The season-ending injuries suffered by Jeremy Bonderman and Jake Westbrook were bad things, of course. The Tigers and Indians relied on these pitchers, paid a great deal of money expecting good numbers, and now they have to dig up replacements for them. It's a sad story, truly sad.
Then again, the Tigers and Indians had contingency plans already in place for their absences, so in a way, how bad off could they be? You almost feel bad for the pitchers, as the teams so casually toss them aside and simply go to the assembly line for pitchers one could certainly argue aren't much of a step down, if at all. Geez, it's almost like baseball is its own fantasy league!
Armando Galarraga should have never left the Tigers rotation in the first place, since he's been their best starting pitcher, and the Indians have been trying to make room for Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers for a while, so much so that Westbrook seemed forgotten that month he was on the DL. From a fantasy baseball standpoint, Galarraga and Laffey seem like suitable replacements, no?
But they aren't the only ones who are yearning for opportunity and will probably make good on it. Boston's Justin Masterson is the subject of Monday's Out of the Box, and in it, Tristan Cockcroft remarks that Masterson has been a spot starter for more than a few turns in the rotation. In reality, he's the team's No. 6 or 7 starter, good enough to be out there every fifth day, but other forces beyond his control haven't quite given him the full-time opportunity. So he waits. As did I.
I stick with pitchers such as Galarraga and Masterson (and maybe at some point when he shows consistency and a strikeout rate, Laffey as well) because the baseball season isn't just this week. It's six long months. I don't know what Detroit manager Jim Leyland was thinking when he came up with the ridiculous timeshare with Galarraga and Monday's walker/hurler Dontrelle Willis. I don't know if it was even his decision. But Willis makes the big bucks, the team needs to figure out his value, and does it even matter now that a rotation spot has conveniently opened up?
In the deep fantasy leagues, I didn't let go of the reliever Galarraga or the "extra" starter Masterson when he lived out of his suitcase in Pawtucket because it was clear they had skills and would get opportunity. Masterson might not be with the big club much longer because Daisuke Matsuzaka has to get his spot back, and Masterson is the most convenient one to get bumped out. What, Bartolo Colon has a Cy Young on his resume! He's safe, at least until he tweaks a knee sprinting to the buffet line. Masterson will get his shot to stick around if he pitches well, and there's little indication, as Cockcroft notes, that his performance will be an issue.
Look around the bigs, quite a few decent, reliable starters kept knocking on that rotation door, and were rebuffed for whatever reason. The White Sox needed to make room for Gavin Floyd and John Danks, didn't they? Joe Saunders was supposedly a fill-in guy, but where would the Angels be without his 9-2 record? Milwaukee made room for Manny Parra, who is finally looking like he's legit. Jesse Litsch got his rotation spot this spring in part because Casey Janssen got hurt. Nick Blackburn needed some good fortune as well. And of course, not a day goes by that Joba Chamberlain isn't in the news.
So I got to thinking, who else is not currently in a rotation but really should be? I can cross Masterson, Galarraga and Laffey off my list, but there are others. I'll leave out guys like Max Scherzer, because he's been discussed enough, and try to stick to current major leaguers. I mean, Galarraga came from nowhere. What if Arizona prospect Juan Gutierrez, for example, is the next Galarraga lurking, just waiting for Big Unit to act his age? Not a ton of upside with him, supposedly, but who knows if he never gets the chance? I'll also exclude obvious minor leaguers such as Nick Adenhart and Francisco Liriano. We know they'll get chances, when they deserve it. I want to dig deeper here to names you might not be thinking about at all. Because this stuff is unpredictable.
Chad Gaudin, A's: I feel bad for the guy. He's done nothing wrong to deserve his demotion to the bullpen, and make no mistake, that's what it is. He wants to start. He needs to start. And he seems to have solved that small issue of walking four guys per game, as he did last year. He has bullpen experience, so voila, Gaudin is a two-inning middle reliever for Oakland. I understand why he isn't starting. Rich Harden, bless his powerful arm, is actually healthy. Who thought that would happen? Greg Smith and Dana Eveland, for now, are worthy starters. Justin Duchscherer is making past A's managers look foolish for not starting him. And Joe Blanton hasn't been dealt, yet, but I'm betting it does happen in the next six weeks. Gaudin will get his chance, and it's why I continue to hold on to him in two really deep leagues even at four innings a week, rather than play the two-start weekly game with questionable gents such as Tyler Clippard.
