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2018-19 Free Agency Preview: Starting Pitchers

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Beginning this Saturday, baseball’s free agents will be eligible to sign with any team they want.

Over the next couple of days we’ll break down the best available free agents by position, with some special attention paid to the top guys at each spot. We’ll get started with the starting pitchers.

Who’s Available?

A while LOT of guys, actually. Two of them — World Series Game 5 starters Clayton Kershaw and David Price — are merely potential free agents as they have opt-out clauses they could exercise. Price is extraordinarily unlikely to do so. As we wrote yesterday, we’re less clear on Kershaw. We’ll wait and see on him. There are others not on this list who could become free agents if they or their club do not exercise contract options, the most notable being Cole Hamels. We’ll wait and see on them, too.

Otherwise, here are the top starting pitchers available in, more or less, descending order of 2018 performance:

Patrick Corbin
Dallas Keuchel
Clayton Kershaw (can opt-out)
J.A. Happ
Charlie Morton
Lance Lynn
David Price (can opt-out)
CC Sabathia
Anibal Sanchez
Nathan Eovaldi
Gio Gonzalez
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Trevor Cahill
Derek Holland
Clay Buchholz
Wade Miley
Matt Harvey
Jeremy Hellickson
Garrett Richards
Tyson Ross
Brett Anderson
James Shields
Edwin Jackson
Marco Estrada
Francisco Liriano
Bartolo Colon
Yovani Gallardo
Jaime Garcia
Drew Pomeranz
Miguel Gonzalez
Chris Tillman
Ervin Santana

That’s a whole lot of names but, as always, the quality and durability drops pretty precipitously once you get even a little way down the list.

Corbin and Keuchel — and Kershaw, should he opt-out — are clearly the top arms available. Age and health concerns impact a number of the guys behind them.

Nathan Eovaldi — he of two Tommy John surgeries — certainly upped his stock in the postseason, as did Hyun-Jin Ryu, following an injury-driven first half absence. Charlie Morton looked to be making a case for a big deal, but late season injury issues turned him into a bigger risk.

Beyond that top tier, it’s equally possible to imagine any one of these guys having a fine 2019 season or being a total train wreck. No one anticipated, for example, that Anibal Sanchez would be pitching for a playoff team in 2018, but he did. No one, likewise, imagined that Matt Harvey would at least be making a case that he’s back on the road to being useful. So many of these guys are lottery tickets, for the good and the bad that implies.

Then there’s the soon-to-be 46-year-old Bartolo Colon, who someone should sign simply so there remains one player in the big leagues older than me.

 

Who’s Shopping?

Despite what bullpenning-crazy playoff games may have suggested to you, starting pitching still matters a great deal in Major League Baseball and more teams will cite starting pitching as their top need than anything else. Some may be shopping down on the Tyson Ross-Derek Holland end of the list as opposed to the top, and others may try to do what the Rays did last year and see if they can’t get away with having only three reliable starters at any given time while supplementing with bullpen days, but at the moment we should at least assume half the league or more is in the market for a starter or two.

The most notable team in the market for starting pitching is the Yankees, who are, potentially, losing two of the guys in this list in CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ, and already had starting pitching needs. They may very well bring both of those guys back, but they’ll no doubt try to do much more than that. Specifically, look for them to be mentioned prominently in connection with Patrick Corbin and, if he opts out, Clayton Kershaw. If they can’t get Corbin, Dallas Keuchel could very well be on their radar as well. The Yankees are, simply put, going to be driving the market for starting pitching this winter.

Other contenders in the market for starting pitchers:

  • Brewers: Their valiant run in the NLCS notwithstanding, they can’t expect to win 96 games again without another arm or two;
  • Athletics: They made a playoff push with a bullpening approach in late 2018 but their brass has indicated they want to give Bob Melvin more starting arms;
  • Braves: They could certainly use an arm to complement their contingent of young starters;
  • Cubs: Offense was their biggest problem late in the year, but they signed two starters last winter and one — Yu Darvish — was injured most of the year, leading them to pick up Cole Hamels in midseason. They have an option on Hamels for next season and are likely to exercise it, but it’s pricey;
  • Nationals: If they lose Bryce Harper and thus have money to burn they could — and likely should — look to bolster the back end of the rotation to take the heat off of their lackluster bullpen;
  • Diamondbacks: Losing Corbin would be huge, but they’re likely going to be a player to retain his services. If they do lose him, they’ll need an arm;
  • Angels, while not likely to be considered a major contender, at least have to proceed as one as long as Mike Trout is on the roster, and they have tended to proceed as one in the free agent market. Their loss of Shohei Ohtani clearly puts them in need of a starter.

A few teams in various stages of rebuilding will likewise be looking for starting pitching. Most likely second-tier (or worse) veteran arms who (a) can save their young pitchers from getting destroyed in losing causes; and (b) can be flipped for prospects at the deadline if those veteran starters prove to be surprisingly good. Here I’m thinking the Reds, Padres, Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers and White Sox.

As I said, basically everyone needs starting pitching, always. As the very long list above suggests, there’s a whole lot of it to go around.

Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph: meet Juan Marichal and John Roseboro

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Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Cleveland Browns. No one is gonna be talking nearly as much about the outcome today, however, as they are the carnage.

