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MLB Free Agency: Starting Pitching Market

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Welcome to the eighth installment of INSC’s MLB Free Agency Positional Breakdown! To kick off the second week of the series, we will be taking a closer look at this year’s crop of free agent starting pitchers. We will be taking a look at the list of names, what they bring to the table, where they could end up and which teams could be looking for starting pitching help.

So in order for us to get into any sort of analysis, we are going to need a list of upcoming free agents. It just so happens that formulates such a list every season. If you would like to access their full list of upcoming free agents, you can take a look right here. From that full list, here are the starting pitchers who are poised to be free agents at the conclusion of this season’s World Series!

Henderson Alvarez (27)
Brett Anderson (29)
Clay Buchholz (32) — $13.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Andrew Cashner (30)
Jhoulys Chacin (29)
Bartolo Colon (43)
Jorge De La Rosa (36)
R.A. Dickey (42)
Felix Doubront (29)
Doug Fister (33)
Jaime Garcia (30) — $12MM club option with a $500K buyout
Gio Gonzalez (31) — $12MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jason Hammel (34) — $10MM club option with a $2MM buyout
Jeremy Hellickson (30)
Rich Hill (37)
Derek Holland (30) — $11MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Scott Kazmir (33) — can opt out of remaining two years, $32MM on current contract
Mat Latos (29)
Colby Lewis (37)
Kris Medlen (31) — $10MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Charlie Morton (33) — $9.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Jon Niese (30) — $10MM club option with a $500K buyout
Bud Norris (32)
Ivan Nova (30)
Jake Peavy (36)
CC Sabathia (36) — $25MM vesting option with a $5MM buyout
James Shields (35) — can opt out of remaining two years, $44MM on current contract
Alfredo Simon (36)
Jacob Turner (26)
Edinson Volquez (33) — $10MM mutual option with a $3MM buyout
Jered Weaver (34)
C.J. Wilson (36)

This group of free agent arms is lacking something the last few winters have had quite an abundance of: aces. There will be no Jon Lesters or Johnny Cuetos in this crop of free agent starting pitchers. As you scroll down the list you see a bunch of guys that make you say, “He’s alright. He’s a back-end of the rotation guy. He’s terrible. He isn’t too bad,” and so on. And given almost all of these names fall in the ranks of number three to number five starter (if that), there really is no predicting where anyone will wind up.

Starting pitching is always in demand. So virtually any team could get their feet wet here. Especially since none of these guys are going to break the bank. Since every team could always look for starting depth, and that is essentially what all of these guys are, I will not really be running through teams in this piece. I will put more focus on the actual players, and what they will bring to the team they end up signing with.

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So as we glance through these names, one thing is a bit interesting. There are plenty of interesting option decisions on the table here that could go either way. So let’s take a quick run through all of those. First up is Clay Buchholz and his 13.5 million dollar option. Overall on the season, Buchholz had a rocky year with a 4.78 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He seemed to turn things around a bit towards the end of the season, and still sits in the low 30’s age wise. More likely than not the Red Sox save the 13 million, and let him walk, and he will catch on with another team as a number three starter.

Then we have Jamie Garcia, whose option has a price tag of 12 million bucks. Garcia had a fairly similar season to Buchholz in regards to some of the main statistics. The overall numbers were not pretty, and it is very possible the Cardinals are simply ready to move on from one of their former top prospects, which you can take away from comments made by the Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak here. At 30 years old, Garcia has had his ups and downs. Some seasons he looks really sharp, while others he struggles mightily, usually because of injury. So like Buchholz, I would expect the team feels it is time to move on, and he will find himself wearing something other than a Cardinals uniform in 2017.

Gio Gonzalez has the exact same option as Garcia in terms of dollars. Like our first two arms, this was not the best season for Gio. His 4.57 ERA is not going to cut it in the Nationals rotation with some of the pitchers young pitchers they have set to have a permanent spot in the rotation moving forward. Expect the 31 Gio to find himself battle with Clay and Jamie, as all three are in very similar shoes.

Jason Hammel is a more interesting option. With his option at 10 million, and buyout at two million, the team could look to save eight million dollars. Those eight million dollars could go a long way in helping the team retain the services of Aroldis Chapman, or could be handed to one of their young talented bats in arbitration or via an extension. Even though Hammel did not have a bad season, he is simply not going to crack the top four in their rotation. So the team is likely to let him walk, as paying their fifth starter 1o million is not likely part of the game-plan moving into 2017.

