2011 Rotations Rumors

The Pirates’ 2011 Rotation

Many of the Pirates' most exciting pitchers are still in the minor leagues, so the team's 2011 rotation does not project to be strong, relative to the rest of the league. Within a few years, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Bryan Morris, Jameson Taillon, Stetson Allie and Luis Heredia could join Brad Lincoln in a potentially loaded rotation, but that isn't about to happen immediately.

For now, the Pirates have a less electrifying group, including non-tender candidate Zach Duke, the struggling Paul Maholm and a number of organizational arms that probably won't have major roles on the next great Pirates team. But it's not yet time to look too far ahead: here's how Pittsburgh's 2011 rotation will look.

Zach Duke has been a mainstay in the team's rotation for years, but he has posted a 5.24 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 heading into his final season of arbitration. He earns $4.3MM this year and could make $5MM or so in 2011, so Duke is a non-tender candidate. The lefty has been unlucky, so Pittsburgh could keep him around and hope for a rebound season.

Paul Maholm has a 5.43 ERA with 4.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 and would be another non-tender candidate were it not for the extension he signed in 2009. Mahom will earn $5.75MM next year and will likely start for the Pirates.

Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf, two products of the 2008 deal that sent Xavier Nady to the Bronx, are both injured, but both have turned in respectable seasons. Karstens has a 4.88 ERA in 19 starts with just 2.0 BB/9 and Ohlendorf had a 4.07 ERA before hitting the disabled list with a shoulder strain. Karstens will go to arbitration and Ohlendorf, a possible super two, may qualify as well. Both will definitely be cheap in 2011 and will presumably have the chance to make the team's rotation.

Brad Lincoln and James McDonald have both had up and down seasons. The Pirates let Lincoln start the year in the minors, where he pitched to a 4.12 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. He struggled to match that production in the majors and may stay in the 'pen for the remainder of the month. Lincoln has the upside of a number 2-3 starter, according to Baseball America, but the Pirates have been cautious with the right-hander so far, so they're probably not going to rush him into the major league rotation next spring.

McDonald has pitched inconsistently since the Pirates acquired him for Octavio Dotel, mixing three dominant starts with as many duds. He's striking out lots of hitters (8.7 K/9) and has a 4.17 ERA as a Pirate, but the 25-year-old will likely have to earn a rotation spot out of spring training if he is to start.

Charlie Morton, Brian Burres, minor leaguer Michael Crotta and Daniel McCutchen (yet another product of the apparently successful Nady deal) provide the Pirates with depth arms, but limited upside. Donnie Veal would have been in this group, too, but the left-hander recently underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss most of 2011.

The Pirates have every reason to look forward to recent additions Taillon, Allie and Heredia, but Allie is the oldest of the three and he's just 19. Owens, Locke and Morris all reached AA Altoona this year and posted excellent overall numbers. They're closer to major league success than, say, Heredia, but it's far too soon to expect them in the major league rotation.

Instead, the Pirates will probably call on Duke, Maholm, Ohlendorf, Karstens, McDonald and others next year. GM Neal Huntington will, in all likelihood, pass on Cliff Lee and other elite pitchers and look into signing a dependable free agent arm. Club president Frank Coonelly is frustrated by the current edition of the Pirates and the team doesn't have many guarantees for next year. If a reliable pitcher like Dave Bush, Jake Westbrook or Kevin Millwood became available at the right price, the Pirates could bolster their rotation depth through free agency.


The Mets’ 2011 Rotation

It seems like an odd thing to say about a team currently sitting at 67-71, but next year's version of the New York Mets may not have room at the inn for additional acquisitions.

Currently starting for the Mets are four pitchers who have certainly performed well enough to be relied upon in 2011, while a fifth, currently auditioning, has the best stuff of any of them. Furthermore, all five are under team control for next year.

Let's break the staff down:

Next year's Opening Day starter is likely to be Johan Santana, who has weathered an alarming early-season slide to become the Santana the Mets expected when they signed him to a six-year, $137.5MM contract after trading for him in in February 2008. Through the end of June, Santana pitched to a respectable 3.55 ERA, but that masked a strikeout rate on the season of just 5.7 K/9, down more than two per nine from his 2008-2009 levels.

Since July 1, however, Santana has a 2.37 ERA, with a far stronger 7.4 K/9. It appears that temporary dip may have been Santana recovering from elbow surgery – Santana appears to believe that's the case. It is certainly a relief to the Mets, who owe Santana $22.5MM in 2011, $24MM in 2012 and $25MM in 2013.

