MLB’s Top 20 Off-Season Moves for Pitchers

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It was an exciting and historical off-season for the sheer number of moves that transpired in the MLB. For this reason, Caveball has divided the top moves into two posts. Last Friday’s post – MLB’s Top 25 Off-Season Moves for Hitters – covered the hitters, and now this one is devoted to the key pitching moves made over the past three intense months.

The top four free agent pitchers this off-season are established and consistent workhorses, who should be more valued than ever, as they seem to be somewhat of a dying breed. This made the moves to acquire them even more intriguing than with the position players.

In many cases the void that each of them leaves behind will remain just that – a void. Yes, it could clear a spot in the rotation for an up-and-coming talent, and it may result in a number two pitcher to take the place of the ace. However, both of these things usually take time to develop.

So, here’s what went down with the pitching scene:


1. Max Scherzer (Tigers —> Nationals) The Nats apparently cannot get enough pitching. Already boasting one of the best rotations in all of baseball, they have now added the biggest fish from the free agent pool. The 30 yr. old workhorse finished third in strikeouts last year with 252 in 220 innings pitched. Scherzer is no stranger to the National League, as he came through the D-Backs organization, and the transition to the relatively weak-hitting N.L. East bodes well for him. He may even get that 3.15 ERA from last year back down to 2013’s (2.90) level, and will continue to rack up the wins with a good line-up to back him up.

Impact on TigersThis should further solidify a spot for Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and whomever is vying for the 5th spot in the rotation.


2. Cole Hamels (Phillies —>               ) Phils G.M. Ruben Amaro Jr has stated that Hamels could stay in Philadelphia for the time being. If he does stay, then expect that he’ll be more focussed than ever, as he will probably be moving at some point before the trade deadline, and battling for a new contract. 


3. John Lester (A’s/Red Sox —> Cubs) While many Sox fans were thinking the A’s were just borrowing their long-time ace, Lester had other ideas. The Cubbies now become contenders in the tough NL Central, and have much more Fantasy relevance than in the previous 10 years. Lester should fare well in transitioning to the senior circuit, as it generally favors pitchers. However, don’t look for anything better than last year’s numbers, as they are his ceiling. The spotlight, and ergo the hype, might outweigh the value.

Impact on A’s/Sox: Billy Beane has really cleaned house this time – too much so. The A’s will reside at the bottom of the AL West. Meanwhile, Cherington and the pedestrian-pitching Sox will have that many more 5-hour games. Fenway returns to the early 1980s style.


4. Jeff Samardzija (A’s/Cubs —> White Sox) A great fit in more ways than one. For one thing, Samardzija is more number two material than ace. Secondly, the ace (Sale) is a lefty, while he is a northpaw. Thirdly, he goes back to familiar surroundings (Chicago). Fourth off, don’t you think his gritty demeanor and appearance better suit the South Side of town? His first year with the Sox may be his best, as AL opponents will be relatively unfamiliar with his arsenal.

Impact on A’s/Cubs: (see Lester above) 


5. James Shields (Royals —> Padres) Teams have a renewed interested in “Big Game” now that Scherzer has been signed. Shields has averaged 223 IP over the last 8 years. His 2014 numbers show no signs of age, as his ERA, WHIP, and BAA are slightly better or the same as his career average. With Shields you know what you’re getting, so the biggest variable is where he’ll end up. There’s a big big difference between Petco Park and Coors Field. 

*Update* Padres sign Shields. Not sure if there could have been a better scenario for Shields from a Fantasy perspective. There’s no longer a reason to expect a lack of run support from the revamped lineup. In addition, most pitchers who go to San Diego do improve their ERA and WHIP in the (pitcher) friendly confines of Petco.

Impact on the RoyalsEdison Volquez assumes Shields’ spot in the rotation, and could maintain last year’s numbers despite the switch to the American League. He seemed to “find” something last year.


6. Matt Latos (Reds —> Marlins) The balance of power in the N.L. East has changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time. The once indomitable Phillies seem to have switched places with the former basement-dwelling Marlins. Provided he can stay healthy, Latos should fare quite well in pitcher-friendly Marlins Park, and in the weaker-hitting N.L. East. The Marlins have solidified a decent line-up now, meaning there will be more Ws for the top of the rotation. This includes Latos.

Impact on the Reds: Along with Simon going to the Tigers, a couple of spots have now opened up in the rotation. It’s too soon to say, but keep your eyes on who the Reds favour in Spring Training. They may remain on the waiver wire early on. Fireballer Tony Cingrani fizzled early last year, but he is only 25 yrs. old, and his minor league numbers are eye-popping: 1.65 ERA/.183 BAA/0.94 WHIP in 228.2 innings.


