June 2011

Starting pitchers & their potential walk years

As usual, several playoff-hopeful teams are looking to beef up their starting rotations to get over the hump. And as usual, those rotation upgrades are tough to come by.

With starting pitchers being so valuable, few teams are willing to ever trade them away unless: 1) they’re blown away by an offer or 2) they’re not competing and said starter has an expiring contract.

Here, with a little help from Cot’s Contracts, I’ve tried to tackle the latter with a list of the starting pitchers who are potentially in a walk year. From that group, you can pluck out several whom teams may be willing to part ways with.

Without further ado …

Joel Pineiro (Angels, 32, RH)

2011 stats: 3-3, 4.09 ERA, 11 GS

Note: Interesting name, especially if the Angels fall out of it.

Rich Harden (Athletics, 29, RH)

2011 stats: 3.52 ERA, 2 GS in AAA

Note: A shoulder strain has kept him out of the Majors all year, but he could make it back soon for a team that could soon have too many rotation options.

Chris Carpenter (Cardinals, 36, RH)

2011 stats: 2-7, 4.26 ERA, 16 GS

Note: Holds a very interesting $15 club option. But as long as the Cardinals remain among the top-tier teams in the NL Central, they’ll hold him at least through the season.

Adam Wainwright (Cardinals, 29, RH)

2011 stats: null

Note: Has a $9 million club option for 2012 and a $12 million club option for 2013 that the Cardinals now have a choice on — since he won’t finish the year healthy because of Tommy John surgery — and must exercise at once. Obviously, though, he can’t help a contender.

Doug Davis (Cubs, 35, LH)

2011 stats: 1-6, 5.01 ERA, 8 GS

Note: He’s a veteran lefty for a team that will be sellers at the Deadline. But, obviously, he has struggled.

Zach Duke (Diamondbacks, 28, LH)

2011 stats: 1-2, 5.73 ERA, 6 GS

Note: D-backs hold a $5.5 million club option for next year (with a $750,000 buyout).

Jon Garland (Dodgers, 31, RH)

2011 stats: 1-5, 4.33 ERA, 9 GS

Note: Dodgers hold an $8 million club option for next year that will not vest.

Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers, 36, RH)

2011 stats: 5-9, 3.10 ERA, 16 GS

Note: Very good candidate to be dealt if the Dodgers keep slipping.

Erik Bedard (Mariners, 32, LH)

2011 stats: 4-5, 2.93, 14 GS

Note: Great comeback story who Mariners may want to hold on to.

Javier Vazquez (Marlins, 35, RH)

2011 stats: 4-7, 6.37 ERA, 15 GS

Note: I’m not really sure he’d be an upgrade for anyone at this point.

Chris Capuano (Mets, 32, LH)

2011 stats: 6-7, 3.99 ERA, 16 G (14 GS)

Note: Buy-low signing that has worked out for the Mets.

Chris Young (Mets, 31, RH)

2011 stats: 1-0, 1.88 ERA, 4 GS

Note: Was pitching great for the Mets while healthy, but he’s out for the year after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Livan Hernandez (Nationals, 36, RH)

2011 stats: 5-8, 3.81 ERA, 17 GS

Note: Somehow, someway, he keeps getting it done.

Jason Marquis (Nationals, 32, RH)

2011 stats: 7-2, 3.53 ERA, 15 GS

Note: Good comeback story after dreadful 2010 and now a good trade asset, but streaking Nationals may be in a pennant race by late July.

Justin Duchscherer (Orioles, 33, RH)

2011 stats: null

Note: Hip and back issues have kept him off a Major League mound all season.

Aaron Harang (Padres, 33, RH)

2011 stats: 7-2, 3.71 ERA, 13 GS

Note: Veteran having a good season on a one-year deal for a team that won’t compete. But he holds a $5 million mutual option with a $500,000 buyout for next season.

Roy Oswalt (Phillies, 33, RH)

2011 stats: 4-6, 3.79 ERA, 13 GS

Note: Phillies have a $16 million club option on him for next season and Oswalt has a full no-trade clause.

Paul Maholm (Pirates, 29, LH)

2011 stats: 4-8, 3.21 ERA, 16 GS

Note:  Pirates hold a $9.75 million club option for next year, which could exceed $11 million with performance bonuses.

Brandon Webb (Rangers, 31, RH)

2011 stats: 0-2, 9.75 ERA, 4 GS in AAA

Note: Not really sure he can help anybody at any point this year.

