Considerations for a Number Four Starter

With the trade for Aaron Heilman the Arizona Diamondbacks addressed one of their needs for the 2009 off season. Going into the Free Agency period Arizona General Manager Josh Byrnes publicly stated he was interested in finding a reliever, a veteran bench player, and a number four starter for the rotation.

Now that the free agent market is officially open the Diamondbacks are free to negotiate with any of the current crop of players on the market. The deadline for filing for free agency is now closed meaning we now know who is available.

Given their budget constraints you can safely conclude the Diamondbacks will not be major players in the free agent market at least not for the big name players. You should probably not hold your breath waiting for an announcement from Chase Field that the Diamondbacks have signed Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.

Nor will you hear the Diamondbacks are in serious negotiations with John Lackey’s agent on a multi-year deal. Instead the Diamondbacks will target the lower tier of free agents, those who may not be a team’s first choice and may be available as Spring Training nears.

There are reasons why these players are usually still available. Either they are coming off a down year or in some cases there are questions about their durability or injury status.

Some of these players will sign performance based contracts rewarding them for durability or achieving key statistics. Others will take a one year deal hoping to prove they are healthy to sign a multi-year deal next off-season.

These types of players are a high-risk/high-reward kind of decision. Choose wisely and you are rewarded with a player who exceeds expectations. Pick poorly and a team may find itself paying for a player who spends most of the season on the disabled list.

Last year the Diamondbacks thought they found the answers with Tom Gordon and Jon Garland. In Garland’s case he gave them perhaps more than they were expecting. His performance gave the team the ability to move him at the trade deadline receiving what they hope is their second baseman of the future.

In the case of Tom Gordon he never did pan out sustaining injury after injury. Finally as the season was winding down the Diamondbacks released him getting very little if anything from their investment.

Given the current crop of pitchers on the free agent market, which ones should the Diamondbacks target to potentially add to the 2010 roster? Of the 171 players who filed for free agency the MLB web site lists 46 starting pitchers.

From this list there are several that jump out as someone who could definitely help the Arizona Diamondbacks. My personal picks of pitchers to target in order of preference include: Jason Marquis, Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets, Brad Penny, Joel Pineiro, and Rich Harden..

Jason Marquis has had a lot of success in his career. He has a 94-83 lifetime record with a 4.48 ERA. In three seasons he pitched over 200 innings in a season and in two others he pitched 190 plus innings meaning you are getting a durable pitcher. For the past three years he has seen his home runs allowed decrease, an important thing for pitching at Coors Field or Chase Field.

Randy Wolf was on the Diamondbacks radar last season as the team made a run at signing him. Wolf instead signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was a thorn in the side of the Diamondbacks throughout the season both on the mound and at the plate.

Wolf is another durable pitcher who eats up innings. Last season he limited batters to a .227 average. His 3.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP both show how difficult Wolf is to get on base against. The problem is one of location. Wolf prefers to pitch on the west coast and will likely re-sign with the Dodgers or perhaps the cross-town Angels.

Ben Sheets is coming off surgery and missed the entire 2008 season. According to his agent he should be ready by Spring Training. Sheets has by far the best upside of any pitcher in the free agency market. The question is one of durability. He has had a long history of injuries and there is no telling how many innings he could be counted upon next season.

In 1996 the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Brad Penny out of Broken Arrow High School. He along with Nick Bierbrodt and John Patterson formed the “three phenoms” and were counted on to be the future rotation. Penny was traded to the Florida Marlins in 1999 for Matt Mantei and went on to a very good career.

Now as he enters the backside of his career the Diamondbacks would love to have him return to where he started. Penny has had great success in the National League especially the NL West. He has had some injury problems but when healthy can give you 150-180 innings.

Joel Pineiro saw his career rebound after going to St. Louis. He is another pitcher who is capable of giving you 200 innings of work, a rare but valuable capability from a number four starter. Pineiro’s 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP are both very good. The only question is whether Arizona would make an offer lucrative enough to convince Pineiro to walk away from St. Louis.

Rich Harden is another one of those cases with an interesting risk/reward proposition. When with Oakland Harden showed a lot of promise. He and current Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren are good friends which could help lure him to the desert.

There are questions of durability. Harden has never pitched more than 140 innings in a season. The Diamondbacks would have to factor this in when putting their roster together to account for the lack of innings over the course of the season.

Any of these pitchers would add the necessary depth to the Diamondbacks starting staff to give them a chance to compete each time they take the mound. Given the production from the number four slot last season that is all you can really ask from a pitcher.

Don’t expect a quick decision from the Diamondbacks on this. They will probably take the same stance as they did last off-season and patiently wait for the market to determine the value and settle for the pitcher willing to accept a one-year contract meaning we will go through this again next off-season.


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