Thanks to a slow moving market this winter there are still a number of Free Agent starting pitchers available. Could the Astros add another arm before the start of the season? If so, who might be the best choice?
Jeff Luhnow has already gone on record saying that it is unlikely that the club would sign a player that would result in the loss of a draft pick. That means Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are probably off the table. Those guys are going to be expensive anyway. How about another look at what’s left in the bargain bin?
A.J. Burnett, who recently threw his hat into the ring, could just be the best option available. Another thing that makes Burnett attractive is the fact that he is rumored to be seeking only a one or two year deal.
Reports say the Philadelphia Phillies have already contacted Burnett and the Orioles are making an “all in” effort to acquire his services. Orioles Executive V.P. Dan Duquette says he’s not sure where that report came from.
At 37 years of age, Burnett may not be a good fit for a Houston team that isn’t ready to contend. I guess it depends on how much Jim Crane is willing to spend on another innings eater that could help take some of the pressure and workload off the younger members of the staff. Given the price tags attached to recently signed starters, Scott Feldman included, I don’t think the Astros are going to be willing to outbid other suitors for a pitcher of Burnett’s age.
Bronson Arroyo probably falls into the same category. Soon to be 37 himself, Arroyo has put together a couple of solid seasons the last two years in Cincinnati. Rumored to be seeking a 3-year deal, my main concern with Arroyo is his high homerun rate. That could be a recipe for disaster in Minute Maid Park. Granted Great American Ballpark is also somewhat of a launching pad — I still think Arroyo probably ends up staying in the National League.
So, who’s left? James McDonald just signed a minor league deal with the Cubs. That still leaves a few guys that might be worth a look. Names like Capuano, Niemann, Richard, and Westbrook haven’t been talked about this winter at CTH.
Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs is also pretty high on Chris Capuano. The lefty was limited to 24 appearances (20 starts) for the Dodgers last season due to a few minor injuries. He made 33 starts for L.A. the year before. Although he has been less than spectacular, Capuano could be an interesting bargain addition.
Another intriguing name on the list is native Houstonian and former Rice University All-American hurler Jeff Niemann. Maybe the Astros are shying away from Niemann because he has so much in common with Philip Humber. Or maybe it’s the fact that he is coming off shoulder surgery and has pitched in only eight games over the past two seasons. Niemann has been on a throwing program for a while now but probably won’t be ready until July. He has put up some nice numbers when healthy but the Astros aren’t likely to wait for him.
Clayton Richard is also coming off an injury that cost him most of the 2013 season. The big left-hander had surgery to relieve stress between his clavicle and AC joint near his throwing shoulder. This type of surgery is considered less intrusive than actual shoulder surgery, meaning Richard’s recovery time should be shorter. I haven’t been able to dig up any news on how his recovery is going and that makes it difficult to predict what sort of contract he might get.
Jake Westbrook is also available. Also slowed by injuries, the 13-year veteran made 21 appearances for the Cardinals last season. Posting more walks than strikeouts and a 1.56 WHIP, Westbrook could probably be had on a minor league deal. If healthy, his veteran savvy and high groundball rate might be a good fit for Houston.
None of these guys are super sexy, but several of them could be willing to come in on a minor league contract. What do you think? Are any of these guys worth taking a flier on? Or are we looking at this year’s Philip Humber?