Why Are So Many Pitchers Still Unsigned?

We are nearing Memorial Day, and many pitchers whose resumes would normally have landed them at least a minor-league deal by now remain unsigned.

  • Pedro Martinez is still homeless. While the complication may be in part due to Pedro's salary demands, it is surprising that nobody has signed him. Yes, his ERA was an unsightly 5.61 in 2008, but his 2007 stint was far better-2.57 ERA in 28 innings. His 87 strikeouts against 44 walks in 109 innings also suggests a pitcher who can help a team on the back end of a rotation. Given that it is Pedro Martinez, there is upside well beyond that, of course.
  • Odalis Perez remains strangely unsigned after his even stranger signing that wasn't with Washington this spring. Perez turns 32 on June 7, and had a perfectly average 2008, with a 4.34 ERA in 159 2/3 innings. Obviously, those numbers could help any number of teams.
  • Paul Byrd did what he always does in 2008-posted an ERA in the mid 4s (4.60 to be exact), struck out around four per nine innings, and kept his team in the game. Yet Byrd has yet to sign with anyone, either.

The lack of movement on these pitchers can't be due to overwhelming performances by all the starters currently employed. After all, there's Jamie Moyer and his 8.15 ERA, Carlos Silva and his 8.48 ERA, Oliver Perez and his 9.97 ERA… plenty of others at sixes and sevens, from Scott Olsen to Scott Kazmir. (Even as I type this, Moyer is giving up another home run. No, really.)

My suspicion is that teams view Martinez, Perez or Byrd as band-aid solutions. And that would be fine, normally. After all, band-aids have a rich tradition of stopping people from bleeding.

But the trade market for pitchers has the most top targets it's had in years. The Padres are already 10 games out, and Jake Peavy will likely hit the market. If Cincinnati fades, Aaron Harang could be available. If Toronto falls back to earth- and the smart money still has them finishing fourth- Roy Halladay could be someone else's ace by August. And Cleveland's Cliff Lee will be a prominent target as well.

There are even second-tier options that can help teams now and in the future, from Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie to Seattle's Erik Bedard.  And in the current economic climate, teams that fall out of the race may have even greater incentive to shed salary as soon as possible.

So it may well be that for veteran free agents, the market will only pick up once the trade deadline has come and gone. And with so many targets out there, once the deadline deals are made July 31, there may not be any place for Martinez, Perez or Byrd to land.


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