The former Pittsburgh Pirate was non-tendered on December 9, 2011 before the arbitration deadline and is now a free agent, which adds him to the thinning pool of starting pitchers. This is perfectly fine by me as he has been a AAAA-level pitcher throughout his career, though this past season was especially dismal. Sure, he missed nearly the entire season due to nagging shoulder injuries, but he was no ace beforehand. The injury simply adds another problem to his resume.
These spreadsheets were compiled using data I gathered from FanGraphs. The players included on the following spreadsheet are all free agent starting pitchers included on MLB Trade Rumors Free Agent Tracker except Sergio Mitre who did not start any games in 2011.
There are 24 starting pitchers in the free agent pool created by MLBTR. I sorted them using my own metric: WAR/GS, which is simply their wins above replacement divided by their games started. Only Scott Kazmir and Armando Galarraga had a worse WAR/GS than Ohlendorf, Galarraga also had the lowest WAR among the group.
If we only use this near-sighted information, then it shows nearly any of these candidates should be an improvement over Ohlendorf. This very well may be true, though it would be best to increase our scope to the past three years. This next spreadsheet includes every free agent starting pitcher from MLBTR as well as some who have not yet declared retirement.
Broadening our scope increases the pool of free agents from 24 to 36 and Ohlendorf's WAR/GS score increases from -0.07 to a mere +0.02. 26 pitchers rank above him while 9 are below. This is a reasonable starting point, though I should quickly point out Clay Hensley as an outlier. He ranked the highest due to his fine performance as a relief pitcher for the Marlins in 2010.
Based upon Pirates Prospects estimation, the team should have $4 to $13 million left before they reach their aforementioned $50 million payroll threshold, depending upon arbitration agreements. That should be plenty to sign one pitcher for one or two seasons, which should be just long enough until Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon is ready for the big leagues.
It would be great if we managed to sign Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Joel Pineiro, Javier Vazquez or Hiroki Kuroda, but I am sure they would need to be overpaid and would be reluctant to agree upon a short-term contract. Oswalt may have interest in a one year contract, though I seriously doubt any willingness to move to the home of the double decade loser after having a taste of winning on the other side of Pennsylvania.
That leaves 20 pitchers who could still be an upgrade over Ohlendorf. Age should not be a major factor given the likelihood of a short-term deal. My ideal starting pitcher candidate would either have the capability to accumulate strikeouts while also maintaining control or preference toward ground ball outs. He would also have a reasonable price tag, which could be due to recovery from an injury but have the potential upside to outweigh the risk, similarly to Erik Bedard.
These potential candidates fall directly behind Oswalt et al: Jeff Francis, Bartolo Colon, Vicente Padilla, and Carlos Silva. They are all in their early 30s aside from Colon who will be 39. None of them will blow anyone away with strikeout power, but they manage to maintain a healthy K/BB ratio while recording more ground balls.
Most of the other pitchers are quite comparable to Ohlendorf's basement baseline and may be a modestly cheap addition until Charlie Morton recovers from surgery or as an alternative to Brad Lincoln, though the final name on the list would be most intriguing and possibly more exciting than our Bedard acquisition: Brandon Webb.
Webb was a former National League Cy Young award winner for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but has not pitched a full season since 2008. He was placed on the disabled list in April of 2009 due to shoulder bursitis and underwent surgery on his right shoulder. The Texas Rangers took the risk on him last season for only $3 million and began the season still on the disabled list. He attempted a rehab minor league start in late May of 2011, his first game in over two years, but would undergo a second surgery on his right rotator cuff that would keep him from pitching again in 2011.
Jon Heyman from CBS reported recently, "Webb began throwing in late December. Agent, Jonathan Maurer, said arm feels 'strong and loose.'" He will turn 33 toward the beginning of 2012 and may never return to his previous caliber of performance. Considering Webb, someone who has not pitched on the major league level for almost three years, may not be the direction the Pirates will take, but he would have the most potential upside out of all the free agent starting pitchers available and should be quite affordable. Just look at Webb's weighted average on my last chart. He would be an amazing acquisition if he could come close to those numbers.
I say give him a chance. What's your opinion?