Meanwhile, the best ERA among the starters belongs not to Santana, but to R.A. Dickey, who actually began the year in Triple-A. And while it is tempting to believe a 2.91 ERA from a 35-year-old pitcher who entered the season with a career 5.43 ERA is a fluke, there are plenty of reasons to believe otherwise in this case.

For one thing, Dickey has only been relying on his knuckleball for five years and his minor league performance has improved steadily since. For another, his peripherals are quite good, particularly his 2.2 walks per nine innings, despite throwing a huge majority of knucklers, a notoriously hard pitch to control.

With his limited time in the major leagues, Dickey has yet to accrue enough service time for free agency, so the Mets control him merely by offering arbitration. The smart money here is on the two sides agreeing to a multi-year deal that avoids arbitration and provides Dickey with some security. Remember: Phil Niekro had 12 200-plus inning seasons after age 35. The clock is different with knuckleball pitchers.

Another mainstay for 2011 is Jon Niese, who has impressed all year long and now has a 3.85 ERA with 3.0 walks and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. His numbers are actually skewed by three recent poor starts; the Mets have left Niese in games until he looked fatigued, rather than managing his workload more cautiously. 

The fourth horseman for the Mets is Mike Pelfrey, who seems to constantly be disappointing people who are waiting for him to be something other than a reliable innings-eater. Pelfrey's fluctuating ERA- 3.72 in 2008, 5.03 in 2009, 3.96 in 2010- is almost entirely a function of luck and defense, with peripherals staying ludicrously consistent in all three seasons. Even during his 10-2, 2.93 ERA start in 2010, his strikeout rate never reached six per nine innings. Pelfrey will almost certainly be offered arbitration and remain in the rotation in 2011.

That leaves the fifth spot, and Jenrry Mejia, the 20-year-old with the blazing fastball and intermittent command of his secondary pitches, aims to fill the role. He made his first major league start last Saturday, after his lone Triple-A start.

It is nearly impossible to know exactly what Mejia can give the Mets in 2011. His upside is certainly high, with terrific movement on his curveball and changeup to go along with a major league fastball that sits in the mid-nineties. But he is also an inexperienced pitcher with no track record of starting success, aside from a combined 17 starts above Single-A.

Still, with plenty of other holes and signals from the team that very little money will be spent this offseason, Mejia will likely get the opportunity to learn on the job.

One can imagine the only opportunities New York will have for starters in 2011 will be in the area of organizational depth. If Mejia falters, or one of the other four pitchers gets injured, the only Plan Bs available right now are the underwhelming Dillon Gee (who starts tonight) and Tobi Stoner, or the much-maligned Oliver Perez, who will head to the Mexican League after the season and try to find his fastball.


The Rangers’ 2011 Rotation

The Rangers have said they would like to re-sign Cliff Lee after the season and who can blame them? Even though Lee has posted a 4.69 ERA and dealt with a sore back since the Mariners traded him to Texas, he can still be dominant. He has issued just four unintentional walks with the Rangers and struck out 72, so the former Cy Young Award winner is doing something right, in spite of the higher-than-expected ERA.

But lots of teams will want Lee, who figures to be the most highly-coveted free agent starter this offseason. Under new, stable ownership the Rangers have shown signs that they are intent on winning now and are willing to spend. The club traded prospects away to make midseason acquisitions and claimed Manny Ramirez despite his substantial salary.

The Rangers' aggressiveness suggests we shouldn’t count them out of the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, but even if they lose their ace to free agency, the Rangers will have four capable starters.

Tommy Hunter, Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland were not sure things earlier in the season, but all have built strong cases to remain in next year’s rotation. Hunter had appeared in just 22 major league games going into 2010, but he has since posted a 3.99 ERA and has only allowed 2.5 BB/9. Like many current AL West starters, the 24-year-old has handled major league bats early on in his career.

It took a while for Lewis to figure big league hitters out, but he has become a resounding success for GM Jon Daniels since returning from Japan. So far in 2010, Lewis has a 3.96 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9.

Wilson, a converted reliever, has also become a staple in Ron Washington’s rotation this year. The 29-year-old had not started a major league game since 2005 when the Rangers added him to their rotation this spring, but he has responded well. He leads the American League in walks, but has a 3.10 ERA and 7.4 K/9.

