The Game Haus

Building a Team Out of MLB Free Agents: Pitchers

Welcome back to The Game Haus’s ongoing look at what would happen if some poor, misbegotten general manager had to build an entire Major League Baseball team out of the free agents left on the market in mid-January. You’ve already found position players, and now you’re gonna need to go scrounge up some pitching. An unenviable task, to say the least.

To see the beginning of this crazy experiment, please click this link.

The Starters

Oh god, the rotation. You mix yourself another Manhattan and let your head sink into your hands. There are basically no starters left on the market who aren’t either extremely risky or extremely bad (or extremely both, in some cases). You stare darkly at the Free Agent Tracker and begin to search. After an uncountable number of hours, phone calls and cocktails, the Bozeman Xtreme has a starting rotation.

SP- Andrew Cashner (1 year, $4.5 million)

SP- Jhoulys Chacín (1 year, $4 million)

SP- Aaron Sanchez (2 years, $8 million plus $5.5 million team option)

SP- Taijuan Walker (2 years, $10 million plus $7 million team option)

SP- Jeremy Hellickson (1 year, $3.5 million)

Uh. That’s grim. You honestly don’t remember signing Sanchez or Cashner, but you were quite drunk at the time. Andrew Cashner had a fluky-good first half in 2019, but slipped and tumbled down the cactus-infested slopes of Mount Regression following a midseason trade to the Red Sox. Jhoulys Chacín made the same descent after his very solid 2018. And Jeremy Hellickson had a good (if slightly lucky) 2018 before getting hurt and making eight miserable (6.23 ERA, 6.29 FIP) starts in 2019. None of these guys will be All-Stars, but someone needs to pitch, and these guys will. Whether they will pitch well (or even serviceably) remains to be seen.

Free agent pitchers walker
Image courtesy of Jeff Roberson and the Associated Press.

Taijuan Walker and Aaron Sanchez are pretty intriguing, though. Both are 27-year-olds with some previous success before getting hurt and missing most of 2019. They’re the best bets to break out for Bozeman in 2020 since they’ve got youth and stuff on their side. Fangraphs is down on both Sanchez and Walker in 2020, but Baseball-Reference’s projections think that Walker will be good for an ERA around 4. They don’t like Sanchez much, but oh well. They’re definitely lottery tickets, but they’ve got some good upside (hence the option years). Hopefully one of your gambles pans out.

That’s the rotation done. Nine spots left, somehow. You’re not sure if you have the strength to fill them.

The Bullpen

The relief market is actually not totally empty at this point in the offseason. There are a few reasonably effective (if somewhat aged) relievers still out there. Some of them were All-Stars as recently as 2018. You begin to sadly reflect on the ephemerality of good relief pitching and how it’s an effective analogue for the futility of existence and the unfairness of baseball’s labor system, but then you slap yourself in the face and get back to work. That kind of thinking is above your pay grade.

CP- Sergio Romo (2 years, $6 million)

RP- Jeremy Jeffress (1 year, $3 million plus $5 million club option)

RP- Tony Cingrani (1 year, $1.1 million)

RP- Yoshihisa Hirano (1 year, $2 million)

RP- Arodys Vizcaíno (1 year, $4.5 million plus $6 million club option)

RP- Tony Sipp (1 year, $1.2 million)

RP- Ryan Buchter (1 year, $1.5 million)

RP- Brad Brach (1 year, $1.3 million)

RP- Matt Harvey (1 year, $5 million)

Sergio Romo MLB free agents
Image courtesy of Lynne Sladky and the Associated Press.

Given the volatility of your starting rotation, you decide that a reliever is the best way to use your extra roster spot. The appearance of Matt Harvey in the bullpen might raise some eyebrows, but some decent long relief appearances and spot starts would be a great way for him to start rebuilding his value (and if his ego won’t let him pitch in relief, you can probably take him down a peg by locking him in a room with nothing but a printout of his Baseball-Reference page).

Sergio Romo’s been oscillating between “very good” and “meh” since the end of his ill-fated Dodgers tenure, but “meh” is not “bad” and that’s all that matters right now. Jeremy Jeffress and Arodys Vizcaíno were untouchable in 2018, but were either bad (Jeffress) or hurt (Vizcaíno) in 2019. They were really good really recently though.

The rest of the bullpen is a generally solid and uninteresting collection of reclamation projects and “guys.” Tony Cingrani and Ryan Buchter will stifle lefties (although it remains to be seen how they’ll fare with the new three-batter minimum in place in 2020). Hirano, Sipp and Brach will provide serviceable innings at reasonable rates and hopefully won’t get hurt (although you never know with relievers). It’s not a stellar group by any means, but you can’t help but admit to a quiet hope that Bozeman’s relief corps will be pretty good in 2020.

And That’s It

Whoa. That’s it. Twenty-six baseball players, ostensibly of major-league quality, are coming to Montana to play ostensibly major-league-quality baseball in 2020. You did it. Gerald O. Hamptonshire’s bar dried up a long time ago, so you take a refreshing shot of mineral water in celebration.

Then you remember that you’ll actually have to watch this team play.



Stay tuned for Part III.

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