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Let’s look at the starting pitching free agent class

The Royals need arms.

Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Hot Stove season is in full swing, and while the Royals have downplayed the role free agency will play, they are expected to pursue at least two starting pitchers this winter.

With the labor deal behind us, stands full of fans again, and lucrative TV deals, baseball is flush with cash, which could make for a wild off-season. Let’s take a look at the starting pitcher free agent market.

Out of price range

Coming off a Cy Young season, Justin Verlander should be a very lucrative three-year deal in excess of $100 million, and will likely look to sign with a contender to get another ring. Jacob deGrom is an injury risk, but can still command a very high salary on a short-term deal, with Mets owner Steve Cohen wanting to do whatever it takes to keep his ace. After opting out of his deal, Carlos Rodón should easily get a $100+ million deal.

Higher-end deals

Tyler Anderson has already signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Angels. The 33-year is coming off a career season with a 2.57 ERA and 4.0 fWAR in 178 23 innings as an All-Star, and had rejected a Qualifying Offer.

Chris Bassitt rejected his Qualifying Offer as well, so he’s expecting to get a multi-year deal. The 33-year-old right-hander has overcome injuries early in his career to become a very solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He has had a pretty sizeable home/road split, but only 33 starting pitchers have been more valuable than his 5.9 fWAR over the last two seasons.

Nathan Eovaldi was a 5.7 fWAR pitcher in 2021, but battled injuries this year that limited him to 20 starts. He was still rather effective with a 3.87 ERA and 4.30 FIP, and as a strike-thrower, his low walk rate should be very attractive to the Royals. The right-hander will be 33 by next spring, and you can expect bidding from contenders to drive the price up to a three-year deal worth around $15-18 million per season.

Kodai Senga is the big free agent to come over from Japan this year. The 30-year-old right-hander is a three-time All-Star with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and he features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball with a devastating splitter. There are concerns his fastball might be hittable in the big leagues, and his breaking balls aren’t consistent enough, but he should have a bidding war that could land him a four- or five-year deal worth around $14-18 million per season.

Jameson Taillon missed most of 2019 and all of 2020, but has bounced back to become a very solid mid-rotation starter with a 4.08 ERA and 4.16 FIP over the last two seasons. He had the seventh-lowest walk rate among starting pitchers this year, and as a flyball pitcher he could benefit from moving away from tiny Yankees Stadium. Expect a three-year deal worth around $11-14 million per year.

Taijuan Walker has also battled injuries in his career, but has been solid the last three seasons with 3.80 ERA and 4.18 FIP. Walker doesn’t strikeout a ton of hitters, and may be the more underrated pitcher on this list. He could get a one-year “make good” deal, or perhaps he lands a three-year deal if enough teams are thirsty for pitching.

Mid-tier pitchers

Zach Eflin was nails in the post-season, tossing 6 13 shutout innings in relief over the NLCS and World Series, but he has generally been a starter in his seven-year career, albeit a mediocre one. He had a 4.04 ERA and 3.56 FIP this year in 75 2/3 innings with 13 starts. He has a very low walk rate and is just 28 years old, one of the younger free agents available, so he could make sense for a team like the Royals.

Kyle Gibson was also called upon as a reliever for the Phillies in the post-season, but he has 261 career starts under his belt. The 35-year-old Mizzou grad was an All-Star in 2021 with Texas, but has struggled since then, posting a 5.06 ERA in 43 games with the Phillies since they acquired him shortly after the Midsummer Classic.

Sean Manaea had a terrific season in 2021, posting a 3.91 ERA, a career-best strikeouts-per-nine innings rate of 9.7, and was worth 3.2 fWAR. But he regressed badly this year with a 4.96 ERA as his walk rate and home run rates spiked. The lefty has battled some injuries in his career, including a torn labrum in 2019, but the former Royals draft pick is just 30 and could be a good bounceback candidate.

Jose Quintana was signed to a low one-year, $2 million deal with the Pirates, but that investment paid off as he was an attractive trade asset that they eventually traded to St. Louis. The lefty bounced back with a 2.93 ERA, the lowest home run rate in the league, and a 4.0 fWAR season. The 33-year-old lowered his strikeout rate and kept the ball in the ballpark, so he could be a candidate for regression.

Drew Smyly has been a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher the last two seasons. The 33-year-old is all cutters and curves, and had a solid 3.47 ERA last year, although a 7.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate. He declined his $10 million option with the Cubs, so he could be seeking a multi-year deal.

Ross Stripling was a long-time swingman for the Dodgers - even earning an All-Star appearance for his role in 2018. He has made more starts for the Blue Jays, and had a career year last year at age 33 with a 3.01 ERA in 134 13 innings. His walk rate and home run plummeted last year, which may cause concern it could regress back up this year, but he may have figured something out by throwing his change up twice as much as before.

Michael Wacha got a one-year “make good” deal last year with the Red Sox, and he made good with a 3.32 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 127 13 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander won’t miss a ton of bats, and isn’t a workhorse who can go deep in games. He was also pretty bad in the three years prior to this one, so a two-year deal may be a gamble, but perhaps one the Royals may have to make to land his services.

