Free Agency Preview: Starting pitchers


Free Agency Preview – Catcher
Free Agency Preview – First base & DH
Free Agency Preview – Second base
Free Agency Preview – Third base
Free Agency Preview – Shortstop
Free Agency Preview – Outfield
This is part seven in a series of columns looking at this winter’s free agents, trade candidates and non-tender possibilities. I’ll be making predictions for the key free agents, but try not to take them too awfully seriously. Here are the starting pitchers.
John Lackey (Angels) – Lackey is obviously the class of this year’s group of pitchers, but he’s missed pieces of the last two seasons and his numbers are trending in the wrong direction. That he stands so far out in front of the rest of the options might cause some club to offer him Barry Zito money. Zito, though, entered free agency having thrown at least 210 innings in each of his six full seasons in the majors. Lackey has hit that mark twice in seven seasons, and with a career 3.81 ERA, he doesn’t have quite the same track record that Zito did. He’s received Cy Young votes just once in his career, finishing in third place in 2007. While he ranks among the game’s top 20 starting pitchers right now, a third elbow injury in three years could change that in a hurry. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Mariners look like the best bets to contend with the Angels for his services. The Angels should have the funds to keep him, but expectations are that he’ll depart. Prediction: Yankees – six years, $102 million
Aroldis Chapman (FA) – Chapman has already met with a bunch of teams, and unlike the rest of the free agents, he’s been fair game to sign with anyone for the last few weeks. Still, there’s been nothing to suggest anything is close to happening. The hard-throwing lefty is probably too wild to succeed as a major league starter now, but it’s possible he could contribute as a reliever right away and he has a world of potential as a starter. I’m still guessing that he will end up somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million. The Yankees and Red Sox are the clear favorites for his services, with Seattle a possibility as a long shot. Teams like the Mets, Angels and Dodgers will need to spend their available funds on someone more likely to provide an immediate impact. Prediction: Yankees – six years, $48 million
Randy Wolf (Dodgers) – Two full seasons after four injury-plagued ones should get Wolf a multiyear contract this time. He had the chance to re-sign with the Astros for three years last winter, but he held out for more money. In the end, he had to settle for one year, but it will work out well for him, since he can now look forward to significantly bigger payday after going 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 214 1/3 innings for the Dodgers. One would think the Dodgers would try hard to re-sign him. They have a big need, and he might be willing to accept a slight discount to stay in Southern California. However, few seem to think that he’ll be back. The Mariners and Mets might be the favorites here. That Wolf, like Lackey, will require draft-pick compensation could cause the Brewers to shy away. They’re the only two available starters to qualify as Type A free agents. Prediction: Mariners – three years, $36 million
Ben Sheets (Brewers) – Sheets was originally expected to attempt an August comeback from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow, but he didn’t progress as hoped and he ended up sitting out the season. He’s still on track to be fully healthy in spring training, and with Tim Hudson off the board, I think he now qualifies as the best investment among free agent starters. There are still questions about his arm, but his surgery wasn’t one of the big ones and it’s not unreasonable to think that he could match Lackey going forward. I expect the Red Sox and Yankees to be involved, and I’d be listing Boston as the favorites here if I didn’t already give them Matt Holliday. He shouldn’t have to settle for a one-year deal, though he might prefer to go that route so that he can rebuild his value. Prediction: Rangers – two years, $20 million
Rich Harden (Cubs) – Harden would seem to be the one free agent starter capable of leading a league in ERA next year. Of course, he’d have to qualify for the title first. He’s done it just once in his career, that happening back in 2004. Harden finished with a 2.07 ERA in 26 starts in 2008, but he was awfully inconsistent last season and ended up with a 4.09 ERA. Even with his velocity down, he racked up 171 strikeouts in 141 innings. However, he also walked 67 and averaged just 5.4 innings per start. Because he’s such a high-risk pitcher, he only really makes sense for a large-market club willing to gamble. The Red Sox, Yankees and Mariners would seem to be in the best position to take him on, though it’s possible the Nationals or Orioles could try their luck with him. Prediction: Orioles – two years, $18 million
Jarrod Washburn (Tigers) – Washburn just needs to find one team more willing to look at the 2.64 ERA from the first four months of 2009 than the 4.55 ERA from his first three seasons in Seattle and the 7.33 ERA from his eight starts in Detroit. In his defense, he was pitching with a bum knee for the Tigers. The surgery was minor, and he should be 100 percent next year. Washburn, though, is a 35-year-old flyball pitcher with no strikeout pitch. Send him back to Seattle or maybe San Diego and he’ll probably turn in a couple of more decent seasons. If he’s thrown into an average ballpark and given an average outfield defense, he’ll likely be quite a bust. The Twins and Brewers seem to have the most interest in him. Prediction: Twins – two years, $17 million
