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A look at this year’s starting pitching free agent class

Who wants some arms?

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San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Royals will seek to improve on this year’s last place disaster, and the area they will most look to address is the pitching. The Royals got a 5.12 ERA from their starting pitchers, fourth-worst in baseball with the third-worst strikeout rate. General Manager J.J. Picollo has stated that he expects next year’s rotation to feature Cole Ragans, Brady Singer, and Jordan Lyles, with two more spots up for grabs. Those could go to candidates like Danie Lynch IV, Kris Bubic, Angel Zerpa, Alec Marsh, or others, but Picollo has also indicated the team won’t wait around for pitchers to develop.

That likely means they will look outside the organization, possibly to free agency. The Royals will have about $30 million coming off the books this winter that they can presumably use to pursue free agents. Let’s take a look at what pitchers might be available and what kind of contract we can expect.

The Unicorn

Shohei Ohtani won’t be a pitcher next year - he had elbow surgery in September and won’t take the mound in 2024. He may or may not pitch down the road, but he’s still likely to get one of the largest contracts in baseball history.

Prediction: 12 years, $550 million

Top Shelf

Sonny Gray finished third among all starting pitchers with 5.3 fWAR with a 2.79 ERA and the best FIP and home run rate in the league. He’s been solid for years, so even at age 33 he should command a top salary for a starter.

Prediction: 4 years, $88 million

Jordan Montgomery helped his cause with a great second half after the Rangers acquired him from the Cardinals, with some big post-season starts. The 30-year-old left-hander posted career bests in ERA (3.20), innings pitched (188 23), strikeouts (166), and rWAR (4.2 ) and had one of the best walk rates in baseball.

Prediction: 5 years, $120 million

Aaron Nola finished fourth in Cy Young voting for the NL champs in 2022, but he regressed a bit this year with a 4.46 ERA. He is a strike-thrower and a workhorse, and there is wide belief the Phillies may let him walk.

Prediction: 5 years, $140 million

Eduardo Rodriguez opted out after two years into his five-year, $77 million deal with the Tigers. The left-hander missed significant time last year with a family issue, but returned better than ever with a 3.30 ERA and 3.5 rWAR at age 30.

Prediction: 4 years, $80 million

Blake Snell led the National League in ERA at 2.25 and could win the Cy Young Award as one of the most dominant lefties in baseball. But he has not been very durable the last few years, and he had a spike in walk rate to 13.3 percent.

Prediction: 5 years, $150 million

Foreign imports

Trevor Bauer went to Japan after he found it difficult to get work following sexual assault allegations. He settled with his accuser and served his 194-game suspension, then went to Japan this year and had a 2.76 ERA in 130 2/3 innings for Yokohama. He won the Cy Young with the Reds in 2020, but has always had a difficult reputation in the clubhouse, once throwing a baseball over the fence in Kansas City after his manager tried to pull him out of the game.

Prediction: ????

Erick Fedde posted a 5.41 ERA in six seasons with the Nationals, but went to Korea this year and enjoyed a terrific season with a 2.00 ERA in 180 13 innings for the NC Dinos. The 31-year-old right-hander has developed a sweeper in Asia and would look to follow the career path of Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly.

Prediction: 2 years, $16 million

Shōta Imanaga is expected to be posted by the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, which means there will be a “release fee” paid to the team on top of his salary. Imanaga is a lefty with a bulldog attitude who throws a ton of strikes with a nasty splitter, that many project to be a mid-rotation starter.

Prediction: 4 years, $50 million plus a release fee

Yariel Rodriguez was a reliever this year in Japan where he was dominant with a 1.15 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings for the Chunichi Dragons in 2022, but he has started before. The 26-year old did not pitch this year other than the World Baseball Classic, but the Cuban defector will not be subject to the posting system.

Prediction: 5 years, $60 million

Naoyuki Uwasawa is also expected to be posted by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters after the right-hander posted a 2.96 ERA in 170 innings. The 29-year-old right-hander is not a big strikeout pitcher and may end up in a MLB bullpen if he can’t cut it as a starter.

Prediction: 2 years, $14 mil plus a release fee

Yoshinobu Yamamoto might be the best free agent pitcher available to pitch next year, as a three-time winner of Japan’s top pitching award. The 25-year-old right-hander had a minuscule 1.21 ERA with 169 strikeouts in 164 innings for the Orix Buffaloes and could command up to $200 million from a MLB team.

Prediction: 7 years, $210 million

Mid-tier pitchers

Mike Clevinger had Tommy John surgery in 2021, and had mixed results in his return, leading to a one-year deal with the White Sox. He battled some bicep injuries this year, but was very solid when healthy with a 3.76 ERA and 2.2 fWAR in just 131 13 innings. His strikeout rate is significantly down from his prime, but the 32-year old still finds ways to get hitters out. Clevinger faced domestic abuse allegations, but was not punished by MLB after voluntarily agreeing to submit to evaluations.

