The Athletics held a starting pitching surplus early in the offseason. The Vin Mazzaro trade and failed acquisition of Hisashi Iwakuma led to the need for another starter, and that starter seems to be Brandon McCarthy, who agreed to a one-year deal worth a little over $1 million. The length of the deal is a bit misleading, as McCarthy will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.
The league has been waiting on McCarthy to break out since the 2007 season. That season marked his first with the Texas Rangers, which is significant because of who the Rangers parted with (John Danks) to acquire the tall righty. McCarthy made 45 appearances with the Rangers, including 22 over the last three years thanks to numerous arm issues. He failed to make a big league appearance in 2010 – breaking a streak of five consecutive seasons with one – but did appear 11 times for the Rangers’ Triple-A team, posting a FIP of 4.23 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4:1.
McCarthy is 27 and is older than he should be. In fact, if the Athletics Opening Day rotation includes McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, and Trevor Cahill, then McCarthy would actually be the oldest of the group. Despite being the elder, McCarthy’s big league experience is limited to 350 innings pitched with a FIP and xFIP around 4.90.
Even with the health risks, McCarthy for a million isn’t a bad gamble for a team like Oakland to take. Besides, he’s a much better fit for Oakland’s ballpark than the one in Arlington since he relies on flyballs to produce outs. As such, his career 1.33 HR/9 rate should take no one by surprise. Oakland’s generous in-play boundaries should assist in curbing that rate and his ERA alike, potentially projecting him as a better pitcher than reality suggests.
The Rangers-Athletics connection and story of a pitcher attempting to rekindle his career may bring Colby Lewis comparisons to the brain, but McCarthy simply becoming a league average starter is a step in the right direction for his career and the Athletics. Then again, staying healthy enough to make 20-to-25 starts would also be a revelation at this point in McCarthy’s career.