With Fernando Rodney having agreed to a two-year, $14 million contract with the Mariners on Thursday, just seven of the top 50 free agents as ranked by SI.com's Ben Reiter at the dawn of the offseason remain unsigned. Seattle is rumored to be close to signing another one of them, outfielder Nelson Cruz (though, as I wrote on Wednesday, they'd be better off with Kendrys Morales). However, the next of those seven players to find his 2014 team just might be righthander Bronson Arroyo, the longtime workhorse of the Reds.
USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted on Wednesday that the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Orioles were the three "finalists" for Arroyo, after which the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reported that the D-backs, who opened camp on Thursday, were planning a meeting with Arroyo. Thursday brought word from the New York Post's Joel Sherman that Arroyo's asking price had dropped to something in the two-year, $22 million range, with Arizona and Baltimore again said to be in hot pursuit.
That's an extremely reasonable price for a pitcher as dependable as Arroyo. Over the last nine years, he has never made fewer than 32 starts or thrown fewer than 199 innings in a season and has averaged 211 innings pitched and 104 ERA+ (just above average) over that span. His adjusted ERA has dipped below league average in just two of those nine seasons.
Arroyo does have some risks: He gives up a lot of home runs, doesn't strike many men out and will be 37 at the end of the month. Still, few pitchers in all of baseball are as reliable, and over the last few seasons he has made modest increases to his ground ball rate and significant reductions in his walk rate and could benefit from a move out of the home-run-happy Great American Ball Park.
Here, then, is a quick look at the projected rotations of Arroyo's three rumored suitors as well as how he would improve them.
The Diamondbacks have a young rotation. Corbin and Delgado will both be 24 in the coming season, Cahill will be 26 and Miley, who is entering just his third full major league season, will be 27. McCarthy is 30 but has thrown fewer major league innings than Cahill. Archie Bradley, arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball coming into the season, could reach the majors this year as well, but he has yet to throw a pitch in Triple A and is just 21. He thus seems unlikely to be a significant part of Arizona's rotation until 2015. Given that, Arroyo has obvious appeal as a veteran innings eater who could serve as a de facto rotation captain and player/coach.
Who would he replace: McCarthy.
As likeable as McCarthy may be, the sad fact is that his right shoulder can't hold up to a full-season workload. He has never made more than 25 starts in a season, has qualified for an ERA title just once and has averaged 20 starts a 123 innings pitched over the last two seasons. Yes, McCarthy missed most of September 2012 after fluke head injury when he was struck by a line drive, but he has also hit the disabled list due to shoulder problems in each of the last five seasons. Last year, in the first season of his two-year, $18 million contract with the D-backs, he threw 135 innings with an 84 ERA+. With Arroyo in the rotation, Arizona would be better off trying to salvage year two by sending McCarthy to the bullpen.
Chen and Norris were both roughly league average in 2013. Tillman and Gonzalez were both a bit better, but only Tillman, who will turn 26 in April and is the youngest of that quintet, seems likely to build on that performance in 2014. What Baltimore really needs is an ace. As with the Diamondbacks, the Orioles have a near-ready prospect with that kind of potential, but unlike Arizona, Baltimore's young stud, Gausman, has already reached the majors.
Who would he replace: Gausman.
Here's where this gets tricky. Gausman is just 23 and he has highest ceiling of the Orioles' starting five, but he also has the lowest floor. He made his major league debut on May 23 of last year, arriving directly from Double A, but was hit hard in five starts (0-3, 7.66 ERA, 7 HR) before being bounced to the bullpen, then back to the minors. In what remains his only Triple A exposure, Gausman posted a 4.04 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. Altogether, he has just one quality start above Double A in a dozen opportunities. It seems clear that he'd be best off starting the coming season in Triple A and earning his way back to the majors. Signing Arroyo would thus fill that final spot in the O's rotation and eliminate any need to rush Gausman.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In addition to that impressive starting five, the Dodgers could have Chad Billingsley back as early as May. However, Los Angeles learned last year just how easily rotation depth can evaporate as Billingsley, Greinke, Becktt, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano all went down with injuries early in the year. Lilly has since retired. Capuano is an unsigned free agent.
Who would he replace: Beckett
Beckett, who is entering the final year of his contract, hasn't pitched since May 13 due to thoracic outlet syndrome in his pitching shoulder, a condition he had surgically corrected in July. The Dodgers expect him to be at full strength when camp opens next week, but thoracic outlet syndrome is not a condition from which pitchers often return to their former effectiveness. Kenny Rogers, who had it in 2001, Aaron Cook (2004) and Matt Harrison (2009 in one shoulder and 2013 in the other) are among the few positive examples, but it is just as often a career-derailing or even -ending issue. That has been the case with pitchers from J.R. Richard (whose stroke was likely the result of untreated thoracic outlet syndrome) to Jeremy Bonderman to Chris Carpenter, whose retirement this winter was prompted by his inability to return from having had the condition in 2012.
Best fit: Diamondbacks