Joel Pineiro (Cardinals) – Pineiro is right there with Wolf as far as having delivered the best 2009 entering free agency. Suddenly a pure sinkerballer, Pineiro had the top groundball rate of any qualified starter last season and walked just 27 batters in 214 innings. It was an incredible performance from a guy who hadn’t turned in a quality season since 2003. That he has just the one year of encouraging results could hurt him much like it did Wolf last winter. But there are so few pitchers ahead of him that it’s easy to see him getting a three-year deal worth $7 million-$8 million per season. The Mets, Brewers, Nationals and Dodgers figure to inquire. Prediction: Brewers – three years, $22.5 million
Andy Pettitte (Yankees) – Once again, it’s almost surely either a return to the Yankees or retirement for Pettitte. He’s talked for years about calling it quits, and it’s doubtful that he’ll ever get a chance to leave on a higher note. While he wasn’t outstanding in the regular season, finishing 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA, he went 4-0 in five postseason starts, with the final win coming in the World Series finale. If Pettitte does choose to come back, he shouldn’t have to settle for such an incentive-laden deal again. The Yankees took advantage of his loyalty in guaranteeing him just $5.5 million last season, though he ended up earning $10.5 million in all. Prediction: Yankees – one year, $10 million plus incentives
Brad Penny (Giants) – It certainly didn’t work out in Boston, but Penny had great velocity throughout 2009 and the results to match came after he joined the Giants, as he went 4-1 with a 2.59 ERA in six starts. Odds are that he’ll stick in the NL now, but he’d be a fine investment for just about any team in the circuit. The Giants figure to ask him back, and the Brewers would be smart to make a play. Prediction: Brewers – two years, $16 million
Vicente Padilla (Dodgers) – Even with the dud in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Phillies, Padilla did more for his stock in September and October than any other free agent pitcher. He was 4-0 with a 3.20 ERA in seven starts and a relief appearance after signing with the Dodgers, and he was dominant in his first two postseason starts before giving up six runs in his third and final outing. Including the postseason, he had a 51/16 K/BB ratio in 56 2/3 IP for the Dodgers. As a Ranger, he came in at 59/42 in 108 IP. Padilla needs to stay in the NL now. He’s probably looking at another multiyear deal as a result of the strong finish, and the Dodgers may well be the team to give it to him. Prediction: Dodgers – two years, $15 million
Jon Garland (Dodgers) – Following a rough first two months, Garland had a 3.35 ERA in 147 2/3 innings from June through the end of the season. He even posted a 65/21 K/BB ration after the All-Star break, which is simply incredible for him. Still, he was overtaken by Padilla late and left out of the Dodgers’ postseason rotation. Garland’s reputation was certainly overblown as a result of back-to-back 18-win seasons in 2005 and ’06, but he’s actually underrated now. He’s still just 30, he’s made 32 starts in eight straight seasons and he’s never had a truly awful year. The Diamondbacks should consider inviting him back, and he could be viewed as a replacement for Pineiro in St. Louis. Prediction: Athletics – one year, $7.5 million
Doug Davis (Diamondbacks) – The annual 1.5 WHIP sure isn’t pretty, but Davis is an awfully durable fourth starter and that has some value. Contenders will probably shy away, but I don’t necessarily think AL clubs should be as wary of him as they typically are of mediocre NL starters. Davis seems to find ways survive against quality offenses, and his interleague track record is pretty good. Prediction: Nationals – two years, $12 million
Carl Pavano (Twins) – After throwing a total of 145 2/3 innings in four seasons as a Yankee, Pavano was able to go 199 1/3 for the Indians and Twins last season. He was hardly great in the process — he finished with a 5.10 ERA — but his K/BB ratio and WHIP were solid throughout. His FIP ERA was 4.00. Obviously, Pavano would be a poor risk on a multiyear deal, but there should be plenty of teams interested in signing him for a year: Seattle, Milwaukee, Arizona and St. Louis to name a few. The Twins will also make an effort to re-sign him. Prediction: Diamondbacks – one year, $7 million
Jason Marquis (Rockies) – Marquis cost himself a bunch of money late. He was among the major league leaders in wins for much of the first half, but he came in at 4-7 with a 4.56 ERA after the break and the Rockies left him out of their postseason rotation. Marquis has made it clear that his desire is to pitch for the Mets, and he could fit right into their price range. They’ll likely try to do better first, but it’s possible Marquis will get his wish. The Nationals and Brewers could also look at him. It seems unlikely that any AL teams will get involved. Prediction: Mets – two years, $10 million
