Pitching is still a giant need for the Orioles and it is one of the weakest crops over the last few seasons. CC Sabathia re-signing with the Yankees brings the market down a notch further. The Orioles need a guy to pair with Jeremy Guthrie to hold down the fort and lessen the stress on the bullpen.
Salary Command: Starting point is AJ Burnett type deal + inflation.
Hypothetical Deal: 5 years; $88 million with mutual option for 6 years; $105-110 million range
Lost Compensation: Type A free agent – 2nd round selection in 2012 draft since O’s 1st rounder is protected.
Plus: CJ mixes 5 pitches off and on throughout the season and has the ability to induce swing and misses with the fastball, slider, and changeup. Overall, he keeps the ball low in the zone and the ball constantly moves with late life. He should continue to induce high groundball rates even if his defense is only slightly above average. He has shown the ability to eat innings and stay effective later into games and through the lineup three times. Limited innings on his arm because of the relief pitching could keep his performance up later into the contract. He has the solid chance to be a 5.0 WAR type arm. His conditioning and body composition might allow his play to stay at a high level until his mid 30s.
Minus: CJ failed to reach 100 pitch counts in his first 5 seasons and over the last two years it was recorded 48 times, with 120 pitch efforts 4 times in the last two seasons. CJ tends to load in a place where a good deal of pressure is made on the front scapula, and the action could place stress on the elbow on snapping pitches. Both are some traits that plague pitchers with command and injury down the road. One has to wonder if the starter workload over 4-5 seasons might lead to potential issues down the road, but of course this would be in the middle of any potential long term deal. The numbers suggest that even his K%, BB%, BABIP, xFIP are likely to regress more towards the 2010 version of CJ Wilson vs. the 2011 version, which is a difference of 1.3 WAR.
Salary Command: He is inline for $13-16 million per year, but realistically it should be $10-13 million.
Hypothetical deal: In a market that’s starting pitching thin, he will get at least 4 years, and it could be 5 years; 4 years at $60 million dollars, maybe 5 at $75 in this market.
Compensation: Type B means no draft pick compensation from team who signs him
Plus: His stuff on the mound has actually turned him into a solid starting pitcher that would profile as mid rotation arm in a first division team’s rotation. He has shown the ability to eat innings effectively, with above average swing and miss ability that is a notch below the top tier free agent and 5.0 WAR type pitchers. He shows the ability to last deep into pitch counts after hitting the century mark in 16 appearances last season. His numbers suggest that his improved K/BB ratio could be the norm for him over the life of his next contract.
Minus: His command waivers at times and he can get caught with the ball up in the zone. He has pitched in spacious parks in Arizona, St. Louis, and Detroit, which help minimize mistakes. He has a historical track record of pitching ineffectively in the AL East. He is a massive fly ball pitcher that has slowly trended south and as he ages the fastball might not reach the same levels as his younger years; could it get worse? He could post similar results to his breakout season in 2008 with the Rays, but that was still just a 1.5 WAR pitcher and he could command a lot more than his worth on the open market.
Salary Command: Short term deal, heavily incentive laden
Hypothetical deal: 1 year; $5 million with clauses to bump the number up inline with market value ($8-9 million).
Lost Compensation: None
Plus: He has solid command of four pitches and keeps the ball low in the zone. He shows the ability to move the ball, but does not have as much pop as you would expect for a guy his size. Solid pitchability with a solid defense behind him could greatly improve his splits. I tend to think pitchers similar to Maholm could greatly improve with solid catching, and Matt Wieters‘ last minute set up and game calling could help induce more strikeouts. He is very strong against heavy left handed lineups, which would play well against New York and Boston.
Minus: Up until this point in his career, he has been a heavy contact pitcher and deeply dependent on fielding. With the O’s defensive struggles it may be a waste bringing him in. He currently profiles as a replacement level pitcher in a market and division that needs more to win, but there are some signs that he could be an effective, cheaper, and more durable option down the line.
Posting Fee: At first, it looked like there would be a $35 million investment to his Japanese club (posting fee). In the wake of John Lackey and Tommy John Surgery, agents and baseball higher ups that I have spoken with are thinking it could be $55-60 million to negotiate a contact with Darvish.
