OAKLAND, CA - Brandon McCarthy of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Minnesota Twins at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Brandon McCarthy is young and talented. His shoulder is kind of a jerk. What will he make this offseason?
The most interesting free agent this offseason will be Josh Hamilton. There is to be no discussion on this matter. Considering age, injury history, production this year, and personal history, he might be the most interesting free agent we'll ever see. At least one team will give him wheelbarrows full of cash. There are probably a few who would, and they'll all fight over him. And when the deal is announced, we'll run to the fridge to get a soda, just so we can do a spit-take when we read the terms of the contract again.
So this is about the second-most interesting free agent this offseason. That would be Brandon McCarthy, fantastic pitcher. He's an interesting free agent because he's is good at throwing baseballs. It's his job to throw baseballs, and he does it quite well.
Everything looks great. If you're concerned about the low strikeout rate, don't worry too much -- it's part of the plan. McCarthy keeps the ball on the ground, and he doesn't walk anyone. He's the perfect pitcher for a team with a good-to-great defensive infield.
When he's healthy. And courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, a sobering list:
August, 2007 -- Shoulder fracture (31 days missed)
March, 2009 -- Shoulder soreness (11 days missed)
June, 2009 -- Shoulder fracture (88 days missed)
April, 2010 -- Shoulder fracture (38 days missed)
June, 2010 -- Shoulder inflammation (8 days missed)
June, 2010 -- Shoulder fracture (134 days missed)
May, 2011 -- Shoulder fracture (45 days missed)
May, 2012 -- Shoulder strain (15 days missed)
There were other injuries sprinkled in that weren't related to the shoulder, but you get the main point. Whereas some pitchers can't stay healthy for a variety of reasons, McCarthy unknowingly tinkled on the sacred ground of an Aztec shoulder god, and he's been paying for it ever since. Stress fractures in shoulders aren't completely unheard of for pitchers -- Jarrod Washburn, Brad Radke, and Joel Zumaya have all missed time for the same injury -- but to have it happen just about once a year?
Fluky doesn't seem like the right word, because that suggests randomness. But it's fluky. It's fluky that of all the shoulders of all the professional pitchers in all the gin joints of the world, that there's just one that can't stay de-fractured.
Which comes up now because Brandon McCarthy recently missed a start with a shoulder problem. The MRI came back clean, and he didn't even have to go on the DL. But it still made you think. Still scared A's fans. Still scared everyone in the A's organization. Just like any discomfort in McCarthy's shoulder will scare the heck out of everyone until he's in his late 40s and out of baseball.
So what do you pay for a pitcher who is a) excellent and b) has that kind of injury history? Rich Harden was usually signed for a one-year deal, but McCarthy's injuries aren't as devastating as Harden's usually are. McCarthy had this shoulder problem last season, and he was still one of the more valuable pitchers in the league.
Ryan Vogelsong is a good comparison as a guy signed to an extension (two years plus a team option for $8 million) after stunning the baseball world, but he was older (34 to 28). And while Vogelsong had a history of injuries, they weren't quite as concentrated as those of McCarthy.
But that's not a good comparison because Vogelsong only had one good year back from the depths, whereas McCarthy is working on his second. More importantly, there wasn't another team negotiating for Vogelsong; it was an extension with the team he was already playing for. If McCarthy hits free agency there might be a team willing to give him three years. And if there's one team, there could be two. And they'd get all crazy on that free-agency dust, and suddenly McCarthy owns half of Dubai.
Or maybe there isn't a team out there that will give him more than a year with a vesting option. Absolutely no idea. That's what makes McCarthy the second-most interesting free agent of the offseason. For now, I'm just looking forward to watching him pitch again Tuesday.