September 23, 2009

Last week we took a look at the state of 2010 contracts for starting pitchers in the NL with the idea that knowing where a pitcher might play next year helps determine his keeper value and where to put him on your '10 draft cheat sheet. This week, we'll do the same for the AL. A quick observation is there seem to be less SP with option years for '10, which is either just a cyclical coincidence, or the way things are done in the AL.

Jeremy Guthrie (Arb. 1)Brad Bergesen (pre-Arb)Koji Uehara ($5.0M)Rich Hill (Arb. 1)David Hernandez (Pre-Arb)Brian Matusz (Pre-Arb)

Being an AL East team other than the Yankees or Red Sox is like living next to a nuclear testing range. Yes, you may live your normal life, but you'll always be exposed to radiation. In other words, Baltimore will be no better than third and will spend most of the season losing games to Boston and New York. So it's difficult to have fantasy value as an Oriole SP. Guthrie disappointed even more than I thought he would, making Bergesen the only Oriole worth targeting. Uehara is an injury risk in huge red letters. The 34 year old only made 12 starts in his "rookie" season and was shut down after elbow pain. The only thing that could make him a worse pick for '10 is a sentence with the words "Uehara," "visit," and "Dr. Andrews" in it. Just another player they'll likely pay not to play for them next year (the team's total '09 commitment to former players was $16.7 M, or more than Albert Pujols made - yikes).

Josh Beckett (Tm Opt. $12 M/$2.0 M)Jon Lester ($3.75 M)Daisuke Matsuzaka ($8.333 M)Clay Buchholz (Pre-Arb)Tim Wakefield (Tm Opt. $4 M)Paul Byrd (FA)

It's amazing how this team went from pitching rich to signing Byrd. They're paying John Smoltz to lead the Cardinals into the playoffs and may be doing the same for Brad Penny and the Giants. The team likely picks up Beckett's option (a steal in this arms market), and he'll be an SP1 for your draft next year (think 3rd round). Lester looks like the poor man's Beckett, but beware the shorter resume. This is the first year he's had more strikeouts than innings, and funny things happen when young guys feel the pressure of their contracts. Matsuzaka has looked good since returning, but how much of a DL stint are you willing to absorb next season? Buchholz has had masterpieces and stinkers this season, as young pitchers tend to have. On this team, I say we see more gems from him than clinkers. Think SP3 in '10. This is likely the year the Red Sox finally don't renew Wakefield's perpetual $4 M option. And remember from last week that Jason Marquis has a great record at Fenway, and Theo Epstein likely knows this.

Mark Buehrle ($14.0 M)Jake Peavy ($15.0 M)John Danks (Arb. 1)Gavin Floyd ($2.75 M)Freddy Garcia (Tm. Opt. $1 M)Carlos Torres (Pre-Arb)

Buehrle is one of those guys that's a real life SP1, but an SP2 in the fantasy world, mainly because of a lack of strikeouts. He's still worth a spot on your staff, just don't draft him in the first six rounds (and beware the heavy usage). Peavy may well be healthy next year, and may be the true SP1 here. The jury is out on how he'll fare against the AL. Danks and Floyd are interchangeable with Danks likely having the higher ceiling. Garcia may well be this season's Esteban Loaiza: a pitcher who needs the motivation of unemployment to pitch well. In fact, if he signs some type of guaranteed contract with the White Sox (or another team), let someone else deal with him.

Justin Masterson (Pre-Arb)Fausto Carmona ($5.088 M)Jake Westbrook ($11.0 M)Aaron Laffey (Pre-Arb)David Huff (Pre-Arb)Jeremy Sowers (Pre-Arb)

Let's be frank, this team is bad and won't get much better in the offseason (how did they go from being a contender to the Royals in a couple of years?). While I like Masterson's skills, don't draft him with his Red Sox numbers in mind. Masterson has a lot more value in AL-only leagues. That makes three bad years for Carmona and only one good one. Lucky for him the Indians are bad at math, which showed when signing his contract (including a guaranteed $6.3 M for '11). Westbrook will be two seasons removed from Tommy John surgery, which should mean he's good to go. However, he's no stranger to the DL, has limited strikeouts and a WHIP that's usually over 1.40. So even if the Indians move him (and they'll try hard in the offseason) he's a poor pickup for your team.

Justin Verlander (Arb. 2)Edwin Jackson (Arb. 2)Jarrod Washburn (FA)Rick Porcello ($1.988 M)Dontrelle Willis ($12.0 M)Armando Galarraga (Pre-Arb)Nate Robertson ($10.0 M)

So apparently, if you don't make much on the Tigers you're good, and if you make a lot, you're bad (I offer Magglio Ordonez's $19.2 M paycheck this year along with Gary Sheffield's $13.6 M paid for him to play for the Mets as additional evidence). Verlander is a true SP1, and hopefully his team will improve in the offseason to reward him. Look out, of course, if they sign him to a long-term deal. Jackson is living off his first-half reputation, but frankly hasn't been better than average since the All Star Break. If the Tigers blow their lead, I'm point my finger at him (and Ordonez and the bullpen and...). He's a low SP3 at best next year. Washburn has been awful since coming to the Motor City and is now hurt. I'd be stunned if the Tigers signed him for '10. Don't think about getting him unless he goes to a pitcher's park or to a team with a very strong defense. It's overkill to pick on Willis and his contract. I just hope he gets his real life sorted out or we'll find that money's long gone in a few years. Galarraga is in the pen right now, but he has the stuff of an SP3 (but I'd go with Porcello instead, mainly because of his age).

