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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.

Rakuten Golden Eagles sign Jabari Blash

Jabari Blash
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Former Angels outfielder Jabari Blash has signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced Friday. Per the Japan Times, the deal is said to be worth around $1.06 million. Blash was released from his contract with the Angels at the end of November.

The 29-year-old outfielder has had a rough go of it in the majors, where he failed to duplicate the promising results he delivered in the minors. While he consistently batted above .250 with 20-30 home runs per season at the Double- and Triple-A level, he petered out in back-to-back gigs with the Padres and Angels and slumped toward a .103/.200/.128 finish across 45 PA for Anaheim in 2018.

The hope, of course, is that the environment in NPB will help him get a better handle on his issues at the plate — in a best case scenario, resulting in a full-scale transformation that could make him more marketable to MLB teams in the future. To that end, Blash expects to be utilized as a cleanup batter in the Eagles’ lineup and will focus on assisting the club as they make a run toward the Japan Series.