Free Agent Stock Watch: Carlos Villanueva

When Carlos Villanueva throws his first pitch to Red Sox tomorrow afternoon, he'll set a career high in games started. For some pitchers it'd be a bit of trivia. For Villanueva, it's a more significant threshold that could help him establish his value to prospective suitors as he nears free agency.

The right-hander has spent the second half of the season in Toronto’s starting rotation and his success in that role could be enough to convince MLB executives that he can excel as a starter in years to come. Yet some observers remain unconvinced. Speaking to the media this week Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos credited Villanueva for a successful season but emphasized the importance of remaining objective and establishing realistic expectations.

Carlos Villanueva - Blue Jays (PW, 2)

“When you’re looking at a starter you’re looking at 32 or 34 starts, 200 innings, durability, things like that, that’s part of the equation,” Anthopoulos told reporters, including Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. “There’s no question when he’s taken the ball he’s done a great job. But his [durability] is obviously part of the equation. That’s not to take anything away from him. But that’s the unknown with Carlos, he’s never had 200 innings, he’s never had 32 or 34 starts. I think we all would say you love what you see, what he’s done for us and he’s a great teammate and all those things. But again we’ve only had bits and pieces of him starting.”

Villanueva, who’s weeks away from hitting free agency for the first time, started 27 games over the course of his five seasons with the Brewers. He started 13 more last year after Anthopoulos acquired him from Milwaukee for a player to be named (the trade, overlooked at the time of its completion, has worked out tremendously for the Blue Jays). He's been a valuable reliever and spot starter to this point in his career. But he believes he can start at the MLB level despite Anthopoulos’ comments.

"Its a little disappointing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion," he told Sportsnet’s Tony Ambrogio (Twitter links). "I definitely don't love the advertising of that being put out there."

Let's set the rhetoric aside and look at the numbers. As Anthopoulos acknowledged, Villanueva is in the midst of an excellent season. He has a 3.48 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 38.9% ground ball rate in 111 1/3 innings as a starter and reliever. He generates swings and misses on 9.9% of his offerings — a marked improvement from 2011 — despite a fastball that averages just 89 mph.

Villanueva's strikeout rate and ground ball rate have dropped since he joined the rotation. But he has also pitched to a 3.58 ERA out of the rotation and cut his walk rate in half. In fact, he walked more batters in 33 1/3 relief innings (21) than he has in 78 innings since joining the rotation (20). And Villanueva has been healthy for the entire 2012 campaign after missing time with a strained forearm last year.

For Villanueva to obtain a multiyear contract, he'll probably have to convince teams he's a starter. Multiyear contracts for free agent relievers dropped from 17 in 2010-11 to six last offseason and most of last winter’s multiyear deals went to big-name closers such as Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan.

Many teams — the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Royals, Twins, Brewers, Padres and Rockies to name a few — figure to be looking for starting pitching this coming offseason. Teams that can’t afford Zack Greinke and miss out on Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and Kyle Lohse could target Villanueva. After all, he’s younger than most free agents at 28 years old and enjoying success in the American League East.

Assuming Villanueva’s representatives at SFX market him as a starter, they could look to match recent deals obtained by Chris Capuano (two years, $10MM) and Aaron Harang (two years, $12MM). Those pitchers aren’t great comps for Villanueva — few players are — but a contract in that range seems possible. SFX could argue that Villanueva's upside and youth make up for the perceived lack of dependability. 

If no multiyear offers surface, Villanueva would be looking for a one-year guarantee in the right environment. A one-year deal would presumably be worth less than the $11MM Edwin Jackson obtained following the 2011 season. Jackson, after all, had youth and durability on his side when the Nationals signed him last winter. However, pitchers such as Joe Saunders ($6MM), Roy Oswalt ($5MM), Paul Maholm ($4.75MM) and Erik Bedard ($4.5MM) signed one-year deals worth $5MM or so. That would represent a raise for Villanueva, who’s earning $2.28MM this year, without exposing the signing team to much risk.

