|Carlos throws in Tampa (Getty Images)|
The facts bely the belief. Carlos has been up and down through his years at Milwaukee and Toronto and does not have the experience nor proven arm to command a starter's salary. The Brewers ended his attempt to become a long-term starter in spring training of 2007, and since that, Carlos has not pitched the number of innings required nor has he been consistent enough to be an opening day starter.
Carlos Villanueva is 28 years old and debuted with the Brewers in 2006. He was drafted as an amateur free agent by the Giants in 2002 and was traded to the Brewers in the 2003-4 offseason. Carlos brewed in A and AA ball as a starter in 2004 and 2005, doing fairly decently (ERA under 3.5, WHIP of about 1.1).
In 2006, he was promoted from AA to AAA Nashville for the Brewers organization, where he had, as a starter, an ERA of 3.22 and a WHIP of 1.104 with 120Ks in 129 innings pitched. He got called up to the Brewers, pitched 54 more innings for Milwaukee, making spot starts in June and September, posting a respectable 3.69 ERA, a WHIP of 1, and struck out 39. So, in 2006, he pitched 182 1/3 innings total and looked to be on track to be a long term starter.
But the Brewers elected to make Carlos a reliever in 2007, being beat out for the #5 spot in the rotation by Claudio Vargas. Villanueva was an adequate middle reliever, throwing 114 innings, posting an average 3.94 ERA with a WHIP of 1.35. Carlos I am sure saw that year as a step backwards in his career, as did many who were following his career at the time. As it turns out, most of the Milwaukee starting crew did not do very well, as Milwaukee finished the season 83-79, 2 games back of the Cubs in the NL Central. The starters posted a 4.55 ERA and a WHIP of 1.422, not very good, and certainly not enough to go far in the playoffs had they made it. Carlos did start a few games, especially late in the season. But still, the threw 114 innings in 2007, a step back.
Carlos continued to work the bullpen in 2008, and while he started off poorly (5.40 ERA through the end of June), he finished the season working to a 1.87 ERA and a WHIP just over 1, with 43Ks. He seemed to have found his form in the 2nd half of 2008. Still, he threw only 108 innings, posted an ERA of 4.07 and a WHIP of 1.367.
In 2009, Carlos was used even less, starting only 6 games and tossing 96 innings, posting an ERA of 5.34 with a WHIP of 1.427, posting a very disappointing 4-10 record. Four of his six starts ended up with Carlos letting in 4 or more earned runs and never making it past the 6th inning.
In 2010, Carlos took another step backwards, getting demoted to AAA Nashville in August and September, throwing a total of about 64 innings. His demotion was due to having a minor league option. Still an ERA of 4.61 and WHIP of 1.33 was not awful.
Carlos was traded to the Jays in the 2010 offseason (for a player to be named) and started pitching in the pen for the Jays as a middle-reliever with Luis Perez's left-handed arm. And Carlos started off very very well, posting a 1.48 ERA over 13 appearances. and an WHIP of about 0.83. And because of Jesse Litsch's poor performance (4.66 ERA, WHIP over 1.4), the Jays elected to inject Carlos in the rotation and send Litsch down to the minors and turn him into a rather ineffective middle reliever. And Carlos was very good as a starter but got worse as the season went on. Over 12 starts, he posted an ERA of 4.33, striking out 41 over 70.2 innings and a WHIP about 1.3. But his arm gave out on his 13th start and he left the game in Tampa giving up 8 runs over 2 2/3rds innings. He was put on the DL with a forearm strain, and began a rehab assignment down in Vegas. He was used sparingly in September, appearing 7 times, throwing 9.1 innings of work, and did well. He earned 1.4 million in 2011.
Villanueva, in 2012, (now earning 2.3 million) began the season once again in the bullpen with Perez as the alternate as the starting rotation was set. Carlos did very well as the Jays middle reliever, throwing 33.1 innings over 22 appearances, with a 3.24 ERA and a WHIP of over 1.4, but striking out 36 and giving up 5 home runs. Really, in the 22 appearances, he had only 5 where he let in runs, with only 1 negatively affecting the outcome of the game (vs Minnesota May 11).
Pressed into service through injuries to Morrow, Hutchinson, and Drabek, Carlos became a starter again, pitching at home to the Angels on June 29th. Over the first 11 starts, he was very good, pitching deeper into the games, posting an ERA of 3.03, a WHIP of 1.1, and striking out 1 per inning, throwing 64% of his pitches for strikes.
Now, in two of his past four starts, he hasn't been very good, letting in 6 runs against Baltimore on September 4th and blowing his start at Tampa on Friday.
So, the fandom are demanding to sign him and that he will be the team's saviour next season. The Jays fans are delusional of course. There are reasons why any team would be reluctant to sign Villanueva.
First, 2012 has been by far his best season with the most innings pitched, the most number of starts, his best ERA, his best WHIP, the highest number of strikeouts (by far). It's the perfect time to advertise yourself when you are having your best season. That said, he may be peaking, and that's a risk.
Second, Villanueva has indicated that he will be very unhappy in the bullpen and has stated that he is looking to be a starter and command the salary as a starter as a free agent. That means that Carlos will say "no" to any salary where he will be part of the bullpen. This means that any team that ends up signing him will be risking salary.
Thirdly, Carlos has not completed a full season as a starter, and when he has started a number of games in a row, his arm has succumbed to injury, such as it did in 2011, and what is happening now. If Carlos makes his next two starts, he will have pitched around 132 innings in 2012. His cap in innings NEXT year will be about 170 and the year after 220. At 170 innings, Carlos will only be be able to pitch until the end of August, at the latest if he starts every scheduled start, and that's a risk.
A club that's desparate for starters or with an open bankroll might end up taking that risk.
I purport that Anthopoulos should take that risk, reason with Villanueva that he WILL start next season, but offer a 3-4 year escalating contract based on the risk involved in signing him.
Carlos is well known to the Jays and is pitching well in Toronto. He has proven starts. If he signs, Anthopoulos will only need to sign one free agent in the offseason to complete the rotation. Carlos Villanueva's arm will last him to the return of Kyle Drabek or to the trade deadline should the Jays compete. Anthopoulos has the best relationship with Villanueva and his agents, and will be able to reason with Carlos to sign a reasonable deal that takes that risk into account.
It's a win-win. Villanueva remains a Jay, and he starts the season, knowing that he will be replaced in mid-August. He commands a better salary as a starter and starts for up to 5 months next year, and works out for the following year for the full term. And, Villanueva won't get dickered around by other teams and doesn't get demoted the the bullpen as he did in Milwaukee. Anthopoulos only needs to shop for one free agent pitcher in the offseason (hopefully a very strong free agent), and can leave Jenkins and Alvarez to potentiate in AAA or to be used in cases of emergency. A starting rotation of Romero - Morrow - Happ - Villaneuva - and Free agent will be decent enough for the Jays to compete.
So, let's get him signed. He needs the Jays as much as the Jays need him.