After the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda from the Mariners and signed Hiroki Kuroda last week, cries immediately started coming out of the Big Apple that the Yankees once again had one of the most superior rotations in the league, despite still lacking a fifth starter. I began to fall deep into thought and wonder just what the best rotations in the game were. Here's a look at the top ten, which is destined to change before the season begins.
1. Phillies. They're not going anywhere, folks. The five-time defending NL East champions are still on top, despite losing Roy Oswalt to free agency. A top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels is one of the greatest trios ever, and they combined for 19.8 fWAR last season. The trifecta of starters won't come cheap though, making a total of $56.5 million in 2012. Throw in 2011 rookie Vance Worley, and you've got a very solid foundation, even if it's looking like the much-maligned Kyle Kendrick will be the fifth starter.
2. Angels. The Angels added CJ Wilson to their core of Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana this season, and that foursome is nearly as dangerous as Philadelphia's, with the added benefit of being much younger. Haren and Weaver combined for 12.0 fWAR, and Wilson was worth 5.9 with the Rangers. If they're all able to maintain their performances in 2012, the Angels could easily be the class of the American League, especially once you figure in the addition of Albert Pujols on offense.
3. Giants. Even if 2011 was a down year by his standards (if you can call a sub-3.00 ERA and 4.4 fWAR a down year....), Tim Lincecum is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Combine that year with another fantastically underappreciated year from Matt Cain (5.2 fWAR) and a huge breakout year from Madison Bumgarner (5.5 fWAR), and the Giants are still looking pretty good, even after trading Jonathan Sanchez in November. Even fourth starter Ryan Vogelsong had a good year, albeit one that came out of nowhere and not many are expecting him to replicate in 2012.
4. Rays. I can't forget about the Rays, who probably have the advantage with starting rotations once you heavily figure youth into things. The oldest member of the staff is James Shields at age 30. David Price is 26. AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson is going to be 25 a week into the season. And then, there's rookie Matt Moore, who blew through the minors and will hop into the deep end of the AL East this season at the tender age of 22. That's a hell of a young core, and they've got the performance to back it up too, with Shields and Price both sniffing 5.0 fWAR seasons last year.
5. Yankees. Now comes the big winners of last week, the defending AL East champions. CC Sabathia was surrounded with retreads last year, which heavily numbed the value of his 7.1 fWAR season. But add in the 3.4 fWAR posted by Pineda last year, and the 2.4 from Kuroda, and you've got a solid top-end of your rotation, especially when you consider the pressure it takes off of Ivan Nova, who was the de facto number two for New York last season. This rotation could really thrive in 2012....or, Pineda and Nova could crack in their sophomore seasons, and Kuroda could melt under the New York pressure. I don't think either of those scenarios would happen, but they're both possibilities.
6. Braves. With the trade of Derek Lowe to the Indians, the Braves have their front five set: Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor. Hudson was the only one of the quintet to crack 3.0 fWAR last season (3.7), as Beachy, Jurrjens and Hanson all missed time with injuries, and Minor spent part of his season in the minors. But the overall talent is definitely there. Give Beachy, Hanson and Jurrjens another 40 innings, and Minor another 100, and you've got the makings of a rotation where all five members can break 3.0 fWAR. And then, top prospect Julio Teheran is ready and willing on the farm in case of an injury.
7. Brewers. Zack Greinke cost the Brewers a fortune in prospects. Shaun Marcum cost them a top prospect that they could really use in Brett Lawrie. Both will be free agents at the end of the year, but this season, they'll be joining Yovani Gallardo in Milwaukee's attempt to retain their NL Central crown. Fun fact: Milwaukee only used six starters in 2011, with those three, Chris Narveson, and veteran Randy Wolf making a bulk of the starts, and young Marko Estrada making spot starts when an injury was on the docket. Not having to worry about where your next start is coming from is an invaluable thought process for a team, especially one that was built specifically to succeed in 2011 like the Brewers were.
8. Rangers. Despite losing Wilson to the division rival Angels, Texas still has a very strong rotation that will be bolstered once they finalize terms with Japanese hurler Yu Darvish this evening. If they don't sign Darvish, they'll probably drop out of the top ten, though. The rotation would be aceless otherwise, though Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis is a rather anonymous, albeit successful, quartet. They combined for 13.7 fWAR last year, and fomer closer Neftali Feliz is going to be joining the rotation this season as well. Texas's rotation really is a pretty big wild card right now. I'm probably erring in ranking them this high right now, but the team has won the AL pennant last year, and did land Darvish to replace Wilson.
9. Diamondbacks. I love Arizona's rotation a lot more than others, and it only got stronger by adding Trevor Cahill in December. Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson are both 5 fWAR pitchers, and Josh Collmenter was excellent in his rotation debut last year. Fifth starter Joe Saunders isn't a great pitcher, but compared to what the Diamondbacks were trotting out in the fifth slot last year (Jason Marquis and Zach Duke to name a pair), he looks like a dominant stud.
10. Tigers. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher on the planet. Doug Fister was magnificent after a midseason trade from Seattle, and should be a great complement to the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are also high upside guys that could finally make the leap to the next level in 2012, which would greatly aid the Tigers in their search for another AL Central crown.
JUST MISSED: Nationals (injury concerns, worries about Gonzalez switching home parks), Red Sox (injury concerns, no depth whatsoever), Marlins (a lot hinges on Josh Johnson's health and Carlos Zambrano's sanity).
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