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 Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Mid-Rotation/Backend Options

The older, not as exciting options for a rotation. While the prior group has players with some upside, this group of pitchers has seen the best of their careers pass them by but have shown they can still contribute in a rotation.

Chris Archer (31)

*$9MM club option with a $1.75MM buyout*

W/L: 3-9 IP: 119.2 ERA: 5.19 K/9: 10.8 WHIP: 1.412 FIP: 5.02 bWAR: 0.8

Summary: We’ve seen Archer be an absolutely dynamic pitcher at points in his career. However, we haven’t seen that pitcher in years. After the 2016 season, his career ERA sat at 3.51 with a 9.3 K/9 mark. Since then, his ERA has risen to 4.43 and his strikeout numbers have dropped considerably.

The drop mostly aligns with his switch from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh, so a change in scenery could very well be what Archer needs. However, it’s up to the Pirates whether they keep him or not. An ERA north of five in the National League doesn’t bode well for a starter though.

Risks: Signing Archer is in and of itself a risk. He’s been a bad pitcher as of late, and adding that to your rotation is a risk. However, the idea of adding him is all about him regaining the potential we saw during his first few years in the league.

Potential contract: the Pirates would have to pay Archer $1.75 million dollars to not play for them, so a one-year “prove it” deal could be in play, but a multi-year contract could be in play for the 31-year old as well.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Jake Arrieta (34)

*can opt out of remaining one year and $20MM unless Phillies exercise a two-year, $40MM option*

W/L: 8-8 IP: 135.1 ERA: 4.64 K/9: 7.3 WHIP: 1.474 FIP: 4.89 bWAR: 0.9

Summary: This was an incredibly rough season for Arrieta. After a successful first season in Philadelphia, his age started catching up with him. He experienced a sharp decline in his stuff, and was eventually shut down for the season due to bone spurs in his elbow. Arrietta saw decline in nearly every stat, including ERA, K:BB, HR/9, H/9, FIP, and BB/9.

Risks: What it really boils down to for Arrieta is whether his down year was credited to his poor health or rather just a decline in skill. At 34-years old, his best days and Cy Young seasons are behind him, but he needs to set out and prove he can still be of value to a rotation.

Potential contract: It seems very unlikely Arrieta opts out of his contract with the Phillies. With $20 million owed to Arrieta in 2020, there’s no reason for him to opt out and look for a multi-year deal considering a two-year free agent deal would likely fall short of the amount the Phillies will pay him otherwise.

(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
(Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

Homer Bailey (34)

W/L: 13-9 IP: 163.1 ERA: 4.57 K/9: 8.2 WHIP: 1.316 FIP: 4.11 bWAR: 1.9

Summary: In 2019, Homer Bailey has had a bounce back season of sorts. After a combined ERA of 6.25 from 2015-2018, Bailey was an effective arm for the backend of the Oakland A’s rotation. He’s been an average pitcher throughout his career, and it seems he’s back to that point after a rough few years.

The key to this rebound was Bailey’s strikeout numbers. He didn’t allow nearly as much contact as he had in recent years, and it translated to overall success on the mound.

Risks: The risks for Homer Bailey are the same as any other average pitcher that’s getting up there in age. He may very well have had one good year, he could fall off the cliff next year, any multi-year deal is a bad investment, and so on.

Potential contract: Bailey is going to have a handful of suitors, and likely contenders, bidding for his services. Teams with limited money to spend and good organizational philosophy (cough cough Houston cough cough) will be looking to attain Bailey, and at this point he could very well be chasing a ring.

(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

Andrew Cashner (33)

*$10MM vesting/player option*

W/L: 2-5 IP: 150.0 ERA: 4.68 K/9: 6.5 WHIP: 1.347 FIP: 4.66 bWAR: 2.5

Summary: The story of Andrew Cashner’s 2019 season is two different tales. For the Baltimore Orioles, he was an impressive bright spot on a team with minimal players to feel good about. Once he was traded to the Red Sox, he was an awful starter who quickly was moved to the bullpen. He was much more efficient as a reliever, but I’d still bet he tests the market as a starter this winter. Boston can be a tough ballpark to pitch in, and he showed plenty of skill during his time in Baltimore.

Risks: The real risk with Cashner is that he is no longer a starting pitcher. It was an incredibly small sample size in Boston, but his starts there were borderline disastrous. A team paying Cashner as a starter only to see him fail then moved to the bullpen will he overpaying.

Potential contract: A one, maybe two-year deal with an AAV of $4-6 million sounds about where Cashner will land.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Kyle Gibson (32)

W/L: 13-7 IP: 160.0 ERA: 4.84 K/9: 9.0 WHIP: 1.444 FIP: 4.26 bWAR: 0.4

Summary: Gibson is one of the two Twins’ starters headed to free agency, and he makes an interesting case. He posted a career-high in K/9 while having a career-low BB/9. Both are encouraging signs for the 33-year old, even with the “meh” ERA.

Another vital point of Gibson’s season was his strong summer, followed by a tumultuous end to the regular season. Inconsistency is never something teams want out of their starters. He was placed on the IL at the start of September with ulcerative colitis, but his performance upon his return wasn’t overly encouraging. In his lone postseason appearance, Gibson allowed three runs on three walks and one hit in an inning of work.

Risks: At 33, Gibson is likely entering the twilight of his career. While he saw some numbers improve, his overall game was still average at best. The risk lies in how he wore down as the season went on in 2019. His splits make it blatantly obvious how Gibson struggled down the line. Does he still have one or two years left as a starter, or is the rest of his career better suited for a relief role?