Kyle McClellan, Cardinals: The Cardinals are dealing with rotation depth problems, and there's a chance McClellan picks up a spot start or two. McClellan has started before in the minors. In fact, that was his role, until Tommy John surgery derailed him in 2005. Most teams probably wouldn't mess with a good thing, as McClellan has pitched very well in the bullpen, ranking among the league leaders in holds, but Jason Isringhausen will return soon, and Ryan Franklin and Chris Perez can handle the seventh and eighth innings. The holds are going to stop coming for McClellan, so be aware if you depend on him for this. Nobody knows if he can start right now, but because that was the team's plan for him when he was drafted in 2002, and Dave Duncan knows what he's doing as pitching coach, I'd take a chance on McClellan bringing more fantasy value as a starter.
Jeff Bennett, Braves: Atlanta currently needs this guy near the back end of the bullpen, but it shouldn't be long now before the Jorge Campillo experiment blows up. I watched Campillo pitch twice this week and came away thoroughly unimpressed. He doesn't throw that hard at all, and I'm thinking hitters are about a start or two away from really hitting him hard. Campillo is no kid (he's 29) and he reminds me of Julian Tavarez. He's not fooling anyone. I'd be careful if you're depending on Campillo, but hey, maybe that's just me. Likewise, I'm not sure what Chuck James will bring to the table when the Braves go back to him. Bennett isn't young, but he plays the part of crafty veteran. He's made three starts so far, fairly decent ones considering pitch count, and I think he gets more starts eventually. In a Trachsel-with-the-Mets type of way, there's not much upside here, but at the back end of NL-only rotations, he'd be fine.
Jon Lieber, Cubs: Good for Jason Marquis, I say, and even if/when the average right-hander loses his rotation spot, Lieber probably isn't next in line. I think Lieber is Lou Piniella trade bait, actually, along with Felix Pie, for some pieces the Cubs need now, like a power lefty bat not named Edmonds, or more bullpen depth just in case. Lieber could make 30 starts for some team right now, pitch to contact, avoid the walks and be better than Brian Bannister. I believe that. Even now as a long reliever, he's helpful in ERA and WHIP. Sure, Lieber got one start for Piniella, and won't get another one because he allowed so many home runs, but the track record is there.
Matt Albers, Orioles: I don't like how pitchers like Gaudin are easy pickings for the bullpen just because they have relief experience. Albers was a starter in the Houston organization, and when he sputtered in the role a year ago and had to be removed, he actually pitched worse in the bullpen. I think the Astros will regret losing him, since they have no rotation depth as it is and Miguel Tejada is older than they thought. Trachsel is done as a starter. It makes no sense. Albers has been given a few starts this season, and they've been fair, though devoid of strikeouts. He doesn't have a signature power arm, but he's 25, and the Orioles should find space for him and Radhames Liz in the rotation since this isn't a playoff season anyway. Fantasy owners know about the potentially dominant Liz, a minor league strikeout machine a year ago, but don't forget about Albers just because the Astros did.
Brandon Morrow, Mariners: If you gave Morrow and Chamberlain the same number of starts from July 1 on, who would be better? Would anyone even pick Morrow? Some should. Morrow is being mishandled by a moribund franchise making all the wrong moves. Yes, I'm the same guy who wrote last week that this guy should be closing, but if I were running a 100-loss team, Morrow would be starting every fifth day, not Jarrod Washburn. My response on Morrow was because the team announced he was staying in the bullpen. It makes little sense, though, no matter what happens with J.J. Putz. Like Chamberlain, Morrow needs to hone his other pitches to be an effective starter. He's got the fastball, but doesn't need much else pitching in the eighth inning. The Mariners should pull a Joba with this guy, stretching him out and watching a future 200-inning option bloom.
Anyone else: Sure, I would like to see how the strong numbers Hong-Chih Kuo is putting up would translate as a starter. There isn't room for him now, but Clayton Kershaw seems a little iffy so far. It appears Jason Schmidt won't be standing in Kuo's way, however. ... The White Sox also don't have room, and retread Esteban Loaiza was brought in just in case, so that doesn't bode well for Nick Masset to get his chance. His 2007 was brutal, but most of it was out of the bullpen. He can be an effective back-of-the-rotation guy. ... The Giants' Pat Misch isn't a hard thrower, but he hasn't pitched as bad as the numbers look. He's in the bullpen currently, and might stay there for a while since he's allowed only two runs in 10 relief innings, but his minor league rotation numbers aren't bad.