We are about six weeks into the offseason, and the Hot Stove has given us several interesting free agent signings so far. In a year in which most of the best players are hitters, general managers had a limited supply of good pitchers to shop for this holiday season; with the action over the past few weeks, the pickings are now slim.
With Patrick Corbin identified as the best starter on the market, it is unsurprising the Nationals made him one of the first free agent starting pitchers off the board. Washington inked Corbin to a massive $140 million six-year deal. With reports of J.A. Happ likely signing a two year deal with the Yankees (though not confirmed), and the Rays obtaining the services of Charlie Morton on a two-year, $30 million deal, the starting pitching ranks is looking even more slim than it was a few weeks ago.
Looking at the next-best-tier really includes only Dallas Keuchel, as Hyun-Jin Ryu, who would be in a similar category, accepted a one-year $18 million qualifying offer from Los Angeles. In retrospect, it was not a bad deal considering both Morton and Lance Lynn ended up with identical $15 million AAV contracts, but in any case, he’s off the board as well.
Supposedly the Phillies have been interested in Keuchel, who is far removed from his 2015 Cy Young year, but still remains a rock-solid, durable, and better-than-average lefty. Last season, Keuchel posted a 3.6 fWAR over 204 innings pitched. He’s been durable, reliable, and even posted his best walk rate since that fantastic 2015 run. Being left-handed makes him that much more of an asset to any rotation.
Beyond Keuchel, are a pile of journeymen, some with more upside than others. Gio Gonzalez, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Harvey, and Trevor Cahill are all looking for new teams.
After being traded from the Nationals to the Brewers, Gonzalez pitched well in five starts with Milwaukee. He is 33 years old however, so even if he’s a decent back-end starter in 2018, a long-term investment is probably not likely to add any surplus value. Similarly, Anibal Sanchez had a decent 2018, but he’s going into his age-35 season. Neither would be considered an impact player at this stage of their careers.
Matt Harvey managed to cut his walk rate and increase his strikeout rate to the best numbers he’s posted since his terrific 2015, but with health risk, and a reputation as a clubhouse malcontent won’t exactly raise his stock. He could be interesting as a fireman / middle reliever, but with his ego and history of making waves when asked to move to the ‘pen, it might not be worth the effort to move him from a fifth starting spot.
As if the step-down to the previous tier wasn’t stark enough, the remaining ‘top’ starters include Derek Holland, Bud Norris, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana, and Drew Pomeranz. Miley is probably the most interesting of the bunch, as he’s coming off a year in which he managed a 2.57 ERA, worthy of a 63 ERA-. The future projections however are not bullish, since his strikeout rate was down, his walk rate was up, and his K-BB% was an uninspiring 6.8 percent.
Essentially, at this still relatively early stage of the off-season, impact starters are extremely hard to find on the open market. It could end up being a sellers’ market for any team willing to part with a strong starter, which is good news to some teams that are open to dealing their aces or strong number twos. Cleveland has been rumored to dealing Corey Kluber (for who knows what reason), Noah Syndergaard’s name has been tossed around as well, as has the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who has not been the same pitcher since his dirt bike injury several offseasons ago.
Bottom line , if a team is looking for an ace, it’s going to cost them some serious prospect value, as the available starters on the market are less than inspiring players.