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Rotation Consternation: Free-Agent Alternatives, Part 2

The Pinstriped Bible is brought to you today by fly balls and the number 87. (AP)

Continuing to go through the list of available free agent pitchers (see Part 1 here), I note that my introduction last week failed to list Ben Sheets along with Jamie Moyer as a high-profile free agent who will miss all of the 2011 season following late-2010 Tommy John surgery. Sheets had that surgery plus repairs to the flexor and pronator tendons in his pitching elbow in early August and faces not only more than a year of recovery, but what very likely could be the end of his pitching career entirely. As for the rest of the field, moving alphabetically, I profile eight more pitchers below, with the remaining seven to come in my concluding post on this topic. Worth noting: each of the following eight pitchers had an average fastball speed in 2010 of less than 90 miles per hour, and all are fly-ball pitchers.

Dave Bush: Yankee fans might remember Dave Bush as a strike-throwing righty who came up with the Blue Jays in the mid-aughts. Sent to the Brewers for Lyle Overbay after the 2005 season, he has seen a steady increase in his walk rate and been something less than a league-average innings eater over the last five seasons. Toss out 2009, when a triceps tear derailed his season, and the 31-year-old has averaged 190 innings with a 4.56 ERA in his four healthy seasons with the Brewers. Move that performance, combined with a fly ball rate that has translated into 1.3 homers per nine innings over his career, from the NL Central to the AL East and you have a pitcher likely to pitch his way out of the rotation with a quickness.

Bruce Chen: This veteran lefty has played for ten major league teams in his twelve-year career, which doesn't count the Blue Jays, who owned him for six months between his Red Sox and Orioles stints. He throws an 86-mile-per-hour fastball and assorted other left-handed slop, gives up a ton of fly balls (and thus home runs), and is pretty much the definition of a replacement starter. He's not incapable of the random solid season, but seeing as he just did that for the Royals last year (101 ERA+ in 140 1/3 innings), betting on him to do it again in his age-34 season is unwise.

Doug Davis: Another veteran lefty, Davis was a solid league-average innings eater for most of the last decade (108 ERA+ from 2001 to 2009 and an average of 196 innings per season from 2004 to 2009), but he has faced serious health problems in recent years. Thyroid cancer interrupted his 2008 season, and pericarditis (inflammation in the membrane around his heart) and elbow tendonitis limited him to eight starts in 2010. In early October he had an ulnar nerve transposition and surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. Davis walks too many men even when healthy (4.1 BB/9 career, producing a weak 1.64 K/BB), but his value has been his reliability. At the age of 35, coming off that litany of health issues, that value has been completely undermined.

Justin Duchscherer: One of the top set-up up men in baseball in the middle of the last decade, the right-handed Duchscherer made a successful transition back to starting in 2008, but injuries have derailed his career since. Actually, "since" is an oversimplification. Duchscherer has had only one fully-healthy major league season, that coming back in 2004. Surgery to remove bone spurs and damaged tissue in his pitching elbow combined with clinical depression to erase his 2009 season entirely, and surgery on both hips, including the right one twice, cost him most of the 2007 and 2010 seasons as well as the final month and half of 2008. He has made five major league starts since August 2008, two of which were duds, and is now 33. He's had remarkable success with a diving and darting mid-80s fastball and a pair of breaking pitches when healthy, but he's never healthy.

Freddy Garcia: Once a highly-sought-after workhorse who averaged 220 innings per season with a 111 ERA+ from 2001 to 2006, Garcia had the misfortune to require labrum and rotator cuff surgery on the eve of his free agency after the 2007 season. Over the next two seasons, Garcia made just 12 starts for the Tigers and White Sox, albeit with solid results (109 ERA+, 2.72 K/BB). After having to pitch his was back to the majors each of those seasons, he finally had a rotation job for a full season with the White Sox in 2010, but wasn't nearly as effective (or lucky), as he was hit hard and often, giving up too many fly balls which turned into too many home runs. He wasn't bad enough to get booted from the Chicago rotaiton, but he posted a 94 ERA+ and averaged shy of 5 2/3 innings per start. Most likely, Garcia's 2010 performance is the pitcher he is now heading into his age-36 season, which makes him a particularly poor fit for the new Yankee Stadium.

Rodrigo Lopez: Like Garcia, former Orioles righty Rodrigo Lopez had the bad timing of needing a major surgery, Tommy John in Lopez's case, just as he hit free agency at the end of the 2007 season. That wiped out his 2008 season and his brief comeback with the Phillies in July 2009 ended when the Phils upgraded to Pedro Martinez in August. Last year, he made 33 starts and threw 200 innings for the Diamondbacks, but he led the majors with 37 home runs allowed and posted an 85 ERA+. In his prime with the O's from 2002 to 2006, he posted a 94 ERA+ and allowed 1.3 home runs per nine innings. He's not that "good" anymore.

John Maine: John Maine was a promising young righty acquired by the Mets from the Orioles for Kris Benson back in 2006, but after establishing himself in the Mets' rotation in 2007, his shoulder began to bother him in 2008, beginning a slow descent that ended on May 20 of last year when manager Jerry Manuel pulled him from a start after just five pitches due to an alarming lack of velocity. Maine, Manuel, and Mets, who sent the righty straight to the disabled list, butted heads over the condition of Maine's shoulder, but after some rehab work in the minors, the pitcher ultimately relented and had season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur, which Maine claims his surgeons told him was the biggest they'd ever seen, and clean up the joint. Non-tendered in December, Maine hasn't thrown 100 innings in a season since 2008, turns 30 in May, and is a complete unknown given that he wasn't even due to start throwing again until December.

Kevin Millwood: I always thought Kevin Millwood was overrated early in his career because he came up with the pitching-rich Braves. Looking back at his 14-year career, he has had just four seasons with an ERA solidly above league average and no two of them are less than three years apart. His surrounding seasons, meanwhile have, shown a steady decline. To wit, here are his ERA+ figures with those four outliers removed: 104, 102, 99, 103, 99, 93, 102, 89, 88, 83. Though generally regarded as a league-average innings eater at this stage of his career, he's thrown 200 innings in just one of the last seven seasons. Like the rest of the pitchers on this list, he's a fly-ball pitcher with a fastball that failed to average 90 miles per hour in 2010. He may have one of the better overall careers of the pitchers profiled in this post, but at this point, the 36-year-old's only advantage over the rest is a lack of recent arm problems.

Next up, the last seven free agent starters and my conclusions . . .