Pedro Martinez (Phillies) – Martinez intends to put in a full season in 2010 after going 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in nine regular-season starts and 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA in the postseason for the Phillies. Of course, it’d be insane to pencil him in to make 30 starts, something he hasn’t done since 2005. But he still has enough life on his pitches to justify a $5 million-$6 million salary. The team that signs him just has to hope that he’ll be healthy at the right time. Prediction: Marlins – one year, $5 million
Brett Myers (Phillies) – Myers seems like a lock for a one-year deal after experiencing diminished velocity and unsatisfactory results following his return from hip surgery. It’s admirable that he tried to come back so quickly, but he probably didn’t do himself any favors headed into free agency. He could choose to market himself either as a starter or as a late-game reliever. One thing is for certain: he won’t be back with the Phillies. Prediction: Rangers – one year, $4 million plus incentives
John Smoltz (Cardinals) – Smoltz is open to returning to the American League or signing as a closer, but he’d likely be the most comfortable staying in the NL as a starting pitcher. A return to St. Louis would be the best possible scenario for him, and the Cardinals should be interested in re-signing him as long as he doesn’t try to hold out for too long. Prediction: Cardinals – one year, $4 million plus incentives
Erik Bedard (Mariners) – Bedard is likely to miss at least the first month and perhaps the first half of next season after August surgery to fix his labrum and an inflated bursa. So, he’s probably looking an incentive-laden one-year deal, potentially with a lucrative option for 2011. The Mariners haven’t ruled out re-signing him, and large-market clubs like the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels could be involved. Prediction: Red Sox – one year, $4 million plus incentives
Randy Johnson (Giants) – Now that he has his 300 victories, there just isn’t much reason for Johnson to try to gut it out for another year. His rotator cuff tear won’t simply go away, and surgery to repair it would likely cost him at least half of his age-46 season. It’s surely not worth it at this stage of his career. Prediction: Retirement
Braden Looper (Brewers) – The Brewers didn’t think it was worth keeping Looper around for $6.5 million next season and bought him out for $1 million instead. Looper did give the team innings last season and somehow managed to go 14-7 with his 5.22 ERA, but given his modest strikeout rate, he needs a much better defense behind him than that provided by the Brewers. Another NL team will likely sign him for $3 million-$4 million. Prediction: Padres – one year, $3.5 million
Justin Duchscherer (Athletics) – Duchscherer would seem to owe it to Oakland to come back for another season at a discount after giving them nothing for their $3.9 million in 2009. The A’s, though, are prepared to let him go. Duchscherer never pitched in the majors last season after what was described as minor elbow surgery at the end of the spring. Just when it seemed he was set to return in August, it was announced that he had been diagnosed with depression and he was taking the rest of the season off. As if those items weren’t sufficiently visible red flags, Duchscherer also has a long history of back problems. Given that he was an All-Star in 2008, he can hardly be dismissed entirely. However, he’s a long shot to give a team 180 innings. Prediction: Angels – one year, $2 million plus incentives
Other free agents: Noel Arguelles (FA), Jose Contreras (Rockies), Todd Wellemeyer (Cardinals), Kelvim Escobar (Angels), Livan Hernandez (Nationals), Paul Byrd (Red Sox), Jeff Weaver (Dodgers), Noah Lowry (Giants), Brett Tomko (Athletics), Eric Milton (Dodgers), Chris Capuano (Brewers), Rich Hill (Orioles), Daniel Cabrera (Diamondbacks), Kris Benson (Rangers), Edgar Gonzalez (Athletics), Zach Jackson (Indians), Kason Gabbard (Red Sox), Lenny DiNardo (Royals), Josh Towers (Yankees), Adam Eaton (Rockies), Josh Banks (Padres), Justin Lehr (Reds), Virgil Vasquez (Pirates), Bruce Chen (Royals), Jason Schmidt (Dodgers), Mike Hampton (Astros)
Arguelles, the other Cuban defector, is a 20-year-old lefty reputed to throw in the low-90s. He’s still flying under the radar at the moment, but that could change after some workouts this winter. … Contreras was better last season than his 4.92 ERA indicates, and he deserves a guaranteed rotation spot. He could be a nice pickup for $2 million or so. … With his velocity down a bit, Wellemeyer was a bust last season. However, he had a 3.71 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 191 2/3 innings for the Cardinals in 2008. He’ll come cheap, and he offers nice upside.
Escobar is a complete wild card at this point. He didn’t undergo another shoulder surgery after his June setback, so he should be ready to pitch in spring training. Still, it’s far too early to tell whether he’ll be able to start games again. … Byrd remains a capable fourth or fifth starter, but he may opt for retirement for real this time. … Lowry could be interesting if healthy, and his agent says he is. I’ll believe it when I see it. … Schmidt is expected to retire, and Hampton will miss next season after shoulder surgery.

