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Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Starting Pitchers Available

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Now that the World Series is over, we have a full offseason ahead of us. As you have probably heard, this class of free agents isn’t exactly the most stacked. With only a handful of elite players, we might see teams rush to snag them so they’re not left with table scraps. Or we could see teams play a game of chicken with free agents in an attempt to drive their prices down.

Today, we’ll start by previewing the starting pitchers that will be available.

1. Rich Hill, LHP

The lefty proved that his resurgence at the end of the 2015 season with the Red Sox wasn’t a fluke. Over 20 starts between the Athletics and Dodgers, he posted a 2.12 ERA with a 129/33 K/BB ratio across 110 1/3 innings. He missed a lot of time between mid-July and early September due to a blister issue, but he came back strong in September and then pitched decently in the playoffs, including six shutout innings in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs.

What’s working against Hill is that he’ll be 37 years old in March and hasn’t shown that he can be healthy for an entire season. As a result, teams will hesitate to commit to him beyond two years but Hill might have enough leverage in a weak starting pitching market to command a third year. He’s looking at a two-year, $30 million deal with an option or three guaranteed years at around $45 million total. It’s quite feasible that Hill crosses the $50 million threshold as well.

As SportsNet LA reported on Wednesday, Hill would like to stay with the Dodgers. He said, “Absolutely… with the leadership that’s here — Clayton [Kershaw] being the best pitcher in baseball … it’s something that you want to be around.” Expect the Dodgers to make a concerted effort to keep Hill around.

2. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP

Hellickson, 29, had some rough seasons from 2013-15 with the Rays and Diamondbacks, but he rebounded nicely with the Phillies this past season. Over 32 starts, he compiled a 3.71 ERA with a 154/45 K/BB ratio in 189 innings. He and Jerad Eickhoff were the only two reliable members of an otherwise uninspiring starting rotation.

If the qualifying offer rules stay the same with the new collective bargaining agreement, then the compensation attached to Hellickson after he rejects the Phillies’ $17.2 million QO could hinder his ability to find a home. A team that signs a player who rejected his previous team’s QO has to give up their earliest available pick. For a team that had one of the 10 worst records in baseball this past season, that is likely their second-round pick. For the other teams, it’s a first-round pick. While Hellickson had a nice season and would help most rotations, teams might prefer to gamble on a Jhoulys Chacin and keep their pick instead.

Hellickson will have more leverage in this weak market, but if he doesn’t foresee himself getting lucrative offers, he could accept the Phillies’ QO. That would be great for the Phillies, who have money to burn and could try to trade Hellickson at the end of spring training or at the trade deadline next summer.

3. Ivan Nova, RHP

Nova was pitching horrendously with the Yankees, posting a 4.90 ERA at the time they shipped him to the Pirates. But, like most wayward pitchers who wind up in Pittsburgh, pitching coach Ray Searage helped rebuild him. In 11 starts with the Pirates, Nova compiled a 3.06 ERA with a 53/3 K/BB ratio in 64 2/3 innings.

Will he parlay that into big money? Probably. Unlike Hill, he’s not so good that he can afford to confidently say no to most offers to drive his price up. And unlike Hellickson, he won’t have QO compensation attached to him. It’s quite possible that Nova will be the first starting pitcher off the board. Don’t expect the Pirates to do the honors.

4. Bartolo Colon, RHP

Colon will be 44 years old next season but he plans to play and there will be a market for his services. The right-hander finished with a 3.43 ERA and a 128/32 K/BB ratio in 191 2/3 innings with the Mets this past season, his best performance since joining the team in 2014.

Normally, a 44-year-old pitcher would be looking at a minor league deal at this stage in his career, but Colon was productive and durable, and he’s a free agent in a weak market. All of that will help him get something close to the one-year, $7.25 million deal he got with the Mets last December.

The Mets are expecting to finally have a rotation full of their young, promising arms: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler. If nothing happens to Mets pitchers between now and when he signs, Colon will likely don a new uniform next season.

5. Edinson Volquez, RHP

The Royals have a $10 million mutual option with a $3 million buyout for the 2017 season with Volquez, but the club is expected to decline to bring him back.

Volquez, 33, had a horrendous 2016 season with the Royals, finishing with a 5.37 ERA and a 139/76 K/BB ratio in 189 1/3 innings. He had a career rebirth with the Pirates in 2014 under Searage, then went to the Royals in 2015 and helped them to a championship. To echo Meat Loaf, two out of three ain’t bad.

Volquez will still be pursued despite the poor showing and he’ll still command a multi-year deal. Teams are better equipped now more than ever to look past a pitcher’s ERA and they’ll notice that his FIP and xFIP were close to what he’s done over most of his career and they’ll value the fact he’s made 30-plus starts in five straight seasons.

6. Derek Holland, LHP

The Rangers have an $11 million club option with a $1.5 million buyout on Holland for the 2017 season. The club is reportedly trying to trade him before making a decision on the option.

Holland, 30, missed most of the 2014-15 seasons with an injury, then missed some more time this summer with a shoulder injury, making only 20 total starts. He finished with a 4.95 ERA and a 67/35 K/BB ratio over 107 1/3 innings.