Derek Holland, who recently replaced Rich Harden in the rotation, strung together 11 dominant starts in Triple A before joining the big league club. He has a 4.93 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in the majors, and the lefty’s still just 23.

The Rangers and Harden have an $11MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout for 2011 and it seems probable that the team will choose to buy the right-hander out. Harden, now in the ‘pen, has walked 6.0 per nine and has a 5.36 ERA. Even if Harden and Lee depart, the Rangers have an assortment of starters to consider if they choose to fill their fifth rotation spot internally:

  • Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner a year ago, has a 5.43 ERA and is now on the disabled list.
  • Matt Harrison, a 25-year-old lefty with a 3.93 ERA already has extensive experience as a starter.
  • Omar Beltre, also on the DL, had a 2.65 ERA in the minors this year, though he struggled in a pair of major league starts.
  • Michael Kirkman, who has been excellent out of the Rangers’ pen recently, posted a 3.09 ERA with 8.9 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9. Before the season, Baseball America suggested the left-hander could become a workhorse starter in a major league rotation.
  • Brandon McCarthy missed significant time with a shoulder injury this year, but pitched well in Triple A. He makes $1.3MM now, so he won’t come cheap if the Rangers tender him a contract in 2011.
  • Neftali Feliz has value out of the bullpen and will be even more important in the late innings if Frank Francisco leaves via free agency. Still, Feliz has the stuff to be a number one starter.
  • Other starting pitching prospects, like Martin Perez, Joseph Wieland and Neil Ramirez, are further away from contributing to the big league rotation.

Bringing Lee back would keep things simple. The Rangers then trot him out on Opening Day 2011 and follow him with Wilson, Lewis, Hunter and, if he earns the spot in Spring Training, Holland. The Rangers have options even if they don’t sign Lee, but retaining the lefty would give them an ace atop the rotation.



The Angels’ 2011 Rotation

The Angels won’t have to look outside the organization for pitching this winter, since they have six major league starters under team control for 2011 plus an assortment of minor league arms. If the group stays healthy, the Angels could have one of the league’s better rotations next year.

That’s especially true if Scott Kazmir can recapture the form that made him one of the league’s most exciting starters just a couple years ago. He’s just 26, so we shouldn’t rule out a mid-career renaissance for the left-hander. Still, Kazmir’s walk rate remains high (4.9 BB/9) and his strikeout rate has dropped for the third consecutive season and now sits at 5.6 K/9. That’s not too far below the league average, but Kazmir struck out 10.4 batters per nine just a few seasons ago as a 23-year-old. The Angels don’t need Kazmir to strike out more than a batter per inning again, but they do need him to lower his 6.19 ERA.

Kazmir is something of a variable, but the Angels have four more predictable starters. Jered Weaver has been one of the league’s best pitchers this year. The 27-year-old has set himself up for a big raise through arbitration after posting a 3.14 ERA with 9.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. Ervin Santana has put together another strong season (4.02 ERA, 7.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 186 innings) and he’ll be back in 2011. Joel Pineiro is now recovering from a left oblique strain on the disabled list, but he was effective in 20 starts before getting hurt, posting a 4.18 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. 

Dan Haren hasn’t had any trouble adjusting back to the American League since the Angels traded for him in July. He has a 3.39 ERA with 7.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in L.A. and he doesn’t turn 30 until next week, so like the rest of the Angels rotation, he’s still in his prime.

If Kazmir falters or someone gets hurt, manager Mike Scioscia will be able to call on Trevor Bell. The rookie right-hander is in the Angels rotation now and has pitched well so far. His season ERA sits at 4.85, but his strikeout (6.6 K/9) and walk (2.9 BB/9) rates are respectable. The former first rounder has always shown excellent command in the minors and Baseball America suggested before the season that Bell could become a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Other Angels prospects are further away from contributing in the major leagues. Trevor Reckling, a 21-year-old left-hander, and Fernando Rodriguez, a 26-year-old right-hander, have struggled with command at Triple A this year. Reckling could become a mid-rotation starter, according to Baseball America, but he isn’t there yet. Tyler Chatwood pitched at three levels this year and the 20-year-old posted a 2.84 ERA with improved command. It was a promising season for the right-hander, but he still only has 13 games of experience above A ball.

