The Cold Stove: Waiting for the 2015 Free Agent Class

 

Seattle Mariners' 2B: Robinson Cano
Seattle Mariners’ 2B: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran all signed big deals within a matter of weeks, and then…baseball fans were left wondering what happened to the stove, and while a watched pot never boils, the wait for the next big signing seems to be longer than the Cubs World Series drought…ZING!

The 2014 free agent class certainly had some impressive names on the list, and after Clayton Kershaw signed his seven-year, $215 million extension on Thursday, the list of 2015 upcoming free agents took a major hit. Teams have a lot of money due to the incoming television mega-deals that Major League Baseball has signed, and that revenue is allowing clubs to lock up many of their homegrown players prior to reaching free agency. With so few superstars actually reaching free agency, it appears that those who do are going to cash in with some lucrative deals, even if they aren’t necessarily worthy such an investment.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

Teams seem quite hesitant to lock up the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana, and while Garza doesn’t require draft-pick compensation like Jimenez and Santana, can you blame teams for not wanting to give out a five-year, $80 to $100 million deal to those types of pitchers? The pitching market will likely be set and begin to move after Masahiro Tanaka signs, which will require a team to give $20 million in a posting fee on top of a $100 million deal for a player who has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level. It seems terrifying from these poor, baseball blogger’s eyes to see teams shelling out this kind of money to:

  • Masahiro Tanaka: Tanaka has gone 53-9 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 611.1 innings over the last three seasons in Japan – while tossing 30 complete games and averaging eight innings per start over 76 starts. The wear and tear on his arm rivals that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, yet he’ll be the top free agent and teams are clamoring to invest heavily in him. It’s as if teams forgot that Matsuzaka’s shoulder and elbow looked like road kill after 61 starts in Boston – and his career was a train wreck. Is Tanaka worth nine figures?
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez was 20-25 in his first 61 starts in Cleveland, posting a 5.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 340.2 innings…and then the second half of 2013 happened, and Jimenez was 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 13 starts and 84 innings and he is suddenly an ace! Sure, Indians’ pitching coach Mickey Callaway helped Jimenez with his balance and delivery, but did he make him into the same pitcher who went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the first half of 2010, or will Jimenez return to the mess that he was in his first 61 starts in Cleveland? Is Jimenez worth $75 to $90 million?
  • Ervin Santana: Santana was a salary dump last winter, as the Los Angeles Angels sent him to the Kansas City Royals with $1 million (the Royals paid the remaining $12 million of his contract) after Santana posted a horrific 5.16 ERA, 74 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 9-13 record over 30 starts and 178 innings in 2012. Then, Santana went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 127 ERA+, and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings and 32 starts, and he is the second coming of Christ…or is he? If Santana was the top state-side arm on the market, wouldn’t he be worthy of an offer? Maybe clubs are being cautious of Santana, who has had three full seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and ERA+ under 90, while tossing in five seasons with an ERA under 4.30 and an ERA+ of 106 or more, and they aren’t too keen on the idea of giving $100 million (which Santana was said to be seeking) for such dramatic, roller coaster production. Salary relief or not, Santana was acquired for Brandon Sisk, who missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, a 28-year-old relief prospect. Is he worth this type of commitment?
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Perhaps the slow movement of the pitching market is because of how ugly it actually is once you look at the numbers, while teams could be looking ahead to the 2015 free agency class. Even without Kershaw, there appears to be much better options available, and with so many pitchers with options, could teams be hoping to cash in on acquiring strong pitchers coming off of down seasons who won’t necessarily cost their respective clubs draft-pick compensation?

Here are the names of some pitchers who could reach free agency next winter if their options are not picked up:

While these pitcher WILL (at least currently scheduled) reach free agency after the 2014 season:

Homer Bailey, Josh Beckett, Jorge De La Rosa, Ryan Dempster, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Kendrick, Jon Lester, Colby Lewis, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy, Wandy Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, and James Shields.

