The Baltimore Orioles are still interested in bringing starting pitcher Joe Saunders back and he has said he is interested in coming back to Baltimore, but he’s also leaving the contract negotiations up to his agent. It has been reported that he is looking for a three year contract and that doesn’t seem all that far-fetched considering we have seen two year deals for players like Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, and Francisco Liriano as well as a three year deal for former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie.
The real question is what is the going rate for a starting pitcher with the skill-set that Saunders possesses? We certainly have some contracts already signed this winter to compare him to and then make a determination of where his likely market value lies, but with Saunders there’s actually more to it than just the money – at least in regards to what the Orioles should take into consideration.
But first things first, what is the market value for Joe Saunders?
To answer that question we must take a look at five other free agent starters who signed deals this winter and then figure out where Saunders fits into that group.
Brandon McCarthy has produced the most value over the last two seasons for the Oakland Athletics with 6.6 fWAR, but his value is strictly tied to his health. When healthy, which is rare, he has proven to be a very solid pitcher in the rotation. Unfortunately for him, and any team he is on, he has never played an entire season in his career and the most starts he’s ever made in a single season is 25 in 2011.
Another thing to consider is that a starting pitcher, when healthy all season, is generally scheduled to make 30 starts a year. Of the potential 210 starts over McCarthy’s career he has made just 99 of them, or 47%. That is the main reason why he only received a two year contract worth less in annual value then what Jeremy Guthrie got from the Kansas City Royals.
Guthrie is the most reliable starters of this group as he has never dealt with any major injuries over his nine years in the majors and hasn’t thrown less than 175 innings since becoming a full-time starter in 2007, and throwing 200+ innings three times in that span. He is also two years older than Saunders is and managed to land a three year contract worth a touch over eight million a year because he’s durable and not all that bad of a pitcher.
Joe Blanton is another guy who has been fairly reliable over his career, with exception to the 2011 season where he was limited to just eight starts, but being able to make 30 or more starts a season does not mean that you should. Blanton hasn’t posted an ERA below four since 2007 when it was 3.95, with Oakland, and he just hasn’t been very good overall since his rookie season in 2005 when he pitched 201.1 innings with a 3.53 ERA. He’s nothing more than a number five starter on a team that has no better options because of his durability. He managed to get a two year deal worth $7.5 million per year and the two pitchers at the bottom of the list are even less reliable than him.
If Saunders is looking for a three year deal then I would say the market dictates that he should be able to find it, and a contract similar to what Guthrie got is very close to what he is worth this winter. The fact that he is a crafty left-hander who doesn’t walk a lot of batters, doesn’t give up a lot of homeruns, and has had playoff success is enough to get him that deal.
Even though the Orioles aren’t fond of handing out contracts to starting pitchers pushing three years or longer, a three year contract for Saunders worth between $25 and $27 million dollars in total value would be a fair deal for both sides. You know what you are getting with him, he has no injury history whatsoever, and he’s left-handed – something that will come in handy against those left-handed power hitters of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.