Zack Greinke ($7.25 M)Gil Meche ($12.4 M)Brian Bannister (Arb. 2)Luke Hochevar (Pre-Arb)Kyle Davies (Arb. 2)Robinson Tejeda (Arb. 1)

Greinke has evolved into a true SP1, which is especially hard to do for a team this awful. Normally I'd say stay away from a good pitcher for a bad team but Greinke has shown he can transcend this. That means: (1) his win total will always be low, and (2) he'll be playing for a contender right after the Royals start paying him eight figures in '11. Meche has been bad, but he would be average on a good team. Bannister (if healthy), Hochevar, and Tejeda will have some value in deep AL-only leagues, but limited value in mixed (i.e., I won't be drafting them).

John Lackey (FA)Scott Kazmir ($8.0 M)Jered Weaver (Arb. 1)Ervin Santana ($6.0 M)Kelvim Escobar (FA)Joe Saunders (Arb. 1)Dustin Moseley (Pre-Arb)

At 31 this offseason, Lackey will want a longer contract (4-5 years) than he deserves (3 years). He is eerily consistent in his numbers, which is worth something, but his ceiling isn't very high. Expect the Angels to try hard to sign the above average pitcher unless some team offers him $70 M, or if they can get a stud like Roy Halladay. While the change of scenery has helped Kazmir get his groove back, he is still the same injury risk that costs him about 7 starts most years. Don't go crazy over him in '10. In return for $28.5 M the past three years, the Angels got 18 wins out of Escobar. Unless he promises to give all that money back, don't expect them to re-sign him. Stay away from him next year anyway, but if he goes to the NL, stay FAR away as swinging at pitches is likely to cause his whole body to immolate. While Weaver throws the occasional stink bomb, his overall numbers tend to be decent. He's a good SP3 in mixed and SP2 in AL-only.

Scott Baker ($3.0 M)Nick Blackburn (Pre-Arb)Kevin Slowey (Pre-Arb)Carl Pavano (FA)Francisco Liriano (Arb 1)Brian Duensing (Pre-Arb)

This is a team that was left for dead that has simply risen into contention without its usual stellar starting pitching. Baker can pitch like an ace, but his 1-2 record this September keeps me from calling him a true SP1. Draft him after the true studs are gone. When the Twins are strong Blackburn will see good wins, but he is awful for strikeouts. Only take him in the SP4 range of your draft (by which time he'll be gone because someone else took him too early). Slowey should be ready for '10, but he's not much better than Blackburn. Pavano is a rental and likely won't be back. Liriano, well, I've spent a lot of words this season detailing his disappointing year. If you want to take a late flier on him in '10 do so (he'll still be with the Twins because he'll lose any arbitration), but there are just too many guys with better track records to get. Duensing should be 5-0 and is an intriguing later round pick (say perhaps the 12th) unless he gets over-hyped in the offseason.

CC Sabathia ($24.259 M)AJ Burnett ($16.5 M)Andy Pettitte (FA)Joba Chamberlain (Pre-Arb)Chien-Ming Wang (Arb 3)Chad Gaudin (FA)Sergio Mitre (FA)

Interesting how the Yankees only have two true SP with experience signed for '10. They'll make a huge push for one of Halladay, Bedard or Lackey in the offseason, and make an offer to Marquis. They likely offer Pettitte a one or two-year deal, unless he decides to hang up his cleats. If he goes anywhere else (including Houston), he's not worth drafting. If he stays with the Yankees, write him in for 12 wins, which makes him an average SP3. Chamberlain has been a major disappointment with his last win coming August 6, but could be a nice bargaining chip for the Yanks in an offseason deal. Wang should be healthy again, and is the best SP5 option the Yankees have unless they upgrade in the offseason (Tomko, perhaps?). Remember, Wang won't give you strikeouts.

