Five spots in next year's rotation. One guy locked in.
It's hard to look at the daunting uncertainty in Minnesota's rotation as a good thing, but there are some fringe benefits to the situation. One is that it may be easier for Terry Ryan to lure in pitchers who are left without a seat and forced to sign minor-league contracts when the music stops on this offseason's free agent class.
There could be quite a few of those guys standing around in January and February. While every pitcher would like a guaranteed big-league deal, there may not be enough to go around for this deep group, especially considering the risk involved with some of the bottom-of-the-barrel names below.
These are just a few examples of pitchers that could miss out on big-league deals due to miserable 2012 campaigns. There's virtually no risk involved with a minor-league contract, and many of these pitchers would carry considerable reward.
Roberto Hernandez - RHP
14.1 IP, 0-3, 7.53 ERA, 2/3 K/BB, 1.40 WHIP
It's been a tough year for the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona. In the aftermath of his false identity scandal, he spent the first half of the season in the Dominican Republic waiting on a U.S. visa, then served a three-week suspension upon his return to the States in July. When he finally rejoined the Indians, he pitched horribly for three starts and then missed all of September with an ankle injury. Ouch.
Hernandez has plenty of baggage and has certainly been more bad than good in his big-league career, but he was effective as recently as 2010, when he put up a 3.77 ERA in 210 innings, and at 32 he's hardly ancient. His career ground ball rate of 58.5 percent is elite.
Chien-Ming Wang - RHP
32.1 IP, 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 15/15 K/BB, 2.01 WHIP
The Nationals signed Wang to a one-year, $4 million deal last offseason – a sizable sum considering that he'd pitched only 104 innings in the prior three years thanks to shoulder problems.
The good news is that Wang's shoulder stayed intact this year. The bad news is… well, everything else. He suffered a hamstring injury in spring training, then after returning in May he missed time due a hip injury, and between those drawn-out ailments he struggled mightily in both the majors and minors.
He hasn't been able to stay healthy since 2007, but it's worth noting that he won 19 games in back-to-back years for the Yankees and at 32 there's still a chance he could rediscover that heavy sinker.
Jonathan Sanchez - LHP
64.2 IP, 1-9, 8.07 ERA, 45/53 K/BB, 2.09 WHIP
After acquiring him from the Giants during the offseason for Melky Cabrera, the Royals watched Sanchez absolutely implode, posting a 7.76 ERA over 12 starts while yielding a .937 OPS and handing out more walks than strikeouts. They unloaded him on the Rockies midway through the summer and he was even worse during three starts for Colorado before being shut down for the year.
It was one of the worst campaigns we've seen from a pitcher in some time, but Sanchez had been an effective starter in San Francisco for three years prior to his trade to Kansas City, overcoming his shaky control with a gaudy strikeout rate to post a 3.75 ERA from 2009 to 2011. He'll turn only 30 this offseason. Does any of that previous ability still reside within him?
Bartolo Colon - RHP
152.1 IP, 10-9, 3.43 ERA, 91/23 K/BB, 1.21 WHIP
Colon is a different type of case from the guys above in that the anticipated lack of interest in him this winter has nothing to do with his performance over the past season. He was actually very good for the A's… up until he was suspended for 50 games in August after testing positive for Testosterone.
Following his travesty of a Cy Young in 2005, Colon failed to reach even 100 innings in four consecutive years and was then out of the game in 2010. He came back last year with the Yankees at age 38 and was shockingly good, and this year with the A's he was even better. Of course, now we might know why. Tough to see the Twins giving him a chance, but who knows, maybe he can keep the magic working even without the juice.