Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Starting Pitchers Available

23 Comments

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

Cubs to activate Craig Kimbrel on Thursday

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Cubs will activate reliever Craig Kimbrel ahead of Thursday afternoon’s game against the Braves, Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reports.

Kimbrel, 31, ended a seven-month stint in free agency, agreeing to a three-year, $43 million contract with the Cubs earlier this month. He has made four minor league appearances, allowing one earned run on two hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings.

With an aggregate 3.96 ERA entering Wednesday, the Cubs’ bullpen has been among the better bullpens in the league. Adding Kimbrel, one of the greatest closers of all-time, certainly can’t hurt and will give them some stability in save situations.