Mark Buehrle, potential Texas Rangers offseason acquisition: The Rangers are going to be looking for starting pitching help this offseason, with a priority likely being on pitchers who provide some upside without a long-term commitment.
Someone we've mentioned as a possibility who fits both of those requirements is Toronto Blue Jays lefthanded pitcher Mark Buehrle. The Rangers were interested in signing Buehrle after the 2011 season, when he was a free agent, but were blown away in the bidding by the Miami Marlins -- that was the offseason when the Marlins splurged on free agents in conjunction with the opening of their new stadium.
The following offseason, of course, the Marlins dumped their high-priced players on the Toronto Blue Jays, and Buehrle was sent to Canada, along with his backloaded, four year, $58 million contract. You may recall complaints from Buehrle (and others who were dealt), a sense of betrayal because they were assured by Jeff Loria that they wouldn't be traded, even though the Marlins refused to actually include a no-trade clause in the deal.
The Blue Jays were 83-79 last season, had a $137M payroll (higher than the Rangers'), and while they were on the fringes of the race this summer, there were stories floating around out there that ownership wasn't going to allow Toronto to make a deal to add payroll. Toronto currently has $96.2 million in commitments for 2015, before dealing wtih Adam Lind's option or any arbitration cases, and Nick Cafardo writes that Buehrle is expected to be shopped around this offseason.
As Cafardo points out, the Jays' strength is young starting pitching, and they could move Buehrle's heavily backloaded deal -- he is owed $19 million for 2015 -- to open up a spot in the rotation for a young starter and to get some payroll relief. Our friends at Bluebird Banter think g.m. Alex Anthopoulos could be willing to eat some of Buehrle's contract to get him off the books.
Buehrle is one of those ageless lefties who seems to put up the same season year after year, forever. He joined the Whie Sox rotation in 2001, at age 22, and since 2001, has never pitched fewer than 201 innings in a season or made fewer than 30 starts. He's had an ERA+ of less than 100 only twice -- in 2006, when he put up a 95 ERA+, and in 2013, when he had a 99 ERA+.
Over the past four years, Buehrle has pitched between 202 and 205 innings each year, with a bWAR by season of 3.8, 3.5, 2.1 and 3.6, and an fWAR by season of 3.4, 1.9, 2.7 and 3.5 Steamer sees him as a 1.5 fWAR pitcher next year, and that seems low to me...but on the other hand, Buehrle is going to be 36, and he can't keep pitching 200 innings with a league average or better ERA forever.
If Cafardo is right, and Buehrle is on the market, I expect the Rangers to at least inquire about him. The Rangers have had interest in him in the past, and he's the type of pitcher they are looking for this offseason -- a one year guy who they can count on for 200 innings, and who will be a solid #3 starter. If you think Buehrle is likely a 3 win starter for 2015, even his salary isn't really out of line -- you'd be paying him $6.3M per win, which isn't that much above FMV.
If you really want to get out there in awesome imagination land, the Rangers have long coveted Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, having pursued both players at various teams over the past two seasons, and I would bet the Ranger front office is spitballing the possibility of a Buehrle/Encarnacion (owed $10M in 2015, with a $10M club option for 2016) or a Buehrle/Bautista (owed $14M in 2015, with a $14M club option for 2016) package. That would likely require parting with a significant prospect package, however, as well as requiring Ranger ownership to increase payroll above where we expect it to be in 2015.
But getting back to just Buehrle, if the Jays are motivated sellers, there could be a fit here. The Rangers have a deep farm system that would allow them to part with some pieces without crippling the farm in order to get Toronto to swallow some more cash, and Buehrle would be a terrific placeholder as the team's #3 starter while they wait for Martin Perez to return in 2016.
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