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February 8, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Friday, February 8

by Daniel Rathman

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Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik was a busy man on Thursday: Over a span of only a few hours, he added free agent Joe Saunders to his rotation and ensured that Felix Hernandez would be fronting it for the rest of the decade. The former move was a one-year deal, the latter a seven-year, $175 million blockbuster—and both of them could impact the market for teams that still have work to do this spring. Today’s Roundup features two players who stand to benefit.

Multiple teams kicking the tires on Jon Garland
Now that Saunders has settled on his new home, the list of unemployed pitchers is low on veterans who performed well last year. There is, however, no shortage of clubs that could use another proven starter to fortify their staffs. Since demand now far outstrips supply, general managers who missed the boat on the likes of Saunders and Shaun Marcum will need to get creative to address their remaining holes.

Getting creative means leaving no stone unturned, and that is why even pitchers who did not throw a single professional inning in 2012 are now drawing a crowd. Garland, who last pitched for the Dodgers in 2011, needed extensive shoulder surgery that July, when Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed a debridement procedure and repaired his labrum and rotator cuff. The right-hander inked a minor-league pact with the Indians the following January, but he was not healthy enough to pass the team’s physical and decided to sit out the year after the contract was nullified.

That may have been a shrewd medical decision by Garland, because ESPN’s Jason Churchill heard from sources on Thursday that the 33-year-old “was decent to pretty darned good” in his audition earlier this week. As a result, Garland is commanding attention from “multiple clubs,” and though there are no indications that a deal with any of them is close, he should have no trouble earning at least a non-roster invitation to camp.

A reliable, if middling, workhorse for the first 10-plus years of his major-league career, Garland made 321 starts before his first trip to the disabled list. That three-week stint was necessitated by an oblique strain that he suffered during spring training two years ago. Little did he and the Dodgers—who signed him to a one-year, $5 million hitch on November 26, 2010—know that a much more serious injury was just around the corner.

There were obvious signs, not long after Garland returned to the mound on April 15, 2011, that something was amiss. His fastball velocity, previously around 91 mph, was down to 89 mph, and his once-stellar control at times abandoned him entirely. Garland had never been a strikeout pitcher, with a career K:PA rate of just 12.6 percent, but when his fastball sat in the low 90s, his sharpest off-speed pitch, a changeup, had enabled him to avoid incurring the wrath of left-handed hitters. That all changed in 2011, when his flagging heater diminished the effectiveness of his changeup, allowing opposing lefties to tee-off to the tune of a .358 TAv. Nine starts later, Garland pulled the plug on his season and went under the knife for the first time in his career.

The teams that attended Garland’s first workout and that presumably will track him over the coming days will base their evaluations on a variety of factors, but his fastball velocity—or what they perceive its potential to be, given a two-month tune-up—could determine both the volume of offers that his agent, Craig Landis, will receive and his likelihood of beginning the 2013 campaign in the majors. If he is healthy, then Garland should be able to approximate his 2009-2010 outputs, which were worth one win apiece. That would make him an adequate number-five starter on many teams, and perhaps a bit more than that on those that would provide both a vast ballpark and strong defense.

Churchill tweeted on Thursday that the Mariners were among the clubs that attended Garland’s throwing session, but it is unclear whether Zduriencik viewed him as anything more than a Plan B to Saunders. Garland could also fit with the Padres—for whom he delivered 200 innings over 33 starts during a surprising, 90-72 campaign in 2010—and the Twins, who were actively involved in the Saunders bidding before the southpaw chose Seattle.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers have “mutual interest” in consummating extension
Meanwhile, the $175 million outlay the Mariners awarded to Hernandez might set a precedent for other elite pitchers’ long-term demands. The two most pertinent extension candidates are Kershaw and Justin Verlander, both of whom are set to test free agency after the 2014 season if negotiations with their current employers break down. Kershaw will earn $11 million in 2013, the second year of a two-year, $19 million deal that bought out his first two years of arbitration, while Verlander has $20 million paychecks coming this year and next, the latter half of a four-year, $80 million contract signed in February 2010.

Verlander, who will turn 32 before Opening Day, 2015, is a long shot to become the league’s first $200 million pitcher, but Kershaw, who could test the market ahead of his age-27 season, might have a legitimate chance. Of course, given the Dodgers’ spending power, Kershaw is likely to be locked up long before the end of the 2014 World Series. General manager Ned Colletti told Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times that “there is a mutual interest” in extension discussions between the Dodgers and their ace, so the only question is how much the 2011 Cy Young award winner will demand to forgo a potentially record-setting foray into free agency. 

The Kershaw situation will be one to watch as the Dodgers report to their spring training facility at Camelback Ranch. And, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors pointed out on Twitter in the wake of the Hernandez news, if history is any guide, then Verlander could have a high-nine-figure payday coming, too. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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