Dallas Braden (Pre-Arb)Justin Duchscherer (FA)Trevor Cahill (Pre-Arb)Brett Anderson (Pre-Arb)Gio Gonzalez (Pre-Arb)Brett Tomko (FA)Vince Mazzaro (Pre-Arb)

Welcome to the Pitching Dollar Tree Store. At the beginning of the year this looked like the beginnings of another Mulder-Hudson-Zito combination, but injuries derailed that plan. Braden had a bizarre foot rash that ended his season two months early, but should be back next year. I can't see the A's re-signing Duchscherer and his injuries, unless he comes really cheaply. Cahill and Anderson are the last men standing from the April rotation, but as I said then, Anderson has the higher ceiling. There's a quantum level of talent between the two so don't instinctively take Cahill when the guy in front of you takes Anderson (think SP3 for Anderson). Gio Gonzalez continues to disappoint. Give up on him. Tomko was reborn this season (how odd of the Royals to misuse a player), and should carry that momentum into '10. He's being shut down for elbow nerve issues, but hopefully it's not ligament related. Tomko would be a nice SP3 if he stays at Oakland, as I'm not sure how he handles the limelight on a big market team.

Felix Hernandez (Arb. 2)Erik Bedard (FA)Ian Snell (Arb 3)Ryan Rowland-Smith (Pre-Arb)Brandon Morrow (Pre-Arb)Doug Fister (Pre-Arb)Carlos Silva ($12.75 M)

If healthy, this team has two SP1's in Hernandez and Bedard, and then a HUGE dropoff in talent. The question is whether the Mariners try to re-sign Bedard. The Yankees likely spend Seattle out of the market, unless the M's can get a hometown discount. He's a good post-hype, post-injury risk for '10, but not much past that if there are problems next year. Snell is still the "million-dollar arm/ten-cent head" pitcher that he was in Pittsburgh. Only Dave Duncan or Mike Maddux could possibly save him. If you're wondering what the worst starting pitching contract in the AL currently is (perhaps all MLB), I submit for your review the 4-year, $48 M philanthropy the M's handed to Silva. Wow, I want Barry Praver negotiating my estate. What I like about Rowland-Smith is he's going deeper into games. He should be drafted in AL-only leagues and considered late in mixed.

James Shields ($2.5 M)Matt Garza (Arb. 1)David Price ($1.933 M)Jeff Niemann (Pre-Arb)Wade Davis (Pre-Arb)

This rotation has shown how much a good bullpen can help you and a bad one can hurt you. On the plus side, Shields' '09 numbers are an aberration compared to his '07 and '08 stats. On the negative side, his strikeouts have decreased while his hits have increased. As things stand today, he's a weak SP2. If his team solves their bullpen problem and brings in a big bat (sorry, Pat Burrell is not the answer), then he becomes a strong SP2. With everything else being constant, Garza has increased his strikeouts, which is what we want to see in fantasy baseball. Garza could be a sneaky SP1 if you're looking for someone to sit while you take two 1B in the first four rounds. Price will be post-hype, but it is worrisome how average his control and ratios have been this year. Expect improvement (lefties tend to take longer to hatch), but learn from this year that an over-hyped player is nothing until he proves himself. Niemann's numbers this season aren't too different from Price's. The difference is Niemann is a lot closer to his own ceiling.

Kevin Millwood ($15.0 M)Scott Feldman (Arb. 1)Tommy Hunter (Pre-Arb)Brandon McCarthy (Arb. 2)Matt Harrison (Pre-Arb)Derek Holland (Pre-Arb)Dustin Nippert (Arb. 1)

The rotation ran out of steam the past month, but their results during the summer were noteworthy for a team playing in a launching pad. Expect improvement next year as pitching coach Mike Maddux enters his sophomore season. Millwood isn't worth his salary and for fantasy, he won't get you strikeouts. He's the kind you draft, wait for a win streak, and then package for steals or homers. If the Rangers deal Millwood (his salary looks as out of place in this rotation as Halladay's does below), don't draft him. Pitchers that leave their gurus seldom repeat their good numbers. Feldman should send Maddux a nice Christmas gift every year because he has likely turned him into a rich man. Again, limited strikeouts, but nice SP2 numbers. If Feldman goes early, target Hunter in the mid-rounds as someone who'll give you the same numbers. Maddux has squeezed as much talent as he can out of McCarthy. Expect the same stats next year but hopefully more innings, and hence, more wins and strikeouts. Holland has your strikeouts, but at the risk of your ratios.

Roy Halladay ($15.75 M)Ricky Romero (Pre-Arb)Scott Richmond (Pre-Arb)Jesse Litsch (Pre-Arb)Shaun Marcum (Arb. 1)Marc Rzepczynski (Pre-Arb)

One of these things is not like the other... I won't reiterate how foolish the Jays were not to sell Halladay, but this staff is not built for winning (and has logged a lot of DL days). Halladay is a true SP1 no matter where he plays, and Romero would be a strong SP2 on a winning team. Instead, he's an SP4 option for '10. The same goes for Richmond. Litsch should be back from Tommy John in the middle of '10, but that means he won't be a good option until '11. Marcum will hit 18 months after his TJ surgery around the start of the '10 season, which makes him the most likely SP2 on this team. Rzepczynski has been named to the '10 rotation already, and could be a sneaky source of strikeouts for AL-only leagues and a late-round source for mixed.

Thanks again to Cot's Baseball Contracts for their data. Any errors in this column are mine, not theirs. See you next week.

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