Heading into the offseason, we can be sure of seeing the usual collection of low-risk deals for formerly marquee free-agent starting pitchers. Last winter, the Pirates struck gold with a one-year, incentive-laden deal for Francisco Liriano, as he's generated 3.0 fWAR this season while making just $1MM. Though they'll require larger commitments, two starters hitting the free agent market this offseason, Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay, offer similar ace potential and are also likely to be had relatively cheaply. They're up next in our Free Agent Faceoff series.
When I asked last week in a poll, just 29 percent of you said the Blue Jays should extend Johnson a qualifying offer this offseason after an injury-marred 2013. This season was certainly a disappointing one for the right-hander, as his 6.20 ERA was the worst of his career if you ignore 2007, when he threw just 15 2/3 innings. However, I made the case that Johnson was among the most unlucky starters in baseball this season, as 18.5 percent of his fly balls went for home runs. That's likely to fall, as it's double his career mark of 8.2 percent. When Johnson's healthy, he can be as dominant as any starter in baseball, as his lifetime 3.40 ERA attests to. He's just rarely healthy for a full season. Any acquiring team will hope that the 29-year-old can recapture some of his 2010 magic, when he managed an acceptable 183 2/3 innings and led the NL in ERA.
Halladay's 2013 mark of 6.71 ERA in 61 2/3 innings was one of several troubling statistics for the right-hander in 2013, a year that also saw his average two-seam fastball velocity fall to just 88.7 mph. That's a concerning figure for a 36-year-old who missed significant time with a shoulder injury. Halladay's 5.0 BB/9 rate and 1.8 HR/9 rate were also his highest since 2000, when he was in his early 20s. At this point in Halladay's career, we may just be seeing the decline of a pitcher whose right arm logged more than 1,400 innings over a six-year period from 2006-2011. However, there's also no ignoring the fact that he has two Cy Young Awards to his name. If Halladay can prove that he's healthy, that sterling resume is sure to loom large in the evaluation process for many clubs.
In Johnson and Halladay, we have two starters who succumbed to injuries in 2013 but are likely to draw significant interest as former top-of-the-rotation starters. Johnson has dominated in the past when healthy, and though he hasn't had the career Halladay has, he has youth on his side at age 29. Halladay is a much older 36, but he was also among the best pitchers in baseball over that 2006-2011 span. Who would you rather have?