Villanueva figures to draw lots of interest from teams interested in signing him for one year. I also expect some teams will have interest in multiyear deals given Villanueva’s recent success as a member of the Blue Jays’ rotation. One thing is certain: his last few starts will be scouted heavily as teams attempt to determine whether Villanueva is headed for sustainable success as an MLB starter or simply having a career year.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

44 Responses to Free Agent Stock Watch: Carlos Villanueva Leave a Reply

  1. disqus_RHgT4UkfW6 3 years ago

    Sounds like the Phillies Kyle Kendrick. Signed 2 year 7.5mil extension this offseason. I think something along those lines would be his value.

  2. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    While I don’t disagree with what AA had to say.. I just find it odd that he would voice his opinion publicly. like that. CV has every right to be upset.

    • I just dont see what was so bad about what AA said other than the notion he maybe shouldn’t have said anything at all…

    • $17867741 3 years ago

      GM AA is trying to temper Villaneuva’s exciting when he reaches free agency.

      I think when GM AA offers Villaneuva a ‘small’ contract, he doesn’t want him to be offended by such a small offer.

      There’s some game theory involved. It would be strange for GM AA to speak his mind without some sort of benefit.

      • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

        AA isn’t a mastermind he didn’t make those comments to lower his perceived value, you guys give him WAY too much credit.

        • $17867741 3 years ago

          Well there are really only two ways to perceive GM AA.
          1) GM AA’s remarks were strategically made to lower CV’s value
          2) GM AA made those remarks simply because he wanted to talk smack, which would hurt him in the backlash.

          • Jaysfan724 3 years ago

            I disagree, he had none of those intentions in mind. I think his answer was simply a matter of himself asking, “Will the risk be worth the reward?” in terms of signing him as a full-time starter for multiple years.

          • $17867741 3 years ago

            All GMs are suppose to ask themselves, “Will the risk be worth the reward?”

            It doesn’t explain why GM AA made those comments explicitly known to the public.

  3. Jaysfan724 3 years ago

    According to Fangraphs, Villanueva has pitched to a $5.1 million dollar contract this year. I would say anything from 4-6 mill per year is in range for Carlos. I would only offer him 2-3 years because like AA mentions, we do not know his true durability. The great thing about Carlos is even if he does not work out as a full-time starter, you can count on him as a long man out of the pen. I wouldn’t say this decision is on the level of risky extensions like EE and Bautista in terms of the unknown, but AA needs to make a decision before he gets away. And I’m sure AA’s words do not help keep Carlos in the door any longer.

  4. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    Poor Carlos is about to get his bubble burst when he enters the free agent market. I doubt he gets more than a one year deal. In fact, he might have to agree to a team option.

    Last year, Jason Marquis received $3mil for one year. Kevin Millwood received $1mil for one year. I can’t find anything higher for a starting pitcher who has his durability in doubt.

    I will be surprised if Carlos does any better. Teams pay free agents on established performance. Not potential. Only draft picks and amateur free agents get paid on potential.

    • johnsilver 3 years ago

      Twins gave Marquis that deal and they have a rotation full of likewise rubbish throwers. Doubt they make that mistake again and will be cleaning house of that type of SP as after all these years of going in that direction? Figured out the Pavano/Marquis/Blackburn/Baker’s of the world are not going to get the job done.

      • johnsmith4 3 years ago

        I think you just described the characteristics of the “market maker” Villanueva needs to drive up his value.

        • johnsilver 3 years ago

          It shocks me when teams give LT deals to people like that. Most of the time they are highly volatile. Nothing but pin point control and have nothing to fall back on if they lose it from one game to the next, or series of months as is the case of people like Marquis. It’s like them throwing BP when they cannot control, say their slider, or sinker from game to game and then have to rely on an 88mph FB.

          • johnsmith4 3 years ago

            This might explain why Villanueva has suffered arm strain a few times in his career. Mustering all his strength to throw 88 when his exceptional command drops down to average command.