HanRam
Los Angeles Dodgers SS: Hanley Ramirez

With San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer, and designated hitters like Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox David Ortiz, and Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn, the hitting market is also relatively strong; although, not as enticing as the possible pitchers who could be available next winter.

There are still some useful names out there on the free agent market, but is it time to wonder whether it is the player names (Nelson Cruz), the draft-pick compensation (Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, Jimenez, Santana), or teams looking to the potential free agent market in 2015 that is causing the hot stove to have frozen? With teams reporting to Spring Training in about five weeks, there could be busy days ahead of us, or there could be a lot of agents being replaced by dissatisfied baseball players who were left behind.

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In Case You Haven’t Noticed…

It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.

  • SorianoYankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
  • New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
  • Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
  • Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
  • Davis2There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.

Speaking of pitching…

  • Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
  • It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
  • FernandezSpeaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
  • For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
  • R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
  • DarvishYu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.

2013 MLB Free Agents: Top 10 Starting Pitchers

Courtesy: ESPN

Below is a list of starting pitchers who will, or could, reach free agency. Some players listed have options that will probably not be picked up, while others are totally free to sign with whomever they choose or settle for.

1. Zack Greinke, RHP, 10/21/1983

91-78, 3.77 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1,492 IP, 1,332:379 K:BB

Greinke has been traded twice in the last two years, first from Kansas City to Milwaukee, then from Milwaukee to the Los Angeles Angels. The right-hander has overcome some personal anxiety battles, but those mental battles could limit his potential suitors when he hits free agency. Those interested in the front line starter may want to consider his home and road splits, as Greinke is a true ace at home (55-30, 3.42 ERA in 138 games, 118 starts) but very mediocre away from his apparent comfort zones (36-48, 4.15 ERA, 134 games, 113 starts). At 29, Greinke will be one of two players (Josh Hamilton being the other) to cash in with a $100 million deal this winter.

2. Edwin Jackson, RHP, 11/9/1983

70-71, 4.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 1,268.2 IP, 969:497 K:BB

The stuff finally produced the strikeouts that Jackson’s arsenal was capable of in the second half of 2012, when Jackson posted a 92:28 K:BB in 88.1 innings, a 9.4 K/9 rate. Jackson posted a 9.2 K/9 in 2010 once he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, but could this be where Jackson finally cashes in and becomes an ace? If Jackson lands in a pitcher’s park, he could continue to take the steps necessary to become the pitcher everyone thought he was when he was outdueling Randy Johnson back in 2003 at the age of 19. He’ll finally get his long-term deal, even after pitching for seven teams in ten years.

3. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, 2/27/1984

48-51, 3.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 869 IP, 733:320 K:BB

Sanchez has yet to reach 200 innings in a season, but he has reached 200 strikeouts in a season once (2011). The stuff has always been there to help him reach ace levels, but there has also been concerns about his health at times in his career, warranted due to his innings limits to this point. Sanchez pitched very well down the stretch for the Detroit Tigers and could be on his way to establishing himself as the top-of-the-rotation starter that made him a part of the deal from Boston for Josh Beckett years ago.

4. Jake Peavy, RHP, 5/31/1981

120-93, 3.46 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,800.1 IP, 1,748:548 K:BB

Peavy had his first full season since 2008 in 2012 and his first season with at least 30 starts since 2007. It has been a long struggle with shoulder woes for Peavy, but he looked like his former self in 2012 amassing a 3.37 ERA and a 194:49 K:BB in 219 innings. Peavy is due either a $4 million buyout or a $22 million salary, so the chances of him returning to the White Sox in 2013 are about as slim as Jay-Z never dropping the “b” word again. Peavy will cash in, as some team will gamble on the shoulder staying strong and his revival being legit.

5. Kyle Lohse, RHP, 10/4/1978

118-109, 4.45 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 1,973 IP, 1,238:565 K:BB

Lohse put on a clinic in 2012, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The two seasons, Lohse is 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA over 399.1 innings. He’s clearly made himself a lot of money. Lohse is 34, so his contract could be limited. Teams could also be concerned about his pre-2011 form, as Lohse was just 88-98 with a 4.79 ERA over 10 seasons and 1,573.2 innings. St. Louis seems like a great fit, especially with an aging Chris Carpenter, as the Cardinals continue grooming Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Shelby Miller for rotation gigs.