7. Andrew Miller (O’s —> Yanks) Take one guess: What year did Andrew Miller throw his first pitch in the majors? Let me give you a hint: the Yanks are his fifth team. Yet it seems that the imposing 6’7″ southpaw has come out of nowhere. It has taken some time for Miller to find himself, but he now appears untouchable. Only time will tell if he slips into the closer role, but it appears to be Dellin Betances’ job to lose, and if his numbers are anything to go by he won’t be giving it up easily. Betances allowed just 46 hits over 90 IP, with a .149 BAA and a 0.78 WHIP. For this reason, Miller may remain available in non-hold leagues.  Answer: Two-thousand and six.

Impact on the O’sZach Britton’s job is more secure than ever.


8. David Robertson (Yanks —> White Sox) A very good year was apparently not good enough for a team who has been used to the legendary perfection of Mariano Rivera for two decades. Robertson converted 39 of 44 save opportunities in 2014 with a 3.06 ERA/.192 BAA/1.06 WHIP and 96 K in 64 IP. Look for the 29 yr. old to hit the 40 mark with the much improved ChiSox this year.

Impact on the YanksDon’t assume that Andrew Miller automatically takes the closer role. It should be Betances’ spot to lose. Keep your eye on this situation as it develops.


9. Shelby Miller (Cards —> Braves) Miller was the big piece in the Jason Heyward trade going the other way. His second year with the Cards was not as good as his first, as his ERA went from 3.06 to 3.74, and his Ks declined from 169 to 127 despite having pitched 10 more innings. The Braves still seem to lack enough chemistry to come out of the year with much more than an even record. So, don’t look for Miller’s W column to exceed the 10 that he had last year with the better team.

Impact on the Cards: 8th inning specialist, Jordan Walden, was another key part of the trade, which means the Cards could move Carlos Martinez to the fifth spot in the rotation. He will probably battle Jaime Garcia and Marco Gonzales for the spot. Martinez could be a handy late-round sleeper. 


10. Edison Volquez (Pirates —> Royals) Despite his bounce-back year with the Piratesit’s still tough to trust his consistency from year to year. The Royals will be the 31 yr. old’s fifth team, and you just have to ask yourself why. Last year’s line: 3.04 ERA/.235 BAA/1.23 WHIP is his ceiling, but his floor can be more like 5.71 ERA/.282 BAA/1.59, which came just one year earlier. The only thing that remained similar was his strikeout total: 142 K in 2013, and 140 K in 2014. In addition, he finds himself in an ever-improving A.L. Central with loads of offensive clout.

Impact on the PiratesA. J. Burnett slides back into the Pirates rotation, instead of retirement. He may a streamer on his 2-start weeks in deeper leagues, but probably nothing more.


11. Alfredo Simon (Reds —> Tigers) No pitcher’s pre/post All-Star splits had as much staggering discrepancy as Simon’s did last year. Pre: he went 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA/.219 BAA/1.05 WHIP. Post: he scraped together a 3-7 record with a 4.52 ERA/.282 BAA/1.44 WHIP. Whaaaaat? With this kind of volatility I wouldn’t trust the 34 yr. old on the junior circuit as much more than a streamer with decent potential for a healthy W column.

Impact on the Reds(see Matt Latos above)


12. Andrew Heaney (Marlins —> Angels) The 23 yr. old southpaw stood up to the hitter-friendly PCL last year with a 3.87 ERA/.234 BAA/1.17 WHIP, allowing 75 H in 83.2 IP, while striking out 91. Most pitchers do not fare this well in the PCL. Heaney did have a rough debut with the Marlins, but it was such a small sample size, with just 5 starts. In fact, you could use this in your favour, as it makes him more of a hidden gem and late-round sleeper. What’s not to love? He’s a lefty who averages a K/IP, and he’s now being shaped by the two Mikes (Scioscia and Butcher).

Impact on the Marlins: They miss out on this promising young southpaw.


13. Rick Porcello (Tigers —> Red Sox) There were some great moves made in the off-season, and then there were the pitching acquisitions for the Red Sox. With the number of very good, even elite, choices from the available field of free agents, combined with Boston’s big-market budget, one would think we would be looking at a more impressive staff by now. Where’s the ace? Who’s even the number two? I hope for the Fenway Faithful’s sake that it’s neither of these two guys. Porcello, who did manage a respectable 3.43 ERA last season has allowed more hits than innings pitched in each of his 6 seasons in the Majors. Keep in mind this took place in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. The move to Fenway should shorten Porcello’s career. Can’t you just picture the Bostonian accent annunciating his name with disgust and helplessness?

