MLB Free Agency Primer: Breaking Down All 47 Starting Pitchers
This is the group of pitchers who are good enough to lead a rotation, but lack the elite traits of the tier one pitchers.
Madison Bumgarner (30)
W/L: 9-9 IP: 207.2 ERA: 3.90 K/9: 8.8 WHIP: 1.127 FIP: 3.90 bWAR: 2.8
Summary: Bumgarner’s entire season was the quietest season in the history of quiet seasons. It seems the only time he made headlines was following his argument with Max Muncy regarding a certain ocean-bound homer.
However, despite the lack of attention, MadBum showed he still has a lot of pitching left in the tank. Both his strikeout and walk numbers improved to be better than his career averages. After two seasons of injury, he is right there with the legitimate front-end starters in free agency. Maybe he’s a knock below Cole, Ryu, and Strasburg (option), but Bumgarner will make whoever signs him a winner.
Risks: Um…this one honestly seems pretty safe. There’s risk with any potential signing, but Bumgarner isn’t a pitcher who relies on velocity, which can be concerning at his age. His home run rate rising ever so slightly could be pointed at, but with the baseball flying the way it has been that’s to be expected. The mileage on his arm is the one real concern. He is a rock solid frontline starter right now, and I don’t see him declining any lower than that of a high-end mid-rotation piece.
Potential contract: Our Giants partner site predicted a team offering Bumgarner a 4-year, $80 million contract with a 2024 team option. I’m doing that as a GM and plugging him into the front of my rotation for the remainder of his career.
Yu Darvish (33)
*can opt out of the remaining four years and $81MM*
W/L: 6-8 IP: 178.2 ERA: 3.98 K/9: 11.5 WHIP: 1.097 FIP: 4.18 bWAR: 3.0
Summary: In a bounce back season for Darvish, he was able to regain his form that made the Cubs willing to offer him the 6-year, $126 million contract he can now opt out of. The story on Darvish this year was his unique ability to learn and use new pitches on the fly. Darvish was pivotal for the Cubs rotation this season, and if he decides to bet on himself and enter free agency, he could be a huge asset to any contending team.
Risks: There’s the possibility of his skill declining with age, as always. At 33, it’d be hard for teams to talk themselves into big money for the next 3-4 years.
Potential contract: Given there’s still $81 million remaining over the next four seasons, it seems very unlikely Darvish would opt-out of this deal. If he does, it goes without saying it’ll be for more than the remainder of his deal with the Cubs.
Cole Hamels (36)
W/L: 7-7 IP: 141.2 ERA: 3.81 K/9: 9.1 WHIP: 1.391 FIP: 4.09 bWAR: 3.0
Summary: It was another impressive season for Hamels, as he continues to age like fine wine. He showed he still belongs in the MLB and can be a rock solid starter for any team. He did miss time towards the end of the season with shoulder fatigue, but if managed better throughout the season it could be an avoidable issue going forward.
Risks: Besides the shoulder fatigue, Hamels walked batters at a higher rate than ever in 2019. He remained effective, but if his control continues to diminish, his next contract could very well be his last.
Potential contract: Hamels will probably aim for a multi-year deal this offseason with an AAV anywhere between $8-13 dollars.
Dallas Keuchel (32)
W/L: 8-8 IP: 112.2 ERA: 3.75 K/9: 7.3 WHIP: 1.367 FIP: 4.72 bWAR: 2.0
Summary: What a season for Dallas Kuechel. After being shorted in free agency last year, he joined the Atlanta Braves late into the season and was well worth the money in 2019. His command remains one of the best in the game. He finished strong, with a 2.55 ERA over his final nine starts and a solid postseason run as well.
Risks: The main risk with Keuchel is the same as it was last year. His strikeouts aren’t overwhelming and he relies heavily on his defense to play well in order to be successful. Aside from that, he is another year older and that will surely play into his free agency again.
Potential contract: Kuechel should receive the multi-year deal he has waited so long for. The salary range could fluctuate, but should land somewhere between $18-24 million on a 2-3 year deal.
Jake Odorizzi (30)
W/L: 15-7 IP: 159.0 ERA: 3.51 K/9: 10.1 WHIP: 1.208 FIP: 3.36 bWAR: 3.6
Summary: It was a nice little bounce back season for Jake Odorizzi this year. It came at the perfect time as well, as Odorizzi is finally getting the chance to hit the open market. An All Star season will make him an intriguing option for teams who miss out on the upper-tier of free agent starting pitchers.
Risks: Nothing really pops out as a risk for Odorizzi. He remained healthy in 2019 and flourished. The one talking point that may have some significance is that 10 of his 30 starts came against the putrid offenses of Kansas City, Detroit, and Chicago White Sox. His ERA against teams with winning records sat at 4.04, while his ERA against losing teams was a full point lower.
Potential contract: Odorizzi would be smart to wait out the market for the aces on the market to sign. After that, a team may get desperate enough to overpay Odorizzi on a 3-4 year deal.
Julio Teheran (29)
*$12MM club option with a $1MM buyout*
W/L: 10-11 IP: 174.2 ERA: 3.81 K/9: 8.3 WHIP: 1.323 FIP: 4.66 bWAR: 2.4
Summary: It was another exceptional season from Julio Teheran. Since his below-average 2017 season, he has turned in back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA campaigns. He has been a reliable arm for the Braves since his debut, and will be one of the big names once the first tier of aces are off the table. Still only 28, he has years left of his prime as well.
Risks: Age is good, ERA is good, and no significant injuries. The only underlying problem with Teheran’s game is how his FIP relates to his ERA. Over the past two seasons, he has posted a 3.88 ERA but a 4.75 FIP. That leaves some room for possible regression if a spotty defense is placed behind Teheran, but is not anything overly concerning.
Potential contract: At just 28, Teheran could go for a short term or long term deal depending on what he wants. A six-year, $120 million deal with an opt-out after two or three years makes sense financially for a team while also giving Teheran a chance for another big contract in a few years if he desires it.