Top 34 Free Agent Starting Pitchers

Sometimes, there's just not a $100MM free agent pitcher out there.  C.J. Wilson benefited from a weak free agent starting pitching class after the 2011 season, nabbing $77.5MM to lead the group.  In the upcoming offseason, the top end of the starting pitcher segment is similarly uninspiring.  Here are my early rankings, which are subject to change.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section or on Twitter.

  1. Matt Garza – In terms of pure free agent starters, I think Garza will receive the largest contract this offseason.  He's ineligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded midseason, which boosts his value.  He may have quieted health concerns by making all of his starts since his May 21st big league season debut and averaging nearly seven innings per start. 
  2. Masahiro Tanaka – Tanaka, a righty with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, is not technically a free agent but belongs here since he can be obtained by bidding the most (assuming he is posted).  I don't want to give too much credit to the unknown, but there are some who would take Tanaka over Garza, especially since Tanaka will pitch next year at age 25.
  3. Ervin Santana – A quality arm whose stock will be damaged by a qualifying offer, if he turns one down and reaches the open market.
  4. Hiroki Kuroda – He'll play next season at age 39, but in feedback on early drafts of this list, most thought he should be this high.
  5. A.J. Burnett – Burnett said in March he wouldn't want to play anywhere but Pittsburgh, and I imagine the team's success this year only solidifies that stance.
  6. Tim Lincecum – I had Lincecum ranked better in earlier versions of the list, as a case can be made he's at least equal to Santana, if you're willing to look past ERA.  Like Santana, a qualifying offer could suppress his market.
  7. Ricky Nolasco – I'd want to pay Nolasco like a 4.00 ERA guy, despite a 2.07 mark since joining the Dodgers in a July 6th trade.  He doesn't have to worry about a qualifying offer, and could sign a new deal with the Dodgers during the exclusive signing period.
  8. Bronson Arroyo – He's not flashy, and he'll pitch at 37 next year, but he supplies innings and avoids the free pass.  Arroyo spoke recently about wanting a multiyear deal, but turning down a qualifying offer from the Reds could put him in a bind on the market.  I don't expect the Reds to chance it.
  9. Dan Haren – Haren will likely avoid a qualifying offer from the Nationals, as they won't want to risk giving him a raise on this year's $13MM.  Despite a 5.23 ERA, Haren's K/BB ratio remains sparkling, and I still think there's hope for a sub-4.00 ERA given a few more groundballs and BABIP and HR/flyball swinging back his way.
  10. Scott Feldman – Ineligible for a qualifying offer, Feldman is in line for a multiyear deal.  He's re-established himself as a solid mid-rotation arm, and he'll pitch at 31 next year.
  11. Paul Maholm – Maholm started his season with 20 1/3 scoreless innings, after which he's posted a 5.09 ERA in 120 1/3 frames.  He also missed a month with a wrist contusion, and may have to settle for another one-year deal.
  12. Roberto Hernandez – I like Hernandez more than most.  Though he hasn't done it since 2010, I see the skills of a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher.  His combination of a decent strikeout rate and big-time groundball rate is rare, but among the flyballs he has allowed, a whopping fifth of them have left the yard.
  13. Scott Kazmir – There's a lot to like about Kazmir, who I originally had inside my top ten.  He's still young, he's got strikeout stuff from the left side, and he's sporting the lowest walk rate of his career.  But he should finish the season with around 160 innings, a total he last reached in 2007.  The Indians signed Kazmir to a minor league deal in December; MLBTR's Steve Adams covered his rise and fall in a June post.  I think he could find a multiyear deal.
  14. Ubaldo Jimenez – He has the second-best strikeout rate in this free agent class, behind Burnett.  If he can push his walk rate back under four per nine innings, as it was with the Rockies, he'd be close to the front-rotation hurler the Indians thought they acquired at the 2011 trade deadline.  Some feel he's among the ten best in this free agent class, and he will be able to score a multiyear deal.
  15. Bartolo Colon – I reluctantly pushed Colon up to 15th, as over 300 innings of 3.22 ball since 2012 can't be ignored.  Colon's career, elbow, and shoulder were resurrected in an April 2010 stem cell procedure, and he was later suspended 50 games for a positive PED test in August of last year in an apparently unrelated incident.  He'll pitch most of next season at 41, and is succeeding with a subpar strikeout rate.
  16. Josh Johnson – Johnson's final start of the year came on August 6th in Seattle, and at least that one outing was reflective of what we used to say about him: he pitches well when he's on the field.  His final injury was a strained forearm that will not require surgery, but unlike years past, Johnson did not pitch well while on the field this year, with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts.  His downfall was a fluke in theory, in that his strikeout and walk rates were solid while his BABIP and HR/flyball went through the roof.  A qualifying offer is unlikely — Johnson would probably accept, and that would not be a good deal for the Blue Jays. 
  17. Phil Hughes – Hughes was demoted to the Yankees' bullpen earlier this month.  He had a respectable 2.85 K/BB ratio in 26 starts, but the extreme flyballer also allowed 23 home runs.  There's a 4.00 ERA pitcher in there somewhere, especially away from Yankee Stadium, where he allowed 17 of those longballs.  Hughes won't turn 28 until June next year, and as the youngest free agent starter, the former phenom should be a popular one-year deal reclamation project target.
  18. Jason Vargas
  19. Chris Capuano
  20. Roy Halladay - The former ace had labrum and rotator cuff surgery in May, returning to make a few starts this month.
  21. Tim Hudson - Hudson was pitching well before his season ended in July with an ankle fracture.
  22. Jason Hammel
  23. Wandy Rodriguez
  24. Andy Pettitte
  25. Joe Saunders
  26. Jake Westbrook
  27. Ryan Vogelsong (club option)
  28. Edinson Volquez
  29. Chad Gaudin - Gaudin has been quietly solid in a dozen starts for the Giants, with a 3.53 ERA.
  30. Mike Pelfrey
  31. Shaun Marcum
  32. Scott Baker
  33. Colby Lewis
  34. Randy Messenger - The 32-year-old is a sleeper MLB deal candidate this offseason, with a 2.83 ERA as a starter for the Hanshin Tigers from 2011-13.

Jon Lester, Jorge De La Rosa, and James Shields were excluded from this list, under the expectation their club options will be exercised.

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