The 30 year old Derek “Dutch” Holland has an 11 million dollar option with the Texas Rangers. We are following a theme here, as Holland had a poor, injury filled season that saw his ERA sit at 4.95. Not exactly a way to convince a team to pick up your option. Texas needs to do something to improve their rotation, and parting ways with Dutch may be the first move. Like everyone before him, he will catch on somewhere new as a back-end starter.

Next let’s take two names at the same time: Scott Kazmir and James Shields. Both men control their own fates. Neither man did anything to blow teams away in 2016, and opting out of their respective deals would be a head-scratcher. So expect both men to remain with their clubs. Speaking of a player who will remain in the same uniform, CC Sabathia’s vesting option did kick in, so he is locked in to a return to the Yankees.

Now let’s discuss the mutual options, which requires both the player and club to say they want a reunion. The Royals ave a pair of these options. Kris Medlen, who suffered through an injury filled season, that saw his ERA balloon to 7.77 and WHIP to 2.05, did nothing to convince the team he is worth the 10 million dollars. Edison Volquez should not expect to see his 10 million either, as the team is expected to decline his option as well. This is mainly due to the team looking to shed payroll, and you can read about the Volquez decision here.

Charlie Morton and the Phillies are facing the mutual option decision as well. Morton’s season ended with a hamstring injury. Given the injuries could use a veteran arm to eat some innings, the remaining one year on Morton’s deal could very well come to fruition. I would say the decision comes based on how Morton’s hamstring is healing. At the end of the day, I expect him back in a Phillies uniform next season.

Jon Niese likely will not have the same fate. After suffering through a poor 2016 campaign, Niese’s 10 million dollar option is likely to be declined. After the Mets traded him away last offseason, this winter likely sees the Mets part ways with him for good. He is likely to spend most of the offseason recovering from knee surgery, and will probably sign late in the offseason to compete as a fifth starter.

The rest of the market leaves a lot to be desired, with the top three names being Andrew Cashner, Rich Hill and Ivan Nova. None of them have any chance of having a qualifying offer attached to their names, as all three men were traded during the 2016 season.

Rich Hill may be the most appealing arm out there. His age and injury concerns do leave plenty of questions, but his stats show he still has it. The lefty will be 37 next season, and is coming off a year where he had a 2.12 ERA, won 12 games and struck out 129 batters in 110 and a third innings. His short stint with the Dodgers only helped boost his value, as his numbers in the Dodgers uni were nothing but positive, when he was healthy enough to pitch. He will likely be considered the best starter available.

Cashner spent his 2016 season with both the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins. While he may be one of the more recognizable names on this list, his stats do nothing to encourage teams to think he is anything more than a number three. And that is only if he is on his game, as his stats are more suited for a number five. During his stint in Miami, he walked 30 men in just over 52 innings. That is a huge red flag, and Cashner’s only real appeal is the fact that he is a former top prospect who has a recognizable name in a weak market.

Ivan Nova is an interesting case. After struggling with the Yankees, Nova was shipped to Pittsburgh. There he got to learn from the Pirates pitching guru, Ray Searage, who has turned many pitchers’ careers around. J.A. Happ had a short stint in Pittsburgh last season, and this season he became a 20 game winner. Nova could very well return to Pittsburgh, which is probably the best thing for his career. But given the positive flashes he showed with the Pirates, other teams will likely take notice.

Some of the other names that will draw a handful of interest include Jeremy Hellickson, Colby Lewis and Jake Peavy. Every name on this list has an identifiable flaw, and the market development is sure to be interesting. There are no real standouts here, but just a lot of mediocre names. Maybe someone will step up and have a solid 2017, but nothing here indicates who that will be. Some of these guys may just need a change of scenery, and that is sure to happen. Look for a lot of these names to find new addresses, as they have not done much to warrant their current club to want them back.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when we wrap up the series and go over the relief pitchers market! If you have not already, check out the Positional Breakdown Series Preview page to see what date we will look at each position, with links available upon the release of those articles. You can check that page out right here.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]