Impact on the TigersAlfredo Simon fills Porcello’s spot, and should benefit in the W column. After all, even Porcello managed 15 last year.


14. Wade Miley (D-Backs —> Red Sox) (see above) Very little stands out when perusing Miley’s major or minor league stats. His mediocre BAA of .264 through 4 years with the D-Backs was the same in the minors. The 28 yr. old southpaw might be capable of 200 K, but he’ll have to tweak his 4.34 ERA in 2014 to become fantasy-relevant, and that ain’t likely at Fenway Park.

Impact on the D-Backs: One of the worst rotations in the league just got a little worse. The D-Backs may take at least 5 years to become a contender. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, who were both acquired in the Miley trade, will be afterthoughts by that time.


15. Brett Anderson (Rockies —> Dodgers) Anderson managed all of 8 starts with the Rockies last year – 4 at home and 4 away. This is not unusual for the injury-riddled hurler, as he has not managed 20 or more starts since 2009. However, he gives a good, albeit small, sample size of why pitchers tend to shy away from the Rockies and Coors Field. His line at Coors included a 3.54 ERA/.288 BAA/1.62 WHIP, while on the road it was a much cleaner 2.35 ERA/.247 BAA/1.04 WHIP. The Dodgers have signed him to a $10 million contract with incentives. He may be worth a cheap late round stab in the dark, as those incentives surely have to do with the number of starts he will make. The superfragileistic southpaw turns just 27 on Superbowl Sunday. 

Impact on the RockiesMeh.


16. Ervin Santana (Braves —> Twins) 32 yr. old finally lands a multi-year contract with Minnesota. Santana’s numbers, while not exciting, were respectable allowing 193 H over 196 Ip with 179 K. He also managed 14 wins on a struggling team. So, if the Twins keep trending as an offensive threat there’s no reason to think he can’t earn just as many in 2015.

Impact on BravesHas anyone had as many starting pitchers over the last 3 years as the Braves? Turner Field’s diamond is like the Bermuda Triangle of pitching. From failed prospects to Tommy John recipients, Atlanta’s management has had a tough time keeping a steady rotation.


17. Yovani Gallardo (Brewers —> Rangers) Seems like he’s been around forever, but he’ll turn just 29 yrs. old before Spring Training begins. Usually the transition from the National League to the American for a pitcher doesn’t bode so well, yet he is coming from the highly offensive N.L. Central where his opponents had known his repertoire for 8 years. The bandbox in Arlington won’t do him any favours, but he could be a decent waiver wire pick up for those games in Oakland, for example.

Impact on the BrewersMakes way for the fantasy irrelevant Jimmy Nelson, and then his replacement.


18. Luke Gregerson (Athletics —> Astros)  19. Pat Neshek (Cards —> Astros) Houston has done a good job improving its bullpen with the signing of these two relievers, either of which could make a good case to win the closer’s job from Chad Quail. Keep an eye on how this situation develops.


20. Marco Estrada (Brewers —> Blue Jays) The 31 yr. old allowed just 137 hits over 150 IP last year, but 29 of those were home runs, which is why his 4.36 ERA is higher than you would expect with his decent 1.20 WHIP. Beyond the numbers is his questionable durability, as last year was the first time he surpassed 140 IP. Otherwise, we might find him alone in the 20th spot.

Impact on BrewersAside from Garza and Fiers, the Brew Crew don’t have a very established rotation. So, it could be an experimental year as far as their starters are concerned.


20. Jason Hammel (Athletics —>Cubs) Hardly counts as a move, as Hammel was with the Cubs for over half of 2014. On the other hand, the Cubs have more talent and momentum than they’ve had for a long time. Hammel has had very respectable numbers as a Cub, and with more run support this could bump his win column into the teens for the first time in his career. He’s no workhorse, as he’s never managed more than 180 innings in his 9-year career, but he could be a decent streamer, or even late-round flier. He’s going back to familiar surroundings, and his return will be completely overlooked, with Lester and all the young bats hogging the spotlight.

Impact on the AthleticsBig workload coming up for Sonny Gray


20. Brandon Morrow (Blue Jays —> Padres) Okay, before you start scoffing, harumphing and rolling your eyes, let’s just focus one one word: Petco. Wanna add a couple of years to an iffy pitcher’s career? Send him to San Diego – revival town for questionable arms. But first he must actually be on the mound to have a revival, and Morrow has not been very adept at this. Injuries have kept him to 10 and 13 starts the last 2 years. It seems like we have been talking about the 30 yr. old’s untapped talent for years. This could be his last chance to tap.


Other moves:  

Brandon McCarthy (Yanks —> Dodgers) 

Justin Masterson (Cards —> Red Sox)

OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
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