2011 Rotations Rumors

Nine Teams Likely To Add Starters For 2011

Some teams can relax because their 2011 rotations are more or less set, but that's not the case for every club. That's why the nine teams below will be eyeing the starters that become available through trades and free agency. They'll either have to re-sign their own free agents or acquire a starter if they'd prefer not to rely on younger in-house options.

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Nine Rotations Already Set For 2011

There are no sure things when it comes to starting pitching, but some teams are better-positioned than others for 2011. These nine clubs don't have to worry about Cliff Lee or any other starters this winter. As long as their pitchers stay healthy, they'll enter 2011 with strong rotations one through five.

These aren't necessarily the best rotations (or else you'd see the Cardinals here), they're the groups that will require the least maintenance this offseason. Also note that all the players below are under team control next year and that some of the teams below (Rays, Braves) have more than five viable options.

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Potential Alternatives To Free Agent Starters

Our list of prospective free agent starters identifies lots of targets for teams looking to fill out their rotations, but there will be many alternatives. That's because some pitchers will be non-tendered and others will become trade targets. Here's a preliminary look at some starters who could be available this offseason, even though they're under team control for 2011.

Trade Candidates

Non-Tender Candidates

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Teams With Potential Interest In Cliff Lee

When it comes to pitching, Cliff Lee will be the prize of the upcoming offseason. Though free agent starters such as Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda would be welcome additions to many MLB rotations, they haven't pitched as well as Lee in recent years. 

After winning the 2008 Cy Young Award, Lee posted a 3.22 ERA in over 230 innings last year, striking out more than four times as many batters as he walked. So far in 2010, the lefty has a 3.28 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 0.7 BB/9 as he closes in on his fifth 200 inning season. Lee, 32, has set himself up for a big free agent payday. Here's a list of teams with possible interest:

  • Yankees – It's long been assumed that the Yankees will offer Lee a massive contract. The Bronx Bombers have outbid others before and their financial might will likely come in to play again. After all, some believe Lee will go to Siberia if that's where the money is. 
  • Tigers – The Tigers have an open rotation spot and money coming off the books. It's a natural fit.
  • Rangers – The Rangers know Lee will be pricey, but they're prepared to bid on him.
  • Nationals - GM Mike Rizzo identified starting pitching as a major need even before Stephen Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery. The Nationals have been willing to spend on free agents in recent years.
  • DodgersTed Lilly, Vicente Padilla and Hiroki Kuroda hit free agency and the Dodgers have to replace that production somehow.
  • The Twins, Mets, Reds, Brewers and Padres may have interest, depending on how the next few months unfold. Lee could have an extra suitor or two if the Twins lose Carl Pavano, the Mets decide they can spend more than expected, the Reds let Bronson Arroyo walk or the Padres surprise people. At this point, it seems more likely that the Yankees, Tigers and Rangers will be Lee's most serious suitors.

Teams With Potential Interest In Upside Starters

It's easy to be tempted by talented pitchers like Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, Chien-Ming Wang and Brad Penny. Those starters have all pitched at an elite level in the major leagues, so teams are a little more willing to overlook recent struggles or injuries. As usual, GMs will place calls to high-upside pitchers such as Brandon Webb and Jeff Francis this offseason.

Webb, Francis, Penny, Harden, Wang, Chris Young, Erik Bedard, Pedro Martinez and Justin Duchscherer could all hit free agency this offseason. High-upside arms aren't for everyone, of course, so here's a list of teams that may have interest in this kind of pitcher for their 2011 rotations:

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Teams With Potential Interest In Innings Eaters

Mid-rotation innings eaters don't necessarily grace ticket stubs and souvenir programs the way a Clay Buchholz or Felix Hernandez might. But most teams rely on veteran starters to provide steady innings, not to electrify the fan base. Once the offseason begins, GMs will bid on innings eaters as they look to fill out their rotations

Rodrigo Lopez, Jon Garland, Bronson Arroyo, Jeremy Bonderman, Dave Bush, Bruce Chen, Doug Davis, Freddy GarciaAaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Javier Vazquez and Jake Westbrook all fit the description to an extent and all could hit free agency this winter. Here's a preliminary look at which teams might be in the market for innings eaters in the 2010-11 offseason:

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2011 Rotations

We've been looking ahead to next year's rotations for the past month or so and here are the results:

AL East

AL Central

AL West

NL East

NL Central

NL West

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The Astros’ 2011 Rotation

The Astros finally caved and traded longtime ace Roy Oswalt as part of their rebuilding effort this year, but the move certainly didn't cripple the team's rotation. In fact, the starting five has been the team's greatest strength amidst a disappointing season that has Houston sitting in third place in the NL Central at 67-73. For all intents and purposes, the same group will be returning in 2011.