Specifically, the carnage that led to Browns defensive end Myles Garrett getting ejected from the game after ripping Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet off, swinging it at him and connecting with Rudolph’s skull as the game came to a close. Things were already chippy as all get-out, but that obviously led to a brawl which will lead to a ton of suspensions, including a possibly record-breaking one for Garrett. For all your analysis on that, check out PFT, obviously.

The incident will dominate the sports shows today because malicious attempts to injure another player with a piece of equipment are pretty rare in professional sports. There was at least one incident in baseball history, however, that was analogous to what went down in Cleveland last night.

It took place on August 22, 1965 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during a Dodgers-Giants game. That’s when Giants ace Juan Marichal, playing the role of Garrett, took a baseball bat to the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, standing in for Rudolph.

The Dodgers and Giants are rivals, of course, and in 1965 the two teams were in a pitched battle for the N.L. pennant, with the Dodgers leading San Francisco by a game and a half as the day began.

Pitchers in 1965 were a bit more aggressive about claiming the inside part of the plate than they are today, and on that day, everyone seemed cranky. Marichal knocked Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills down with some chin music in the top of the second for, it appears, committing the terrible transgression of bunting for a single in his first at bat of the game. In response Koufax fired a fastball over Willie Mays’ head, sending the ball to the backstop. So everyone was even, yeah?

Nah. Marichal responded in the top of third with an inside fastball that sent Dodgers first baseman Ron Fairly sprawling to the dirt. At that point home plate umpire Shag Crawford issued a warning, indicating that that the next close pitch from either team would result in an ejection. Walter Alston’s Dodgers, though, were a clever bunch. Sure, maybe a close pitch was going to get an ace ejected in a pennant race, but there are other ways to buzz someone’s tower, right?

Pitchers batted in every game back then, of course, and Marichal came to bat in the bottom of the third. Koufax didn’t throw at him, though. Instead, Roseboro, catching for L.A., threw the ball back to Koufax in such a way as to have it sail close to Marichal’s head as he stood in the batter’s box. He later admitted in his autobiography that it was no accident, he was trying to intimidate Marichal.

Marichal flipped out, clubbing Roseboro with his bat, after which all hell broke loose (all photos, and the original caption from 1965, are from Getty Images):

 

Juan Marichal holding bat, John Roseboro attacked, and Sandy Koufax closes in.

 

Roseboro throws a punch at Marichal while latter swings bat and Koufax comes in to try and break it up.

 

On deck batter Giant Tito Fuentes pulls Roseboro away while Marichal wields bat at Koufax while umpire Shag Crawford and Giant coach Charlie Fox try to break it up.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford wrestles with Marichal while Dodgers Jim Gilliam (19) and Koufax come in. Rear is Giants coach Charlie Fox. Marichal falls to the ground on top of Shag Crawford while Giants Orlando Cepeda joins the melee.

 

Umpire Shag Crawford is shown here wrestling with Marichal as Dodgers Jim Gilliam (#19) and Sandy Koufax join in. In the rear is Giants’ coach Charlie Fox.

 

Identifiable L-R: Dodger Jim Gilliam (19); John Roseboro (with chest protector); Giants Orlando Cepeda (30); Cap Peterson (17); Warren Spahn; and Mgr. Herman Franks (3).

Willie Mays was credited with keeping the brawl from getting worse. Roseboro had military and martial arts training and, as you can see in the second photo, he was not slowed by his head injury — an injury that would require 14 stitches — from trying to take Marichal apart. Mays was the one who ultimately pulled Roseboro away and out of the fracas. He even held a towel to Roseboro’s head which by then had begun to bleed profusely. The fight eventually ended, with several players sustaining injuries due to kicks and accidental spikings of hands and legs and stuff.

The incident delayed the game for 14 minutes but the fallout beyond that was pretty tame compared to today’s standards. Marichal got an eight day suspension which, because of scheduled doubleheaders, caused him to miss ten games. He was also fined $1,750, which is around $15,000 today. Roseboro only missed two games due to his injury. The Dodgers would lose this game thanks to a big homer from Mays off of Koufax, but the Dodgers would go on to win the pennant and defeat the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.

There was additional fallout: Roseboro sued Marichal for $110,000 in damages. They’d eventually settle, with Roseboro receiving $7,500 from Marichal.

But there was no lingering bad blood. In interviews after the incident both players admitted that there was much more on their minds in 1965 that might’ve contributed to their aggression on that day. There was the rivalry, of course, and the pennant race. But Marichal had been much more personally distracted by a civil war in his native Dominican Republic that raged in 1965 and would not end until September. Roseboro had been, understandably, affected by the Watts Riots in Los Angeles which had taken place just over a week before this game. When you feel helpless about situation A, you often channel your feelings into situation B and both men said that something like that was probably simmering.

Marichal would play for the Dodgers for two games in 1975, the final year of his career. Roseboro had already retired, but Marichal’s cup of coffee with L.A. allowed them to meet up at a Dodgers old-timers game in 1982. There they posed for this photo: 

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“There were no hard feelings on my part,” Roseboro told the L.A. Times in 1990. Roseboro died in 2002. Marichal was an honorary pallbearer at his funeral.

Let’s check in with Garrett and Ruldolph in 37 years to see how they’re doing.