The combination of Weaver, Haren, Santana, Pineiro, Kazmir and Bell should give the Angels a strong rotation next year. That depends on health, of course, but for the time being, GM Tony Reagins can focus on other needs since the Angels' 2011 rotation seems capable of keeping the club in contention.


The Twins’ 2011 Rotation

Anchored by a resurgent Francisco Liriano and a surprisingly strong campaign from Carl Pavano, the Twins currently sit sixth in the American League with a 4.10 ERA from their starting rotation. The rest of their rotation has primarily consisted of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing. Let's take a look at how things could shake out for 2011.

The Twins offered Pavano arbitration last year, and the jury was out on whether or not offering it was the right move after he accepted. Pavano's $7MM has been a steal for Minnesota though, as the right-hander has already thrown 189 innings of 3.52 ERA ball. Only Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have posted marks better than Pavano's 1.5 BB/9, and his 3.34 K/BB ratio is 18th in the Majors (with Liriano and Baker ahead of him). The Twins will certainly offer Pavano arbitration again — he currently qualifies as a Type A free agent. He may decline and seek multiple years on the free agent market, but there's also the chance that he finds those multiple years in Minneapolis, where he and his signature mustache have developed a cult following.

Liriano is arbitration-eligible for a second time and figures to see a nice raise on his $1.6MM salary this season. If the Twins are convinced of his health, they may look to lock him up before 2011 as they did with Baker pre-2009 and Blackburn pre-2010.

Baker's extension has been far more successful than Blackburn's, who temporarily lost his rotation spot to Duensing after being optioned to Triple-A Rochester in late July sporting an ERA of 6.66. Since returning, Blackburn seems to have gotten back on track, though. Slowey saw similar struggles early in the summer but came back to post an ERA just over 4.00 in July and August, including a 2.89 ERA over his last six starts before hitting the DL recently.

Duensing has been a breath of fresh air to a rotation that failed to acquire what many thought was a much-needed starter at the deadline. Overall, through 99 innings, Duensing's posted a 2.09 ERA and has a nice 2.0 BB/9. His 83.2% strand rate and 4.14 xFIP suggest he's due for some regression, however. Still, he offers the Twins some insurance in case Pavano departs, but who else could they call on?

Minnesota drafted Kyle Gibson in the first round of 2009, and he's risen quickly through the minors, reaching Triple-A in just one season with an overall 2.96 ERA, 7.5 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9. Considered a potential Top 10 pick, he fell to the Twins at 22nd due to concern over a stress fracture in his arm. Baseball America ranked him as the game's 22nd-best prospect on their mid-season rankings.

Jeff Manship has filled in admirably for the Twins in long relief and spot starting in 2010, posting a 2.38 ERA through 22.2 innings. Like most Twins pitchers, he's not big on the strikeouts, but he limits his walks well.

Glen Perkins is another former first-rounder for the Twins, but he seems to have fallen out of favor with the organization to some extent after nearly filing a grievance over his service time in 2009. Perkins has struggled tremendously with a 5.88 ERA in Rochester this season, while allowing 10 earned runs in 10 innings with the big league club. David Bromberg, the Twins' #9 prospect entering the season, has a 3.75 ERA through 151.1 innings in the upper minors as well.

The Twins stand to enter 2011 with Liriano, Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, and Duensing, though the latter two could be pushed for competition by someone like Gibson early in the season, or could give way if Pavano returns. Their pitching depth may not feature many top-of-the-rotation type arms, but should allow them a solid, consistent rotation through and through.


The Cardinals’ 2011 Rotation

With a 4-13 record over their last 17 games, an eight-game deficit to make up in the NL Central, and a weekend series against an in-form Cincinnati club, the Cardinals could be looking ahead to next year by as soon as Monday.  Let's get a head start on the process by examining what the St. Louis starting rotation may look like by Opening Day 2011.

Leading the way for the Cards are Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia.  Carpenter is signed through 2011 and St. Louis has a club option worth $15MM in 2012 that they're certain to exercise if Carpenter remains as healthy and effective as he has been over the last two seasons.  It's possible the Cards could explore an extension with Carpenter this winter, if they're not already too busy trying to extend Albert Pujols.

Wainwright seems well on his way to a top-five finish (at least) in the NL Cy Young voting, which will trigger a clause in his contract that guarantees the 2012 and 2013 club options St. Louis currently holds on the right-hander.  Wainwright is set to earn $21MM over those two seasons, plus an extra $1MM should he actually win the Cy either this season or in 2011.  The Cards were a virtual lock to pick up those team options anyway given how well Wainwright has pitched in his career.

