Breaking Down The Starting Pitcher Market: Depth And Back-End

Thearon W. Henderson

Boston could use some extra pitching depth -- what's available on the free agent market?

We've checked in on the top starters on the market, as well as the mid-rotation options. Now, it's time to look at another area of need for the Red Sox: starting pitching depth. Heading into the off-season, Boston has two options for starting depth on the 40-man roster. Franklin Morales, who started nine games for the Red Sox, remains backup for the rotation once more, and new Boston hurler Rubby De La Rosa will likely wait in the wings at Pawtucket until he's needed, or pitches his way into the majors.

While Morales could be put into the rotation there are concerns: his shoulder was hurt, a similar situation to the last time he was a starter with the Rockies, and the fact that he's under contract already means Boston can use him how they wish. Morales can be stashed as depth, and used as needed, whereas depth options won't sign with the team if the job is already taken. De La Rosa is in the same boat in the sense that he can't be handed a role out of the gate or Boston won't be able to bring in any other worthwhile arms, but there's an added reason to start him in the minors, too. De La Rosa had Tommy John surgery, and barely pitched in 2012, so working him back in through the minors, where he can continue to work on his secondary stuff, is likely the best course of action for his development.

So, who could -- and should -- Boston add as a back-end or depth option this off-season? Just like the mid-rotation arms, there are plenty of pitchers to choose from here.

Joe Saunders: Saunders has been successful in the AL before, owns a career ERA+ of 103 in 1,161 innings, and is at a 100 ERA+ for the last three seasons. He's averaged 197 frames per year in that stretch, struck out twice as many as he's walked, and has a tendency to induce more double plays than expected despite not being a ground ball pitcher. It's a tactic that's worked for him for a long time, but there are reasons for Boston to be wary of paying too much. Saunders is much better against lefties than righties, which works against powerful left-handed lineups, but maybe not so much against strong right-handed ones.

Then again, the AL East has a lot of lefties to face, and if Saunders can be average, then he's doing his job. It all comes down to price, and it's likely someone else will guarantee Saunders a starting gig as well, rather than force him to compete for a spot. That probably takes Boston out of the running anyway.

Brandon McCarthy: This is a tough one. McCarthy is a very good pitcher, and normally, wouldn't be designated as depth. The thing is, he suffered a brain injury, and had a subsequent surgery, after he was struck by a batted ball near the end of this season. How that is going to effect him going forward -- on the free agent market, on the mound -- is unknown. By, oh, everyone. Will someone give him a guaranteed contract, in line with what he should have received? Will his contract be covered by insurance in this situation? Or will he have to work his way back to relevance once more, working on an incentives-based deal?

Boston should inquire regardless of the situations, as McCarthy induces grounders and uses control and command to his advantage. If he needs some time off, or one of his regularly scheduled injuries occurs, Boston does have some pitching depth already stashed away to cover for him.

Bartolo Colon: Colon was suspended in late-August after he was caught using performance-enhancers, but a large chunk of that 50-game suspension has already passed since the Athletics played almost 40 games after he was caught. The fact he was caught will likely diminish what could have been an active market for the 40-year-old, as he continued to show elite control, and struck out four times as many batters as he walked despite just 5.4 punch outs per nine.

Someone might still jump on him offering a guaranteed role, but given the PED discovery, some clubs might be wary. PEDs are no guarantee of anything, and if there are positive effects at all, they aren't able to be measured, but that doesn't mean seeing what Colon is capable of post-suspension rather than just handing him a big check is a waste of time.

Carlos Villanueva: He's a starter and a reliever, whatever his club needs him to be. Think of him as a more mature Alfredo Aceves, with a longer history as a reliever capable of spot-starting and tossing over 100 innings per year. He owns an ERA+ of 100 over seven years and 657 innings, split between 245 relief appearances and 56 starts. Homers are a problem, but since Villanueva is right-handed, and Fenway limits lefty power, that might not be as much of a problem for him as it is for, say, a similar lefty.

Villanueva, since he hasn't taken an established role in his career, will likely be inexpensive. Toronto paid him just $2.278 million in his final year of arbitration, so maybe another million or so would snag him, depending on the interest (and intent) of others.

Jonathan Sanchez: Just kidding!

Rich Harden: Harden didn't throw a pitch in 2012, as he had major shoulder surgery in February. The need for this surgery is the reason the Red Sox changed their minds on sending the Athletics the agreed-upon package for Harden at the trade deadline in 2011. Harden will be a year removed from the procedure in spring training, though, so if Boston wants to give him another look, a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite to spring training wouldn't be a bad idea. Guaranteeing him anything, though, would be silly, but there's likely no one who will go that far with the perpetually injured Harden.

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