clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Brandon McCarthy free agency preview

The tall righty's stock has gone up in 2014. What market can he expect this offseason?

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon McCarthy has become a very intriguing potential signing for teams in need of pitching. After a career of ups-and-downs, he is having a strong finish to the 2014 season and the two-year contract. Once a top prospect, then a disappointment, then a feel-good story: what happens next for the right-hander?

Where he's been

One could write an interesting book based on Brandon McCarthy's career. A highly-touted call-up prospect in 2005, McCarthy struggled to blossom his potential, due to mediocre performances (4.92 FIP from 2005 to 2009) and shoulder injuries.

In 2011, after some transformation in approach, the righty emerged as one of the best starters of the American League. In 2011 and 2012 combined, McCarthy combined for a 6.3 fWAR with an excellent 4.0 strikeouts per walk. And there could be a chapter written about the unfortunate incident that raised awareness in pitchers' safety on the mound.

In the 2012-2013 offseason, McCarthy signed a two-year, $15.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In a season-and-a-half with the Diamondbacks, McCarthy did not reach people's expectations (5-11, 4.53 ERA in 2013, 3-10, 5.01 ERA in 2014 in Arizona), even though his peripherals suggested that he was better than his ERAs indicated (3.75 and 3.80 FIP respectively).

Where he is now

After coming over to the Yankees, the righty got one of his weapons back and defied expectations. In 12 starts, McCarthy pitched to a 2.54 ERA with 78.0 innings pitched with a 5.8 strikeout-to-walks ratio, improving his overall season record to 9-14 with 3.98 ERA.

That ERA number alone would net the righty a solid contract. Consider that and the fact that he spent half of of the season without one of his top pitching weapons. His agent will certainly receive some calls this winter.

After spending his pre-Athletics days as a fly-ball pitcher, McCarthy started to rely on two-seamer and cutter more to induce grounders. So far, the approach has worked out well. After allowing 1.3 home runs per 9 innings from 2005 to 2009, he reduced the figure to 0.8. His strikeouts-per-walk ratio has improved from 1.77 to 4.26 as well.

Even though he has had some ups-and-downs in performances in past two years, there is no denying that he can be a very serviceable number-two-or-three starter in a major league rotation.

Another plus on McCarthy is that, even in his age-31 season, he has not shown a sign of decline in stuff. Per PITCHf/x, his fastball averages at 92.9 mph in 2014, which is the highest of the career by 2.0 mph. His strikeout rate is also trending in the right way. If he maintains a 7.8 K/9 rate, it would be the highest of his career.

His 1.5 BB/9 is not the lowest of career, but it is still quite excellent. His 3.2 fWAR is ahead of the pitchers like Sonny Gray (2.8), Scott Kazmir (2.8), Tanner Roark (2.7) and Yordano Ventura (2.5). So, yes: a very good major league starter.

Injury history is the major knock on his stock. He has never thrown more than 187.2 innings in his career (that, by the way, is from this year), and he was shelved in the disabled list as recently as 2013 with, wait for it, a shoulder injury.

Even though McCarthy is a valuable pitcher, the recurring shoulder problem is a concern. A lot of teams look for a starter that can fill out 180 to 210 innings pitched consistently to throw some serious money. McCarthy is just having his second 180-plus innings pitched season in the pros (first being 186.1 in 2005).

Where he is going

I can see two cases for McCarthy.  He will either go to a 1) team that can afford to throw some bucks for their number 2 or 3 slot in rotation or 2) team that is not willing to shell out mega-millions to Lester or Scherzer and wants to turn to cheaper options for a top-line starter.

He is pretty much a starter that can be very effective... when healthy. Of course, he has not been haunted by the injury bug as much since his time in Oakland, but he has not been able to avoid a few trips to the disabled list either.

There has not been much reported on the possibility of an extension with the Yankees. The team has to be quite happy with McCarthy's contribution so far, and the odds are that they will make an offer -- it is up to the front office to determine how much.

The Yankees started the 2014 season with a Sabathia-Kuroda-Tanaka-Nova-Pineda rotation and only one of them has stayed healthy for the entire year. Even for next season, it is unclear if Tanaka will be fully recovered from a partial UCL tear on elbow, if Sabathia will be back fully healthy, or if Kuroda will part his ways with the Bombers. The Yankees are already committed to $170 million in payroll next year, and it will be interesting to see if they will invest much in bringing McCarthy back.

Another team that I can see being in on contract talks is the Phillies. Cliff Lee has run into some health problem this season, it is unclear whether A.J. Burnett will stay and the other starters that are in the rotation besides Cole Hamels are not that inspiring.