The last remaining link to the 2005 NL Championship team is 31-year-old southpaw Wandy Rodriguez. He followed up 2009's breakout performance with what can best be described as a tale of two seasons. His ERA stood at 6.09 with a 6.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 through his first 14 starts this year, but Wandy rebounded to post a 1.91 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 in 14 starts since. The Astros control Rodriguez as an arbitration-eligible player for the third and final time next season, when his salary figures to jump from $5MM into the $8MM range.

Joining Wandy at the top of the rotation is former Phillie Brett Myers, arguably the single best free agent signing from last offseason. After signing for just one year and $5.1MM guaranteed, all he's done is post a 2.91 ERA, 7.1 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9 in 29 starts this season, going no fewer than six innings each time out. The Astros rewarded Myers' effort with a contract extension that guarantees the 30-year-old at least $21MM through 2012. 

Lefthander J.A. Happ, acquired in the Oswalt deal, figures to hold down a spot in the middle of the rotation next season. He's made eight strong starts since coming over (3.21 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 4.2 BB/9), and won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2011 season.

Rookie righthander Bud Norris has been impressive even if his 5.16 ERA doesn't back it up. He's struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings, sixth-most among NL starters, and his walk rate is a tolerable 4.0 BB/9. The 25-year-old Norris figures to remain in the rotation next season after cutting his teeth this year.

Brian Moehler, Felipe Paulino, Wesley Wright, Josh Banks, and most recently Nelson Figueroa have rounded out the back of the rotation at different times this year. Paulino, 26, is the most promising of the bunch (4.40 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9), but he's missed the second half with a shoulder strain. At 95.5 mph, only Ubaldo Jimenez has a higher average fastball velocity than Paulino among starters (AL and NL) this year. Moehler is due to become a free agent after the season and Figueroa is a perpetual non-tender candidate, especially since he'll be up for arbitration for the first time this winter.

Down on the farm sits one of the game's best pitching prospects in Jordan Lyles, who dominated the Double-A level (3.12 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9) at just 19 years of age this season. Houston gave him a late-season cameo with Triple-A Round Rock, and it seems like a foregone conclusion that he'll make his big league debut at some point during the 2011 season. 

Oswalt won't be around to be that veteran, shut-down ace next season, but the Astros have plenty of arms to work with. Rodriguez and Myers are a more than capable one-two punch (not necessarily in that order, of course), while Happ and Norris give the team plenty of cost-effective production with a chance to improve as they continue their development. If Lyles steps up and establishes himself at some point next summer, Houston's starting five will be one of the deepest, and perhaps most underappreciated, in all of baseball.

The Braves’ 2011 Rotation

Bobby Cox’s teams were generally built around starting pitching and even though Cox won’t be around in 2011, the Braves’ trademark pitching should be. Atlanta lost Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgery, but still has enough starters in the majors to go into 2011 with an above-average rotation.

In fact, every pitcher who started a game for Atlanta this year is under team control for 2011. The Braves can retain Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, Kenshin Kawakami and Mike Minor next year.

Not all of those pitchers will necessarily return, though. The Braves had a similar amount of starting pitching last offseason and they shopped Lowe and Javier Vazquez, before sending the latter to the Yankees. The Braves would probably be open to trading Lowe this winter, but it seems more likely that he stays in Atlanta given that he makes $30MM in 2011-12 and has become a back-of-the-rotation starter. That kind of contract just isn't easy to move.

Kawakami earns just $6.67MM in 2011, so he'd be easier to trade. Judging by how little the Braves have used the right-hander since June, they'd be open to trading him. Kawakami was winless through his first 14 starts and posted a 4.48 ERA before he lost his rotation spot. Since then, he has bounced from the minors back to the majors, but Cox has only used him three times, so he is not at all a fixture on the team's pitching staff.