6. Dan Haren, RHP, 9/17/1980

119-97, 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 1,876.2 IP, 1,585:395 K:BB

Haren has had some back issues the last couple of seasons, but he still managed to start 30 games in 2012. Haren has had issues his entire career maintaining his dominance, posting a 3.36 ERA and 63-50 record over 1,019.1 first half innings, while dropping to 56-47 with a 4.01 ERA in 857.1 second half innings. Haren rarely issues walks and is a great option for the top of a rotation. He is due $15.5 million or a $3.5 million buyout. If the Angels want to make a push to re-sign the younger Greinke, Haren could be bought out and headed to free agency. He’ll look to rebuild his value at the age of 32, still young enough for a nice, long-term commitment.

7. Francisco Liriano, LHP, 10/26/1983

53-54, 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 840 IP, 846:356 K:BB

Once upon a time, Liriano was on his way to becoming the next Johan Santana. Little did we know that once Santana’s shoulder was ripping away, that Liriano would deem himself just as useless. At the age of 22, Liriano was 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA. He then blew out his elbow and has gone just 40-49 with a 4.75 ERA since returning in 2008. Liriano can’t seem to throw enough strikes to be a consistent starting pitcher, but the stuff is still there, as evidenced by his 9.6 K/9 in 2012, to dominate…or continue to be a headcase.

8. Jorge De La Rosa, LHP, 4/5/1981

54-51, 4.96 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 780.1 IP, 688:383 K:BB

De La Rosa is another gamble, but he showed that he has the stuff to be a very nice mid-rotation starter before his 2011 Tommy John surgery. From 2009 until his injury in 2011, the lefty was 29-18 with a 4.18 ERA and 358:160 K:BB in 365.2 innings. De La Rosa struggled in his career prior to learning how to pitch once landing in Colorado. If he can pitch successfully there, can he do it anywhere? Owed $11 million or a $1 million buyout in 2013, De La Rosa is a great candidate to reach free agency to rebuild his career on an incentive-laden, one-year contract.

9. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, 4/12/1981

9-5, 3.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 125.1 IP, 101:43 K:BB

Iwakuma is an unknown, having turned down an opportunity to sign with Oakland in 2011 before signing a one-year contract with the Seattle Mariners prior to 2012. Iwakuma could bolt back to Japan or get himself a nice multi-year deal in the states after posting an 8-4 record, 2.65 ERA and 1.23 WHIP over 16 starts for the Mariners down the stretch. He has some mileage on his arm from his days pitching in Japan, but Iwakuma is sure to make more than the $1.5 million that he earned in 2012.

10. Brandon McCarthy, RHP, 7/7/1983

37-39, 4.02 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 654.1 IP, 447:191 K:BB

I would LOVE to have this guy on my team. While there will be concerns about his abilities due to the head trauma that he suffered, and his mobility due to brain surgery, McCarthy is worth a gamble by a contender or a team in need of a top starter. While there is a great deal of risk in signing McCarthy, he has overcome odds before, returning from a broken shoulder to become one of the best pitchers in baseball. Once returning from injury, McCarthy had a new, two-seam fastball that has changed his career, ala Roy Halladay in 2001. He made 11 appearances in 2010 in the minors, signing with the Oakland A’s in 2011, and going on to post a 17-15 record, 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 281.2 innings (43 starts). If he could just stay on the mound, he would be even more respected than he already is. Here’s to a speedy recovery and a fantastic rebound for a guy who seems like a lot of fun (follow him and his wife on Twitter, they’re hilarious!).

HONORABLE MENTION: Gavin Floyd, RHP ($9.5 million team option); Carlos Villanueva, RHP; Joe Saunders, LHP; Hiroki Kuroda, RHP; Jeremy Guthrie, RHP; Carlos Zambrano, RHP; Kevin Correia, RHP;