There’s been plenty of action on the free agent market for starters, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some big earners still out there. Lefty Wei-Yin Chen rates as the best remaining option, in the estimation of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, and he’s said to be chasing a $100MM contract.
Whether or not he gets there, that’s probably not even a reasonable ask for the next two names on the list. But both of them — Ian Kennedy and Yovani Gallardo — have some contractual upside of their own.
We’ve seen pitchers in this general range score deals in the four-year, $50MM range in recent years, sometimes quite late in the offseason. (In the winter of 2013-14, Matt Garza signed in late January, while Ubaldo Jimenez waited until the middle of February.) Of course, that same year, Ervin Santana waited even longer and ended up settling for a one-year deal at the qualifying offer value (which was, at the time, $14.1MM).
For teams looking to add sturdy, mid-rotation arms, there really aren’t any other options available. The trade market remains a plausible option, to be sure, but there really aren’t any obvious candidates begging for a taker that would fit the mold of these two right-handers.
When Dierkes took stock at the outset of the market, he ranked Kennedy and Gallardo back-to-back (as the 19th and 20th-best players available) and valued both at identical rates: four years and $52MM. Interestingly, both present rather different profiles.
Kennedy, who just turned 31, has posted career-best strikeout numbers over the past two years (9.3 K/9) while holding his walks to a reasonable level (3.0 BB/9), leading both SIERA and xFIP to value him as a mid-3.00 ERA-equivalent contributor. He’s averaged 196 innings annually dating back to 2010, an impressive record of durability, while contributing a useful (albeit unexciting) 3.88 ERA.
In spite of all those positives, though, Kennedy has finished three of the past four seasons with an ERA north of 4.00. With his fastball velocity sitting above his career average and a double-digit swinging strike rate, it’s easy to attribute the poor run prevention to bad luck. Really, though, it all just poses a dilemma: is Kennedy’s long ball susceptibility — last year, Kennedy posted a MLB-high 1.66 HR/9 to go with the second-highest (17.2%) HR/FB rate — the product of poor fortune or poor pitching?
Gallardo, who’s about to reach 30 years of age, has more or less matched Kennedy in terms of annual innings (194 since 2010) while outperforming him in bottom-line results (3.66 ERA). Indeed, if we focus just on the last two years, it’s no contest in the earned run department, as Gallardo has worked to a sub-3.50 mark.
But things don’t look so great when you dig a bit deeper, as he’s gone from a modern-Kennedy-esque K:BB ratio (9.0 K/9 vs. 3.1 BB/9 in 2011-12) to a career-worst ratio of 5.9 strikeouts and 3.3 free passes per nine. Gallardo has continued to generate grounders on nearly half of the balls put in play against him, but his velocity and swinging strike rates have both tailed off noticeably. Things came to a head last year, as every major ERA estimator put him at 4.00 or greater, with SIERA calling him a 4.59 ERA-equivalent performer.
Really, this comparison is most interesting because both Kennedy and Gallardo have avoided any major injuries in recent seasons, are only about a year apart in age, and have generally landed in the same range in terms of how many outs they can get before handing things off to the pen. From there, it’s a question of how you view recent results, the relationship of peripherals to runs allowed, and luck.
So, MLBTR readers, which pitcher would you rather your team sign?