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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

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”