  5. I didnt find what AA said to be that condescending.,, he applauded CV for his efforts this season, but he makes a valid point. The guy has never pitched 200 innings or started more than 20 games in a season in his career. While his comments may have been a little tongue in cheek, they certainly werent unwarranted. Had AA not complimented him, I could see the reaction being negative, but he had nothing but nice things to say about CV… I think he just took it as slander. His choice.

  6. bigpat 3 years ago

    Baltimore already had a better season than super GM out in Toronto, much to everyone’s surprise, and they are running out of excuses if they don’t put something together soon.

    Not sure why they wouldn’t want to keep Villanueva around unless they plan to bring in two more pitchers, one of which of the high quality variety. Pretty silly things to say about the pitcher considering he’s never had a chance to go 200 innings or start a full season. He’s been great thus far and many other pitchers have became starters, it’s very possible for him to sustain a success.

    • Lunchbox45 3 years ago

      all kinds of wrong.

      there is no reason to pay someone for 90 starts in the next 3 seasons because they made 14 this year. You are buying way too high

      the reality is, that best case scenario, CV is fighting out for the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation with happ and alvarez. So why would you make that kind of commitment when you have players under contract already who can offer the same level of performance??

      and not sure what you mean by running out of excuses, the jays never made claims that 2012 was their year, it was an average team who was riddled with injuries. The notion that they should have already been in the playoffs or won a WS by now is laughable. Its that kind of shortsightedness that left the jays mediocre for so long in the first place.

      They are in a good spot financially, they literally have no bad contracts and no financially commitments weighing them down. They have a maturing top 5 farm system and *when healthy have a devastating offensive line up that excels defensively.
      This wasn’t their year, but no one said it HAD to be

  7. Budyzer 3 years ago

    It makes little sense to cause animosity and hurt feelings with the only pitcher who has been worth a grain of salt this year in the jays rotation… It’s all for the sake of being cheap and trying to nickel and dime the guy for what a mere 5 mill ? Jesus the are paying Lind the massive bum that much to whine about his back and strike out ! I dont see what going public and cutting the guy down does except ensure he isn’t going to sign with the jays after you bad mouthed him when free agent pitching is what you are going to need this offseason

  8. FriedCalamari 3 years ago

    2/11 + mutual option 6; 500k buyout. #5 starter battle with Happ. I think that should be OK.
    Worst case scenario for 2013: morrow, ?, romero, happy, villa
    Beast case: ?, morrow, ?, romero, happy/villa

    • $17867741 3 years ago

      – Morrow/Romero should make for a fine #2/#3 tandem.
      – Happ/CV should make for a fine #4/#5 tandem.
      – The Blue Jays need a real ace to anchor the rotation

      Everyone else needs to play at their capabilities. The 2011 Romero would have made for a fine #2 starter on almost any rotation.

  9. crashcameron 3 years ago

    have been thinking what apparently others have, too: some kind of package for various combo of Choo, Masterson/Jiminez all the way to including Asdrubul. there;s a fit in terms of potential of prospects (jays) for potential of prime (Choo etc). but injuries have hurt Jays even in this, since a Drabek or Hutchison would have been carrots. Moises Sierra? Alvarez?

  10. Simon Broder 3 years ago

    Seems pretty obvious AA is negotiating. I’m fine with 2 years at $5M/per, but only Anthopoulos knows how much wiggle room he has and only those guys and the agents know exactly what CV thinks he’s worth.

  11. Howard 3 years ago

    After looking at his stats since being in Milwaukee and now in Toronto, he’s actually a pretty good gamble. I’d flash him about 16m on a 4 year deal. Or 3 years for 18m tops right now.

  12. burritolikethesun 3 years ago

    As a Brewers fan, it is against my religion to consider offering Carlos a multiyear.

  13. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    He’s easily been our most valuable pitcher over the last 2 years.

    he may not want to resign him especially at a higher cost and commitment, but AA should have been more respectful. So he gets paid John Buck money by another team, no need to put him down especially if you don’t care to resign him

  14. $17867741 3 years ago

    I still think the Blue Jays need Villaneuva for at least 1 more year. Hutchinson and Drabek are gone until 2014, so someone needs to step in as a replacement.