Prediction: 3 years, $33 million

Jack Flaherty received Cy Young votes with the Cardinals in 2019, but has a 4.42 ERA in the four seasons since then, missing a lot of time due to injury. His ERA wasn’t good after the Orioles acquired him this summer, but his strikeout and walk rates improved, and he is still just 28 years old.

Prediction: 2 years, $20 million

Lucas Giolito had quite a journey, spending time on three different rosters this season. He received Cy Young votes in every year from 2019 to 2021, but has a 4.89 ERA with a 9 percent walk rate since then, and gave up the second-most home runs in baseball this year at age 29.

Prediction: 3 years, $42 million

Seth Lugo was reportedly a target of the Royals last winter before he signed a deal with the Padres that paid him $7.5 million in 2023. He was a bargain with a 3.57 ERA and 1.8 rWAR, so he declined his $7.5 million player option. Lugo has been a reliever much of his career, but the 33-year-old had a low walk rate as a starter this year.

Prediction: 2 years, $22 million

Sean Manaea has bounced around the West Coast the last three seasons, enjoying a solid season with Oakland in 2021, a down year with San Diego in 2022, and mixed results in San Francisco this year. The lefty served primarily as a “bulk guy”, pitching long relief, and he improved his strikeout rate, but worsened his walk rate. He has been a strikethrower in the past, and the former Royals draftee is just 31 years old.

Prediction: 2 years, $17 million

Nick Martinez was a forgettable pitcher with the Rangers who went to Japan and found success, returning to sign a multi-year deal with the Padres. He opted out of that three-year, $26 million deal this fall after posting a 3.43 ERA in 110 1/3 innings with nearly a strikeout-per-inning. The 33-year-old reliever was a swingman in San Diego, so it may be uncertain whether he can withstand a full year of starting.

Prediction: 2 years, $18 million

Wade Miley missed a lot of time in 2022, but posted a 3.14 ERA in 23 starts for the Brewers this year. The lefty has one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball and while he seems to avoid hard contact, he will turn 37 next week.

Prediction: 1 year, $11 million

Marcus Stroman had a 2.88 ERA through mid-July, but suffered a rib injury and did not finish well, ending the season at 3.95. The 32-year-old right-hander opted out of his $21 million deal, but cannot be given a Qualifying Offer.

Prediction: 3 years, $60 million

Michael Wacha signed a creative deal with the Padres, but opted out after a 3.22 ERA with 2.2 rWAR this season. The 32-year-old Texan has been good the last two seasons without eye-popping strikeout rates, but has battled injuries, and has not made 30 starts in a season since 2017.

Prediction: 2 years, $28 million

Injury risks

Clayton Kershaw just had shoulder surgery last week and won’t return to the mound until next summer. The Dodgers want the 35-year-old back, although there were rumors Kershaw wanted to return home to Texas last winter.

Prediction: 1 year, $10 million

Kenta Maeda missed all of 2022 after Tommy John surgery and returned this year to post a 4.23 ERA in 104 13 innings. His strikeout-to-walk rate was excellent, but he’ll be 36 next April and he has only made 30 starts once in his MLB career back in his first season in 2016.

Prediction: 1 year $10 million

Tyler Mahle was a 4.9 rWAR pitcher for the Reds in 2021, but couldn’t contribute much for the Twins after they made a big trade for him. He had Tommy John surgery in May and likely won’t be ready for the start of this season. The 29-year-old right-hander only throws around 93 mph, but gets a lot of strikes and has good movement.

Prediction: 2 years, $20 million

Frankie Montas was acquired by the Yankees in the summer of 2022 for a big haul, but he ended up starting just eight games in pinstripes, and made just one relief appearance this year due to a shoulder injury. When he was healthy in 2021, he struck out 207 in 187 innings with a 3.37 ERA and earning Cy Young votes, and the right-hander is still just 30 years old.

Prediction: 1 year, $9 million

James Paxton pitched in just six games from 2020 to 2022, but returned to start 19 games for Boston this year with a 4.50 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 96 innings. The 35-year-old lefty seemed to get his velocity back this year and he only missed time due to a knee injury.

Prediction: 1 year, $10 million

Hyun Jin Ryu made just 17 starts over the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, but has recovered and rumors are the 36-year-old lefty wants to pitch one more season in MLB. He had a 3.46 ERA but 4.91 FIP in 11 starts this year, and his strikeout rate is poor, but he is still able to throw a lot of strikes.

Prediction: 1 year, $8 million

Luis Severino was an All-Star earning Cy Young votes in 2018, but hasn’t pitched in a full season since then. He was very good in 19 starts for the Yankees in 2022, but was awful this year with a 6.65 ERA in 89 13 innings with a high walk rate. His injuries were non-arm related this year, and Severino won’t turn 30 until February, so he could be worth a flier.

Prediction: 1 year, $7 million

Bargain bin

Kyle Gibson is a workhorse and groundball pitcher who won a career-high 15 games at age 35 with the Orioles this year. The former Mizzou Tiger doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, but he avoids home runs and eats innings, posting a 4.73 ERA this year, but a 4.13 FIP.

