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Hot Stove Preview: Top Free Agent Starting Pitchers Available


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


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

Sports teams do not “heal” cities or nations

Associated Press

Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story today in which he talks to Cleon Jones, Ken Harrelson, Art Shamsky and others from the 1969 Mets about their Amazin’ World Series title run. The story is tied to the upcoming commemorations of the 50th anniversary of that phenomenally unexpected and improbable season.

And that’s fine as far as it goes, but as so often is the case with nostalgic remembrances, it goes too far:

They will gather together in New York later in June, rehashing stories from 50 years ago, reminiscing about the year they turned the baseball world upside down, becoming perhaps the most beloved team in history.

The 1969 Mets.

The team that helped revitalize a city in ruins and heal a nation in turmoil, showing the world you can turn the inconceivable to the improbable to the possible to the incredible, in a way only sports can possibly do.

Now would be a good time to remember that the city the Mets allegedly revitalized found itself on the brink of bankruptcy in the early-to-mid-70s and experienced urban decay and spiking crime rates for the next 20+ years. It would also be a good time to remember that the nation the Mets allegedly healed witnessed the Kent State shootings a few months later, among other bits of strife for the next, oh, 50 years and counting.

Yes, I am being flip and superficial here, but I do so simply to illustrate how flip and superficial “[Sports Team] healed [City/Nation]” narratives invariably are.

We see these sorts of things whenever a team from a down-on-its-luck place has a title run. Detroit. Cleveland. New Orleans. The idea is generally a broad-brush paint job in which the source of strife — poverty, crime, economic strife, natural disaster, terrorism, etc. —  is detailed with the local sports team’s subsequent title run cast as a spiritual balm. The words “heal” and “uplift” are pretty common in these stories. Back in 2002 I wrote about a classic of the genre, a documentary about the 1968 Detroit Tigers, who allegedly healed Detroit following he 1967 riots. Anyone familiar with Detroit from 1968-on may understand that the claims of healing asserted therein were . . . somewhat overstated.

Whatever the details, most of these narratives have the same sorts of flaws. At best they overstate the significance of sports in society, presuming that happiness among ticket-buying sports fans — who are usually better off than your average city resident who may be the one in need of healing — means broad-based happiness among the populace. More commonly they simply ignore the actual city or society beyond anything but its most superficial markers. The pattern:

  • Montage of the strife in whatever its form (bonus if it’s from the 1960s and you can re-use some existing “turbulent 60s” b-roll;
  • A chronicling of the sports team’s run; and
  • A declaration that everything was better after that.

It’s not even a matter of correlation and causation being confused. There’s very rarely ever any evidence presented that the sports made the underlying problems any better. All one usually gets from these things is a sense that, at least to the sports commentator/documentarian telling the story and to the people who closely followed the sports team, things were good. Unless, of course, I missed the part about how LeBron James solved Cleveland’s declining population problems and how the 2010 New Orleans Saints solved the ongoing mental, economic and medical trauma of those displaced by Katrina.

Which is not to say that sports mean nothing in this context. Sports success can certainly make a lot of people happy, even people hit hard by adversity, temporarily speaking. People only tangentially-connected to the strife in question may, also, decide that a sporting event “healed” a city. For example, if something bad happened in your city but didn’t affect you directly, you may believe that the trophy-hoisting put a nice bookend on the trauma that was more directly felt by others. And, of course, individuals directly connected with the sporting events in question, like Cleon Jones in the Mets piece, can experience a more lasting change in their lives as a result of this sort of success that they might see as general uplift.

That’s not the same thing as healing, though. Because while you or I can close that chapter on it all when the game is over, survivors of traumatic events and victims of systematic oppression or chronic strife cannot and do not do so that easily. There were people still hurting in Detroit after 1968, in New York (and the nation) after 1969, in New Orleans after the Saints won the Super Bowl, and in Cleveland after the Cavs won their title. The very best that can be said of sports triumph amid civic adversity is that it’s a pleasant, albeit temporary distraction. But not everyone had the luxury of enjoying that temporary distraction and a distraction is not the same thing as a cure.

Why do sports writers and commentators do this? I suppose it’s a function of people believing that the world in which they operate is, well, the world. The entertainment writer sees everything as a Hollywood story, the political writer sees everything as a Washington story and the sports writer sees everything as a sports story. It’s an understandable loss of perspective and we all fall prey to it sometimes.

It’d be better, though, if we spent more time appreciating that our perspective on the world is not the only one. I won’t speak for the entertainment or political people, and I won’t speak for the way in which any other person may prioritize the world as they observe it. But in my world — sports — I think it’d be better if we did not ascribe outsized significance to the beat we cover. Doing so asks far more of sports than sports is capable of delivering and erases the ongoing pain and suffering of people for whom sports is no sort of cure.