There has been a lot of talk over the past week about the Tigers potentially trading a starting pitcher to shore up other areas of need on their roster. With offensive prowess scarce on the free agent market, a trade may be the Tigers' best option for adding another corner outfielder.
However, trading a starter means the team will likely need to sign another pitcher. They have already shown interest in Justin Masterson this offseason, but something tells me they would reach a little higher if someone like David Price or Rick Porcello is traded. Enter Brandon McCarthy, who is coming off a stellar second half with the New York Yankees in 2014.
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
McCarthy is a 31 year old right-hander who was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2002. He rose quickly through their system and made his MLB debut in 2005 as a 21 year old. He did not impress in two partial seasons with the Sox, allowing a 4.39 ERA and 5.15 FIP in 151 2/3 innings. He was then traded to the Texas Rangers, where he suffered through four injury-riddled seasons. He only pitched 221 innings for the Rangers across three seasons, and didn't even appear for them in 2010 thanks to a stress fracture in his right shoulder.
Somewhere along the way, McCarthy picked up on sabermetrics and used that knowledge to retool his pitching repertoire. He started throwing a two-seamer and cutter. He also managed to stay healthy, throwing 170 2/3 innings with a 3.32 ERA and league-leading 2.86 FIP for the Oakland Athletics. He dealt with a couple injuries in 2012 -- including a skull fracture after being hit by a line drive -- but returned to throw 335 innings over the past two seasons, including 90 1/3 frames across 14 starts for the Yankees in the second half of 2014.
Why should we care?
McCarthy's 2.89 ERA and 3.22 FIP for the Yankees down the stretch in 2014 are a major reason he's one of the more sought-after free agent pitchers this offseason. He started throwing his cutter again -- a pitch he was reportedly told to avoid while playing in Arizona -- and the results were impressive. He struck out 6.31 batters for every walk and stranded 77 percent of the baserunners he allowed. He went six innings or more in 12 of his 14 starts with the Yankees, including a four hit shutout of the Houston Astros on August 21st.
That hot stretch with the Yankees is no outlier. McCarthy put up similar numbers in his two seasons with Oakland, allowing a 3.29 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 281 2/3 innings. He averaged over 6 1/3 innings per start during those two seasons and compiled a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.0. He was worth 6.3 WAR as a member of the A's, though 4.5 came in 2011.
Why should we stay away?
While McCarthy relies heavily on a two-seam fastball and cutter, he doesn't have the grounder-heavy batted ball profile of a pitcher like Rick Porcello. McCarthy has just one season with a ground ball rate north of 50 percent. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when you combine that with a career line drive rate of 21.5 percent -- including 22 percent or higher in each of the past three seasons -- and a strikeout rate of just 16.7 percent, the outlook is a bit grim. McCarthy isn't going to have the stellar defense that he had in Oakland behind him in Detroit, nor the protection of a spacious home outfield and marine layer atmosphere.
The 2015 season will be McCarthy's 10th in Major League Baseball, but there is still an unknown quality about him. He was successful in two years in Oakland, but struggled in Arizona before finding a small sample of dominance in New York. Which guy should we expect going forward? MLB Trade Rumors projects that McCarthy will sign a three year, $36 million contract. It feels like this contract will either be a complete bust or the steal of the century. McCarthy has the potential to be a three to four win starter, but has finished with under 2 WAR twice in the past four seasons.
A big reason why McCarthy hasn't tallied many wins above replacement is because he has had trouble staying on the mound. The 2014 season was the first time McCarthy has ever started over 25 games or logged 200 innings. He has only broken the 150 inning barrier twice. Freak injuries like his skull fracture in 2012 are one thing, but McCarthy spent time on the disabled list every season from 2007 to 2013 due to arm trouble.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The idea of trading David Price to re-sign Max Scherzer has always seemed a bit odd. With the market for Scherzer potentially stalling as agent Scott Boras looks to drive up prices for his client, the Tigers could look to move quicker if they strike a deal for one of their current starters. McCarthy is arguably the fourth-best starter available on the free agent market this winter, but will come at a severe discount when compared to the "big three" of Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields. With the potential to put up comparable numbers at a fraction of the cost (if he stays healthy), the Tigers may look to gamble on McCarthy instead of tying up more payroll in an aging ace.