or Rays would have much interest, given the surplus of strong starting pitching on both clubs. Schilling had shoulder surgery which forced him to sit out 2008 and power pitchers don’t age very well, but a one-year deal might be worth a shot. Even 100 innings of 4.20-4.40 FIP pitching would have value, should the worst befall the Mets staff. He’d be an upgrade over fifth starters the Mets have been forced to use in recent years like Brian Lawrence, Jose Lima, and Dave Williams, and it would be fun to see Schilling stick it to his former team the Phillies.