Over the next several weeks, we’ll be showcasing upcoming free agents who could fit into the Cleveland Indians’ plans for the 2013 season—guys who may be affordable and who can fill a position of need. The first player in our series is starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
McCarthy, 29, is a right-handed starter currently dealing for the AL Wild Card-leading Oakland Athletics. He has missed time this season with right shoulder soreness, landing on the DL twice in 2012 after dealing with a stress fracture in his shoulder in 2009 and 2010.
McCarthy has made 41 starts since the start of 2011, going 17-14 with a 3.24 ERA over 278 innings pitched, compiling a 4.0 K/BB ratio and a 1.17 WHIP. He has the luxury of pitching his games in Oakland Coliseum, which is a notorious pitcher’s park, but since returning to the majors from the stress fracture in his shoulder, he has relied on his new, two-seam fastball, making himself a brand new pitcher.
ESPN had a story on McCarthy in March of 2012, focusing on how sabermetricians have helped make him a potential superstar. McCarthy has done enough on his own to establish himself, potentially developing a career that rivals Roy Halladay. Since rejoining the Toronto Blue Jays rotation in July 2001, Halladay has only gone 183-85 with a 3.02 ERA over 2,425.1 innings. Not bad, right? Halladay developed his two-seamer and a different arm-angle that revitalized his career in 2001. McCarthy is 29 now, not 24 like Halladay was in 2001, but simply developing a new pitch or mastering the control of a pitch can really change your career. See, R.A. Dickey.
Regardless, McCarthy is a fit with the Cleveland Indians for many reasons. First and foremost, McCarthy could be cheap due to the injuries to his throwing arm and the 294 days he has been on the disabled list for his shoulder since 2009. Even though he has been successful, he hasn’t proven himself capable of lasting a whole season. He made $4.28 million in 2012, so the Indians could offer him $7-10 million per year on a two-to-four-year deal and gamble on his health, something the team seems to be fond of (see Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner).
McCarthy also fits with the Tribe’s organizational philosophy for pitching. He induces ground ball outs due to his two-seam fastball, so he’d fit right in with the Indians’ pitchers who do the same thing (or at least were supposed to). Roberto Hernandez, Derek Lowe, Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jeanmar Gomez all feature sinking fastballs. The team’s on-paper strong defense, led by the offensive-incapable types like Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan, was put together so as to get the most out of the staff. Even if Hannahan and Kotchman are gone, the club can plug Lonnie Chisenhall and a breathing human into first base and hope for an improvement upon 2012. McCarthy would fit in immediately due to his repertoire.
Finally, the Indians will need McCarthy if they want to really bolster their rotation. Hernandez will hit free agency when the Indians (wisely) decline his 2013 option, Masterson and Jimenez have been inconsistent again this year, and the group of Gomez, Corey Kluber, and Chris Seddon are just not ready or capable to be counted on. Unless the team can clone Zach McAllister or find another way to fill those rotation spots, McCarthy is a must-sign for Cleveland.
The Cleveland Indians won’t be in on Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, or Edwin Jackson, but they can still get into the starting pitching free agency pool by surprising the rest of the league and signing Brandon McCarthy. While he may not be an ace yet, McCarthy is well on his way to that level, behind a simple change in his arsenal and baseball’s willingness to logically devour statistics.