Baseball’s hiatus gives us an opportunity to examine both the past and future of the sport. Yesterday, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk looked back at a potential franchise-altering trade that never materialized. Today, we’ll turn our attention to the future: specifically, the upcoming free agent class.
MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes ran his initial 2020-21 free agent power rankings a few weeks ago. No question, Mookie Betts looks like the jewel of a position player heavy class. Yet the pitching side looks a bit muddled. Trevor Bauer, Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman checked in alongside one another (in that order) as the three arms in Tim’s top ten. Obviously, there’s time for one to emerge as the unquestioned top starter on the market in 2020. As of now, though, which hurler do the MLBTR readers anticipate getting the top guarantee next winter, and which one would you prefer your favorite team roll the dice on?
- Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati: For most of his career, the 29-year-old Bauer’s been a durable, mid-rotation type. He’s soaked up tons of innings, but in five of six seasons, he’s put up an ERA between 4.18 and 4.55 (with marginally better FIP’s). At his best, though, Bauer flashed a ceiling most pitchers can only dream of. In 2018, the former #3 overall pick worked to a 2.21 ERA with an elite 30.8% strikeout rate. An unsustainably low HR/FB rate meant that ERA always figured to regress somewhat, but it was still surprising to see Bauer post a league-average 4.48 mark in 2019. Bauer, of course, has expressed a desire to sign a series of one-year deals as a free agent. If he sticks to that plan, he’ll almost certainly not garner the top overall guarantee for a pitcher this offseason (or any other). But that high-risk approach is easier to espouse in theory than in practice, and Bauer recently walked back that plan a little bit. His free agency will be fascinating to follow.
- Robbie Ray, Arizona: A bit like Bauer, the 28-year-old Ray is a tantalizing but somewhat frustrating talent. Since the start of 2017, he ranks fifth among starters (minimum 300 innings) in strikeout rate and 12th in swinging strike rate. He’s surrounded by the game’s aces on both leaderboards. Only Tyler Chatwood and Francisco Liriano have higher walk rates than Ray in that same period, though. The southpaw has never had a season with a better than average walk rate; that general inefficiency has run up some high pitch counts and helped prevent Ray from ever eclipsing 175 innings in a season. His ERA’s the past four years have varied quite a bit (4.90, 2.89, 3.93, 4.34). Teams could have different evaluations for Ray’s future, but the most likely outcome seems to be solid mid-rotation production via something of an extreme approach.
- Marcus Stroman, Mets: Unlike his top two competitors, Stroman doesn’t generate many whiffs. The 28-year-old’s sinker is more conducive to a ground-ball heavy game. He throws strikes and has managed to avoid home runs even in the juiced ball era thanks to strong contact management. Stroman’s sinker/slider/cutter mix isn’t the four-seam/curveball combination coveted by most teams nowadays. Nevertheless, he’ll have plenty of suitors since he’s proven capable of ample success. 2018 was an injury-marred struggle, but Stroman’s put up at least 184.1 innings in three of the past four seasons and boasts a career ERA of 3.76. That’s a better track record of run prevention than either Bauer (4.04) or Ray (4.11) can boast.
- Others: Other free agents to be (complete list of 2020-21 free agents) include Kevin Gausman, James Paxton, Alex Wood and Taijuan Walker. Between age, injuries and/or recent underperformance, it’s tough to project any of them to beat Bauer, Ray or Stroman this winter. Perhaps you’re more optimistic about someone a bit under-the-radar?
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