C.J. Wilson (Rangers, 30, LH)

2011 stats: 7-3, 3.17 ERA, 16 GS

Note: It’ll be interesting to see how the Rangers approach Wilson nearing free agency for the first time.

Tim Wakefield (Red Sox, 44, RH)

2011 stats: 4-3, 4.54 ERA, 18 G (9 GS)

Note: He has to approve trades via his 10-and-5 rights and — as usually seems to be the case — the title-contending Red Sox need him.

Aaron Cook (Rockies, 32, RH)

2011 stats: 0-3, 5.48 ERA, 4 GS

Note: Holds an $11 million mutual option for next year, which increases to $12 million if he’s traded.

Bruce Chen (Royals, 34, LH)

2011 stats: 4-1, 3.88 ERA, 8 GS

Note: Fresh off the DL, and perhaps in plenty of time to be a valuable trade asset.

Kyle Davies (Royals, 27, RH)

2011 stats: 1-6, 7.46, 9 GS

Note: Has struggled mightily and is currently on the DL with right shoulder inflammation.

Jeff Francis (Royals, 30, LH)

2011 stats: 3-8, 4.76 ERA, 16 GS

Note: Interesting name to watch.

Brad Penny (Tigers, 33, RH)

2011 stats: 5-6, 4.66 ERA, 16 GS

Note: Not a great year, but he’s eating innings for the contending Tigers.

Mark Buehrle (White Sox, 32, LH)

2011 stats: 6-5, 3.73 ERA, 15 GS

Note: Interesting situation here. If the over-budget White Sox fall out of contention in the AL Central, would they entertain the notion of trading one of their franchise faves before he hits free agency? They just may. But Buehrle would have to approve.

Edwin Jackson (White Sox, 27, RH)

2011 stats: 4-6, 4.13 ERA in 15 GS

Note: Young and still has some upside. And Scott Boras is his agent.

Bartolo Colon (Yankees, 38, RH)

2011 stats: 5-3, 3.10 ERA, 13 G (10 GS)

Note: As unfathomable as the following may have seemed at the start of the season, it’s true: Almost every team would love to have Colon on their staff. Good low-risk signing by the Yankees; a team that can’t afford to deal any starters. We’ll see how he is when he returns from a hamstring strain, though.

Freddy Garcia (Yankees, 34, RH)

2011 stats: 6-6, 3.30 ERA, 14 G (13 GS)

Note: Another great low-risk signing by the Yankees that doesn’t figure to pitch anywhere else this season.

CC Sabathia (Yankees, 30, LH)

2011 stats: 10-4, 3.25 ERA, 17 GS

Note: He’s technically signed through 2015, but can opt out of his contract after this season.

– Alden

** What I wrote last week: Bob Melvin has the A’s on the same page; Joey Votto should start the All-Star Game; Jack McKeon’s instincts haven’t aged; are the Twins, A’s and Nats for real?

Now healthy, Wade feels ready to contribute

NEW YORK — Cory Wade believes he’s a better pitcher now than he’s ever been.

The Yankees can only hope he’s as useful as he was three years ago.

That came during his rookie season with the Dodgers in 2008. Wade, a 10th round Draft pick in ’04, posted a 2.27 ERA, a 0.925 WHIP and 51 strikeouts to go along with 15 walks in 55 relief appearances that season. Then came a rough ’09, shoulder surgery, a Minor League stint with the Rays and — after opting out of his contract in hopes of landing elsewhere — a current stint with the Yankees.

The sample size is still really small. But so far, so good. On Wednesday night, Wade made his first Major League appearance since July of ’09 and hurled a shutout inning. On Thursday afternoon, he hurled two perfect frames in the Yankees’ 3-2 extra-inning, notching his first victory in over two years.

Wade (pictured right by The Associated Press) was lights-out in the Rays’ Minor League system, but there wasn’t a spot for him on the big league club. There was plenty of spots on the Yankees, though. And shortly after Joba Chamberlain was pronounced out for the year with Tommy John surgery — joining fellow relievers Rafael Soriano, Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte on the shelf — the Yankees brought Wade in, hoping he can give their bullpen something — anything! — to keep them afloat.

“You don’t want to see a guy go down,” Wade said, “but the opportunity kind of presented itself out of nowhere, and I’m glad they’re taking the chance on me and allowing me to come pitch and help out.”

Wade claims it was discomfort in his right shoulder that disallowed him to continue his rookie success. He pitched through off-and-on pain during that ’09 season, a pain that kept being classified as bursitis. The pain continued as he landed on the disabled list in mid-April, then posted a 5.53 ERA before being optioned back-and-forth.

