Sunday afternoon Lukewarm Stove? It must be December …
- With Phil Hughes going to the Twins, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look a few other lower-tier, inexpensive, back-of-the-rotation value signings the Cubs could pursue instead. With both the posting system and the realism of the Cubs’ Masahiro Tanaka pursuit up in the air, and the possibility that the Cubs will spend big-ish dollars on an Ubaldo Jimenez type (or maybe even a Scott Kazmir type) looking slim, a lower-tier arm might be all that the Cubs bring in this offseason. If Jeff Samardzija isn’t traded, there’s really only one rotation spot available anyway (Samardzija/Wood/Jackson/Arrieta, with Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva among the in-house options for that 5th spot). Still, grabbing a guy like the three discussed here can be a cheap way to accumulate the depth necessary to make it through a 162-game season. And, who knows? Maybe you stumble into a flippable asset or a longer-term piece?
- The first possibility is directly tied to the Hughes signing, since he was a Twins free agent. Does Hughes (and Ricky Nolasco) inking with the Twins mean that mean Mike Pelfrey will be turned loose to the open market? On a similar tier as Hughes – i.e., dreaming on some peripherals and youth – Pelfrey could be an intriguing buy-low, back-of-the-rotation option for the Cubs. While I don’t find him nearly as intriguing as Hughes, Pelfrey wouldn’t be nearly as expensive. His first year back from 2012 Tommy John surgery, Pelfrey put up a 5.19 ERA over 152.2 innings for the Twins. That ERA was undoubtedly inflated by a .337 BABIP and a 67.2% LOB percentage, both worse than his career marks. Pelfrey also didn’t get as many groundballs last year as he usually does (he’s not a strikeout guy, having K’d only 13.2% of the batters he’s faced in his career). His K rate was up slightly last year, and he continued doing the low-walk, low-homer thing he’s always done. That’s why his FIP was a more attractive 3.99. The biggest thing to like is that his velocity – sitting in the low-90s – was pretty much right where it’s always been. Pelfrey turns 30 in January, and, for you oh-God-no-not-another-Tommy-John-guy worriers out there, Pelfrey has already fully recovered from the surgery, and should stand to see an additional uptick next year (guys tend to be most successful two years post-surgery, rather than just one-year post-surgery).
- The next possibility comes courtesy of a Dave Cameron chat suggestion: Roberto Hernandez (the Fausto Carmona one, not the old and retired one) as an under-the-radar move for the Cubs. I’ve got a pretty mixed, mostly weak, reaction here. There are some positive signals there, like his increased K rate (17.6%) and reduced BB rate (5.9%) last year. He got a ton of groundballs, and generally pitched well enough to be a satisfactory fifth starter in most rotations … except for the home runs. Almost 21%(!!!) of the flyballs he gave up last year left the ballpark. He gave up a ridiculous 1.43 HR/9, which was much higher than his career mark (which, at 0.94 per 9, is already fairly high). Some of that is due to his own mistakes, but usually you see positive regression in a situation like that. If he comes for a song, sure, sign him. He’s 33, and has the potential to develop some flip value by the deadline. But, make no mistake – that’s all he would be.
- A final lower-tier, back-end option for the Cubs could be someone like Kevin Slowey. Not yet 30, Slowey has had a rough go of it the last few years, after a quality season in Minnesota back in 2010. In 2011, Slowey didn’t win a job in the Twins’ rotation, and bounced back and forth between the bullpen and AAA, before being traded to the Rockies in December. A month later, the Rockies flipped him to the Indians (for current Cubs minor league free agent reliever Zach Putnam). He didn’t pitch in the bigs for the Indians, and signed on with the Marlins for 2013. He actually pitched fairly well in his time in Miami, posting a 3.81 FIP and a 4.22 K/BB over 92 innings. The primary bugaboo with Slowey is the forearm flexor strain that ended his 2013 season (that’s why he got only 92 innings). While he was checked out at the time of the injury (mid-2013) and apparently didn’t need surgery, forearm issues are sometimes actually elbow issues (or lead to them), and an elbow issue that pops up in March could cost Slowey all of 2014. Slowey has always been a guy who works in the zone (career BB rate is just 3.8%), but gives up a lot of hits and a lot of homers. When healthy (and in the bigs), he’s been worth about 2.0 WAR per year, which you’d gladly take from a dirt cheap fifth starter. The question is whether he’s still that guy, having not had a full, healthy season in the big leagues since 2010. Slowey may wind up having to settle for a minor league deal, and, if he does, I hope it’s with the Cubs. If nothing else, he be great depth at AAA.