MLB Free Agency Primer: Breaking Down All 47 Starting Pitchers

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(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

The Aces

These are the best of the best pitchers who will have no problem making top dollar this offseason.

Gerrit Cole (29)

W/L: 20-5 IP: 212.1 ERA: 2.50 K/9: 13.8 WHIP: 0.895 FIP: 2.64 bWAR: 6.8

Summary: By now, everyone knows Gerrit Cole and how absolutely dominant he was in 2019. He is likely the American League Cy Young, and has carried the Houston Astros’ rotation so far in the postseason. The last time Cole lost a game was May 22nd. He posted league-high marks in ERA, strikeouts, K/9, and FIP. No player, not just pitcher but player, was as consistently dominant as Gerrit Cole in 2019, and his next paycheck will show that.

Risks: Literally the only risk that comes to mind is the fact that Cole has flourished while pitching for the Astros. They get the best out of any player, so it’s reasonable to think Cole’s numbers may slightly dip if/when he leaves Houston. Other than that, this guy is arguably the best pitcher in the MLB.

Potential contract: This really isn’t as bold as it sounds: Gerrit Cole is going to become the highest paid pitcher of all-time this winter. A 7-year, $250 million deal is not out of the question, and would set both the total value record for a pitcher as well as the AAV for a pitcher.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Hyun-Jin Ryu (33)

W/L: 14-5 IP: 182.2 ERA: 2.32 K/9: 8.0 WHIP: 1.007 FIP: 3.10 bWAR: 5.3

Summary: The story of Hyun-Jin Ryu’s 2019 season is one of two halves. For the first half of the season, Ryu was threatening to post the lowest ERA since the mound was lowered. All in all, it was an elite season from Ryu. He got hit with and accepted the qualifying offer last season, but he’ll be looking for his big contract this offseason. While he may not be on the Cole/Strasburg level of elite, Ryu is an elite ace and will make one fanbase very, very happy for years to come.

Risks: In the second half of 2019, Ryu wore down big time. His ERA shot up to 7.48 in August, but he settled back down prior to the preseason. His workload will need to be managed by whichever team signs him, especially as he goes deeper and deeper into his 30’s.

Potential contract: Despite his age, this is Ryu’s first and last chance to cash out in a big time contract. It’ll be interesting to see if he hits triple digits, but a 4-year, $110 million deal seems fair for both sides.

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Stephen Strasburg (31)

*can opt out of remaining four years and $100MM*

W/L: 18-6 IP: 209.0 ERA: 3.32 K/9: 10.8 WHIP: 1.038 FIP: 3.25 bWAR: 6.5

Summary: No one made themselves more money in the postseason than Stephen Strasburg. He was already a top ten pitcher in baseball, but his postseason performance leading up to the World Series has been legendary.

Strasburg has lived up to every ounce of hype he had as a prospect, and he went from a maybe to a sure thing in terms of opting out of the rest of his contract with the Nationals. While he could rework a deal to stay in D.C, he’d be the second most desired pitcher behind Gerrit Cole if he were to hit the open market.

Risks: This is a reach, as Strasburg has been a model of consistency throughout his career in the majors. However, he is now on the wrong side of 30. That doesn’t mean much considering how high of a level he has pitched at, but it’s worth noting for any team in pursuit of the Nationals’ ace.

Potential contract: If he hits the open market, Strasburg could very easily play the leverage card and walk away with a 5-year, $150 million deal, and he would be worth every penny.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

Zack Wheeler (30)

W/L: 11-8 IP: 195.1 ERA: 3.96 K/9: 9.0 WHIP: 1.259 FIP: 3.48 bWAR: 4.1

Summary: Including him in the “aces” section of this post may be debatable, but after posting two straight 3.5+ WAR seasons, Zack Wheeler is ready to finally hit free agency rather than just be in trade rumors. He sits below that first tier of aces, but he is one player who is bound to have 20+ teams bidding for his services. Once teams miss out on the Cole/Strasburg/Ryu types, they’ll refocus their crosshair on Wheeler, and he’ll be a huge beneficiary of playing the waiting game.

Risks: Wheeler’s hit rate went up quite a bit compared to 2018, which needs to be monitored. Besides that though, Wheeler has stayed healthy and is a fairly simple pitcher to get a read on.

Potential contract: Wheeler will want #1 pitcher money, and he’ll likely get that. Five years, $130 million would be the right kind of money for both a team to spend and Wheeler to sign on the dotted line for.