I see that a starting pitcher is on the wish list of many Royals fans (and likely Dayton Moore as well). So I thought I'd give an annotated ranking of the remaining free agent starting pitchers and invite you to do the same. I think these rankings should reflect everything a Royals GM should consider which includes but should not necessarily be limited to: current talent, age, $$$, length of contract, injury status, injury history, the effect that a park and/or league change would have on the pitcher. Anywho, here's my list:
The Worth a Shot Division
1. Jon Lieber, RHP, 37
Career ERA+ 103
Last 3 years ERA+ 99
Positives: Smart pitcher, consistent #3 starter. As Grudz pointed out, he could be a positive influence and teacher for Bannister, Greinke and other young pitchers. He would be moving from an extreme hitter's park to a more neutral park. He could be had for a one-year deal probably in the $5-7M range.
Negatives: He turns 38 next year and was injured for half of the 2007 season. He's also a career NL pitcher and even though stats like OPS+ are supposed to be league normalized, I still worry somewhat about a NL pitcher making the switch to a better league.
2. Carlos Silva, RHP, 28
Career ERA+ 102
Last 3 years ERA+ 102
Positives: Solid, reliable #3 starter. He has consistently been able to succeed as a starting pitcher without getting many strikeouts. If a pitcher does that for one season, it can be a fluke. If he does it for multiple seasons, then it is clear he knows how to reliably get outs without getting K's. He's an AL pitcher so we know he can succeed in this league and in this division. He would also be moving to less of a hitter's park. As many have pointed out, he is a contact pitcher so his success depends on a good defense, which the Royals have. He is also just 28 now, so even a 4-year contract would take him through peak years of 29-32. He is a 180+ innings per year pitcher without significant injury history.
Negatives: Little upside. What you see is what you get. He may occasionally have a season that is #2 SP-quality or #4-quality, but he is basically a #3 SP who shouldn't get much better or worse over the next few years. The big negative is the contract he wants. It has been rumored for months that he's looking for four years at roughly $11M per season. Ken Rosenthal reports today that the Mariners are talking to him about a contract which is at least 4/44. While a four-year contract is risky for any pitcher, I'm not too worried about going that fourth year on a guy as young as Silva. But if the Royals would have to top 4/44 to get Silva, I'd probably pass.
3. Kris Benson, RHP, 33
Career ERA+ 102
Last 3 years ERA+ 98
Positives: Fairly consistent #3 starter in the last three years he's pitched. Mostly an NL pitcher but had some decent success in a good AL hitter's park.
Negatives: He missed the entire 2007 season with a torn rotator cuff. He had shoulder surgery last spring and is reportedly fine now. He just recently threw 60 pitches in front of representatives from a dozen or so teams and reportedly they liked what they saw. But of course, there is the risk that he won't be back to 100%, or that he could re-injure his shoulder.
4. Jason Jennings, RHP, 29
Career ERA+ 99
Last 3 years ERA+ 98
Positives: Young, talented and managed to have a fair amount of success in 5+ seasons in Colorado.
Negatives: Had a horrible, injury-shortened 2007 season in Houston. Is he healthy now? On the one hand, he's pitched in extreme hitter's parks; on the other hand, he's moving to the AL. How will these effect him. Lots of question marks. Also, he reportedly wants a 2-year contract. I don't think he'll get it. I know I wouldn't give him one.
5. Matt Clement, RHP, 33
Career ERA+ 96
Last 3 years ERA+ 97
Positives: Handled the AL fine in 2005, not so much in his injury-shortened 2006 season. Likely to be a competent #3-4 starter if healthy
Negatives: Missed half of 2006 and all of 2007 with injuries. He had shoulder surgery in 2006 and rehabbed throughout 2007. Given his long rehab, he should be ready to pitch in the majors again, but he does have obvious injury risk.
The Don't Do It Division
6. Bartolo Colon, RHP, 34
Career ERA+ 112
Last 3 years ERA+ 94
Positives: Colon is clearly the highest-risk, highest-reward option available. Earlier in his career, he was an ace. From 2004-2006, he was an inconsistent #3. What does the future hold? That's really hard to say. He isn't known for taking care of his body or for having a good work ethic. That can make coming back from injury in your mid-30's particularly challenging.
Negatives: His last two seasons have been injury shortened and when he did pitch, he was awful. Also, his past ace seasons might get him a two-year contract offer from someone. He's not worth that kind of risk.
7. Kyle Lohse, RHP, 29
Career ERA+ 95
Last 3 years ERA+ 95
Positives: Good stuff and pretty good peripherals. He's 29 with no real injury history. All of his home parks (Min, Cin, Phil) have been good hitter's parks.
Negatives: Inconsistent and a head case. Thinks he's much better than he is which has led to friction with managers/coaches. In my opinion he would likely be a #4-quality starting pitcher in KC. One of the biggest problems with Lohse is that he wants big money and a long-term contract. The Royals have enough #4 SP's in the system. We don't need to waste a lot of money on one more.
8. Livan Hernandez, RHP, 32 (44)
Career ERA+ 100
Last 3 years ERA+ 96
Positives: He's a savvy pitcher with decent stuff who has managed to get the job done throughout his major league career. He oozes grit. He eats innings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Negatives: Despite the fabrications of his agent, Livan is over 40 years old. He's an old, declining pitcher. But he's a workhorse. If you want a #4 SP who will eat innings, he's your man. Of course, some say that time is the fire in which we burn, so his age could catch up with him any day now.
9. Freddy Garcia, RHP, 32
Career ERA+ 111
Last 3 years ERA+ 100
Positives: Arguably the best 3-year stat line of any pitcher on this list. Battle tested in the AL Central in a good hitter's park.
Negatives: Something has gone horribly wrong with Freddy. His stuff is mostly gone. In 2006, he lost a lot of velocity. He didn't get it back in 2007. There were rumors in Chicago that he was injured and that it was probably something structural, but he pitched the whole season. In 2007, he lasted 58 innings before going down with a shoulder injury which eventually required surgery. So it is not clear if he'll get his stuff back or when.
Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, 32
Kawakami has great control and he features an 87-91 mph fastball, an excellent curveball (his best pitch) and a good cutter. (Interestingly, in one scouting report on him they referred to his curve as a slurve and called his cutter a splitter. This probably just tells us something about the direction/angle of the break on those two pitches.) He is somewhat prone to the long ball, but he doesn't rely on a high fastball for his out pitch like Kei Igawa. His primary out pitch is his curveball and the secondary is his cutter. More than one scouting report I read says that he's a good groundball pitcher.
So, he looks good, but how good? That is always the question about Japanese players. Everyone recognized that Kuroda was the best FA Japanese starting pitcher and that he would likely be a #3 or #4 SP in MLB. So if Kawakami isn't as good as Kuroda, does that mean he would likely be a #4/#5? Hard to say.
Kawakami is Japan's highest paid starting pitcher at about $3M per year. It is hard to say how much MLB teams would pay for him. He would probably want a 3-year deal like Kuroda and I would guess in the $7-10M per year range. A 3/21 contract wouldn't be too much of a risk. I think a 3/30 contract would be a big risk. A 2/15 contract would be ideal.