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Three MLB relievers who could be converted into starters as free agency, trade market offers few options

Three MLB relievers who could be converted into starters as free agency, trade market offers few options

Watching the 2023 season play out and now following the 2023-24 offseason, one thing has become very clear: there is not enough pitching to go around these days. I mean, there’s never been enough quality pitching to go around, but we’re at a point now where teams are having a hard time finding enough pitchers to eat up 162 games worth of innings, never mind do it well.

Injury rates and the decline in pitcher usage — only a select few pitchers are regularly allowed to go through the lineup a third time these days — have led to the pitching shortage. Add in the fact that this offseason’s free agent class was thin to begin with, and the pitching demand significantly outpaces the supply. There is a critical shortage of arms right now.

Teams have begun to resort to drastic measures to address their pitching needs. In recent years, several clubs have converted relievers into starters, and I don’t mean the old school “you’ll begin your career as a reliever, then we’ll make you a starter” way of developing young pitchers. I mean taking established relievers, sometimes setup men and closers, and making them starters.

The Texas Rangers did this back in the day with C.J. Wilson. He saved 50 games from 2007-09, then moved into the rotation in 2010. He threw 842 innings with a 3.37 ERA the next four seasons. Wilson certainly was not the first reliever to successfully transition into the rotation, but it was a notable move at a time when the game was becoming more bullpen-centric.

In 2022, the Los Angeles Angels signed longtime Cincinnati Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen and put him in the rotation, and he gave them 18 league average starts around a shoulder issue. That same year, the Tampa Bay Rays took career reliever Jeffrey Springs and made him a starter. Springs made 25 starts following the in-season move and pitched to a 2.66 ERA.

The trend continued in 2023. The San Diego Padres signed former New York Mets reliever Seth Lugo, made him a starter, and he threw 146 1/3 innings with a 3.57 ERA. That was enough to earn him a three-year, $45 million free agent contract this winter. The New York Yankees put Michael King in the rotation down the stretch and he was so impressive he headlined the Juan Soto trade.

The Rays did it again this season too. Journeyman reliever Zack Littell came over in a May waiver claim and shifted into the rotation for good in July. He had a 3.41 ERA…

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