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Six Free Agents Who Can Make an Impact: Pitchers

Kyle Lohse, K-Rod, and Jose Valverde among those available
01/25/2013 8:42 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Kyle Lohse went 16-3 for St. Louis in 2012.(AP)
The free agent pool has been thinned out quite a bit this week, with Delmon Young signing with the Phillies, Scott Hairston reportedly agreeing to a deal with the Cubs, Shawn Marcum joining the Mets, and a handful of other notables (like Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Carlos Oviedo, and Nyjer Morgan) either agreeing to deals, signing Minor League pacts, or heading overseas.

So what’s left on the market? As it stands, there seems to be only a few “impact” players available, with former Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, ex-Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, and closers Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde the cream of the crop in each category.

However, beyond those players, there are quite a few others – grizzled veterans and “young veterans” alike—that can help many teams if they find the right fit. On Thursday, we took a look at Bourn and five other position players who could fit that bill, and we finish today with a spotlight on the aforementioned three pitchers and a few other hurlers in the same boat.

RHP Kyle Lohse
It may seem shocking that a man who went 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA, threw 211 innings, and won the first-ever Wild Card Game in his age 33 season would be available – but here’s Kyle Lohse, still looking for a job with pitchers and catchers roughly three weeks away from reporting.

It’s not as if Lohse was a one-year wonder, either; he was 55-35 in five seasons in St. Louis, and started 30-plus games in three of those five years. At 34, it’s likely Lohse has at least a couple more solid seasons ahead of him, but at this point it’s likely a matter of finding the right fit and the right money. So where might that be? The best fit may, ironically, be the Braves team he beat in that Wild card Game; Atlanta does still have a glut of young starters despite trading Tommy Hanson and Randall Delgado, but with Brandon Beachy recovering from Tommy John surgery, two starters in their contract years, and one more option on Julio Teheran, he could be a few-year fit in the ATL. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and maybe even Baltimore could check in, as well.

LHP Joe Saunders
After winning 33 games for the Angels in 2008 and 2009 combined, Saunders has struggled a bit over the last few years, but went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA in seven starts down the stretch for AL Wild Card winner Baltimore and re-established himself. He has made at least 28 starts in each of the last five years, and at just 31, he can be a solid back-end innings eater at worst for at least a few more years. Plus, he’s a lefty, which always helps.

All that said, the best fit for Saunders might be a younger team on the rise that has a lot of younger starting pitching and would desire a short-term veteran presence; a return to the Orioles would fit that bill, and the Mariners are another top option. He might also fit with the Braves, although they already have two lefties penciled into the rotation in 2013.

RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
His 18-3, 2.90 season in 2008 seems like light years ago, and his 2012 numbers (1-7, 8.18 ERA in 11 starts) look horrid on paper. But, as many will note, it takes sometimes up to a full year to be back to 100 percent after returning from Tommy John surgery, which is what Dice-K did in 2012. When healthy, he’s been very effective, and could be a low-risk, high-reward signing for a team looking for a veteran. NESN reported last week that the Indians, Marlins, and Mets were possibilities; the latter may be out now that Shaun Marcum is in New York, but the other two – or perhaps a team like Houston, who is moving to the AL this year – could strike gold with a motivated, healthy Dice-K at the back end of their rotation.

RHP Francisco Rodriguez
Much like Dice-K, it seems like K-Rod’s record-setting season of 2008 was ages ago, and even his days with the Mets seem long gone. However, Rodriguez is just 31, and despite a down season in Milwaukee as a set-up man, isn’t that far removed from being an elite closer. Whether he can be again, or is simply set to move into a role as veteran set=up man/fallback closer (a la Tom Gordon for the Yankees in the 2000s) remains to be seen. Should he choose to embrace that role, Toronto may be the perfect fit; the Blue Jays are looking for a veteran reliever with closing experience to supplement the back end of their bullpen, and with 294 career saves, there’s no one numerically better out there than K-Rod.

RHP Jose Valverde
Here’s the bad news for Valverde: he’ll be 36 in March, and after he went through a meltdown in the playoffs, teams may be gun shy to bring him in as a closer. Here’s the good news for any team that signs him, however: last October notwithstanding, they’re getting a guy who was an All-Star in two of the last three years, has led the league in games finished the last two years, led the AL in saves and appearances in 2011, and has 277 career saves to go with a 3.11 ERA. Toronto may be an even better fit for him than it would for K-Rod, a return to Detroit still can’t be out of the question, and maybe even a team like the Mets, Royals, or Pirates would roll the dice knowing they’d get a quality fallback option.

RHP Matt Capps
Capps is only 29, but has been in the Majors for seven full years now and recorded 138 career saves in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Minnesota. He missed a good chunk of 2012 with a shoulder injury, but was 1-4 with a 3.68 ERA and converted 14 of 15 save opportunities overall in a tough season for the Twins, who declined his $6 million club option. Capps will likely have to settle for an incentive-laded one-year deal to re-establish himself, and while he certainly could be a closer, he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press at the end of last season that he was amenable to a return to the Twins – who will likely go with lefty Glen Perkins as their closer in 2013 – saying “If they want me back, I certainly would not walk away from that.” If he’s not in the Twin Cities, Toronto could be a fit as mentioned, and the Miami Herald reported earlier in January that the Marlins were one of “several teams in talks” with Capps, likely looking to bring him in as a set-up man/fallback for closer Steve Cishek.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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