Monday, February 1, 2016

January Hot Stove Roundup: Pitchers

Miami continued to improve this offseason by adding Chen (Yahoo Sports)
When 2016 began, most of this winter's top-shelf free agent pitchers had already been gobbled up, leaving GMs to focus on position players and second-tier hurlers. With the likes of David Price, Zack Greinke, and Johnny Cueto long gone, teams looking for arms were forced to settle for guys who can still upgrade a rotation, but not lead one. As such, we didn't see any more $200 million contracts last month, but several pitchers still made a pretty penny. Since I didn't have a ton to say about any of these signings at the time they were consummated, I figured I'd wait and do a wrap-up on all of them at the end of the month, plus throw in a few reliever signings to boot. Stay tuned for what figures to be a much lengthier post on recently signed position players tomorrow!

Royals sign Ian Kennedy: 5 yrs/$70 M

Since enjoying a Cy Young-caliber campaign five years ago, Kennedy has settled into a mediocre pitcher, going 44-50 with a 89 ERA+ and just two bWAR over the past four years. He's also 31 and transitioning back to the American League after spending the last six years with Arizona and San Diego where, as mentioned, his numbers were unimpressive. Taking a middling hurler on the wrong side of 30 out of the best pitcher's park in baseball and throwing him into the American League just sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially when you're paying him $70 million over the next five years. It's hard to see what the Royals were thinking here, especially since they could have kept James Shields--a much better pitcher--for virtually the same price last year. They're clearly banking on their big ballpark and excellent outfield to contain Kennedy's fly balls, but what happens when they go on the road?

Few players have seen their stock fall more in the past year than Fister, who followed up a career year in 2014 with the worst season of his career last year. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong as he started slow, got hurt, pitched poorly after returning from the DL, and lost his spot in Washington's rotation after his ERA ballooned to 4.60. He initially struggled out of the 'pen but pitched much better in September, offering hope that he may have regained his confidence or at least found second life as a reliever (though maybe not, given his declining velocity). The Astros are hoping he can provide a veteran presence on their young pitching staff, or at least offer them some bullpen depth/rotation insurance. In a similar move, Houston also signed Wandy Rodriguez, another 30-something pitcher who made only 15 starts last year and struggled mightily. Fister's more likely to pan out, given that he's five years younger and has logged two-thirds as many innings, but it's possible Rodriguez recaptures his glory days with his former team.

Chen is the ideal midrotation starter: durable, effective, not terribly old, and left-handed. After a great four-year run with the Orioles in which he helped them reach the postseason twice, Chen appears poised for success in the NL East. One of baseball's best control artists, he's kept his BB/9 rate under two the last two years, which helped him post solid ERAs in the mid-threes. Chen should feel even more confident attacking the zone now that he pitches half his games in Marlins Park, where the fences are near-impossible to clear unless you're Giancarlo Stanton (who Chen will never have to face). This deal should work out well for Miami, who need Chen to provide about 10 WAR over the next half-decade to break even, which is definitely doable considering Chen totaled 10 WAR over his first four seasons.

I'm cheating a bit, since this deal happened at the end of December, but I never wrote about it so I figured I'd include it here. Like John Lackey, Kazmir has enjoyed a nice second act to his career after looking totally done about five years ago. Now 32, Kazmir is coming off his best season since his hard-throwing days with the Devil Rays, albeit a poor second half in which he seemed to wear down. That said, he'll get a nice boost from moving to the National League and Dodger Stadium in particular, which should help him outperform his FIP again (it was nearly a run higher than his ERA last year). Los Angeles is hoping he can help fill the void left by Greinke in their rotation, not to mention give them another southpaw to pair with Clayton Kershaw. The lefty's unconventional career path makes him a bit riskier than most, though he's certainly capable of giving the Dodgers six wins (the value of his contract) over the next three years.

Yes, Feliz was awful last year (6.38 ERA, 1.56 WHIP), but it's important to remember the former Rookie of the Year and All-Star was really good not too long ago. In 2014, for instance, he had an ERA under two and a WHIP below one. He doesn't have the elite strikeout stuff you want in a reliever, but moving to the National League and PNC Park should help him overcome that. Plus he's not even 28 yet, so he should still have something left in the tank.

Mariners sign Ryan Cook: 1 yr/$1.1 M
Why am I writing about a reliever who pitched just 8 and 2/3 innings last year and signed a contract that pays him less than a million dollars after taxes? Because he used to be an All-Star, he's only 28, and he joins an intriguing bullpen situation in Seattle. The M's now have three proved closers in Cook, Joaquin Benoit, and Steve Cishek, though obviously Cook has the most to prove and figures to be a setup man in some capacity. Benoit's old, however, and Cishek's never pitched in the American League, so if Cook can stay healthy he may end up grabbing a share of the closer's role after all.

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