With Shin-Soo Choo now going to the Rangers, the top of the remaining free agent market shifts to pitching.
The most coveted starting pitcher on the market this year, Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, may or may not be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
The possibility still exists that he may be posted prior to spring training, but the date has already passed when most of the Japanese players that have been posted and signed to major league contracts has already passed.
Since the posting system was implemented following Hideki Irabu‘s refusal to sign with the Padres (and subsequently forcing his way onto the Yankees) – ten players have been posted and eventually signed to Major League contracts. Only one player (Kazuhisa Ishii) was posted after mid-December (January 3, 2002 by the Yakult Swallows). Even if he does post at a late date, teams (like the Yankees) who were hoping to land the import are going to have to start looking at other options to add a top pitcher to their rotation. It will be on to Plan B (or Plan C if they’re hoping to trade for David Price).
Top 5 Remaining Free Agent Starting Pitchers:
Ubaldo Jimenez – Back in 2010, Ubaldo looked like he was about to become one of the dominant pitchers in the game. He was taming the thin air in Colorado and in the first half of the season, he went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 18 starts. He came back to Earth with a 4-7 record and a 3.80 ERA in the second half. His 2011 and 2012 seasons weren’t anything spectacular by any imagination going a combined 19-30 (including a league leading 17 losses with the Indians in 2012) and saw his ERA climb to 4.68 and 5.40 over those two years. He returned back to form in 2013 for the Indians, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and had a strong second half – going 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts down the stretch after a 4.56 ERA in the first half. He does take the ball regularly and will give whatever team signs him innings and has started at least 31 games for six consecutive seasons. If I were a GM, I’d be hesitant to tie up a lot of money and a lot of years in him. He’s a pitcher that had a great first half of 2010, a strong second half of 2013, and a lot of mediocre in between.
Ervin Santana – Ervin will take the ball. He’s started at least 30 games for the last four seasons and at least 23 games in all of his 9 MLB seasons. While he only had a 9-10 record last year, he posted a career low 3.24 ERA in 211 innings. He’s posted a sub-4 ERA 3 of the last 4 years while pitching over 200 innings those same three years. He was solid both at home and on the road as well as in the first and second half of 2013. Aside from his terrible 2012 season, his splits were also relatively consistent in 2010 and 2011. I wouldn’t go anywhere near the 5 years and $100 million he was reportedly asking, for he’s nowhere near a $20 million per year pitcher – but the back of his baseball card suggests that he’ll take the ball, give you innings, and more than likely will give you a solid outing.
Matt Garza – Every time I think of Matt Garza, I think of him spitting. Because he does it. A lot. That aside, we’re looking at a pitcher that’s made just 24 and 18 starts the last two seasons after a stress fracture in his elbow that cost him the end of 2012 and a lat strain that cost him the beginning of 2013. These injuries aside, he’s posted a sub-4 ERA for 7 straight seasons. 2014 will be his age 30 season. He may be a career .500 pitcher, but he can be a solid addition and a winning pitcher on a good team.
A.J. Burnett – A.J. is going into his age 37 season, but once he got out of New York, he’s proved he can still pitch – posting ERA’s of 3.30 and 3.51 in 2013 and 2012. He’s started at least 30 games each of the last 6 seasons and has had an ERA of 4.07 or lower in 8 of the last 10 seasons (the only exception being his last two years with the Yankees). A.J. should probably look to stay in the National League and in a smaller market. As long as he’s not in the Bright Lights, Big City – he should still be able to put up Big Numbers, Big Results for the right team next year.
Bronson Arroyo – Bronson is also entering his age 37 season and he also takes the ball. He’s made no fewer than 29 starts the last 10 years and since 2005, the only time he failed to reach 200 innings was in 2011 where he threw 199 innings. He’s also posted an ERA between 3.74 and 3.88 in 4 of the last 5 seasons. He should still be able to repeat over the next year or two.