Break It Down: Starting Pitcher Free Agent Pool

The offseason is upon us! We’ve already seen a few trades, like Ervin Santana heading to the Royals and Mike Aviles being dealt more than hands at a poker table. The meat that cooks deliciously on the hot stove in the offseason is free agency. Here’s the first part of what we can see cooking this winter.

The Big Catch

Zack Greinke is the best pitcher available on the free agent market after being acquired by the Angels at the trade deadline. Greinke may never reach his 2009 Cy Young form again, but he is still in his prime at 29 years old. Matt Cain’s recent extension might be the benchmark for what Greinke is looking for on the open market. Who will pay that price though? I can see the Rangers being involved, especially with Greinke’s somewhat success in the AL West the second half of 2012. They need the big name pitcher to anchor the rotation with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando. He could stay put in Anaheim, where the Angels have gone from a plethora of starting pitching to a need for it with Ervin Santana in Kansas City and Dan Haren’s option declined after rumors of being dealt to the Cubs. I would not sleep on the other team in Los Angeles making a play on Greinke to pair at the top of the rotation with Clayton Kershaw; that new ownership is ready and willing to spend money.

The We Wish You Were Zack Greinke, But You’re Still Really Good Tier

Hiroki Kuroda was given a qualifying offer by the Yankees, so he might not be on this list for very long. I think a better one-year offer, or even a two-year deal might be enough to pull him away from the Bronx. Would a team go to two years on a starter that will be 38 years old on Opening Day? I think so after he quelled the fears that his numbers were skewed by the NL West and finished with a 3.32 ERA and 1.16 WHIP with the Yankees playing the AL East. In the end, I think he stays with the Yankees.

Anibal Sanchez appeared to be a bust after going 3-6 with a 4.55 ERA in his first ten starts in a Tigers uniform. But something finally clicked on September 25th with a 10-strikeout, shutout performance against the Royals. Sanchez used that momentum into the playoffs making himself a ton of money, having a 1.77 ERA in three starts. He doesn’t have #1 starter potential, but could make for a great 2/3 for a team. Early rumors have him sticking around in Motown, but I’m sure there will be other teams offering up a deal.

The only other pitcher with the potential to be a staff ace on the free agent market is Dan Haren. Haren had a rough 2012, with his worst ERA and WHIP since 2004. Haren also landed on the disabled list for the 1st time in his career. The Angels bought him out instead of picking up his $15.5 million option. Unlike Greinke, don’t expect him back with the Halos. Like Greinke, I could see the Dodgers interested in bringing Haren back to the NL West where he was an ace for the Diamondbacks. I see the Cubs, who tried to deal for Haren, making a play for him. And there are even rumors of another NL West team, the Padres, making a play for Haren’s services.

What Pitcher are we Getting Tier?

No starting pitcher made themselves more money in 2012 than Kyle Lohse. He went out to prove he was a top of the rotation pitcher, but I would rather take my chances on Haren returning to ace form, than Lohse staying there. Has he learned how to pitch and has full control of his pitches now? Or is he going to return to the terrible form he just had in 2009-10? Someone is going to pay to find out. The Cardinals made a qualifying offer to Lohse, but I think at his age, he is looking to cash in on a long-term deal at big money coming off a career year.

Full disclosure: Brandon McCarthy is one of my favorite players in the league. From his hilarious Twitter account to his great production on the mound and even his value in fantasy baseball leagues, I just plain like the guy. The questions do arise from his recovery after sadly being hit in the head with a line drive this season. It might be that injury though, that gets a team a discount on a solid pitcher that has #2 starter potential. I think the Athletics would like to bring him back at the right price, but if they see the value, I’m sure other teams will too.

What to do with Ryan Dempster? Are you getting the pitcher that led the National League in ERA for the 1st half of 2012? Are you getting the pitcher that had an ERA north of five for the Rangers in their 2nd half collapse? There’s not a doubt in my mind that Dempster has eyes on a return to the National League. Going back to the Cubs is a real possibility, especially if he has his killer Harry Caray impersonation still in his repertoire.

Will Edwin Jackson land on his 8th different team, all while still being under 30 years old? He’s nothing spectacular overall, but does have his flashes of brilliance. I could see a playoff potential team like Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, maybe even Boston taking a chance on Jackson. We’ll see if he gets more than a one-year deal, but he will end up getting around and probably more than the $11 million he made in 2012.

No pitcher had a more Jekyll and Hyde season than Jeremy Guthrie. He was unable to adjust to pitching in Colorado (6.35 ERA/1.69 WHIP), but was a great pickup for the Royals (3.16 ERA/1.13 WHIP), who dumped Jonathan Sanchez. If teams believe in the sea level Guthrie, he could be a solid pickup for an American League team, where he seems comfortable between his time in Kansas City and Baltimore. Based on his dominance of the White Sox, giving up just one earned run over 29.2 innings in 2012, I could see the entire AL Central having interest.

The Wild Cards

Scott Baker’s $9.25 million option was declined by the Twins after he had Tommy John surgery. He could stay in Minnesota as one of the best pitchers in that rotation, but there are contenders that could take the chance on him regaining his form to be a middle of the rotation starter.


This years “coming to America” sweepstakes? Hyun-Jin Ryu of South Korea. Ryu has a career 2.80 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his career in Korea with the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO. He’s not as sought after as Darvish a year ago, but he could be a solid middle of the rotation starter for a team willing to put up the posting fee for the 25-year old.

The Aren’t You Retired? Tier

I’m pretty sure that Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt have retired a combined 435 times, but there they are in the free agent pool.  I can’t see Pettitte going anywhere besides the Yankees and we’ll see if Oswalt decides to pick and choose his spot once the season starts.  Kevin Millwood was a servicable starter for the Mariners, but those numbers may be skewed by Safeco Field.  Derek Lowe was seemingly out of baseball after being released by the Indians, but was solid with the Yankees in a mop-up reliever role.  Ben Sheets showed some magic for a stretch with the Braves, oh wait he actually did retire.  Good for him.

Which starters do you think are the most important of this year’s free agent crop? Let us know in the comments or let me know on Twitter!

-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)

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