Trade candidates: Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Roy Halladay (Blue Jays – NTC), Chad Billingsley (Dodgers), Edwin Jackson (Tigers), Javier Vazquez (Braves – limited NTC), Ricky Nolasco (Marlins), Carlos Zambrano (Cubs – NTC), Jonathan Sanchez (Giants), Zach Duke (Pirates), Aaron Harang (Reds), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Francisco Liriano (Twins), Brandon Morrow (Mariners), Manny Parra (Brewers), John Maine (Mets), Glen Perkins (Twins), Michael Bowden (Red Sox), Armando Galarraga (Tigers), Brian Bannister (Royals), Kevin Correia (Padres), Andy Sonnanstine (Rays), Kevin Millwood (Rangers – limited NTC), Derek Lowe (Braves), Kenshin Kawakami (Braves), Collin Balester (Nationals), Kyle Kendrick (Phillies), Kyle Davies (Royals), Micah Owings (Reds), Ian Kennedy (Yankees), Jo-Jo Reyes (Braves), Garrett Olson (Mariners), Antonio Bastardo (Phillies), Matt Maloney (Reds), Eric Stults (Dodgers), Kei Igawa (Yankees), Dana Eveland (Athletics), Mitch Talbot (Rays), David Purcey (Blue Jays), Drew Carpenter (Phillies)
Halladay is obviously more likely to go than Hernandez, and it would change the above predictions a great deal if he suddenly became a Yankee in the near future. … As for the other bigger names, I think Harang and Lowe are the best bets to be traded. Arroyo is getting more play as the pitcher the Reds may part with, but Harang figures to draw more interest around the league and I’m really not sure he’s the better pitcher of the two at this point. The Braves will likely have to subsidize a portion of Lowe’s contract to move him, but they’d likely prefer that route to trading Vazquez.
Non-tender candidates: Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees), John Maine (Mets), Kyle Davies (Royals), David Bush (Brewers), Scott Olsen (Nationals), Dustin McGowan (Blue Jays), Tim Redding (Mets), Boof Bonser (Twins), Dustin Moseley (Angels), Brad James (Astros), Anthony Lerew (Royals)
It’s always possible the two sides could work out something over the next couple of weeks, but my guess is that the Yankees will non-tender Wang and then re-sign him later. Maybe there would be a market for someone with his upside, but there’s simply no telling what he’ll look like next spring after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his shoulder capsule. … Maine is due only $3 million-$3.5 million, so the Mets need to bring him back and hope for the best. Redding, though, should be a goner. … I’m skeptical that Davies is worth the $1.7 million-$2 million that he’ll command, but indications are that the Royals will keep him. … Bush is almost certainly done in Milwaukee, and Olsen should have to take a paycut to stay in Washington. I’m guessing that McGowan and Bonser will keep their spots.
2010-11 free agents: Roy Halladay (Blue Jays), Cliff Lee (Phillies), Josh Beckett (Red Sox), Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks), Javier Vazquez (Braves), Ted Lilly (Cubs), Joe Blanton (Phillies), Aaron Harang (Reds)*, Jeff Francis (Rockies)*, Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies), Kevin Millwood (Rangers), Hiroki Kuroda (Dodgers), Chris Young (Padres)*, Bronson Arroyo (Reds)*, Jake Westbrook (Indians), David Bush (Brewers), Kevin Correia (Padres), Jeff Suppan (Brewers)*, Freddy Garcia (White Sox), Nate Robertson (Tigers), Jamie Moyer (Phillies), Jeremy Bonderman (Tigers), Brian Moehler (Astros), Dontrelle Willis (Tigers)
2011 options: Harang – $12.75 million ($2 million buyout), Francis – $7 million, Young – $8.5 million, Arroyo – $11 million-$13 million ($2 million buyout), Suppan – $12.75 million ($2 million buyout)
2011-12 free agents: Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Justin Verlander (Tigers), Josh Johnson (Marlins), Matt Cain (Giants), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals)*, Chris Carpenter (Cardinals)*, Wandy Rodriguez (Astros), Edwin Jackson (Tigers), Aaron Cook (Rockies)*, Ryan Dempster (Cubs)*, Mark Buehrle (White Sox), Gil Meche (Royals), Roy Oswalt (Astros)*, Scott Kazmir (Angels)*, Zach Duke (Pirates), Paul Maholm (Pirates)*, Oliver Perez (Mets), Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees), John Maine (Mets), Kenshin Kawakami (Braves), Tim Wakefield (Red Sox), Brandon McCarthy (Rangers), Carlos Silva (Mariners)*, Scott Olsen (Nationals)
2012 options: Wainwright – $21 million club option for 2012-13, Carpenter – $15 million ($1 million buyout), Cook – $11 million mutual option ($500,000 buyout), Dempster – $14 million player option, Oswalt – $16 million mutual option ($2 million buyout), Kazmir – $13.5 million ($2.5 million buyout), Maholm – $9.75 million ($750,000 buyout), Silva – $12 million mutual option ($2 million buyout)