Over the next several weeks we’ll unveil a list of potential free agents and trade targets the Phillies could pursue this offseason, one in which they’ll need to plug holes behind the plate, in the corner outfield and, most importantly, on the pitching staff.
The Phillies filled their right field vacancy on Tuesday by signing Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal (see story). Today, we take a look at a starting pitcher they’ve been linked to in recent days:
Age: 37 in February
2012-13 averages: 32 starts, 202 IP, 13-11 record, 3.76 ERA, 1.5 BB/9
Most recent contract: Three years, $35 million
The Phillies linked to a 37-year-old starting pitcher ... just what you wanted to see at the outset of the offseason, right?
Before you scoff at the notion of adding an older pitcher right after inking a 36-year-old outfielder, let’s look at the whole picture:
• The Phillies had a 4.41 ERA last season. That ranked 25th in baseball and second-to-last in the NL.
• Arroyo is not a typical right-hander. You don’t have to worry too much about a sharp decline with age, because like Jamie Moyer, Arroyo’s never really relied on velocity. Arroyo has a deceptive delivery and uses his legs so much in his windup that his arm never gets injured. He’s made at least 32 starts nine years in a row. He’s the kind of pitcher who may be effective into his mid-40s.
• Arroyo’s ERA over the last two seasons has been 5 percent better than the National League average, which may not sound as valuable as it actually is. We’re talking about potentially adding 200-plus innings of above-average work to a team that spent 2012 not knowing what to expect start to start from three-fifths of its rotation.
Arroyo isn’t the best starting pitcher available this winter, but he’s the most reliable. Matt Garza has more talent but more injury problems. Ubaldo Jimenez is dynamic but erratic. Ervin Santana was great last year, but struggled terribly the year before. With Josh Johnson you have no idea what you’re getting. A.J. Burnett is the same age but better, but doesn’t seem interested in leaving Pittsburgh.
Arroyo will also command less money than all of those guys. He’s likely seeking a three-year deal, which may sound insane for a 37-year-old, but again, he’s not your typical aging pitcher. He'd likely settle for something like two years, $20-22 million with a third-year option.
There’s going to be some competition for Arroyo. The Twins are serious in their negotiations with him, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press reported Tuesday.
The experienced, rational portion of the stat community realizes the value of Arroyo, but too many analysts are still judging him based on things like strikeouts, which is borderline absurd. Arroyo has proven that he can be effective by inducing soft contact, especially since he regularly has one of the lowest walk rates in all of baseball. What does it matter if he strikes out fewer than 6.0 batters per nine innings? His opponents have hit between .234 and .267 in three of the last four years.
As of Wednesday, the Phillies’ 2014 rotation includes Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and then a bunch of question marks. Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he plans to tender Kyle Kendrick a contract, but Kendrick was so bad during the second half last year that you can’t feel comfortable with him as anything but a No. 5 starter. Jonathan Pettibone was a pleasant surprise before the All-Star break, but wore down and didn't pitch at all in August or September. Ethan Martin is more effective in relief. Miguel A. Gonzalez is the wild-card -- plenty of upside but well-documented injury concerns.
With Kendrick due about $7.5-9 million through arbitration, it might make some sense to try for Arroyo and if you land him, non-tender Kendrick. Kendrick is much younger, but isn't better, and doesn't have irreplaceable skills. You'd essentially be paying $2-4 million for the upgrade from Kendrick to Arroyo, and the money saved by non-tendering Kendrick could go toward another starter. (Just spitballing here, but maybe you offer Jimenez four years, $60 million. If it all shakes out, you'd get Arroyo and Jimenez for a total of $26 million per year, but you'd be without the hefty arbitration salary for an expendable pitcher like Kendrick.)
With Arroyo, you’d get reliability out of the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the rotation. It wouldn’t be sexy or spectacular, but it would be consistent and it wouldn’t break the bank. It would also make the Byrd move look better in conjunction, because you'd be getting Byrd and Arroyo for what it would have cost for Nelson Cruz.