Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Predicting the remains of the starting pitching free agent market
The 2019 calendar year is not over yet, but unlike the last few years, the MLB free agency market has moved very quickly. While there are still some quality position players available, the pitching market is about over, after Hyun-Jin Ryu's four year, $80 million agreement with the Blue Jays. Of the 20 free agent pitchers with a WAR of 2 or higher in 2019, 18 of them have signed, leaving Homer Bailey and Ivan Nova behind. That does not include former Cy Young winners Dallas Keuchel and Rick Porcello, plus all-stars in Gio Gonzalez, Julio Teheran, and Michael Wacha. All five of those players have new homes. But there are still teams in need of a starter or two, and there are still some vets looking for a new home.
A very under looked option is Alex Wood. Wood will be just 29 in 2020. A 2017 all star, Wood has a 3.40 career ERA in 839 innings. In his six career seasons entering 2019, Wood's season by season ERA ranged from 2.72 to 3.84. But injuries stalled his 2019, limiting him to seven starts, where he had a 5.80 ERA. The Angels have been criticized for not being able to land a top starting pitcher this offseason, bringing in just Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran. The Angels could use Wood. A contract could look like a one year deal with a club option, giving Wood in the $4-6 million range. It would be a big gamble, but the former Dodger would definitely make the rotation better.
Homer Bailey had an interesting 2019. He signed a minor league deal with the Royals, earned a rotation spot and had a hot stretch before being traded to the A's. In 13 starts for the A's, Bailey had a 4.30 ERA, which would have been his best in a season since 2014. With Jon Gray rumored to be on the way out, the Rockies could look for a part time replacement. Bailey's 1.2 HR/9 in 2019 was in the top half in the league. Playing in Coors Field will probably worsen that, but the Rockies could use a pitcher like him.
The ERA champion in 2016, Aaron Sanchez has fallen a lot since then. Blisters and other injuries have cost him significant time, and his 2019 ERA of 5.89 was a career worst. He was traded from the Blue Jays to the Astros mid season, and while he was a part of a combined no hitter in his first game in Houston, Sanchez made just three more starts, allowing 10 runs. He is just 27, the youngest among notable free agent pitchers. He is less of a guarantee for a turn around than Wood, but he can still be a fifth starter on a bad team. The Giants are a bad team, and desperately need a starter, with only Jeff Samardzija qualifying for the ERA title last year among returners. Only Kevin Gausman has been brought in, and behind Gausman, Samardzija and Johnny Cueto, the rotation looks fuzzy.
The White Sox brought in Ivan Nova without many expectations for the then 32 year old. Nova was healthy all year, and his 34 starts lead the league. However, so did his 225 hits allowed. He had a very bad 4.72 ERA, but believe it or not, teams are prepared to give rotation spots to pitchers with worse numbers. A team that could be open to a Nova reunion is the Pirates. Chris Archer, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove will lock up three rotation spots, and top prospect Mitch Keller will likely get another one. That leaves the fifth one wide open. Steven Brault is the front runner, but his 5.16 ERA in 19 starts last year is unimpressive. Nova pitched some of his best years with the Pirates, with a 3.99 ERA in parts of three seasons.