Prediction: 1 year, $8 million

Zack Greinke hasn’t announced whether or not he plans to pitch next year for a 21st season. The future Hall of Famer had a 5.06 ERA, his worst since 2005, and he had trouble with home runs this year. However the 40-year old continues to throw strikes and is crafty enough to find ways to get hitters out.

Prediction: Retirement

Rich Hill is still chugging along after 19 seasons, and will turn 44 come March. He may be near the end after posting a 5.41 ERA in 146 1/3 innings with the Pirates and Padres, and he was pretty bad once San Diego acquired him. He relies heavily on his curveball, with a fastball that only hits the upper-80s, but he might be a cheap innings-eater option.

Prediction: Retirement

Michael Lorenzen was an All-Star this year with the Tigers, but he was awful after the Phillies acquired him. He pitched a career-high 153 innings this year with a solid 4.18 ERA, but one of the lower strikeout rates in the league. The 31-year-old is also a career .233/.282/.429 hitter with seven home runs in 147 plate appearances if the Royals want an extra bat.

Prediction: 1 year, $10 million

Lance Lynn received Cy Young votes as recently as 2021, but he may have hit a wall this year with a 5.73 ERA and 44 home runs allowed, most in baseball. His strikeout rate remains good, but the 36-year old saw a big spike in his walk rate.

Prediction: 1 year, $8 million

Martín Pérez won a ring with the Rangers, but also fell out of the rotation late in the year. He was an All-Star in 2022 with a 2.89 ERA, but his strikeout rate plummeted while his ERA spiked to 4.45 with a 4.99 FIP this year. The 32-year-old lefty has seen his velocity steadily decline the last few years and he may not have many starts left in his arm.

Prediction: 1 year, $7 million

Julio Urías led the league in ERA in 2022, but he regressed badly this year and after an arrest for domestic violence charges, his baseball career is in jeopardy. The 27-year-old lefty will almost certainly have to serve a suspension next year, and his future beyond that is cloudy.

Prediction: ????

Alex Wood spent time as a starter and reliever this year and saw his strikeout and walk numbers turn into a pumpkin. His 4.33 ERA wasn’t too bad, partly because he was able to suppress home runs with a 44 percent groundball rate. The 32-year-old lefty has spent his entire 11-year career in the National League.

Prediction: 1 year, $6 million

Cheap! Cheap!

Matthew Boyd has a 4.94 ERA in nine big league seasons, yet still keeps getting chances. He returned to Detroit this year, but posted a 5.45 ERA in 15 starts, and may have better success in the pen at this point.

Prediction: 1 year, $3 million

Carlos Carrasco has alternated good and bad seasons each of the last six years, which would make him due for a good one after a 6.20 ERA this year. But the 36-year-old may be near the end after battling shoulder inflammation and missing time after dropping a dumbbell on his pinkie.

Prediction: Minor league deal

Johnny Cueto was a World Series hero in Kansas City but had a 6.02 ERA for the Marlins in 52 13 innings this year. The 37-year-old right-hander has battled a lot of injuries late in his career, and his days a big leaguer may be ending soon.

Prediction: Retirement

Chris Flexen found lightening in a bottle in 2021 and 2022 with the Mariners, posting a 3.66 ERA despite low strikeout rates. But his luck ran out this year and the Mariners dumped him on the Mets, who released him. The right-hander is still just 29 with a good change, but an awful fastball that opponents hit .383 off of this season.

Prediction: Minor league deal

Domingo German won 18 games for the Yankees in 2019, but has had mixed results since then and a tumultuous time off the field. He had a 4.56 ERA in 108 23 innings his year, mostly as a starter with more strikeouts than innings pitched. But he had to miss time after entering alcohol abuse treatment, and has been suspended in his career for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy and for using foreign substances.

Prediction: ???

Brad Keller was a nice find through the Rule 5 draft and had a 2.47 ERA as recently as 2020, although in nine starts. More recently though he has been dreadful, putting up a 5.14 ERA over the last three seasons combined, and had major control issues this year. He also missed much of the season with right shoulder impingement syndrome, but he is still just 28 years old.

Prediction: Minor league deal

Noah Syndergaard was hit pretty hard this season, as his velocity is down to 92 on his fastball. He had a 6.50 ERA in 18 starts with the Dodgers and Guardians, with a very low strikeout rate. He did throw strikes, and he is just 31 years old, but he is nowhere near the pitcher he was when the Royals faced him in the 2015 World Series.

Prediction: Minor league deal

Vince Velasquez has been a “great stuff, poor results” guy for a long time, but he finally started to put things together for the Pirates this year until he got hurt. He has a 4.88 ERA in a nine-year big league career, but the 31-year-old might be worth a flier as someone that can miss some bats.

Prediction: 1 year, $3 million

Ryan Yarbrough pitched in 14 games for the Royals this year before they traded him to the Dodgers. Manager Matt Quatraro knows him well from their days in Tampa Bay, and the lefty has posted some of the best walk rates in baseball.

Prediction: 1 year, $3 million