Wade posted a 5.53 ERA in 27 games in the Majors and a 6.46 ERA in the Minors that year. The following March, an MRI revealed he had what’s called an acromial hook, so Wade had doctors try exploratory surgery that shaved the bone down to allow more room in his shoulder to ease swelling.

“Granted, it’s a shoulder surgery, so it’s always bad,” Wade said. “But it was nothing like a tear in my shoulder or anything like that. That never happened.”

Wade had the surgery in March and was back on the mound in time to pitch the last two months in the Dodgers’ system. His stuff wasn’t fully back by that point — as evidenced by a 5.40 ERA in 25 games — and that’s what he said made him learn to locate and deceive better.

“When you’re first coming back, you don’t have your best stuff and you have to learn how to figure out how you’re going to get guys out,” Wade said. “And then when I finally got healthy, I was able to take that and add it, so I think I efinitely came out for the better.

When his stuff returned, Wade succeeded, posting a 1.23 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP in 36 2/3 innings for the Rays’ Triple-A affiliate. Wade’s contract included an opt-out clause for June 15, but realizing there was no fit for him in the Major League club, the Rays let him out two days early.

At that point, Wade figured it’d be time to wait. But he didn’t have to wait long at all.

The Yankees had recently lost Joba for the season, and just before Wade was going to go on a trip with his family from Durham to Indianapolis, he got a call from the Yankees. After appearing in one game for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was back in the Majors.

“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Wade said. “It was just perfect timing, I guess.”

Many don’t know who Wade is, but there’s a benefit for the 28-year-old right-hander being with the Yankees — his catcher, Russell Martin, does.

“He’s a guy that has good command,” said Martin, who also served as his catcher in Los Angeles. “He doesn’t have super-power stuff. [He’ll throw] 88-90 [mph] with his fastball; changeup, [he] throws it to both sides of the plate; he can throw his curveball any time. He’s just a guy who’s going to pitch to contact and not walk many guys.”

Wade did that in the Yankees’ walk-off win over the Rangers on Wednesday, hurling a perfect 11th and 12th inning — getting two strikeouts and three groundouts — to eventually notch his first win since June 13, 2009.

Wade believes he’s set up to succeed again because — for the first time since the early part of the ’09 season — he’s healthy again.

“Really, being healthy is all it was,” Wade will say. “I knew, the way I pitched in ’08, if I was healthy I could do that again. And now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m healthy again. I don’t have to worry about the shoulder. I can just go out and pitch.”

– Alden 

** What I wrote this week: Major League Baseball hasn’t seen this much parity this late in the season since the Wild Card era began; Endy Chavez has been an out-of-nowhere key for the defending American League champion Rangers. 

A look at some struggling stars

Maybe the world did end on May 21 and this is some Twilight Zone-ish parallel universe we’re living in, because there’s plenty about the first two months of this baseball season that just doesn’t seem too, well, Earth-y.

Carl Crawford has a .269 on-base percentage?

Adam Dunn‘s batting average is .180?

Albert Pujols sports a .745 OPS?

Hanley Ramirez is hitting .210?

Dan Uggla is following it up with a .175 clip?

I can’t figure it out. But I did find it interesting that almost all of these guys — with the exception of Hanley — are either in the first or final year of their current deals. With a new contract comes pressure, with an expiring one comes uncertainty. Could that be to blame?

Nobody can know for sure. But here’s a closer look at The Mystifying Five …

Crawford

We’ve seen spurts, little flashes in the pan that the Red Sox’s new left fielder is getting back to being the electrifying player he was for so long in Tampa Bay. There was an 11-game hitting streak at the beginning of May that saw him bat .356, a few walk-offs sprinkled in, and back-to-back four-hit games on May 25 and 26.

But still, the consistency has lacked for one of the most consistent — and now richest — players in baseball.

Terry Francona has protected Crawford a bit by keeping him away from the top of the order since his dreadful start, batting him sixth recently. Upon being named American League Player of the Week on Tuesday, Crawford  sounded upbeat, saying: “I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate. Things are slowing down for me a lot. I feel like it’s definitely gotten better for me from the way I started off.”

But after May 26, Crawford has notched just three hits in a span of 20 at-bats, and thus the inconsistencies continue.

