Many different types of free agents end up receiving relatively expensive, one-year deals. Some are looking for the right opportunity to earn a nice single-season paycheck while (hopefully) building up to a multi-year deal in the ensuing winter. Others settle for a solo campaign after trying and failing to find more. Some are younger players who have enough upside to draw a significant offer despite a rough platform campaign. Others are steady veterans that are being paid more for their floor than their ceiling. All such players necessarily receive only a limited commitment from their new teams; those that end up with non-contenders must be prepared for a mid-season scramble for new lodging in the event of a swap.
With about a quarter of the season in the books, we’re looking at how things are shaping up for the highest-paid rental free agents. We already performed this exercise for position players. Now, we’ll take a look at the ten most expensive one-year starters (and, later, relievers):
Matt Harvey, Angels, $11MM: The priciest arm on this list, Harvey hasn’t come through as the Halos hoped. He’s averaging just five frames per outing in nine starts and has limped to a 6.35 ERA. Though his velocity is fine, Harvey isn’t getting many swings and misses (9.7% swinging-strike rate) and has given up a lot of loud contact (40.6% hard contact vs. only a 9.8% soft contact rate). He’s likely performing better than his results, but Harvey is showing no signs of returning to anything approaching his former performance levels at thirty years of age.
Trevor Cahill, Angels, $9MM: I’ll be honest, I thought this deal would turn out well for the team. Cahill has been good when healthy and seemed to be an interesting risk. Unfortunately, he has managed only 44 innings of 6.95 ERA pitching over nine starts. Like several other struggling hurlers on this, he has been ravaged by the long ball, allowing nearly one every three innings.
CC Sabathia, Yankees, $8MM: An offseason heart procedure seemed ominous, but the outcomes have been sparkling since since Sabatahia returned to the hill. He’s now through 36 1/3 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching to open the year. Unfortunately, it may only be a matter of time before opposing hitters expose his act. Sabathia carries only 6.7 K/9 go with 3.7 BB/9 and has been torched for 2.23 home runs per regulation game. His FIP number is over twice his ERA.
Derek Holland, Giants, $7MM: Another hurler that settled for a single season despite having a case for multiple years, Holland ended up being knocked to the bullpen after seven starts. That move sparked a clubhouse flare-up reflective of the club’s rough opening stretch to the season. Holland has improved his strikeout rate but otherwise added walks and dingers, leading to an unsightly 7.17 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. While the Giants never expected world-beating results from Holland, the overall run of events is about the opposite of what they hoped for.
Tyson Ross, Tigers, $5.75MM: Elbow nerve issues have put Ross on the shelf. Perhaps they also help explain the rough start he had authored. Through 35 1/3 innings in seven starts, the veteran hurler carries a 6.11 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. While he has moved back toward his former strengths with a sturdy 51.3% groundball rate, he’s also permitting home runs at a 22.6% HR/FB clip.
Wade Miley, Astros, $4.5MM: Many were surprised to see the Houston organization settle for Miley, but it made sense to go with a short-term hurler of this sort with so much upper-level talent in the system. Plus, Miley had an odd but legitimately interesting 2018 showing. He hasn’t maintained quite the home run-suppression rates he did last year, but is still getting a good number of grounders and turning in quality results despite underwhelming K/BB numbers (15.9% K rate vs. 5.6% BB rate).
Marco Estrada, Athletics, $4MM: The Oakland org was well aware of Estrada’s back issues when it signed him. Unfortunately, the risk hasn’t paid off, as he has made only five starts and struggled through 23 2/3 innings. Worryingly, ERA estimators (including FIP, xFIP, and SIERA) take even dimmer views of Estrada’s showing to date than his 6.85 ERA suggests. He managed only an 11:8 K/BB ratio and 7.6% swinging-strike rate (his lowest since his brief 2008 debut) before hitting the IL.
Martin Perez, Twins, $3.5MM: This signing looks like the best one on the list to this point. It seems the Minnesota org had good reason to believe it could unlock something from Perez, who is throwing harder (at or above 95 mph with both fastballs) and exhibiting much more swing and miss (11.4% swinging-strike rate) than ever before. He has used a newfound cutter to devastating effect. Best of all for the Twins, the deal includes a club option for 2020.
Matt Shoemaker, Blue Jays, $3.5MM: It seemed that Shoemaker was authoring a nice bounceback tale in Toronto. Through five starts, he worked to a 1.57 ERA with 7.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and a 51.4% groundball rate. There was some regression in store, to be sure, but generally it seemed as if he had finally turned the corner after some injury-riddled campaigns in Los Angeles. While arm health wasn’t an issue, a freak knee injury left the 32-year-old with a torn ACL and back on the IL for the remainder of the year.
Clay Buchholz, Blue Jays, $3MM: This one isn’t working out for the Jays either. After opening the year on the injured list, Buchholz made it through only five starts before he was diagnosed with a grade 2 shoulder strain. And he hasn’t been good when on the hill, either, with a 6.57 ERA in 24 2/3 frames.