Before Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka signed for the Yankees on January 22nd, the market concerning free agent starting pitchers was quiet. Everybody seemed poised and ready to spring into action once the destination of Tanaka was decided. Since his seven-year $155 million deal was announced, the dominoes have begun to fall and the market has been reignited. Matt Garza has already agreed to terms with the Brewers, for four years and $52 million.
Where does all this activity leave the Indians? The rotation obviously still has some question marks surrounding it, despite Terry Francona's claim that the rotation is "pretty settled." The Tribe can look in-house for pitching help, but GM Chris Antonetti is surely keeping tabs on the free agency pool as well. He's probably analyzing a number of potential deals and balancing numbers to see if the Tribe can afford to bring in more outside help.
With a costly arbitration case threatening to rear it's ugly head in regards to Justin Masterson, available funds may be limited for a new acquisition. However, there are a number of individuals who could be bought at a low price and provide a quality return and some much needed depth.
Now that Garza has signed, the top available pitchers are Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Bronson Arroyo.
Ubaldo we are all familiar with. I'd like to see him return to the team in 2014, and as each day ticks by the likelihood of this happening seems to increase. Eventually Ubaldo will either get snapped up by one of the teams who can afford to take a risk (Angels, Diamondbacks, possibly the Cubs) or he'll settle for less than he was hoping for and possibly come back to Cleveland.
Ervin Santana is highly sought after, but teams are shying away from him since they have to surrender a high draft pick (as they will for Jimenez too). Santana is likely to be out of the Indians' price range regardless, but Arroyo is an interesting target. He's a notorious innings-eater who'd provide the Tribe with some stability, but at the age of 37 (his birthday is next month) the signs of decline are sure to set in soon. Arroyo would be a stop-gap signing.
The rest of the free agency herd come with a greater amount of risk involved, each pitcher possessing larger flaws. There are still some interesting diamonds in the rough though:
Paul Maholm is coming off a mediocre year in Atlanta, posting a 88 ERA+, but was quite effective as recently as 2012 (a 113 ERA+ and a 2.2 WAR). After a disappointing 2013 he may have to settle for less than he'd like, playing right into the Tribe's hands. He could be had at good value and fill the void in the rotation effectively.
Scott Baker, a player the Indians are rumored to be interested in, is another possibility. Baker has always displayed impressive control of his pitches (a career 2.11 BB/9 rate) and despite not being known for possessing a lively fastball, he has a respectable 7.18 K/9 for his career thus far and a K/BB rate of 3.40. I believe Baker to be one of the most underrated pitchers left on the market and would be ecstatic if the Indians signed him, especially if it only costs them a minor league deal.
Joe Saunders turns 33 in June and the veteran left-hander is coming off a poor 2013 that saw the Mariners decline to take him back. However, Saunders would certainly make up for some of the missing innings Scott Kazmir took with him to Oakland, and Ubaldo Jimenez is set to take. You're almost guaranteed to get at least 30 starts out of Saunders and he'd cost a lot less than someone like Arroyo, who also figures to give you a similar level of dependability.
Jason Hammel is definitely worth consideration. The 31 year-old righty has had an inconsistent career so far and has been known to struggle with durability. 2012 was his best season to date and wasn't that long ago: a 3.43 ERA, an impressive 123 ERA+, and 8.6 K/9 rate, but that was only through 20 starts. Last season he struggled significantly (a 4.97 ERA) and consistency might prove to be an issue, but on a low-value single year contract or a minor league deal, there's not too much to lose taking a chance that Hammel bounces back.
Those guys only scrape the tip of the scrapheap iceberg. There are a number of other alternatives that the Tribe could pursue, guys like Chris Capuano, Jerome Williams, Bruce Chen, Aaron Harang, Jair Jurrjens, Barry Zito, James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Tommy Hanson, and many more.
Competition will be fierce for the services of the top guys but the Indians stand a good chance at signing any one of the men I've mentioned. What do you think? Who would you like to see from the above group pitch for the Indians in 2014? Or would you prefer the team to promote from within? Post your selection(s) in the comments below.