Also known as "An Exercise In Creativity That Has Limited Upside And Absolutely No Chance Of Actually Happening." Consider this a short piece on the availability of free talent - nothing more, nothing less.
I present to you Jimmy Anderson. The soon-to-be 30 year old southpaw was once a somewhat highly-touted prospect in the Pittsburgh system back in the day, but nearly 600 Major League innings later, he's the proud owner of an ugly performance record, an unimpressive repertoire, and a bit of a surly attitude. After spending parts of 2005 with three different organizations, Anderson opted for minor league free agency about a month ago, and will be looking for a new home this winter.
So what's the deal here? Who cares about a guy with a 5.42 ERA and an unseemly strikeout rate? It's not like he hasn't had enough opportunities to prove that he can pitch, and he's pretty much failed all of them.
Look closer, and you'll see that - like Reichert - Anderson is an extreme groundball pitcher. His career 2.65 GB/FB ratio would've ranked fifth in the Majors among guys who qualified for the ERA title last year, and that's the kind of thing that makes you take a closer look at an otherwise crappy player. With a Beltre/Betancourt/Lopez/Sexson infield, the Mariners have set up an ideal environment for a sinkerballer to have success, so the potential for a decent performance is certainly there.
Career ERA: 5.42
FIP: 4.86 (may vary a little, depending on the league-correction factor)
Already, you have a passable #5 who can give you 25-30 starts without killing the team, assuming a normalized home run rate. That has value of its own, especially in this kind of market. But why stop there? Let's make a quick Safeco adjustment for the homers (over the past two years, Mariner pitchers have allowed homers on 10.2% of their flyballs, as opposed to a 11% league average):
Looking better. Now you've got a guy who would've been the second- or third-best pitcher in the rotation a year ago. But that still doesn't take into consideration the fact that the Mariners will have a pretty good infield defense next year. Let's adjust further downward, in a similar fashion to how Dave broke down Reichert last February.
Let's give Anderson a conservative 25 starts and 141 innings (5.2 IP/start, pretty much his career average). With a 4.61 xFIP, we can say that he'd allow about 72 runs. However, if you make further corrections for doubles/triples in Safeco and a small adjustment for infield defense (I'll spare you the math, but let's call it +2% or so), you knock that down to 66 runs allowed, good for a 4.21 ERA. In other words, the lefty that nobody wants could turn into a league-average pitcher with the 2006 Mariners without really having to change a thing.
Now, this isn't so much a call to go sign Jimmy Anderson as it is an indication of just how easy it is for a pitcher to have a little success in Safeco Field (or, if you prefer, just how bad the rotation really was last year). It's also the manifestation of my not-so-thinly-veiled hope that the Mariners don't go crazy filling the rotation with expensive marginal pitchers this winter, because if the difference between a nobody like Jimmy Anderson and a Matt Morris is 10-15 runs, is that really worth the $7m/year commitment that Morris is likely to command? I don't like the idea of a Mariner team paying that kind of money for a high-3's/low-4's ERA, not when you can get a similar (albeit worse) performance for close to the league minimum. Fill the back of the rotation with cheap guys who won't kill you, and spend the profit on an ace, a bat, or a handful of gloves. Hell, the bullpen's already dirt cheap, even with Guardado, so the competitive fiscal advantage is there. Why not make it greater?
Unfortunately, though, the Mariners aren't really that kind of team - like most of the other teams in the league, they prefer paying for certainty over gambling on journeymen. And while that often isn't such a bad idea, sometimes it's a little disappointing.