Wilson’s value a symptom of dearth of pitching

DALLAS – Albert Pujols(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes) provide the froth on the hot stove, and their eventual signings will be a huge splash. But the deep undercurrent of discussions and negotiations is focused as much on starting pitchers as on sluggers.

No team ever feels like it has enough starting pitching. And most don’t. Because starters are so prone to injuries, they are the most high-risk of off-season signings. Still, bidding ratchets up prices beyond rational reason and a pitcher such as C.J. Wilson(notes) could end up with an offer that exceeds $100 million.

The lack of starting pitching on the open market is pushing up C.J. Wilson's value.
(Getty Images)

Wilson was last seen stinking up the playoffs and World Series with the Texas Rangers. He is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA in the last two postseasons, and doesn’t quite have the look of an ace despite going a combined 31-15 with a 3.13 ERA during his two regular seasons as a starter. He was a reliever his first five years in the big leagues.

That hasn’t stopped the Angels, Marlins, Nationals, Cubs and Red Sox from pursuing him. Others may follow, including the Yankees. And don’t count out the Rangers, who could circle back to their 2011 top-of-the-rotation left-hander if they miss out on a bat. That scenario played out in reverse last offseason when Texas signed third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) after being spurned by starter Cliff Lee(notes).

[ Related: Big League Stew’s winter meetings tracker ]

So far Wilson has eaten at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami with Marlins brass and presumably overlooked Newport Beach with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and new GM Jerry DiPoto. The Cubs, Red Sox and Nationals will make their moves soon, and the Rangers will have met with Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber, by mid-day Tuesday.

Garber intimates it would take a six-year offer to sign Wilson, yet it is unclear if any team has done that so far. The Angels almost certainly would draw the line at the five-year, $85 million they gave ace Jered Weaver(notes) in an extension, the Cubs aren’t in the mood for long-term deals as they attempt to shed the albatross contracts of Carlos Zambrano(notes) and Alfonso Soriano(notes), and the Rangers offered Wilson only $48 million over four years before last season.

Nobody should count out the Marlins, not after they signed closer Heath Bell(notes) and shortstop Jose Reyes(notes) to long-term deals in the last week. Six years at about $105 million would seemingly get the job done.

Wilson’s lack of experience as a starter is viewed by some as a plus because he’s only pitched 708 big-league innings despite being 31. His arm, basically, is in its fourth year even though his debut came in 2005. His road ERA as a starter is a stellar 2.56. He had 206 strikeouts last season. Any team that wants to convince itself he is worth six years and nine figures can do so.

And perhaps the greatest motivation to secure Wilson is that after him and older left-hander Mark Buehrle(notes), the pickings are slim for starters. Buehrle, who will be 33 on opening day, has fielded several three-year offers in the $37-$40 million range, and a four-year offer might land him.

[ Related: Brown: Marlins talk of winter meetings ]

Hiroki Kuroda(notes) loves L.A., but the Dodgers probably lack enough money for him after signing lefty Chris Capuano(notes), second baseman Mark Ellis(notes), backup catcher Matt Treanor(notes) and utility players Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes) and Adam Kennedy(notes). The Diamondbacks like Kuroda and the interest is mutual, but the soon-to-be 37-year-old right-hander would have to drop his demand for a second-year player option.

“He’s a good pitcher, tremendous,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said Monday about Kuroda. “Has a great track record, durable, solid. I don’t know if he’s going to be with us. There’s speculation. But he’s certainly the kind of guy you’re looking for.”

Roy Oswalt(notes), who like Wilson is a Garber client, is coming off a disappointing year with the Phillies, but he still has quality stuff and is seeking a three-year deal. Quality after Oswalt takes a steep drop unless Japanese ace Yu Darvish elects to make himself available via the posting process.

The Nationals could get a boost if highly touted prospected Bryce Harper can make the team next season.
(Getty Images)

In other winter meetings news …

Nationals manager Davey Johnson seemed hopeful that 19-year-old Bryce Harper(notes) would make the team out of spring training. Even though Harper struggled after a midseason promotion to double-A, he has been excellent in the Arizona Fall League. Johnson said he could really use another left-handed bat and compared Harper’s rise to that of another 19-year-old phenom he managed back in the 1980s: Pitcher Dwight Gooden. …

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he wants rotation spots open for Matt Moore(notes) and Alex Cobb(notes), an indication the team is willing to trade James Shields(notes), who is owed $7 million in 2012, $9 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The Reds could be a destination because they need pitching and have several solid young hitting prospects. …

[ Related: Passan’s ultimate free-agent tracker ]

The Brewers are preparing for the eventuality that Fielder signs with another team. Also, they’d like to keep enough powder dry to make a bona fide offer to him, but they can’t wait so long they lose out on other options.

“We need to have guys start committing when we’re together, either yes, I am coming with you or no, you guys don’t really have a chance to sign whoever that player is we’re talking about,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “In Prince’s case, we know that if he doesn’t re-sign, (Mat) Gamel is going to get a shot at first base.

Roenicke said that other options at first base include moving Casey McGehee(notes) from third or moving Corey Hart(notes) from right field. Second baseman Rickie Weeks(notes) would probably fill Fielder’s cleanup spot in the batting order. …

Angels manager Mike Scioscia and the three men he groomed into managerial jobs of their own – Maddon, Roenicke and the Padres’ Bud Black – will have dinner this week. Certain to bring smiles to their faces will be a mention of Game 6 of the 2002 World Series.

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Updated Monday, Dec 5, 2011