Change-UpJune 27, 2007
Ready to Deal?
By Patrick Sullivan

It is that time of year again. It's late June, teams are figuring what they have and what they need, with the bad teams looking to ship older, expensive talent for young, inexpensive promise. The biggest name that has been floating around for the last week or so is the Chicago White Sox's Mark Buehrle (although today's Chicago Sun Times reports he is on the cusp of signing an extension with the Pale Hose). No matter, I planned on profiling Buehrle and will forge on.

In that he does not strike out many batters year after year but manages to put up impressive numbers, Buehrle is somewhat anomalous. Still, it is impossible to argue with his productivity and in Buehrle's case, you might even contend that his propensity to pitch to contact - and consistently do so while getting outs - affords him his greatest attribute, the inning pitched. Buehrle racks them up with the best of them.

Since Buehrle's first full season in 2001, only Livan Hernandez has pitched more innings. Of the top-10 in innings pitched, only Tim Hudson and Randy Johnson boast more impressive ERA-plus figures. Nobody is younger. How do you argue with that record? Second in innings pitched, a 122 ERA-plus and younger than anyone else in the top-10 for innings pitched since 2001.

Line him up with Barry Zito, who was awarded a 7-year, $126 million dollar contract by the San Francisco Giants last off-season, and they are virtually indistinguishable from a statistical standpoint. Zito had a Cy Young Award to his credit, a few more strikeouts and some Oakland Athletics Moneyball cache. But Buehrle has a World Series ring, and if you were to toss out each player's best and worst season, Buehrle starts to look quite a bit better than Zito (I know, how convenient).

Hampering Buehrle's market value is his poor 2006 season. He had a career low 204 innings pitched, a career low 93 ERA+ and a career low 4.32 K/9. But take a look at where he ranks among MLB pitchers, season by season, according to Baseball Prospectus's VORP (Value Over Replacement Player).

2001: 8
2002: 10
2003: 59
2004: 12
2005: 9
2006: 155
2007: 18

That 2006 season is a clear outlier, and looks like little more than a World Series hangover to me. I have to admit, before digging through some of these numbers I had been lukewarm on Buehrle. To watch a Buehrle start is not to witness the artistry of Johan Santana or the power of The Big Unit, and so he has never left the impression on me that the other pitchers of his quality and stature have. The prospect of my beloved Boston Red Sox parting with one of their premier prospects seemed ludicrous to me. But upon further reflection, what more could you want out of the free agent market for a pitcher? If you are not going to pay up for a 28 year-old left-handed bulldog who takes the ball every fifth day, almost always gives you a shot to win and turns the ball over to the pen deep in the game, then what pitcher will you shell out dough for? A.J. Burnett?

Barry Zito serves as a nice counterpoint to the case I am making now and to that I would respond accordingly. First, $126 million was absurd from the outset. Nobody should give Buehrle or any other free agent pitcher that kind of money. Second, toss out Zito's 2002 season, which occurred five full seasons prior to the one before which he was awarded the enormous contract, and he looks a lot more pedestrian over his career.

Trading a promising prospect or two for three months of Buehrle, his post-season track record and experience, plus an exclusive negotiating window in which to offer him another five years and maybe $75 million or so would be an excellent deal for any contending team in 2007.

Maybe that's why Kenny Williams is reportedly about to extend him.


Few pitchers change speeds as well as Zito, but he gives up too many walks and often goes deep in the count. I'll take Buehrle over Zito.

I think the Buehrle trade talk frenzy got so hot because of how BAD the Sox played for a stretch. Granted, they aren't playing well by any means now, but they were so bad there for a while that no one could see any trade value in anyone whatsoever - despite still holding onto very valuable players to other organizations.

Guys like Jim Thome and (Gasp) Bobby Jenks are probably much better guys for the Sox to shop, in my opinion. At first, it seems silly because of the money involved with Thome and the fact that Jenks is the only bright spot in an otherwise horrific bullpen. Looking closer, however, you would find that Thome's contract isn't going to be that big of an add-on to the already HUGE spending contenders like the Mets/Yanks/Bo-Sox, and big spenders like the Angels. Clearly, no National league contender has a home for Thome right now, however, so his best bet would be to make an already good AL Lineup completely ridiculous.

Jenks, on the other hand, could give a contender a much needed premier closer for THIS YEAR during a World Series push. His effectiveness should be short lived,however and the Sox should be aware of his a) already declining velocity and K/BB numbers, and b) the usually large and swift decline of closers who get/got by with 100 MPH stuff. In short, Jenks threw too hard to be worthwhile over the long haul, but for this season, he could mean a lot to someone else.

" some Oakland Athletics Moneyball cache."

Unless Zito has a closet full of books helping his value, you meant cachet.

Awesome - thanks Noah.

Won't be the last time I look like a dumbass on here.

You obviously haven't paid attention to Jenks. He is definitely evolving into a "pitcher". The White Sox would be mad to trade him with his cheap status.

I will bet you he is injured or significantly worse by middle of next season.

You may be getting a little over-zealous on Buehrle. He has been a good pitcher over the last few years, but players of his type do not age well. Just look at his comparables found in this BP article:
Pitchers who do not strike anyone out do not tend to age well at all. His numbers projected by Pecota are supposed to get increasingly worse over the next few years. Add that to the fact, that any team trying to trade for him would probably have to give him a hefty new contract and presumably would want to if they were giving up the prospects that K.Williams is demanding and Buehrle does not seem worth it. Is he really worth Bucholz and Ellsbury? No, no way. He might be worth Hansen and Moss is the White Sox were willing to accept that, but given the financial strain and the fact that the Red Sox rotation is set for years to come with Dice-K, Beckett, Lester, Bucholz and it seems even less logical to give up those players and money for a team that will only need a fifth starter type in the near future. This especially doesn't make sense if they plan on resigning Schilling. Also they have David Pauley, Kason Gabbard and Devern Hansack and Bowden as internal cheap options to fill this last spot in the rotation, and it makes even less sense to go after Buehrle. That money would be better spent on replacing the bats of Manny and Ortiz as they age. The team would be suited to go after another bat for the future at the trading deadline like Texeira. This would setup the team for quite some time with Youkilis at 3b, Texeira at 1b, Perdoia at 2b, Ellsbury at CF, JD Drew in RF, Manny in LF (to be replaced by Willy Mo eventually), Ortiz at DH, and maybe Jed Lowrie at SS. This along with the bullpen they have would form a great team for years to come. Buehrle would just screw this up. They might have to give up some of these assets to get Texeira, but maybe not. They have plenty of young pitchers to trade and OF prospects, who I didn't include in this plan.