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With Patrick Corbin gone, free agent starter market is weak

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The Nationals plucked starter Patrick Corbin off the free agent market on Tuesday, agreeing to a six-year, $140 million contract. Now that Corbin’s gone, the free agent market for starters is quite weak. Here’s who’s left:

From this list, we can extract a handful of players — Eovaldi, Happ, Keuchel, and Morton — as being clearly better than the rest. But all of these pitchers come with warts to varying degrees. The aforementioned four just have the fewest. Those warts include age, recent injuries, and recent poor performance.

Keuchel, for instance, had a career-low strikeout rate in 2018 at 17.5 percent, a four percent decrease from the year prior. He turns 31 when the calendar turns to January and his fastball averages under 90 MPH. Patrick Corbin he is not.

Eovaldi’s stock skyrocketed with yeoman’s work during the postseason for the World Series champion Red Sox. He tossed 22 1/3 innings, including six in relief in the 18-inning barnburner with the Dodgers in Game 3 of the World Series. Eovaldi also pitched well during the regular season, compiling a 3.81 ERA across 21 starts and one relief appearance with the Rays and Red Sox. The 28-year-old, however, finished his first full season since 2016 after undergoing multiple elbow surgeries. His durability is anything but a given.

Morton has continued to get better and better following a metamorphosis that appeared to begin with the Phillies in 2016. His average fastball registered between 91-93 MPH with the Pirates, but averaged 94 MPH in his brief four-start stint with the Phillies, then came in at 95 and 96 MPH in the past two seasons with the Astros. Morton’s strikeout rate rose with it, going from 17-19 percent towards the end of his stint with the Pirates, 27 percent with the Phillies, and 26 and 29 percent in his two years in Houston. 2018 was the best year of Morton’s career as he went 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA and a 201/64 K/BB ratio in 167 innings. There’s a lot to believe in with Morton. However, he’s 35 years old and last year was the only year in his 11-year career in which he reached the 30-start plateau.

Happ has been both good and durable for much of the past five years. Over that span of time with the Blue Jays, Mariners, Pirates, and Yankees, the lefty made 145 starts to the tune of a 3.62 ERA with 782 strikeouts and 253 walks across 848 innings. Happ actually finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award balloting in 2016, but it’s the only time in his career he’s ever received votes for the award. Despite his durability and reliable production, Happ is now 36 years old and he doesn’t have nearly as high a ceiling as someone as Corbin does. While the Yankees and Phillies — both teams that heavily pursued Corbin — view Happ as a fallback, but it’s name-brand versus store-brand.

The next tier of pitchers — García, González, Jackson, Liriano, Pomeranz, Ramírez, Ross — are not the types of pitchers one would like to ink to multi-year deals. The rest of the list are pitchers likely to land minor league deals with invitations to spring training.

So now that Corbin is off the board, the best starting pitching upgrades are likely to be found via trade. The Indians have reportedly been listening to offers for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, for instance. It wouldn’t be surprising to see teams like the Phillies and Yankees head that route and then spend their money on the likes of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

Padres fire Andy Green

Andy Green
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The Padres fired manager Andy Green on Saturday, per an official team release. Bench coach Rod Barajas will step into the position for the remaining eight games of the 2019 season.

Executive Vice President and GM A.J. Preller gave a statement in the wake of Green’s dismissal:

I want to thank Andy for his tireless work and dedication to the Padres over the last four seasons. This was an incredibly difficult decision, but one we felt was necessary at this time to take our organization to the next level and expedite the process of bringing a championship to San Diego. Our search for a new manager will begin immediately.

In additional comments made to reporters, Preller added that the decision had not been made based on the Padres’ current win-loss record (a fourth-place 69-85 in the NL West), but rather on the lack of response coming from the team.

“Looking at the performance, looking at it from an improvement standing, we haven’t seen the team respond in the last few months,” Preller said. “When you get to the point where you’re questioning where things are headed … we have to make that call.”

Since his hiring in October 2015, Green has faced considerable challenges on the Padres’ long and winding path to postseason contention. He shepherded San Diego through four consecutive losing seasons, drawing a career 274-366 record as the club extended their streak to 13 seasons without a playoff appearance. And, despite some definite strides in the right direction — including an eight-year, $144 million pact with Eric Hosmer, a 10-year, $300 million pact with superstar Manny Machado, and the development of top prospect Fernando Tatís Jr. — lingering injuries and inexplicable slumps from key players stalled the rebuild longer than the Padres would have liked.

For now, they’ll prepare to roll the dice with a new skipper in 2020, though any potential candidates have yet to be identified for the role. It won’t come cheap, either, as Green inked a four-year extension back in 2017 — one that should have seen him through the team’s 2021 campaign.