Top-10 Pitchers Who Will Be On 2014 MLB Free Agency Market
Scoping Out the Pitchers Market During Free Agency
With two games down in the 2013 World Series, it is official that pitching is what wins games when they most count, if it wasn't already before. What is possibly even more clear is that these arms will be at a premium during crazy season, which is almost upon us. Yes, this would be the offseason, which will bring rapid-fire action that would make some think they were in the Wild Wild West, as teams look to make major moves to rile up both their fan base and locker room. After all, only one team will truly be able to claim they were champions going into the four-month break in action, and as a result, every other team will be chasing the leader heading into the 2014 season.
With this crazy season in mind, the rumor mills have begun to heat up as every general manager and fan throughout the country ponders as to what their team will do to get better in the offseason. Of course, this chatter is simply rumor at this point, as no team would dare to make a move while the World Series is being played, but that does not mean that many rumors do not carry at least some merit.
But before any team can begin to even think about making a move that will better their franchise, they first must gain a grip on what the open market will look like. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of the top-10 pitchers who will be available via free agency, and what their value will be during the upcoming offseason; in turn, letting executives and fans know what this portion of the market will look like.
The 2013 season was yet another great one for Grant Balfour, who has quietly become one of the best closers in baseball. Over 65 appearances for the Oakland A's, the Australian pitched 62 2-3 innings, picking up 72 strikeouts, a 1.20 WHIP, 2.59 ERA, 38 saves and a measly three blown saves. With a power fastball and slider combination that stacks up with most in baseball and the ability to close out games, it is clear that Balfour will be a valued man this offseason, with a three-year, $18 million contract looking logical.
As one of the most consistently productive pitchers over the last 15 seasons and possessing a 8-7 record with a 3.97 ERA over 21 games for the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 season, it would appear that Tim Hudson would be one of the most-coveted pitchers during the offseason. Unfortunately for Hudson, though, a fractured right ankle on July 24 cut any dreams of a short-term, big-money contract short, as at 38 years old, legitimate questions opened up as to whether he will ever pitch again. Hudson has made it clear that he will return in 2014, but receiving anything more than a one-year, $5 million deal with massive incentives seems like a pipe dream at this point.
In what was his best season in five years, Ricky Nolasco had a spectacular 2013 season for both the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers. Over 34 appearances (33 starts), he compiled a 13-11 record while throwing 199 1-3 innings with 165 strikeouts, a 1.21 WHIP and 3.70 ERA. At only 30 years of age and coming off 190-plus innings in each of the last three years, it would be no surprise to see Nolasco pick up a three-year, $30 million contract.
Bronson Arroyo has cut out a niche as a very productive starting pitcher in recent seasons, despite containing one of the slowest array of pitches in baseball, and the 2013 season did not fail to be another success. In 32 games with the Cincinnati Reds, he threw 202 innings with a 3.79 ERA and 14-12 record. At 36 years old, it is apparent that Arroyo is no longer a spring chicken, but after throwing 200 innings or more and maintaining a 3.88 ERA or less in four of the last five seasons, he will not be kept from a big paycheck in 2014. A two-year, $22 million contract seems to be a reasonable deal for both Arroyo and any team looking for an innings eater.
The 2013 season was thoroughly impressive for A.J. Burnett, who had a 10-11 record with 209 strikeouts, a 1.21 WHIP and 3.30 ERA over 191 innings in his second season with Pittsburgh Pirates. Even at 36 years of age, Burnett still possesses one of the best two pitch combinations in the world, as his ability to mix and match low-to-mid-90s heat with a looping curveball that sits in the mid-80s is nearly unhittable at times. It is likely that many teams will offer in the range of two years and $25 million throughout the offseason, but Burnett has stated he will only pitch for Pittsburgh in 2014, and will likely to do so for a discounted one year and $10 million.
The 2013 season showed the good side of Ervin Santana, as he started 32 games and threw 211 innings for a 9-10 record, 3.24 ERA, 161 strikeouts and 1.142 WHIP. Throughout the season the 6-foot-2, 185-pound pitcher showed great command and looked like a top of the line starter for the Kansas City Royals; a far cry from his poor 2012 season with the Los Angeles Angels. Getting teams to believe that this impressive season will be the start of a great run in the future will be the key to Santana receiving a large contract. Doing so should not be entirely difficult, considering he is only 30 years old and possesses an impressive fastball and slider combination that has consistently left teams drooling. A four-year, $60 million contract does not seem out of the realm of possibilities.
The 2013 season proved to be year three of a successful late-career resurgence for Bartolo Colon, who started 30 games and compiled an 18-6 record with a 2.65 ERA for the Oakland A's. This production was arguably the best from any pitcher 40 years or older in the history of baseball, and would seem to surely earn Colon a huge paycheck over a one-year deal. This likely will not be the case, though, as Colon has had numerous steroid rumors follow him since his resurgence began in 2011, including a 50-game suspension in 2012. Still, it would seem that he will get a one-year, $8 million deal heading into the 2014 season.
The 2013 season was yet another productive year for Hiroki Kuroda, as he compiled a 11-13 record with a 3.31 ERA in 201 1-3 innings pitched in 32 games started for the New York Yankees. This production led his six-year career total to 1,120 innings pitched and a 3.40 ERA since coming to the MLB from Japan in 2008. At 38 years old, it is clear that time is running out on Kuroda's time in MLB, which is even further enforced by his stated desire to spend at least one season pitching in Japan once again before retiring. Expect many teams to offer Kuroda a one-year contract in the range of $15 million, although he will end up either signing for the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or return home.
After a merry-go-round of trades and contract rumors, Matt Garza will finally be given a chance to hit the free agent market this offseason. During the 2013 season, he pitched for the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, compiling a 10-6 record with 136 strikeouts and a 3.82 ERA in 155 1-3 innings pitched over 24 games started. With a powerful arsenal that relies heavily on a fastball sitting in the low-to-mid 90s and a diving slider, plenty of teams will want to go after Garza as the offseason begins. This fervor over Garza will be further intensified by him only being 29 years old, and will likely result in him receiving a five-year, $75 million contract.
In case you have not heard of Masahiro Tanaka yet, you better get to know him now. The 24-year-old has been pitching for Rakuten in the top Japanese League for each of the last seven seasons, and has developed into arguably the most dominant pitcher ever during this time. Tanaka has not posted an ERA above 1.87 ERA over the last three years, and in 2013 has compiled a perfect 24-0 record with 155 strikeouts and a 0.934 WHIP over 181 innings while posting a 1.24 ERA. According to many scouts who have sent reports back to their clubs, Tanaka possesses a four-seam fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, an effective two-seam fastball and slider, and possibly the best splitter in the world. His impressive statistics and impressive arsenal of pitches has led some to point to Tanaka as being a better pitcher than Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish, who has become one of the best pitchers in the MLB since coming over in 2012. It will cost teams close to $60 million just to talk to Tanaka because of the posting fee, with his contract looking likely to cost at least another $70 million over six years. Plenty of teams will be signing up for him, and the bidding war could turn into the talk of the winter.