The last bargain pitcher of the offseason

Looking for pitching on the free-agent market is stupid. It's all stupid. Too much money, too many years. Open your window, lean out, and yell at the next GM who walks by. Because he's stupid for looking for pitchers on the free-agent market. Then close the window and check Twitter to see if your team signed any of the pitchers on the free-agent market. They need pitching, you know.

This is the Paradox of the Free Agent Pitcher. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Sometimes you eat the Jim Barr, and sometimes the Jim Barr eats you. There aren't any deals to be had, even when you're desperate for a deal.

Except, hold on. There's one guy who's been pitching great for the last three years, and no one's really talking about him.

Year Age W L ERA G IP ER HR BB SO H/9 BB/9 SO/9
2011 29 12 7 2.88 25 150.0 48 6 45 122 7.7 2.7 7.3
2012 30 10 11 2.52 30 196.2 55 7 65 166 7.6 3.0 7.6
2013 31 12 8 2.89 30 196.1 63 13 56 183 8.0 2.6 8.4

Right, that looks good. And what is this mystery player asking for?

… looking for a two-year deal worth $8-10MM to return to Major League Baseball.

That's Kevin Correia money. But before you start yelling out your window for the GM to come back and sign this player, note the key verb in that last passage. He wants that money "to return to Major League Baseball." So if those stats were from somewhere else -- say, the Japanese Central League -- what did he do in the majors?

Year ERA GS IP HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9
5 Yrs 4.87 0 184.2 21 80 120 89 1.652 3.9 5.8

The technical term for what you're feeling is "fleh," but you could also use, "oof" or "mmrph" if so inclined. The mystery pitcher is Randy Messenger, who has pitched quite well for the Hanshin Tigers over the last three seasons. He might be the bargain of the offseason.

If you've never heard of Messenger, don't worry. You really have heard of him. Your team has a Messenger right now. He's a tall reliever who throws hard, but not that hard, and who doesn't miss a lot of bats. He'll be removed from the 40-man roster when you're at work one day, and you won't ask questions when you get home.

At least, that's how I remember him. But something clicked in Japan, and four years later, he's looking to return for more guaranteed money than he ever got in the majors before, but less guaranteed money than Scott Feldman is going to get this offseason.

It's hard to come up with perfect comparisons. Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish are recent success stories, but they spent their whole careers in NPB before coming over. Ryan Vogelsong almost works, right down to the Giants connection, except Vogelsong didn't do nearly as well as Messenger in Japan.

The easiest and most obvious comp is Colby Lewis, who provided quality, cheap pitching for two pennant-winning Rangers teams. He missed half of 2012 and all of 2013 with elbow and hip problems, but he was certainly valuable in the seasons prior to that. He had the same nondescript career in the majors and dominance in the NPB. Seems pretty close.

The biggest difference:

BB/9
Messenger: 2.8
Central League average, 2010-2013: 2.9

Lewis: 1.2
Central League average, 2008-2009: 2.7

Lewis showed himself to be something of a finely tuned corner-painter when he was over here, too. Messenger has been merely average with the walk rate over there, albeit with an above-average strikeout rate. They aren't so similar with their build and stuff that this means everything. It's just food for thought if you're comparing Messenger to the last out-of-nowhere repatriating pitcher.

Jeff Passan talked to some scouts about Messenger:

Scouts this season saw Messenger’s fastball reach up to 96 mph, though one said he sits closer to 92-93. His splitter and slider give him a strong enough off-speed complement that the scout believes he could be a back-end major league starter.

If you don't expect an ace, you might be pleasantly surprised. And in an era when Jeremy Guthrie gets three years and $25 million (and few seem to mind), Messenger might be a bargain. He doesn't have to pitch like Colby Lewis to be worth $10 million, but he was just as effective as Lewis in Japan at preventing runs.

Or he could flop. Just like ol' Kevin Correia up there, though it wouldn't be the kind of flop that would completely debilitate a team. Randy Messenger just might be the bargain of the offseason. If he's any good at all, that is.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go lie down. It's 2013, and I'm writing about Randy Messenger. As someone who's been interested in him since the beginning, this is more than a little freaky.

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