If Wainwright is a bargain, then Garcia is a steal.  The 24-year-old southpaw has a 2.33 ERA and a 2.03 K/BB in 25 starts this season and he carries a 20 1/3 scoreless inning streak into tonight's start against the Reds.  Garcia doesn't reach arbitration until after the 2011 season, so he will remain a very affordable option for St. Louis unless the club tries to cover his arb years with a long-term deal.  It's still just Garcia's first full major league year, so if the Redbirds do approach him with a long-term contract, it will be a step down from the Romero/Lester/Gallardo deals.

When Kyle Lohse signed a four-year, $41MM extension with St. Louis in September 2008, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes prophetically asked, "What are the odds this deal looks solid even halfway through?"  Now that we're about halfway through the deal, it's indeed looking like a miss for the Cards.  Lohse has battled forearm and groin injuries over the last two seasons and has a 5.55 ERA in 35 games (34 of them starts) over that stretch.  Lohse will be pencilled into a spot in the 2011 rotation, since it would be hard for the Cardinals to eat the remaining $23.75MM owed to the right-hander and even harder to trade him.  (Plus, Lohse has a no-trade clause.)

With four spots accounted for, the fifth rotation job is wide-open.  The Cards' strategy over the last few winters has been to sign veterans (Rich Hill, Brad Penny, Matt Clement, Lohse in March 2008) to one-year or minor league contracts to see if pitching coach Dave Duncan can get them back into top form, so the team could pursue that option again.  St. Louis might have gotten a head start on this strategy with the acquisition of Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline.  Westbrook has pitched well (4.03 ERA, 5.67 K/BB ratio) in his first six National League starts, so he will come at a higher price than those other past winter signings should the Cardinals want to bring him back.

Another midseason pick-up, Jeff Suppan, hasn't performed as well and would only be brought back as roster depth.  Penny could be another low-cost veteran option from the current roster.  After signing a one-year, $7.5MM deal with the Cards last December, Penny had a solid first nine starts but hasn't pitched since May due to a back injury.  The lingering nature of what was originally thought to be a minor back injury will definitely scare some teams away from the 32-year-old, so the Cardinals (who have been monitoring Penny's status all year) could bring the right-hander back if they're satisifed that he's healthy.

P.J. Walters, Blake Hawksworth and Adam Ottavino have started games for St. Louis this season, though all would need superb spring training performances to get into the running for the fifth starter's job.   Baseball America projected Walters as a future middle reliever in the preseason, Hawksworth has pitched mostly out of the bullpen for St. Louis and Ottavino may be a question mark for the spring since he needs labrum surgery.

Shelby Miller, the top prospect in the St. Louis system, has only increased his stock in his first full season of pro ball.  Miller, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has a 3.62 ERA and a 12.1 K/9 rate in 24 starts for Single-A Quad Cities.  Baseball America had Miller rated as the 50th-best prospect in baseball in the preseason, and their midseason prospect report again slotted him in the #26-50 range.  Miller doesn't even turn 20 until October 10, so the Cards will probably hold off his major league debut until 2012.

Other farm system options include southpaw Evan MacLane and right-handers Lance Lynn and Brandon Dickson, all of whom have had solid seasons in the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League.  All could factor in as spot starters or candidates for the No. 5 position.  Keep an eye on right-hander Scott Gorgen, a fourth-round pick from the 2008 draft who has a 2.99 ERA in his 49-game minor league career thus far, including a 1.31 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) at Double-A this season.


The Mariners’ 2011 Rotation

Felix Hernandez may be the best pitcher in baseball, but you won't mistake any other Mariners starters for aces. Next year, some combination of current Seattle starters, prospects and free agent additions will likely follow Hernandez in the rotation. Here are the specifics.

We can safely assume that Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have earned tentative spots in next year's rotation. Vargas (3.55 ERA) and Fister (3.85 ERA) have been pleasant surprises in Seattle this year and will likely be back in the 2011 rotation.

Luke French and David Pauley have each started a handful of games for the M's this year, although it would be a surprise to see the Mariners hand either pitcher a rotation spot uncontested. French, who turns 25 later in the month, has a 4.13 ERA, but his strikeout rate (3.8 K/9), FIP (4.65) and xFIP (5.52) suggest his ERA is likely to rise. Pauley has a 51% ground ball rate, but he doesn't strike anyone out either (4.9 K/9). In fact, many Mariners starters have low strikeout rates; French, Pauley, Vargas and Fister all strike out 5.6 batters per nine or less.

