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Free Agent Target: Jair Jurrjens

December 25, 2012

Two guys I wanted to do free agent targets on have been scooped up (Carlos Villanueva by the Cubs) and rendered unnecessary (another not really free agent, but rather offseason acquisition target in Jed Lowrie who is unnecessary with the signing of Hiroyuki Nakajima) respectively. Furthermore this is an inauspicious start to this segment as the first two guys I profiled in Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang weren’t free agents. So here we are! Profiling a real life free agent in Jair Jurrjens.

Jurrjens is a 26-year old right-handed pitcher originally out of Curacao. Signed by the Tigers as an amateur free-agent in 2003, he spent the first season of his pro career in Detroit before being traded to the Atlanta Braves in the deal that brought Edgar Renteria to the Motor City. Jurrjens, has thrown 750 2/3 innings in his MLB career, with an impressive 3.62 ERA and solid 3.99 FIP. In his career he has been worth 10.3 WAR, and made an All-Star appearance in 2011. In his six MLB seasons he has thrown 6.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and allowed 0.8 HR/9. His stock is low right now as he struggled mightily in 2012 with the Braves, throwing 48 1/3 innings of 3.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9 baseball for an ugly 6.89 ERA and 5.64 FIP for a total of -0.3 WAR. This earned him a demotion and with the Gwinnett Braves of the International League he also struggled with a 4.98 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 72 1/3 innings of 4.9 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 baseball.

Jurrjens, who primarily throws a fastball and changeup with a slider mixed in, has seen his fastball speed decline recently and what was once a 91-92 mph pitch, now is more of the 88-89 mph variety. Jurrjens would become a free-agent following the 2014 season as 2013 would have been his last year of arbitration eligibility.

Why Oakland Should Get Him

Jurrjens almost certainly will need a one-year deal. The Scott Boras client could command a deal comparable to that of Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona) who missed a year due to visa issues associated with his new, well I guess old, identity. That said, unlike Hernandez, Jurrjens’ 2012 was riddled with concerns over his pitching (also a slight decline in fastball speed that has spanned 2011 and 2012) but Jurrjens has been better than Hernandez as well. That said, I could see Jurrjens inking a comparable deal (Hernandez’ was $3.25M with up to $1.85M in incentives) and at that price the risk for the A’s is minimal in acquiring some rotation depth as as recently as 2011 he was a 1.6 WAR pitcher worth $7.3M based upon his performance. For Jurrjens to be worth it at $3.25M (and I do think he could potentially be had for less) he would need to be worth 0.7 WAR for the A’s, a number he has reached in every season except 2012 and his rookie campaign back in 2007 and a number he has doubled every year as well (the actual number he must reach is 0.65 WAR per season, meaning he met that without rounding in his 1.3 WAR 2010 campaign).

Given he is a Boras client, the A’s would be used just to rebuild value. A groundball pitcher who doesn’t give up too many home runs to begin with, he doesn’t benefit from the Coliseum as much as a random other pitcher might. That said, at 26 he could build a lot of value for himself, and who knows the A’s may be able to work out an extension (though this is a doubtful thing) with a pitcher who Bill James’ similarity scores compares through age 26 to Jack Morris, Ubaldo Jimenez, Kevin Millwood and Jered Weaver (pretty solid company).  But one year in Oakland could serve him well like two-years did for Brandon McCarthy who used that to cash in with Arizona. For Oakland this works out fine as well due to the depth of starting pitching that they have, but it allows them to postpone starting that service time clock.

Why Oakland Should Steer Clear

He had knee problems that could be responsible for his newly slower fastball. He had knee problems that could be responsible for his 6.89 ERA. He had knee problems that could persist and mean he is not the pitcher he once was. Of course he would be paid accordingly, but still the last thing the A’s need is another pitcher spending excessive time on the disabled list when they are competing to defend their American League West crown.

There is a question of whether or not he is even that good to begin with. While, I feel those questions largely were answered as he put together a string of strong seasons, he has some peripherals that don’t exactly cause eyes to pop out with excitement (a 3.99 FIP is solid not exceptional), his swinging strike rate for his career his a bit lower than one would want (8.0%) but that number plummeted along with his velocity in 2012 to an anemic 4.6% (league average was near double that at 9.1%).  There are a lot of question marks with the quality of Jurrjens’ stuff.

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