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Free agency preview: Starting pitchers

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Pitching is the currency of baseball.

Divisional Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The bad Royals bullpen this year may have distracted you from the fact that the Royals starting rotation was not very good either. Sure, there were some bright signs - Brad Keller was solid, Danny Duffy had his moments, and Jakob Junis looked sharp at times.

But overall, Royals starters had a 5.30 ERA, fifth-worst in the American League, with the third-worst FIP, and the second-worst xFIP and strikeout-to-walk rate. There may be help on the way with Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch, among others, pitching well in the minors, but they may still be a year away and may take time before they have adjusted to the big leagues.

This could open the door for the Royals to add a starting pitcher to join the mix with Keller, Duffy, Junis, and Mike Montgomery. Let’s take a look at this year’s starting pitcher free agent class.

The guys out of Kansas City’s price range

Gerrit Cole is probably adding millions to his value with his dominant post-season performance, and even with the Astros likely passing on re-upping on Cole, the 29-year old should get a lucrative payday.

Stephen Strasburg seems likely to become a free agent by opting out out of his contract with four years, $100 million remaining.

Hyun-Jin Ryu had a career season, leading the NL in ERA at 2.32 with a 4.8 fWAR seasons and the 32-year old lefty made his first All-Star game.

Zack Wheeler made 30+ starts this year for this first time since 2014 and the 29-year old right-hander been worth 7.4 WAR over the last two years, according to Baseball Reference.

Jose Quintana seems likely to stay in Chicago with the Cubs exercising his $11.5 million club option, but a poor September may put that in doubt for the 30-year old left-hander.

Madison Bumgarner would be fun to see come to Kansas City just to see how fans would react after he was the villain in the 2014 World Series.

Dallas Keuchel will likely seek a bigger pay day than the offers he got last year, when he signed a one-year deal in June with the Braves, but the market may not be kind for the 31-year old.

Yu Darvish does not seem likely to opt out of the four years and $81 million left on his contract.

Jake Arrieta also does not seem likely to opt out of the last year of a deal that will pay him $20 million.

Guys at the end of their career

Cole Hamels is 35 years old and seems to want to stay in the National League, probably for a contender.

Adam Wainwright may very well retire at the end of the year, and if he does come back, it is almost certainly with the Cardinals

Jason Vargas had a rough April but was solid over the summer months until he hit a skid in September, but at age 36, the lefty may not have many seasons left.

Rich Hill has seemingly been near the end of his career for many years, but keeps chugging along, and still posted a 2.45 ERA in 13 starts at age 39.

Felix Hernandez had quite a send-off in Seattle, but the 33-year doesn’t plan on retiring, although his 5.82 ERA the last two seasons may make that decision for him.

Injured goods

Michael Pineda missed the entire 2018 season after Tommy John surgery, and bounced back to have a solid season this year at age 30, only to get a 60-game suspension for PEDs.

Homer Bailey should be grateful to the Royals for giving him a chance to revive his career and put up a 2.9 fWAR season, but the 33-year old still has a risky health record that includes Tommy John surgery.

Brett Anderson has made 30+ starts just three times in his eleven-year career, but he was healthy this year, putting up a 2.0 fWAR season at age 31.

Alex Wood made just seven starts this year, but the 28-year old lefty put up 5.5 fWAR in 2017-2018 combined with the Dodgers.

Matt Moore made just two starts for the Tigers this year, missing most of the season due to a knee injury he sustained against the Royals in April, and the 30-year old lefty has a 5.08 ERA since 2013.

Clay Buchholz had a brilliant 2018 after the Royals let him go, but he regressed badly this year with a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts with Toronto, battling a shoulder strain much of the year.

Tyson Ross has made 30+ starts in a season just twice in a decade of play, and the 32-year old was awful in seven starts for the Tigers this year, with a 6.11 ERA.

Marco Estrada no longer has his killer change up, and while a back injury sidelined him most of 2019, the 36-year old hasn’t been good in a few seasons.

Shelby Miller had a promising career until he was traded to the Diamondbacks in an ill-fated deal for Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte and had Tommy John surgery in 2017, leaving him a shell of his former self with a 8.59 ERA in Texas this year.

The Middle Class

Kyle Gibson is a pretty solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, and the 31-year old Mizzou grad has put 2.6 fWAR seasons in each of the last two years.

Jake Odorizzi saw a velocity bump this year with Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson, and responded with his first All-Star season, which could make for a difficult decision for the Twins on whether or not to make him a Qualifying Offer.

Tanner Roark has been a 2+ fWAR pitcher in each of the last four seasons, but he just turned 33 and did not finish strong for the A’s.

Ivan Nova doesn’t impress with his 4.87 ERA, but he made 34 starts and was a 2.0 fWAR pitcher for the White Sox, even with the second-lowest strikeout rate among all qualified starters.

Martin Perez was signed to a cheap one-year deal by the Twins, and the 28-year old lefty looked like a gem in the first half, but he finished with a 6.72 ERA and an opponent’s OPS of .934 in his final 13 starts.

Rick Porcello won a Cy Young in 2016, but the 30-year old right-hander has a 4.79 ERA in the three seasons since with an ugly ERA of 5.52 this year.

Julio Teheran could stay in Atlanta if they exercise his $12 million option, but if the 28-year old hits the open market, he could be attractive as a solid pitcher who has made 30+ starts in each of the last seven seasons, although he has been a sub-2.0 fWAR pitcher in each of the last three years.

Chris Archer will probably return to Pittsburgh on a $9 million option, despite a rough season that saw him miss the final six weeks with a shoulder injury.

Wade Miley revived his career in 2018 with the Brewers, then continued it with the Astros in 2019 until his season came to a screeching halt with a brutal September that saw the 32-year old lefty give up 21 runs in 11 13 innings.

Michael Wacha was a 3.1 fWAR pitcher and an All-Star in 2015, but the 28-year old right-hander has struggled with 4.39 ERA since then and was demoted to the bullpen a few times this year.

The Bargain Bin

Andrew Cashner was the best pitcher on a bad Orioles team, but he imploded badly upon being traded to Boston, and the 33-year old typically has poor peripherals.

Gio Gonzalez was in a “piggyback” role down the stretch, and pitched just 87 innings for the Brewers, but was still pretty effective at age 34.

Jhoulys Chacin went from starting Game 7 of the NLCS a year ago to being released in August this year after posting a 5.79 ERA with the Brewers.

Jeremy Hellickson has a 4.92 ERA in the last three seasons with a low strikeout rate and the 32-year old Iowa native made just nine starts with the Nationals this year, posting a 6.23 ERA.

Matt Harvey hasn’t been the same since he faced the Royals in the 2015 World Series, posting a 5.65 ERA in the four seasons since, but he is still just 30.

Others: Clayton Richard, Drew Smyly, Wade LeBlanc, Ervin Santana, Trevor Cahill, Derek Holland, Edwin Jackson