Clubs like the Indians, Mariners, Orioles, Cardinals, Brewers and Royals could be looking for back-of-the-rotation depth this winter, so they may have interest in Kawakami. It was just a year ago that he posted a 3.86 ERA as a rookie, so some teams would have room for him, even if the Braves don't.

Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens are going nowhere and figure to lead the 2011 rotation. Hudson is a Cy Young candidate this year, and Hanson is thriving in his first full season (though the Braves haven't provided much run support). Jurrjens missed time with a hamstring injury early in the year and his ERA is nearly two runs higher than it was in 2009, but he still has solid peripheral stats. Jurrjens, Hudson and Hanson will give Cox's successor an enviable top three.

Mike Minor didn't take long to get to the major leagues, and the 2009 draft pick looks like he belongs at the highest level. The Braves promoted Minor after 25 dominant minor league starts; he posted a  3.15 ERA with 10.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 before joining the big league rotation. The lefty has a 5.33 ERA in the majors so far, but that goes along with 10.3 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, so it's not like Minor has been overmatched. His role in the 2011 rotation likely depends in part on his new manager's willingness to hand the ball to a 23-year-old every fifth day, but his performance so far suggests he's ready.

Highly-touted prospects like Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and J.J. Hoover need more minor league seasoning, so the Braves could call on pitchers such as Todd Redmond and Scott Diamond if they need a minor leaguer to replace an injured starter. But the team won't have to rely on too much support from the minors if their big leaguers stay healthy. If all goes well for Atlanta, young arms like Jurrjens, Hanson and Minor will complement Hudson and Lowe to form a strong rotation in 2011. 

The Cubs’ 2011 Rotation

Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva may not be utterly dominant, but they will provide the Cubs with certainty this winter and quality innings next season. If healthy, those four starters should account for most of Chicago's rotation in 2011. They won't be enough, of course. The Cubs will need a fifth starter, too and while Carlos Zambrano could continue improving and fill that role, it may not be that simple.

The Cubs will likely consider trading Zambrano but their offseason doesn’t hinge on making a trade, like it did a year ago when they flipped Milton Bradley for Silva. Zambrano's season reached a low point when he got into a dugout shouting match with Derrek Lee, but he has pitched well since returning from the restricted list. He has a 2.25 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning since the end of July, but is walking more batters than usual, which is something, considering Zambrano has a career walk rate of 4.1 BB/9. 

If the Cubs hold onto Zambrano, they probably won’t be in the market for starting pitching, since they have other internal candidates who could fill in. But if they trade Zambrano – and it wouldn't be easy given the $17.875MM he makes in 2011 – the Cubs would have an empty rotation spot and could consider signing a free agent starter.  The caliber of that starter might depend on the savings from a Zambrano deal.

But even if GM Jim Hendry doesn't like the options on the free agent market, he has a number of potential starters in the organization. Jeff Samardzija and Casey Coleman could contend for a rotation spot if one opens because of a trade or injury. Samardzija has a high walk rate in Triple A this year (5.4 BB/9), so he'd probably have to show the Cubs that he can limit free passes. Coleman has posted a 5.81 ERA in the majors and has walked more batters than he has struck out, but his Triple A numbers were much better (4.07 ERA, 2.7 BB/9). Baseball America noted before the season that Coleman has a good feel for pitching, which isn't surprising since his father and grandfather pitched in the majors leagues before him.

Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner are both contributing out of the ‘pen now, but the Cubs could stretch them out if necessary. Marshall has been one of the National League's best left-handed relievers this year, but he started games regularly from 2006-09. Cashner's used to starting, too; he had a 2.05 ERA as a starter in the upper minors this year before the Cubs called him up.

Thomas Diamond started three games for the Cubs this year, but has struggled to limit walks. The former first rounder has faced just over 100 batters in his major league career, so it seems more likely that he'll pitch in the minors or the bullpen for now. Chris Archer, who doesn’t turn 22 until later this month, posted a 2.34 ERA with 9.4 K/9 in the minors this year, but he has appeared in just 13 AA games, so he will need time to develop. 

Remember that, in all likelihood, the Cubs will have a new manager by Spring Training. That means the fifth spot in the rotation depends not only on the team's offseason moves, but on their new manager's preferences. It's too early to predict how it will all unfold, but we can safely say that Zambrano appears to be the leading candidate to be the team's fifth starter. If the Cubs trade him, they may consider free agents or turn to internal options like Coleman, Samardzija, Marshall and Cashner.