The (Remaining) Free Agent Starting Pitchers

The Red Sox are taking it slow in free agency. a tactic that is making fans antsy, but makes plenty of sense given where the team stands. They were not, are not, and should not be in on the highest-priced free agent pitchers or relievers, as the market in many respects lost its mind before the winter meetings, and at times during them. There are deals to be had in both the rotation and the bullpen -- while we've discussed why the Red Sox should be able to put a high-quality bullpen together for less by waiting, we haven't covered starters until now.

The starters left on this off-season's free agent market are generally un-sexy ones, but many of them are good enough to do what's necessary, and should do so for a decent price. Consider this a quick guide to all of the remaining free agent pitchers, and how they would fit into Boston.

Aaron Cook: Cook would have been more intriguing a few years ago, but injuries have taken their toll. He hasn't thrown over 200 innings since 2008 -- or come close -- though, we shouldn't be surprised by this, given how Colorado's conditions harm pitchers.

Bartolo Colon: Colon also can't be expected to reach 200 innings, but the ones he does throw would likely be of a higher quality than someone like Cook. His reconstructed shoulder -- built with the aid of stem cells from Colon's own body -- yielded better-than-expected results in New York, as he posted his highest strikeout rate since 2001, and posted an above-average ERA despite pitching in a hitter's park and tough division. If the price is right, Colon would fit in Boston at the back of the rotation.

Brad Penny: Penny was awful in 2011. You might think he was terrible in 2009, when he had a 5.61 ERA over 24 starts with Boston, but 2011 was a whole new kind of bad. His ERA was once again over five, but in a year where pitcher's reigned supreme, giving him an even worse ERA+ than in 2009. He also struck out just 3.7 batters per nine, putting him in the company of Chien-Ming Wang, without the grounders or any semblance of control. Pass.

Brandon Webb: Webb hasn't thrown a pitch in the majors since 2009, and it required $3 million from the Rangers to watch him not pitch on a new contract in 2011. If he's willing to work on a minor league contract to make it back to the bigs, then by all means, but anything involving a 40-man or major league roster spot is out of the question.

Chris Young: You need a park the size of Petco or Citi Field in order to get anything out of flyball-happy Chris Young. Fenway is neither of those things, and the AL East far less forgiving than either of those divisions, either.

Dontrelle Willis: Willis has been a mess since 2008, when the Marlins traded him along with Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller. Through 2007, he had 1,022 innings pitched with a 2.2 K/BB and 111 ERA+, but since, he's managed just 199 frames with a 6.15 ERA (69 ERA+). Triple-A depth? Maybe, but there are better options out there you wouldn't be afraid of taking the ball in Boston in a pinch.

Edwin Jackson: With Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson out of the way, Jackson is one of the few remaining options expected to pull in real money as a free agent starter this winter. He's out of the Red Sox price range, mercifully: he's average, and there is value in that, but the cost will far outweigh his future production due to market scarcity.

Hiroki Kuroda: Kuroda would eat up much of Boston's remaining budget, but he would also easily be the top starter they could pull in this winter on a one-year deal. (I wrote a bit more about Kuroda over at Baseball Nation last week.)

Jason Marquis: Marquis was solid in Washington before a trade to the Diamondbacks derailed his season, courtesy of a batted ball that fractured his fibula. As a low-cost, back-end option, you could do worse, but you could also do much better than a career 5.2 K/9 and 1.5 K/BB.

Javier Vazquez: If only, but it's likely Vazquez retires, or returns to the Miami Marlins. The velocity that deserted him in 2010 with the Yankees returned about one-third of the way through 2011, and he dominated down the stretch. Then again, maybe it's just best to keep him in the NL East, where all but one of his sub-4.00 ERAs has been logged in a 14-year career.

Jeff Francis: Francis walked just 1.9 batters per nine in 2011, and it got him an ERA of 4.82 as well as a 2.3 K/BB. He can't miss bats, doesn't always have great control, and and has a history of injuries, as well as the same kind of Coors history as Cook that makes me wary of his arm's future. Just not a fan of what would happen to him in the AL East.

Joel Pineiro: Pineiro might have lost whatever he had left, in the same way Penny did. He has never struck out many hitters, but punched out just 3.8 per nine in 2011, and in one of the softer-hitting divisions in the game. He will likely get a major league contract based on past successes, meaning Boston might want to stay away from this one.

Jon Garland: Garland is often as successful as his home park is friendly to pitchers, but he's not bad -- just overrated. If he's healthy -- 2011 was the first time since 2002 that he didn't at least approach 200 innings -- then he's worth looking at. He won't strike many hitters out, and does walk a few, but he induces loads of grounders and generally eats innings up. He had right shoulder surgery in July of 2011, if you're wondering why someone with his history remains available.

Kevin Millwood: Millwood is fine as Triple-A depth, and he's a path Boston has taken before. Whether or not Millwood still thinks he can pitch in the majors might be the deterrent here, though, as he could hold out for a shot at a big league job in the spring.

Livan Hernandez: He will definitely eat innings, even at 37 years old, but whether or not they are quality ones is the question. Given his inconsistencies in a much softer division the last few years, this has to be a no in terms of a major league job in Boston.

Paul Maholm: Maholm, as a contact pitcher in front of a horrific defense, has never been quite as good as he should be. Boston's superior infield could make this groundballer succeed as he should, but don't expect him to miss many bats while he's doing it. He's the perfect fit for the back end of Boston's rotation, given his general durability, expected price, and ability.

Rich Harden: Harden could be excellent, or he could be horrific. He could also throw five inning before his arm explodes. Harden is basically a lottery ticket at this point in his career. The fact he hasn't pitched well for a few seasons despite peripherals that suggest he should makes me wary. He still has the arm to get a big league deal, and is worth a look only if the Red Sox can sign plenty of other depth that will eventually have to fill in for him. Otherwise, avoid.

Rodrigo Lopez: There are plenty of other Rodrigo Lopez-types available on free agency, and they even still have that new Rodrigo Lopez smell to them. You might be surprised and get something different with them -- you know what you're getting with Lopez.

Ross Ohlendorf: We covered Ohlendorf Friday, as a pitcher Boston could get to build their Triple-A depth with.

Roy Oswalt: Concerns over his back and a return to his lower strikeout rates has slowed the market for Oswalt. He is still expected to sign a multi-year deal, though, and for big money. The last thing Boston needs is another ticking time bomb making money in the rotation, given there are already two starters out due to Tommy John and another two with back trouble.

Tim Wakefield: If Wakefield is willing to start at Pawtucket until something opens up in Boston, then a deal should be worked out. As a spot starter, he still has his uses, but his days as a useful consumer of innings have been left behind. Look no further than 2010 and 2011 for evidence of this.

Vicente Padilla: Padilla can miss bats, and he shows random flashes of brilliance. The problem is that he also spends a lot of time healing from injuries. If no market surfaces for him, he could be an intriguing late-winter pick up, but the price would need to be low, given he has just 251 innings over the last three seasons thanks to neck and elbow surgeries, as well as nerve damage.

Zach Duke: No strikeouts, too many walks, and the occasional season with far too many homers allowed. I'm not convinced Duke would have stuck in the majors for long had he been anywhere more successful than Pittsburgh in the last half-decade.

****

Any favorites? Any definite pitchers to avoid? There are plenty of arms left, as you can see, and plenty of ways to make this work for Boston next year. It's just likely going to take awhile to come together.

This list doesn't include potential non-tender candidates, either, a few of which Tim Britton of the Providence Journal covered this morning. Any of those pitchers grab you?

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