Before the free agent season began a few weeks ago, I looked over the list of available players that might nicely fill some of the Tribe's needs, and Brandon McCarthy was a name I kept landing on. In my ranking of the top free agent starting pitchers, I put McCarthy 7th, and he was the highest ranked pitcher I thought might be willing to sign for only two years (not counting Kuroda, whom I considered a lock to re-sign the Yankees or return to L.A.). I predicted McCarthy would get $20 million for two years from someone and said I'd be happy to see the Indians be that someone.
This afternoon McCarthy did in fact sign for two years, with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It took just $15.5 million over those two years for them to land him. At that price, he strikes me as quite a bargain, especially as prices seem to be climbing already in anticipation of the new TV money that's just around the corner for all teams. I can't believe that's all it took, and I'm very disappointed the Indians weren't willing to beat that offer.
McCarthy (of course) does not come without any legitimate questions. He's been medically cleared to resume throwing after the scary incident in September when he was struck in the head by a line drive, necessitating brain surgery and ending his 2012 season, so I don't think that should be of much concern. But he's had trouble staying healthy aside from that too, pitching even 120 innings just once in a career that began in 2005.
When you're looking to sign a pitcher for two years or less though, you've got to expect some question marks. I'd rather gamble on a good player staying healthy than on a bad player becoming a good one, and McCarthy has become a very good player.
Over the last two seasons, McCarthy has pitched 281.2 innings, with an ERA of 3.29. Of course, much of that has been done in Oakland, a pitchers' park. HIS ERA+ is 121 though, which ties him for 20th among 109 pitchers with at least 250 innings over that time. He isn't a strikeout ace, bu he made adjustments to his approach while missing the 2010 season (changes he credits to a gained understanding of advanced pitching metrics) and cut his walk rate drastically. Over the last two years, among those same 109 pitchers with 250+ innings, McCarthy's 1.57 BB/9 ranks 5th. He ranks 31st among starting pitcher in Baseball-Reference's version of WAR for 2011 to 2012, and is tied for 28th in Fangraphs' version.
Why the Indians wouldn't be willing to offer a player like that $17 million for two years is beyond me. The rotation is certainly in need of help and there were few realistic targets as good as this one. If they were willing to gamble on Shane Victorino holding up for another four years, why not roll the dice on two years of health from McCarthy, at a lower annual cost too?
If there's a silver lining in this, it's that the team that was wise enough to sign him to this new deal is the Arizona Diamondbacks, the very team the Indians have been heavily involved in discussions with about acquiring a top pitching prospect or two in exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera. Arizona already had a wealth of young pitching talent, this signing means they now have even less need for the overflow. If not seeing Brandon McCarthy in Cleveland improves the Tribe's chances of landing Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, or Archie Bradley, and/or allows them to get even more back in a trade, I suppose I'll be able to take comfort in that.
And maybe it'll come to pass that the Indians just didn't have the money to sign McCarthy because Nick Swisher and Kevin Youkilis were joining the team.
Still, I sure would have liked to see McCarthy in an Indians uniform...