Old or injury risks

Mike Clevinger was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2017-2020 with a 2.96 ERA and 3.39 FIP. But he has been cursed since the Padres acquired him, missing all of 2021 with Tommy John surgery, and making 22 starts this year with a pedestrian 4.33 ERA. His velocity is down, his slider doesn’t bite anymore, and his strikeout rate is down. He’s not a terrible pitcher - certainly worth a one-year deal - but his best days may be behind him.

Johnny Cueto has also seen better days in his past, but he was surprisingly good in 2022 with the White Sox, posting a 3.35 ERA and 3.79 FIP in 158 13 innings at age 36. The wily veteran doesn’t strike out many hitters, but he pours in strikes and relies on deception to induce poor contact. He is worth a decent one-year deal, probably for a contender looking to fill out their rotation.

Zack Greinke is a very similar pitcher in a veteran who won’t miss bats, but throws strikes and relies on his experience to get outs. He returned to the Royals last year with a 3.68 ERA in 137 innings, and is reportedly open to another go-round.

Andrew Heaney is yet another example of a pitcher looking lousy, then going to the Dodgers and turning his career around. The 31-year-old Oklahoma native posted a 3.10 ERA with the Dodgers after years of not living up to expectations with the Angels. The lefty strikes out a ton of hitters, but also gives up a lot of long balls, and health was an issue last year, limiting him to just 72 23 innings.

Corey Kluber made 30 starts this season for the first time since 2018. The two-time Cy Young winner had a 4.34 ERA and 3.57 FIP with the Rays, with the lowest walk rate in the league. The right-hander will be 37 next April, and is likely worth only a one-year deal.

Wade Miley had a terrific season in 2021 with a 3.37 ERA and 3.0 fWAR with the Reds, but they just let him go on waivers. Injuries limited him to just eight starts with the Cubs this year, although he was effective with a 3.16 ERA. The 36-year-old lefty has a deep arsenal of pitches, but doesn’t strike out many hitters, and walks can be an issue.

Noah Syndergaard has gone from Thor to Thud. Once he was one of the most intimidating pitchers in the game with a fastball in the high 90s. Since Tommy John surgery he has not been the same pitcher, with a fastball that now averages about 94 mph and one of the lowest strikeout rates in the league. He is still just 30 years old and was decent with a 3.94 ERA, but he’s not the All-Star he once was.

Bargain bin

Chris Archer posted a 4.56 ERA in 102 23 innings with the Twins last year at age 33 and hasn’t been a decent pitcher since 2017.

Matthew Boyd was a 3.2 fWAR pitcher in 2019, but has had injury problems since then. He’s just 31, and the lefty relies on a sinker, slider, and change up, but can be home run-prone.

Dylan Bundy had a nice rebound in the shortened 2020 season, but has been below replacement level since with a high home run rate.

Zach Davies was also good in 2020, but has had trouble throwing strikes since then, leading the league in walks in 2021. He won’t turn 30 until February, but his low velocity and inability to miss bats makes him a dicey gamble.

Danny Duffy hasn’t pitched in a big league game since July of 2021 with the Royals. Now 33 years old, the lefty once tweeted to “bury him a Royal” and may be amenable for a reunion.

Erick Fedde has a 5.41 ERA in six seasons with the Nationals, yet made 88 starts for them. The 29-year-old was non-tendered last week, and it is easy to see why.

Michael Lorenzen has struggled to throw strikes, but moving to the rotation last year with the Angels, he enjoyed one of his better seasons with a 4.24 ERA and 4.31 FIP in 18 starts. He is also a career .233/.282/.429 hitter with seven home runs in 147 plate appearances if the Royals want to use him as an extra bat.

Jordan Lyles has a career ERA of 5.10, and yet has made 214 starts in his career, including over 30 in each of the last two seasons for pitching-starved teams like the Rangers and Orioles.

Mike Minor was traded to the Reds before last year, and did not make the Royals regret it, posting a 6.06 ERA in 19 starts at age 34.

Daniel Norris keeps getting chances because he’s a lefty with good stuff, but no one seems to be able to unleash his potential. He is still just 29 years old, but seems to be relegated to the pen now and is probably running out of opportunities.

Michael Pineda was a disaster for the Tigers in 2022, although a broken finger was a big reason why. He’s a good strike-thrower, and not a terrible gamble for a fifth starter, but he’ll be age 34 in January, and his clock is ticking

José Ureña has a tantalizing fastball that averages 96 mph, but yet keeps producing ERAs in the 5s and strikeout-per-nine-innings rates in the 6s. He’s probably only worth a minor league deal at this point, and someone really needs to see if he can have better results as a reliever.

Matt Strahm has mostly been a reliever in his seven-year career, but has said he wants to start. The former Royals draft pick has battled injuries since the Royals traded him, but the lefty had a 3.83 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings out of the pen for Boston this year.

Vince Velasquez is another “great stuff, poor results” guy that perhaps some pitching coach can improve. The 30-year-old right-hander has been a swingman for the Phillies, Padres, and White Sox and had a 4.78 ERA in 75 13 innings last year.

Trevor Williams was a solid starter for the Pirates in 2018 but has really struggled since then. The Mets used him as a swingman this year, and while he was better suited as a reliever, his 4.19 ERA in nine starts wasn’t terrible.

Who do you like?