As far as potential bounce-back candidates that are poised for a make good-deal, you could say that a MLB team could probably do worse than Ryan Vogelsong out there.
Still, there’s very thin line between bounce-back candidate and an aging pitcher in decline, and the Toronto Blue Jays would probably be best served to err on the side of caution if they are planning on pursuing the 36-year old free agent. It’s not to say that the team has the luxury to really be choosy about arms going into the 2014 season of course, but with the situation being what it is, the last thing they’d need is for it to be exacerbated.
In comparison to guys like Dan Haren, the area of risk that the Bluebirds would be treading to acquire Vogelsong could be more perilous than what his track record from 2011-2012 portrays.
For one, there’s the age factor — though the right-hander doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage on him at just 788 innings, the fact that he’s 36 with only two full seasons as a starter arguably goes against him, especially when taking into account his velocity dip over the last three seasons.
Yes, even before the hand injury cause cost him a significant chunk of 2013, he’d already seen his 91.6 mph average fastball from 2011 drop to 90.7 in 2012, before going to 89.2 this season. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence on the wear and tear of his arm, and as he’s never really had a significant arm injury that would explain the decline, you could argue that there are no real signs of things suddenly improving in 2014.
Even if he’s not really what you’d call a fastball-dominant guy, Blue Jays fans don’t have to look to much further than Brett Cecil to see what a couple of ticks off the heater can mean for a starter’s outlook.
Add in his skill set that’s more about pitch to contact (87 percent in 2013) than it is about strikeouts (6.62 K/9) or control (3.60), and what becomes clear is that even at his peak, what Vogelsong brings to the table is similar to what Mark Buehrle offers Toronto — which is to say that he’s an average innings-eater at the back of the rotation … minus the decade-plus track record of being able to do it consistently.
Then again, just like the pros when it comes to evaluating free agents, all of the cons about the right-hander only goes as far as his price tag.
The fact is that if money was less of an issue, there’d absolutely no harm for Toronto bringing on Vogelsong as the no. 5 starter and take on all the risks that would go along with it. But at what amount would it be worthwhile for the Blue Jays? The pitching-needy San Francisco Giants did not pick up his $6.5 million option for 2014, but that doesn’t necessarily stop him from re-signing with them — or with another team — for two years at a lower annual rate.
A $3.5-4.5 million one-year deal with a team option would be a reasonable deal, but as the Bluebirds are far from the only team looking for a pitcher, you’d think that they would end up seeing another squad with similar low-commitment SP needs take that extra step and outbid them — largely because what he brings might be more valuable to them.
At the end of the day, it’s about the fit. While Vogelsong is clearly a talented pitcher with upside, he’s essentially a veteran without the track record, and his best-case scenario is trumped by the risks that he would bring over to the AL East.