Which depth starters could be late off-season targets for Blue Jays?

Jaime Garcia was traded to the New York Yankees in the second of two deals in July of 2017. (Ben Margot/AP)

To this point in the off-season, the starting pitcher most closely linked to the Blue Jays has probably been CC Sabathia.

While Sabathia ultimately re-signed in New York, the Blue Jays’ interest in the veteran left-hander could hint at their approach in the starting pitching market. Rather than pursuing Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta at full price, the front office seems more inclined to add a experienced mid- to back-of-the-rotation starter.

Even in a relatively weak free agent market for starting pitching, a handful players do fit that description, including one whose performance was rather Sabathia-esque last year.

Jaime Garcia 27 27 157 7.39 3.67 1.030 54.8 % 4.41 4.25 4.18 2.1
CC Sabathia 27 27 148.2 7.26 3.03 1.270 49.9 % 3.69 4.49 4.11 1.9

All things considered, Jaime Garcia did a pretty good Sabathia impression during an unusual 2017 season that saw him get traded twice in one week ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. On paper he’s a fit for the Blue Jays, who have more than $10 million to spend on their remaining needs: starter, reliever and backup catcher. While it’s tough to pinpoint any player’s market in this unexpectedly slow off-season, Sabathia’s $10-million deal appears to be a relevant reference point for Garcia from the outside looking in.

At the very least he’s an intriguing option—one of many available to teams like the Blue Jays as they look to round out their rotations before opening day. Here’s a closer look at who’s out there in free agency.

Jaime Garcia
Age: 31 | Throws: left | 2017 stats: 27 starts, 157 innings, 4.41 ERA, 129 strikeouts, 64 walks, 4.25 FIP, 2.1 WAR | 90.7 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

Garcia ranked fifth among starting pitchers in ground ball rate last year thanks to an effective two-seamer that was among the hardest to square up in baseball last year, as measured by xwOBA. Garcia also generated more swings and misses last year than he did in 2016.

If he’s available on a one-year deal he’d be an intriguing fit in Toronto.

Andrew Cashner
Age: 31 | Throws: right | 2017 stats: 34 starts, 166.2 innings, 3.40 ERA, 86 strikeouts, 64 walks, 4.61 FIP, 1.9 WAR | 93.4 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

Cashner throws hard, and that ERA looks great, but he just doesn’t generate much swing and miss. He’s seeking a three-year commitment, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, and it’s hard to see the Blue Jays going there for a pitcher who looks like a regression candidate best-suited for the back of a rotation.

Jason Vargas
Age: 34 | Throws: left | 2017 stats: 32 starts, 179.2 innings, 4.16 ERA, 134 strikeouts, 58 walks, 4.67 FIP, 1.6 WAR | 85.6 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

In some ways, Vargas operates like a left-handed Marco Estrada. His fastball averages less than 90 m.p.h., but he mixes in plenty of off-speed stuff, including a change-up that he throws nearly one third of the time.

Their performances were comparable last year, too—at least if you focus on what they can control. Both threw roughly 180 innings with FIPs just above 4.60. Vargas also made the all-star team, led the AL with 18 wins and posted a 4.16 ERA, but teams see through those old-school numbers and appear to have no interest in paying for them.

For reference, Vargas has earned between $7-$8.5 million in each of the last five seasons. If that’s the price tag this year, he could be a reasonable target for a one-year deal.

Chris Tillman
Age: 29 | Throws: right | 2017 stats: 19 starts, 93 innings, 7.84 ERA, 63 strikeouts, 51 walks, 6.93 FIP, -1.0 WAR | 90.7 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

At his peak, Tillman was a workhorse who could reliably post an ERA under 4.00 for 200 innings. But after a disastrous 2017 season, it’s tough to expect much of anything from the 29-year-old right-hander. He allowed 24 homers and 86 runs in 93 innings. The resulting 7.84 ERA should keep his price low this winter.

Regardless, the Twins, Tigers and Orioles have also been linked to Tillman this winter.

Brett Anderson
Age: 29 | Throws: left | 2017 stats: 13 starts, 55.1 innings, 6.34 ERA, 38 strikeouts, 21 walks, 4.10 FIP, 0.8 WAR | 90.5 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

There’s some mutual interest between Anderson and the Blue Jays, but the club will presumably aim higher for now. When healthy, Anderson’s a reasonable back-end option. The problem is, he has consistently had trouble staying on the field and has made 20-plus starts just twice in nine seasons.

Wade Miley
Age: 31 | Throws: left | 2017 stats: 32 starts, 157.1 innings, 5.61 ERA, 142 strikeouts, 93 walks, 5.27 FIP, 0.8 WAR | 91.0 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

In contrast to Anderson, Miley has been durable, with at least 29 starts in six consecutive seasons. Recently, the quality of his performance has dropped off, though. Last year he led the league in walks while allowing 25 home runs on his way to a 5.61 ERA.

Jason Hammel
Age: 35 | Throws: right | 2017 stats: 32 starts, 180.1 innings, 5.29 ERA, 145 strikeouts, 48 walks, 4.37 FIP, 2.1 WAR | 92.1 m.p.h. average fastball velocity

One of these two pitchers is Jason Hammel. The other’s a prominent free agent. Just for the sake of argument, who would you rather have going forward based on their 2017 seasons?

Name GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR Swinging Strike % Average Velocity
Pitcher 1 32 180.1 7.24 2.40 1.3 38.0 % 5.29 4.37 4.92 2.1 9.5% 92.1
Pitcher 2 33 186.1 7.39 3.77 1.3 44.0 % 3.43 4.82 4.75 1.4 9.0% 91.8

Going by these numbers, you could make a case for either. In reality, Hammel (Pitcher 1) is an afterthought trade candidate while Lance Lynn (Pitcher 2) ranks among the top four starters available in free agency.

Granted, you’d rather have Lynn and it’s not close. He’s five years younger and flashed front-of-the-rotation upside before undergoing Tommy John surgery. But could Hammel be a short-term, down-market version of Lynn? The Royals right-hander will earn $9 million in 2018 with a $2 million buyout for 2019, so he’s arguably a little overpaid. Still, he’s better than his ERA would suggest with a respectable track record of his own.

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