In the likely event the Rangers can’t find a trading partner, they’ll likely decline the option to make Holland a free agent. In that case, Holland is likely looking at a one-year, incentive-laden deal.

Injury-Prone Ventures

Brett Anderson, Andrew Cashner, Charlie Morton, C.J. Wilson

Past Their Prime

R.A. Dickey, Colby Lewis, Jake Peavy, Doug Fister, Jered Weaver, Tim Lincecum

Depth

Jon Niese, Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Feldman, Jesse Chavez, Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, John Danks, Tommy Milone, Alfredo Simon

Gomez HR sinks Nats after Martinez ejection, Mets sweep

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NEW YORK (AP) Turns out, the only thing Mets manager Mickey Callaway lost this week was his voice.

Days after New York’s front office declared support for its criticized, second-year skipper, Callaway’s players rallied for another startling victory Thursday and a four-game sweep of the division-rival Nationals.

Carlos Gomez slipped out of his shoe during an early dash, then hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighth inning that helped the Mets overcome a comeback that started after Washington manager Dave Martinez’s heated ejection for a 6-4 victory.

Gomez bolted around the bases, smacking himself in the helmet and letting out a few joyous shouts after his two-out shot against Wander Suero (1-4). Players jumped out of the dugout and danced on the warning track while he rounded the bases, greeting him with flying handshakes and hugs.

Callaway was already hoarse Thursday morning when he met with reporters. After Gomez’s stunner, he could hardly get his pipes working.

“Sorry for the voice,” he said. “I’ve been screaming and yelling (through) these crazy games.”

Gomez delivered his first homer of the season in his seventh game. The 13-year major league veteran opened the year with Triple-A Syracuse, hoping to extend his playing days at Citi Field after breaking into the majors with the Mets as a 21-year-old in 2007.

“I’m blessed,” Gomez said. “Came back here in this situation and play the way that we’re playing right now with a lot of energy, you know, I’m enjoying every single time. You guys can notice when I’m in the dugout or playing defense like a little kid. I’m enjoying every single moment.”

It was the third straight game New York beat Washington in its final turn at-bat.

The Nationals seemed as if they’d snapped from their funk after Martinez’s ejection in the eighth. Plate umpire Bruce Dreckman rang up Washington’s Howie Kendrick for a strikeout as he tried to check his swing leading off, then tossed the veteran infielder. Martinez charged from the dugout, spiked his hat and kicked dirt on home plate while barking relentlessly at Dreckman.

“I just didn’t think he swung,” Martinez said. “We just got into it. All I did was tell him to ask for help. That’s why the first base umpire is there. He didn’t like it.”

Juan Soto then walked against Robert Gsellman (1-0), Victor Robles singled, and Yan Gomes brought in Soto with a double. Gerardo Parra followed with a pinch-hit, two-run single for a 4-3 Washington lead.

The Nationals have lost five straight and six of seven. Washington dropped to 19-31, a record better than only the Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals.

Hardly the kind of start expected from an NL playoff hopeful.

“You can’t put a blame on one thing,” Martinez said when asked where culpability fell. “You really can’t. This is a team thing.”

The Mets swept the Nationals/Expos franchise over four games for the first time since July 1-4, 1991. It was the first four-game home sweep by New York in the series since May 15-18, 1972.

New York is 18-13 against the NL East and 24-25 overall. The Mets enter a three-game series against Detroit hoping to climb over .500 for the first time since May 2.

“Now we’re winning ballgames, there’s definitely a different air because of that,” Callaway said. “But these guys have not quit one time. They’re tremendous. That’s an unbelievable comeback right there.”

Edwin Diaz retired the side in order in the ninth for his 12th save.

Mets starter Steven Matz allowed 10 hits over six innings of one-run ball. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings.

Starting with an unusual 12:10 p.m. first pitch, both teams looked short on caffeine. New York had two errors, Washington had one and both teams had players thrown out on the bases.

SHOE FLY DON’T BOTHER

Gomez stole second in the fifth inning and took third on catcher Gomes’ throwing error, and his left shoe flew off in the process. Gomez never broke stride and scored two batters later on Juan Lagares‘ sacrifice fly for a 1-0 lead.

IT’LL BE ALL RIGHT

New York placed infielders Robinson Cano (left quad strain) and Jeff McNeil (tight left hamstring) on the injured list prior to the game, leaving the team without two regular position players. The Mets went with an all right-handed lineup against a right-handed starting pitcher for the second time in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Nationals: 1B Ryan Zimmerman (plantar fasciitis in right foot) has experienced some pain running in recent days and will back off. He was still expected to hit in a batting cage Thursday.

Mets: Luis Guillorme and Ryan O’Rourke were recalled from Triple-A Syracuse. … New York claimed former Phillies OF Aaron Altherr off waivers from San Francisco and designated RHP Tim Peterson for assignment.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Open a four-game home series against Miami with RHP Kyle McGowin (0-0, 6.00) set to make his second career start. RHP Pablo Lopez (3-5, 5.06) is up for the Marlins.

Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard (3-4, 4.50) starts the opener of a three-game home series against Detroit, opposing LHP Gregory Soto (0-2, 10.80).

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