"I don't think there's one pitcher in this entire group I'd invest a lot of money in. Not one," said one general manager to ESPN's Jayson Stark. This year's collection of free agent pitchers doesn't have the star power that last year's CC Sabathia highlighted crop had, or that next year's group led by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will have, but there will still be plenty of money thrown around.
As Stark explains, club officials seem to be down on available starters this year, describing them as "risky," "weak," "terrible," and "mediocre" among other things. One AL executive said that "There are some guys in this group who are dependable. Except they're dependable to give you 5.00 ERAs and 180 innings. And that's not what you want to build a staff around."
Regardless, Stark ranks the top ten starting pitching options in this year's free agent class. Here's a roundup of his list, with quotes from various sources…
- John Lackey: "He's the best name on the list," one exec said. "But if Anaheim shies away from this guy or doesn't make a serious attempt to sign him, I'd have concerns. They know him better than everyone else. So that would send out some serious red flags for me."
- Randy Wolf: He's "durable, dependable and left-handed," one GM said. And he's also "two 190-plus-inning seasons removed from any health issues."
- Joel Piniero: One GM said "I'd have interest in Pineiro, but I'd never invest multi-years in that guy. Just too inconsistent a track record."
- Jason Marquis: "He's having a great year," said an official of one team. "But I'm just not sure how to look at it. Was this a turning point in his career? Or do you look at it as somebody who turned it up and figured it out when he had the most to gain? I really don't know."
- Rich Harden: "I'd be scared to death to commit years to this guy," one AL exec said. "He's been used kind of like Pedro [Martinez] was used in the past, where they're always trying to build in an extra day's rest. And he's just a five-inning guy, in the National League. He might strike out 10, but he'll only go five innings, so he still kills your 'pen. He'll get some money. I just don't see anybody giving him more than a year."
- Andy Pettitte: One exec described his situation as "will probably either stay in New York or shut it down."
- Jarrod Washburn: One GM said, "he's 35 years old, and [before this year] his last winning season was ."
- Jon Garland: "He doesn't have the stuff the other guys on this list have, but he's proven he's durable, and durability counts," said an official of one team. "It's like they say in golf: Most putts that you hit short don't go in. Well, most pitchers that don't make a start don't win. This guy at least makes his starts."
- Doug Davis: "Made for the NL West."
- Brad Penny: An executive said "He's the kind of guy who, if you give him a multiyear deal, he'll crush your franchise. Is somebody going to sign him for four years and expect 120 starts? Good luck."
Stark also names several players he calls "X-Factors," which are guys who could enter the market with major question marks. Included in this group are Brandon Webb, Erik Bedard, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Brett Myers, and Vicente Padilla. We could even add Chien-Ming Wang's name to that list.