From 2003-10, Crawford hit .299 with a .340 on-base percentage and averaged 50 steals per season. But heading into Thursday, he had drawn just eight walks (though he’s not really known for that anyway), had stolen just seven bases and had notched just 50 hits in 224 plate appearances.

I thought he’d be a perfect fit for Fenway Park and that lineup (and still do), and I know he’s one of the hardest-working players in baseball. Is playing in a big market and with a big contract for the first time a factor?

It’s at least a fair question.

Dunn

Dunn (pictured up top by The Associated Press) has struckout an AL-high 71 times, has hit just five homers (he had 10 at this time last year) and has batted just .088 — yes, .088 — against lefties.

Because of that, the man who was  supposed to be that big lefty bat the White Sox have been missing since Jim Thome left has been sitting against tough lefties and has jumped around in the batting order.

Dunn, a real standup guy and one of my favorite players to talk to, said this recently: “I’m normally pretty good at not letting things affect me too much. This has been one of the tougher things for me. I don’t know why it is. I know I’m coming to a new team, we’re not playing very well, and I feel I’m a big part of why we’re not doing well. I think that weighs a little more on me than in the past.”

Two Sox teams, two star players acquired in the offseason, two unexpected records largely because of their struggles.

Pujols

Who knew. Even with Adam Wainwright missing the season with Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals are in first place thanks to the contributions of Yadier Molina (.320 batting average) and Lance Berkman (1.044 OPS), and not Pujols.

Considering Pujols is insanely focused, is in a walk year and is the greatest hitter on the planet, I was expecting numbers like .782 batting average, 91 homers, 256 RBIs this year. But, by Gosh, he’s human!

Pujols — he who has averaged a .331 clip, 41 homers and 123 RBIs every year heading into this one — is hitting only .262 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. I mean, they’re not terrible numbers. But they’re nowhere near Pujols-like.

I keep waiting for him to break out, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Is it possible that  future uncertainty has impacted the production of a man nicknamed “The Machine”?

Possible. But I still think his numbers will be solid by the end of the year, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if he signed for record money somewhere.

Ramirez

Ramirez is off to the worst start of his career, and now that he’s nursing what seems to be rather serious lower back pain, it may only get worse.

Ramirez, out since Sunday, has only a .306 on-base percentage, has hit only four home runs and has been caught stealing six times. Meanwhile, he continues to get dinged up, and he gets a little bigger every offseason.

I’m wondering how this affects talks of him switching positions.

Hanley wants to continue to play shortstop for obvious reasons — because he loves it, because it’s pretty much all he’s ever known, and because it makes him even more valuable when he hits free agency again. But the Marlins have too much invested and too little revenues to not try to get the most out of the $70 million deal they signed him to two years ago.

Ramirez’s 2010 season — when he batted .300 with 21 homers, 76 RBIs and 32 stolen bases — was solid, but a disappointment for him. Would Hanley be able to produce more if he moved to a less-demanding position? He’s never been great defensively, and the Marlins — with no disrespect meant to the fine season Greg Dobbs is having — have a hole at third base.

Just a thought.

Uggla

And that brings me to Ramirez’s teammate, who signed a five-year, $62 million contract with the Braves I never thought he’d land.

Look, Uggla has always been a slow starter (.440 career batting average in April, his lowest for any month) and besides last year, he’s never really hit for a high batting average (.257 from 2006-09).

You’d think Uggla would’ve gotten hot by now, though.

But he seems to have been getting progressively worse.

Over his last 12 games, Uggla has gone just 3-for-40 while striking out eight times and walking only once. Now, his batting average is the lowest it’s been since April 16.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez knows about Uggla’s early-season struggles very well. But recently, upon batting him seventh after giving him a couple of mental days off, Gonzalez admitted Uggla’s previous slow starts have been “nothing like this.”

“The thing he needs is a couple of balls to fall in,” he added. “For me, that’s all he needs. He’s unlucky at times. You hate to say he’s unlucky because he’s hitting [.175], so how unlucky can it be? But sometimes [the unluckiness] just starts piling on.”

I’ll leave you on this note: I’ve been getting the feeling that Uggla has never really thrived with the attention on him. He’s always been an under-the-radar guy as a Rule 5 product, always played in a small market in Florida with a reasonable contract; then he had that dreadful All-Star Game performance at Yankee Stadium in ’08, and now he’s struggling under the weight of a big contract.

I hope I’m wrong.

Alden

** What I wrote recently: The talent pool at catcher is growing awfully shallow; and Mets manager Terry Collins faces a kind of challenge he never foresaw.

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