MLB Free Agent Pitchers: 4 Low Risk Options Coming Off Injured 2012 Seasons

MLB Free AgentsThe majority of the top free-agent pitchers are now off the market. In terms of starters, Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez with the Tigers, Edwin Jackson with the Cubs, and Dan Haren with the Nationals. As for relievers, Mariano Rivera is predictably back with the Yankees, Jonathan Broxton re-signed with the Reds, and Rafael Soriano recently inked with the Nationals. So unless pitching-hungry teams want to surrender an unprotected first-round pick by signing the 34 year-old Kyle Lohse, or overpay Jose Valverde or Matt Capps to close games, organizations in need of hurlers might need to look into alternate options.

As recent as a few days ago, at least three teams–the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and San Diego Padres–were interested in Shaun Marcum‘s services. And with good reason. From 2007 to 2011, Marcum posted a 3.67 ERA, 114 ERA+, 1.17 WHIP, and 2.85 K/BB. Even though the pitcher doesn’t throw a blazing fastball (averages in the high-80’s), he keeps hitters off-balance with an expansive repertoire: including a slider, cutter, curve-ball, and change-up.

There is no doubt that the 31 year-old had been recovered from his arm injury between 2010 and 2011 (3.59 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP, and 3.23 K/BB), but Marcum’s 2012 season was plagued with elbow scares, including a two month stint on the disabled list. Granted, while the righty did finish relatively strong (2.50 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 1.71), in his eight starts after return from the DL, the pitcher only posted a 4.32 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 1.40 K/BB.

Marcum is capable of being a number two or at least number three pitcher, but it’s obvious teams are weary of his past and most recent arm injuries.

Injuries are nothing new to Tim Stauffer. In addition to his most recent sprained flexor tendon, the 30 year-old pitcher also endured an emergency appendectomy in 2010, torn labrum in 2007, and a shoulder joint issue in 2003 (right before the Padres drafted him). In fact, 2011 was Stauffer’s only full-season in the Major Leagues, posting a fruitful 3.73 ERA, 95 ERA+, 1.25 WHIP, and 2.42 K/BB in 185.6 IP.

After the Padres traded Mat Latos to the Reds, the organization was hoping Stauffer could lead the staff. Yet, the righty would only pitch one game the entire season–pitching five innings and surrendering three earned-runs.

To-date, Stauffer is apparently slightly behind his throwing schedule, as he recovers from his August surgery. The pitcher’s experience as both a reliever (.225/.287/.331/.619 line against) and starter (.263/.330/.419/.750 line against) makes him a potentially valuable contributor, but it’s unlikely he’ll take the mound for a team until mid-season.

It almost didn’t feel right for the San Francisco Giants to win a World Series without their team mascot on the field. Brian Wilson fell prey to his second Tommy John surgery on April 19, 2012, costing him the entire season. Despite losing their closer in April, the Giants bullpen didn’t skip a beat, with both Santiago Casilla (2.84 ERA, 123 ERA+, 1.21 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB, 25 Saves) and Sergio Romo (1.79 ERA, 196 ERA+, 0.84 WHIP, 6.30 K/BB, 14 Saves) successfully taking over the closing reigns.

But one has to also wonder if the 30 year-old Wilson was pitching with a bum arm during the 2011 season too. Between 2009 and 2010, the righty posted a combined 2.27 ERA, 181 ERA+, 1.19 WHIP, and 3.32 K/BB, yet in 2011, he hurled a far inferior 3.11 ERA, 113 ERA+, 1.47 WHIP, and 1.74 K/BB. In addition, his average fastball in 2011 sat at 94.3 MPH, while it averaged 95.9 MPH in 2010, and 96.6 MPH in 2009. However, if the big-bearded reliever was healthy during 2011, then that might not bode well for 2013.

Wilson recently held a workout in an attempt to woo suitors, but even the bottom-feeding Mets weren’t impressed enough to offer a Major League contract. That said, if Wilson were willingly to accept a Minor League deal, he would have no problem finding a new home.

Despite having not been a closer since 2005, the Tampa Bay Rays willingly handed the gig to Kyle Farnsworth in 2011. The result? Fantastic. The veteran righty posted a dominant 2.18 ERA, 173 ERA+, 0.98 WHIP, 4.25 K/BB, and 25 Saves in 57.6 IP. After years of being labeled as a “head case,” it appeared as though Farnsworth had finally broken through.

But some bad luck struck. The 36 year-old was sidelined for the first two months of 2012, and lost his closing job to Fernando Rodney, who posted a historic 0.60 ERA, 634 ERA+, 0.77 WHIP, 5.07 K/BB, and 48 Saves. When he finally returned, Farnsworth was just okay through 27 IP, posting a 4.00 ERA, 96 ERA+, 1.33 WHIP, and 1.79 K/BB. Certainly a far cry from his 2011 campaign. The hard-throwing righty also seemed to lose a little juice on his fastball, averaging just 93.2 MPH, despite averaging a 94.7 MPH fastball the year before.

Yet even if “age” has finally caught-up with Farnsworth, according to Ken Rosenthal, there are at least six teams interested in his services, including the Rays. It would be surprising to see Farnsworth land another closing gig, but as an eighth or seventh inning option, teams could do a heck of a lot worse.