While the majority of the San Francisco Giants’ Tuesday was dedicated to officially welcoming new left fielder Michael Morse to the Bay Area, some other interesting news came out when general manager Brian Sabean announced that the team had been in contact with lefthanded pitcher Mark Mulder.
The 36-year old Mulder, who was a two-time All-Star and finished second in the 2001 AL Cy Young voting, spent nine years in the big leagues between the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals. While he was dominant during the early 2000s, Mulder dealt with injuries during the latter part of his career and suffered as a result, putting up a 7.75 ERA over the last three seasons of his career. Seeing as he last pitched in 2008 and had a flourishing career as an ESPN analyst, it was pretty surprising when Mulder announced during the Winter Meetings that he would be attempting a comeback for the 2014 season.
Mulder reportedly had a breakthrough with his approach to pitching after watching the 2013 playoffs. He observed the unorthodox stop-and-go delivery of Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander Paco Rodriguez, and as a result was inspired to emulate the delivery himself. He says he feels great after making the changes and is ready to pitch regularly once again.
As of now, the chances of Mulder actually ending up with the Giants are rather slim, as he is reportedly looking for a guaranteed major league contract and likely will want a decent chance at a starting role. Besides the fact that the Giants have already filled out their starting rotation for 2014, they have a bit of a logjam on their 40-man roster, so it would not be intelligent for them to give a spot on that roster to a player who has had injury trouble and has been out of baseball for the past five seasons.
With that said, it’s rather difficult to imagine any club giving Mulder a 40-man spot considering his status. Even if he impresses during private workouts, teams likely won’t want to give up a valuable spot on their major league roster to a pitcher who has not been effective in years and has major durability concerns.
One prime piece of evidence with this situation comes with the case of former Giants reliever Brian Wilson, who signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers near the end of 2013. In the two years preceding his second Tommy John surgery, Wilson had put up a 1.81 ERA with a league-leading 48 saves, and a 3.11 ERA with 36 saves, respectively. However, because of the chance of Wilson re-injuring himself, the Dodgers didn’t immediately give him a spot on their big-league roster, instead testing him with a brief minor-league assignment. It would be surprising if things were significantly different with Mulder.
Mulder should by no means be a big priority for San Francisco. However, if he realizes that he’s not going to get a guaranteed major-league opportunity and lowers his expectations, it would make sense for the Giants to consider bringing him in. At least for the Giants, Mulder’s greatest potential probably lies as a reliever, where he would have an easier time preserving his arm and could potentially be effective as a lefty specialist.
After giving up their third lefthanded reliever, Jose Mijares, earlier this offseason, the Giants don’t have any established lefthanded relievers beyond mainstays Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. While prospects Mike Kickham and Josh Osich both have great velocity and have potential as major-league relievers, neither of them in a proven commodity, and they each had their fair share of struggles during 2013. If Mulder shows intrigue and is willing to go to the minors or at least go to spring training without a 40-man roster spot, it would be a good move for the Giants to have Mulder around for depth, whether it ultimately is as a reliever or a starter.