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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Sixth Starter: "I See Below-Average People"

How does a team convince a starting pitcher to sign with them even though their rotation is set? It’s almost an unanswerable question, like what is the sound of one hand clapping, or if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it does it make a sound, or how did Fred Lewis always manage to take the absolute worst routes to fly balls. Unanswerable. 

The Giants find themselves asking that question this off season. They have one of the best rotations in baseball, yet would like to add an insurance starter or two to keep as either a long reliever on the big league roster or as a starter in Triple-A Fresno. It’s easy to see why the Giants would target another pitcher: they lack Major League-ready starters in their system, and if one of their five were to go down with an injury for any length of time it could be disastrous. Plus given all the extra innings logged in the playoffs, the Giants may want their pitchers to skip a few starts over the course of the season to preserve their arm strength. Having a spot starter with Major League experience on the roster would come in handy for those games.

One problem, though: every free agent starter knows the Giants have a set rotation, and they're looking elsewhere to find a clearer path to a starting job. So while pitchers like Andrew Miller, Chris Young, or Chris Capuano might’ve filled the Giants’ need, they each found jobs with teams they thought provided them with a better opportunity to pitch in the Majors. 

The Giants aren’t totally left out in the cold, though. There are still a few options out there, including:

Armando Galarraga: The Tigers recently agreed to a contract with Galarraga, then turned around and designated him for assignment less than a day later to make room for former Giant Brad Penny. Since he was DFA’d the Tigers can trade Galarraga, and they’ll likely have a number of suitors. He’s a below average starter who can fill out the back end of a rotation, and teams like the Yankees, Padres, and Cardinals (to name a few) are sure to have interest in trading for him. It would appear that Galarraga would be cost-prohibitive to the Giants, given that he’d cost a prospect in a trade as well as over $2 million in salary. Still, if the Giants conclude that no free agent pitcher will want to sign with them because of their situation, a trade could be their only option and Galarraga is as good a pitcher they’ll find on the market right now.

Jeff Suppan: He was downright awful for Milwaukee over the past few years, but Suppan showed some signs of life over 15 games (13 starts) with the Cardinals in the latter part of ’10, posting a 3.84 ERA over 70.1 IP. He never was more than an average starter, and now he’s in his late 30’s, but he could still have some value pitching in a pitchers’ park. He’d be a decent fit for the role of long reliever/spot starter the Giants are trying to fill, and at his age it’s unlikely he’ll find a guaranteed rotation spot anywhere in the Majors. A minor league deal and a chance to play for a World Series contender may be enough to get Suppan, but would the Giants even want him? 

Jeremy Bonderman: One of the more intriguing names left on the free agent list. Bonderman is relatively young (28) and has had success at the big league level before shoulder ailments derailed his career. He’d likely prefer a better chance at a rotation spot, but teams aren’t lining up to hand one to him because of his injury history. If he’s willing to settle for a minor league deal, the Giants should be interested.

Todd Wellemeyer: Wellemeyer had some decent starts for the Giants last year, and it’s not inconceivable to think that the Giants could hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Sorry, I thought I could hold out. Moving on.

J.D. Martin: Recently released by Washington, the California native managed a respectable 4.32 ERA over 24 career starts with some awful Nationals teams. Unlike the other names on this list, Martin may be more willing to be kept in reserve at Fresno rather than start the year as a long reliever on the big league roster. He has Major League starting experience and will likely come cheap, both of which should pique the Giants’ interest.

Doug Davis: Another California native who’d likely come relatively cheap. Like Suppan, Davis is a veteran who could fill a variety of roles on a big league staff. His stuff was never very impressive and he’s coming off of a season marred by elbow injuries, but he’s always been able to compete even with his limited repertoire of pitches. He could be worth a look in the spring, but at this point Davis is a very poor man’s Barry Zito, and take a minute to wrap your head around that.

In-House Option: Casey Daigle? Ryan Volgelsong? Shane Loux? None of those names are all that exciting, and they’re likely to fill out Fresno’s pitching staff if they aren’t cut in the spring. Vogelsong would be a nice story, coming back to the team that traded him in the Jason Schmidt deal, but he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2006. The Giants’ best pitching prospects like Zach Wheeler and (to a lesser extent) Henry Sosa need more minor league seasoning, so they aren’t realistic options, either.

It’s not exactly a murderer’s row of starting pitching, but there are some guys still on the market who could help the Giants in their quest to find rotation depth. Will the chance to pitch for the defending champs be enough to sway a pitcher from signing with another team with a lesser rotation? Probably so; the only question is, who will it be?

Just don’t let it be Wellemeyer…please, God, anyone but Wellemeyer.

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