    Give Villaneuva a 1yr/$5m contract + performance bonuses + vesting option and I’m almost 100% sure he will accept. I’m sure CV can pitch to a tune of at least 1.5 WAR.

  15. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    In my opinion, Carlos inadvertently invited AA to table any concerns when he expressed publicly all AA needs to do is meet his price.

  16. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    why would he accept that?

  17. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    Edit – Disqus Reply Fail

  18. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    The AL east isn’t as top heavy as it once was, there’s a lot more parity between the teams as no team is really ‘elite’

    Reality is 1-2 starters, a new DH and the team can be really competitive next season. Should be an exciting off season.

    I still keep preaching to poach the Indians, they are probably headed towards a rebuild or retooling.

    I’d Trade for Choo and Masterson, and maybe even ask for Ubaldo as well. Sign Ortiz and you got yourself a legit contender.

  19. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    Bautista 1B, EE-DH Rasmus-CF-Choo-LF-Upton-RF?

    um yes please lol

    call AA, tell him we have a way to get Griffey and Bonds, and we wouldn’t even have to give up that much!

  20. Morley C 3 years ago

    I think you mean “parity” good sir. “Parody” radically alters the meaning of your post.

  21. Howard 3 years ago

    AGREED!!!! smartest baseball fan yet.

  22. Lunchbox45 3 years ago

    I changed it, only because I’m embarrassed

  23. Just_Da_damaja 3 years ago

    Parity = AL East
    Parody = NL East


  24. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    The concerns, if not serious, are certainly real. Milwaukee gave up on CV in their rotation because of his durability problems. He had them again last year with Toronto. This is the “elephant in the room” for CV.

    I have no doubt CV perceives AA’s comments as having a negative impact on his marketability as a free agent. But, he will fall into the “bargain bin” category of free agent starters. Remember, last year, Bartolo Colon commanded one year at $2mil.

  25. $17867741 3 years ago

    Okay then, what other offers do you think CV will get? I think he wants years, not necessarily a high AAV.

    So unless you think someone else is going to offer CV a 2 year deal, a 1yr deal + vesting option + performance incentives is the best thing to do.

  26. Encarnacion's Parrot 3 years ago

    Starting pitching is at a premium. Because of this, if he hit the market, I would not be surprised if someone offered him 3 years, $18MM. At that price though, I’d hope the Jays would retain him.

  27. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    I think you have the right idea. I doubt incentives will be necessary. But, I suspect AA will expect a team option if he tables the best deal. It will simply be a matter of CV “learning/establishing” his market value by getting offers from other teams.

  28. $17867741 3 years ago

    How is starting pitching at a premium right now? There are so many mid-rotation starters on the free agent market.

    Saunders, Marcum, Loshe, Jackson, Kuroda, Anibal Sanchez, Dempster, Lewis, etc.

    If people are looking to improve their rotation, I would look at those guys before CV. Unless it’s a non-contending team or a team that has trouble attracting high-end free agents, I don’t see why anyone would want CV on a 3 year deal.

    Don’t forget
    – CV has never pitched beyond 125 Innings in one season
    – CV will likely have a IP limit of around 160 – 170 for 2013
    – CV is already showing signs of fatigue; command is not nearly as sharp as it was earlier in the season

    That’s why I suggest a 1 year deal + a vesting option + performance incentives.

    If CV can pitch 160 – 170 innings, then he has proven he is worthy of being a full time starter and thus should be given another year.

  29. BooJays33 3 years ago

    look at his numbers…doing it in the al east no less. hes not bargain bin…you are.

  30. johnsmith4 3 years ago

    I will be shocked if Villanueva gets the salary and term some suggest. BUT, God Bless him if he does. He certainly is a trooper.

  31. Encarnacion's Parrot 3 years ago

    Starting pitching is always at a premium. That’s why guys like Jo-Jo Reyes continue to hang around.

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