The Mariners could turn to minor league right-hander Michael Pineda if they're looking to add another power arm to the rotation. The 21-year-old entered 2010 as the seventh-best prospect in the organization, according to Baseball America, and he has since had a tremendous season. Pineda posted a 3.36 ERA with 9.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in the upper minors and the Mariners will presumably give him every opportunity to win a rotation job next spring.

Mauricio Robles and Blake Beavan have pitched well since joining the Mariners in recent mid-summer trades (the Jarrod Washburn and Cliff Lee deals). Robles, 21, has struck out more than a batter per inning in the upper minors (9.9 K/9), but has major command issues (4.7 BB/9). Baseball America suggested before the season that he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter, but Robles' future could just as easily be in the 'pen. Beavan, a 21-year-old right-hander, has flashed excellent command in the upper minors (1.1 BB/9), but like so many current Mariners, doesn't strike many opponents out (5.4 K/9). 

Ryan Rowland-Smith will go to arbitration for the first time this winter, but with a 6.96 ERA and more walks than strikeouts, Rowland-Smith won't have much of an arbitration case if the M's tender him a contract. Seattle could bring the left-hander back (probably for less than $1MM) and add him to the bullpen.

The Mariners will presumably decline the options for Ian Snell ($6.75MM option, likely non-tender) and Erik Bedard ($8MM mutual option, $250K buyout). It wouldn't be a surprise to see the team sign a free agent starter, though. Hernandez is a proven innings eater, but Vargas, Fister, Pineda, French and Pauley are not sure things, so the team may well be interested in signing a veteran starter to a short-term deal this offseason.


The Rays’ 2011 Rotation

The Rays have the second-best record in baseball thanks, in large part, to one of the game's deepest rotations. The team can bring all of its starters back next year, but Tampa Bay is likely facing a lower payroll, so the rotation could line up differently in 2011. The Rays may have to consider trading a starter to clear payroll room and address other needs, but next year's rotation should remain strong.

David Price's evolution has continued in 2010. The former first overall pick has gone from late-inning reliever to Cy Young candidate in his short major league career and the Rays aren't about to trade him. Wade Davis (4.29 ERA) and Jeff Niemann (3.97 ERA) have turned in strong seasons and both figure to be cogs in next year's rotation. The Rays placed the two right-handers on the disabled list last month and Niemann has struggled immensely since returning, but both are expected to be fully healthy by 2011.

Matt Garza and James Shields complicate things. Shields earns $4.25MM next year and Garza could make $6MM or so through arbitration, so the budget-conscious Rays may have to consider trading them – at least that's what some executives suggested to ESPN.com's Buster Olney last month. Shields' team-friendly contract and strong strikeout (8.5 K/9) and walk (2.2 BB/9) ratios should make him appealing in spite of his 4.73 ERA. Garza, who threw a no-hitter this year, has a 3.53 ERA with 6.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9, so he will appeal to rival teams, too.

It would likely be harder for the Rays to part with either of those pitchers than it was for them to trade Scott Kazmir, Jason Hammel or Edwin Jackson, but the club's left fielder, first baseman and closer are headed for free agency. GM Andrew Friedman has to replace (or re-sign) Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano somehow, so he may market Shields and/or Garza, considering their salaries and the organization's depth.

When Davis and Niemann went on the disabled list, the Rays were able to call on Andy Sonnanstine and Jeremy Hellickson. Sonnanstine, who goes to arbitration for the first time this winter, has extensive experience as a starter, but has only started three games this year. Joe Maddon has been using the righty in low-leverage situations, and Sonnanstine has responded with a 4.29 ERA and twice as many strikeouts as walks. 

Sonnanstine may be best-suited for long-relief, but Hellickson appears ready to start in the major leagues. In case his 2.45 ERA and 9.4 K/9 at Triple A weren't convincing enough, the 23-year-old has turned in four dominant starts in the major leagues. The Rays will presumably find a way to work the young right-hander into their rotation next year.

Jake McGee posted a 3.06 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in the upper minors this year, so he provides Tampa Bay with yet another option. Matt Moore, a 21-year-old left-hander, has struck out an astounding 208 batters in the Florida State League and while he's not yet ready for the majors, he figures to rise quickly through the Rays' system.