Salary Command: He will likely command more money than Daisuke Matsuzaka. His agents know his marketing value in Japan and one agent told me that he could expect a 20%-30% premium, if they played hardball.
Hypothetical deal: $6 years; 75 million
Lost Compensation: None
Plus: Shows the ability to throw a solid four seam fastball, two seam fastball, slurve, and change up that should be the staple in his repertoire at the major league level. He has the size and frame that you look for out of a top of the rotation pitcher. Mechanically, he is sound and shows little sign of command or injury risk long term. He shows the staple work ethic, conditioning, and dedication that indicate he will be able to maintain his effectiveness later in his career.
Minus: He comes from a league that pitches completely differently than any American style throwing program. Almost every single pitcher from Japanese leagues has not met the standards they set in the NPB. While he throws a fastball that sits 94-95 mph and touch 97 at times, his five day throwing program might have him sitting 90-92 mph and touching 94 at times. Everyone is saying that he will post numbers that will give him profile him as a 5.0 WAR type pitcher, but that is not a slam dunk and only Hideo Nomo posted back to back plus 4.0 WAR seasons in the majors after playing in Japan. Japanese pitchers have done well in the first two years, but the success has not lasted long in their MLB careers.
Posting Fee: None; International Free Agent
Salary Command: Profiles more as a back of the rotation type left hander that could command $4-5 million a year.
Hypothetical deal: 2 years; $8 million, with incentives.
Lost Compensation: None
Plus: He has a game that has slowly built on command and locating pitches. He shows the ability to throw a curveball, splitter/forkball, change up, and a fastball that will likely sit in the 89-90 mph range in the major leagues. His fastball showed some movement when I saw him in 2009 and something the reports say wavers back and forth; at its best it has late action that is tough to square up on. He shows pitchability and works the entire plate, and both sides equally against right handed and left handed batting. Mechanically, he shows little to no issues that would pose command and injury issues in the future. He requires no posting fee to sign and will not command nearly as large of a contract as his counterparts. He is left handed and could be a useful bullpen pitcher if the starter role does not fit well. Compensation would justify moving him to the bullpen similar to Koji Uehara. Other teams might strictly indicate he is a bullpen arm and a team willing to give him a shot in the rotation might have a leg up in signing him.
Minus: He does a poor job hiding the ball in his delivery and it might pose a problem against quality hitting that can sit on the off-speed stuff and still catch up to his offerings. He needs his pitches to move constantly because his stuff cannot live with straight as an arrow life. I witnessed a lot of the ball riding high in the zone a few years back and he cannot live in that fashion and have success in an AL park, even though recent reports indicate he is working lower in the zone on a constant basis. Wei-Yin faces the same uphill battles as every other Asian pitcher making his way from the NPB.
Other potential targets:
Mark Buehrle: Solid left handed pitcher, tends to pitch to contact with major league average ground ball ration. Solid innings eating pitcher that requires a solid defense behind him for success, likely not a wise target for an AL East team. Should command a contract that could sits around 4 years and $55 million. He’s a good option for a shallow market that wants to gain a top tier name.
Roy Oswalt: I think he is still a solid pitcher, but only for the right price. If he went with a short term contract with a decent salary and incentives, he will go to a contending team. He is going to be 35 next season and has a history of back problems. With these two signs and the fact that his agent might float out the idea of a 3 year deal, $30-35 million, it might not be worth the risk that he misses a month of starts each season. He is a top tier arm when healthy, but it might be a risk for a team who believes he will take them over the top.
Jeff Francis: His numbers do not represent well, but his price tag and left handedness will always allow him the opportunity. He eats innings, but may not play well in the AL East at this stage of his baseball career. He profiles better where pitching mistakes can still be potential outs.
Tsuyoshi Wada: A left hander from Japan that shows a solid change up, fastball, and slider. He requires a spacious park and his stuff may not play well in Orioles division. He profiles better as a reliever than a starter, even if he adjusts to the American throwing program. His best fit would be the Dodgers or Padres.
Hisashi Iwakuma: A bigger profile name. His stuff from the right side may not translate to the majors, as he has only two borderline pitches I thought would play well when I scouted him a few years ago. If he can somehow live off the sinker and split finger fastball, there is a chance that he could be an effective relief pitcher. But his value is not close to Darvish and he does not throw from the left side as does Chen.