Potential contract: This one seems pretty simple and straightforward. Short term deal (1-2 years) for $6-10 million AAV.

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Ivan Nova (33)

W/L: 11-12 IP: 187.0 ERA: 4.72 K/9: 5.5 WHIP: 1.455 FIP: 4.98 bWAR: 2.1

Summary: Ivan Nova had an all-around solid season for the Chicago White Sox in 2019. He led the league in games started with 34, and he proved to be a good piece in their rotation. While he doesn’t have the upside to be an ace, he also has the reliability that should make teams comfortable when offering Nova a contract. He’s essentially a poor-man’s Dallas Keuchel, as he relies on solid defense behind him and inducing ground balls rather than striking batters out.

Risks: The main risk with Nova is that his advanced numbers declined in 2019. On top of that, he wore out in September and it seems he may have been overworked in 2019.

Potential contract: This could be one of the more interesting contracts this winter. Ivan Nova could be this year’s version of Kuechel in free agency on a much smaller scale. Teams may overlook his ERA and games started and focus on the advanced statistics and underlying numbers and pinch Nova out of his last chance for a multi-year deal.

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Drew Pomeranz (31)

W/L: 2-10 IP: 104.0 ERA: 4.85 K/9: 11.9 WHIP: 1.433 FIP: 4.59 bWAR: 0.3

Summary: Drew Pomeranz’s 2019 season is a tale of two parts. The first is one of awful pitching, as Pomeranz posted a 5.68 ERA with the San Francisco Giants. However, after they traded him to the Brewers, Pomeranz was an entirely new pitcher, owning a 2.39 ERA in 25 games. He was used almost exclusively out of the bullpen in Milwaukee, and that is probably his best role going forward. However, a team could still try him out one more time as a starter/bulk guy.

Risks: Despite pitching in 25 games, Pomeranz’s 26.1 innings is still a small sample size, and his production could definitely decline next season as a reliever. As a starter, you risk Pomeranz being exactly what he was this season.

Potential contract: 2-3 year deal, $3-6 million annually.

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Rick Porcello (31)

W/L: 14-12 IP: 174.1 ERA: 5.52 K/9: 7.4 WHIP: 1.394 FIP: 4.76 bWAR: 1.1

Summary: While the entire league was obviously affected by the juiced baseballs, Rick Porcello was a pitcher whose numbers show how much the new ball hurt his game. All of his underlying numbers are around his career averages, but he allowed the second highest amount of home runs in his entire career in 2019. His ERA shot up because of it, and pitching in a more pitcher friendly park than Fenway in 2020 should help him in that phase of the game. It seems very likely the marriage between Boston and Porcello is headed for divorce.

Risks: The real risk with Porcello is that 2019 was the beginning of the end rather than just a blip on the radar. Despite still being relatively young, Porcello has a lot of mileage on his arm, and could find himself starting to decline earlier than most because of it.

Potential contract: Porcello will likely be a benefit of a team missing out on big name pitchers, and his track record will help him lock up a deal. A 2-year deal with a team option for the third year would make sense, and an AAV between $9-13 million seems about right.

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

Tanner Roark (33)

W/L: 10-10 IP: 165.1 ERA: 4.35 K/9: 8.6 WHIP: 1.397 FIP: 4.67 bWAR: 2.0

Summary: After pitching for both Oakland and Cincinnati in 2019, Tanner Roark showed again that he is a solid option for the backend of a team’s rotation. He stayed healthy throughout the season, although he was somewhat inconsistent. He had two months with an ERA below 3.50, but also had two months exceeding a 6.00 ERA mark. Still, Roark will likely get one more contract and will look to cash in for as much as possible this season. His career-high strikeout rate will certainly help his case as well.

Risks: There aren’t too many risks with Roark. While his age is something worth noting, his 2019 season was nearly identical to his 2018 campaign. He did allow a career high in home runs but who didn’t?

Potential contract: 2-3 year deal, worth $7-9 million annually.

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Drew Smyly (30)

W/L: 4-7 IP: 114.0 ERA: 6.24 K/9: 9.5 WHIP: 1.588 FIP: 6.26 bWAR: -0.4

Summary: After a dreadful start with the Texas Rangers, Drew Smyly was able to somewhat turn his season around after landing with the Phillies. His 8.42 ERA dropped to 4.45 as he cut his walk and home run rates nearly in half after the switch. While he’s obviously not the frontline starter he was in during the beginning of his career, Smyly showed he still has some life in his arm and is deserving of a contract this offseason.

Risks: The concern with Smyly is that he regresses back to the pitcher he was in Texas. Obviously he figured himself out with the Phillies, but those 12 starts are a small sample size. He won’t be making big money in free agency, but paying Smyly any amount of salary to be the pitcher he was in Texas is a legitimate risk.

Potential contract: 2-3 years, $3-6 million annually.

(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Jason Vargas (37)

*$8MM club option with a $2MM buyout*

W/L: 7-9 IP: 149.2 ERA: 4.51 K/9: 7.5 WHIP: 1.363 FIP: 4.76 bWAR: 1.0

Summary: When he wasn’t picking fights with reporters, Jason Vargas was actually an acceptable mid-rotation option in 2019. While his numbers slipped slightly after going to the Phillies midseason, he still posted respectable stats across the board. He’s in the twilight of his career, but Vargas showed in 2019 that, at the very least, he can still be a backend option in 2020.

Risks: Obviously his age, but also Vargas’ lashing out at media members can’t be overlooked. That can be a locker room distraction for teams, especially teams in big market cities like the Mets.

Potential contract: One-year, $3-5 million.