The Rays have a tremendous amount of starting pitching depth in their organization. Other needs are about to emerge for the team, so it would make sense for them to consider trading Garza and Shields. Both would be sought-after and the Rays would likely have a strong rotation even if they traded one of their more established starters away.

 


The White Sox’ 2011 Rotation

The White Sox have five solid starters under team control for 2011 and no impact prospects ready to take over a rotation spot, so Chicago heads into this offseason with a clear sense of Ozzie Guillen's options for next year. Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson can all be retained for 2011 and all but Danks are already under contract.

Freddy Garcia's contract is up after the season, but he has said he'd like to return to the White Sox. The team doesn't have much MLB-ready pitching in the upper minors, so bringing Garcia back on a one-year deal would make some sense.

The White Sox have called on 27-year-old right-hander Carlos Torres to make occasional starts this year and last year, but he doesn't project as a regular starter. Baseball America explained before the season that Torres "profiles as a long reliever/ sixth starter" and that's how the White Sox have used him. His major league ERA (6.21) is high, but his minor league numbers are more respectable (3.52 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9).

Chris Sale, the team's 2010 first rounder, has yet to start a pro game, but could be converted back to starting. Sale would need minor experience out of the rotation before starting in the majors, but he could eventually join the team's rotation.

It's not hard to explain why the White Sox don't have much in the way of starting pitching prospects. They have traded a number of young pitchers away since last year, including John Ely, Daniel Hudson and Clayton Richard. However if the White Sox had held onto those pitchers, they wouldn't have Jackson, who has been tremendous for Chicago, or Peavy.

The White Sox could make more trades, of course, but their rotation appears set for 2011. They have to determine whether to sign Garcia or another similar pitcher, but they'll be able to focus on other parts of the team this offseason. That's a good thing, since their catcher, DH and first baseman hit free agency and their entire bullpen could be in flux. 


The Red Sox’ 2011 Rotation

The Red Sox have perhaps the most recognizable rotation in baseball. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka have won a combined 545 games, two of them have pitched no-hitters, five have made All-Star teams and all six are under team control for 2011.

There are no guarantees for any big league rotation, no matter how well-established, and the Red Sox are no exception. Lackey's first season in Boston has been a difficult one; no American Leaguer has allowed more hits and Lackey's ERA (4.60) is higher than it has been in years. Beckett told WEEI that the Red Sox are in a "pretty frustrating" situation and fans hoping for an ERA better than 6.21 from the right-hander surely agree (Beckett's peripherals, it must be noted, remain strong). Meanwhile, Lester and Buchholz have been tremendous and Matsuzaka and Wakefield have pitched as expected.

Those six pitchers have started all but four Red Sox games this year, but the team may have to rely on a more diverse collection of arms in 2011. That shouldn't be a problem for Boston, because they have a number of younger starters ready or nearly ready to contribute in the major leagues.

First of all, there's Felix Doubront, the 22-year-old left-hander who is now pitching well out of Boston's bullpen. Before the Red Sox called him up, Doubront posted a 2.81 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 as a starter in the upper minors. And though Doubront is a reliever now, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told Alex Speier of WEEI that could change.

"We see him long term as a starter, but like a lot of starting pitchers, the first stage of his big league career might be as a reliever, especially in this organization,” Epstein said.

Another Red Sox reliever, Michael Bowden, climbed the minor league ladder as a starter and could return to the rotation if a need arises. While Bowden has proven himself in the minors, a couple other young starters likely need some more seasoning. Junichi Tazawa is returning from Tommy John surgery, but he should be able to contribute in the majors if he can return to his 2009 form. Casey Kelly, another top prospect, has seen his walk rate and ERA jump at AA, so he will likely need more time in the minors. Another AA starter, Kyle Weiland, has pitched well for Portland and could become a consideration for the Red Sox.

These minor leaguers will, in all likelihood, have to wait their turn. Boston has six major league starters under team control for 2011, so their rotation appears set. Don’t expect the Red Sox to bid on free agent starters like they did last year (Lackey) and the year before (John Smoltz, Brad Penny). Unless they offer Buchholz an extension, the Red Sox probably aren’t going to present any starters with proposals this winter. Even though it’s been a frustrating season for the Red Sox, the organization has a strong group of starters and potential starters for 2011.