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 Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
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Injured Pitchers/Possible Retirements

Pitchers who spent the majority of 2019 injured or could very well just retire rather than pitch in 2020. Some of these have legitimate upside to have comeback seasons in 2020.

Clay Buchholz (35)

W/L: 2-5 IP: 59.0 ERA: 6.56 K/9: 5.9 WHIP: 1.412 FIP: 5.62 bWAR: -0.3

Summary: Buchholz’s season was largely derailed by a shoulder strain. However, he was able to come back in late August. This was a good sign for Buchholz as he was able to show he had regained his health before his free agency. He even showed some potential as his ERA after his return was much better than prior to his time on the IL. So, at 35-years old, Buchholz may be able to turn a solid last month of pitching into one more deal somewhere in free agency.

Risks: Shoulder injuries are always scary, even if the initial return was impressive by Buchholz. His age, combined with the injury, will surely keep some teams away. He’s made a plethora of trips to the DL and now the IL in his career, and signing him brings that risk.

Potential contract: If Buchholz plays one more year, it’ll be a low-cost deal. He isn’t going to break the bank for anybody, and it’d be surprising to see him receive any multi-year deals.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Gio Gonzalez (34)

W/L: 3-2 IP: 87.1 ERA: 3.50 K/9: 8.0 WHIP: 1.294 FIP: 4.04 bWAR: 1.7

Summary: In what was an injury-riddled season, Gio Gonzalez was arguably the best starter for the Brewers at times. He missed a large amount of time dealing with a dead arm issue, which translated to shoulder tightness later in the season.

Risks: The obvious: injuries marred Gonzalez’s 2019 season, and will be a major discussion point for any team targeting the two-time All Star.

Potential contract: One-year contract with a possible option for a second season.

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

Jeremy Hellickson (33)

W/L: 2-3 IP: 39.0 ERA: 6.23 K/9: 6.9 WHIP: 1.718 FIP: 6.29 bWAR: -0.3

Summary: Another starter whose season was clouded by a long stint on the IL, Hellickson eventually returned to the Nationals as a long-man out of their bullpen. His shoulder tendinitis was a long rehab, and he was not a significant part of the Nationals’ plan down the road.

Risks: The shoulder injury is an obvious concern, and his age doesn’t point exactly bring confidence either. While relievers tend to have an extended life, his career as a starter is definitely in question.

Potential contract: Low-cost, one-year deal.

(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /

Felix Hernandez (34)

W/L: 1-8 IP: 71.2 ERA: 6.40 K/9: 7.2 WHIP: 1.535 FIP: 6.00 bWAR: -0.7

Summary: It was an emotional final season for Felix Hernandez. All year long, it was obvious this would be his final campaign as a Seattle Mariner. However, while the sentimentality of his season was elite, his performance was not. His stuff just is not what it used to be, and he posted a career-worst in ERA this year. It is obvious his best years are far behind him, but he should still be able to find a job somewhere. Whether that is as a starter or reliever is up in the air, but  King Felix will find somewhere to land.

Risks: Age, decline in skill, and a career-low in innings pitched in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, which is obviously a big concern.

Potential contract: One-year, low-end deal.

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

Rich Hill (40)

W/L: 4-1 IP: 58.2 ERA: 2.45 K/9: 11.0 WHIP: 1.125 FIP: 4.10 bWAR: 1.4

Summary: When Rich Hill pitched in 2019, he was very effective. However, he wasn’t often available due to a strain in his throwing arm. His offspeed pitches are still elite, and he showed he was fully healthy at the end of 2019 in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Risks: The injury wouldn’t be overly concerning if it wasn’t combined with Hill’s age. He’ll be 40 to start the 2020 season, and hasn’t topped 140 innings since George W. Bush was president. His FIP also indicates he was a beneficiary of some good luck on the mound this year.

Potential contract: A one-year deal worth around $3-5 million dollars

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Matt Moore (31)

W/L: 0-0 IP: 10.0 ERA: 0.00 K/9: 8.1 WHIP: 0.400 FIP: 1.71 bWAR: 0.7

Summary: Matt Moore’s 2019 season lasted ten innings before being shut down for the season after a knee operation. The surgery was only expected to sideline him for 6-8 weeks, but that obviously changed post-op. Moore is an interesting free agent, as he pitched well in what was obviously a small sample size. He has the makings of a backend-rotation piece, and could potentially be even better if he rebounds from his knee surgery well.

Risks: The knee is a clear factor. On top of that, Moore’s ERA rose in two consecutive seasons prior to 2019, and he hasn’t had a sub-4.00 ERA since 2014.

Potential contract: Moore will get a contract somewhere. A one-year deal with a team option for 2021 would make a lot of sense, as it’d give the team more incentive to sign the former All Star after his knee injury.

(Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

Clayton Richard (36)

W/L: 1-5 IP: 45.1 ERA: 5.96 K/9: 4.4 WHIP: 1.566 FIP: 6.28 bWAR: -0.1

Summary: Clayton Richard’s season started late as he rehabbed from a knee injury, and ended early after he suffered a rib/lat injury in July and was later released. His numbers don’t exactly impress, either. However, he had seemingly found his stride towards the end of the season, and he had a 3.86 ERA in his final three starts of the season before being released by Toronto.

Risks: The risk here is that Clayton Richard is a washed up pitcher, and that his injury/release only made matters worse.

Potential contract: As long as he doesn’t retire, Richard should get a minor league contract somewhere with an invite to Spring Training.

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Tyson Ross (33)

W/L: 1-5 IP: 35.1 ERA: 6.11 K/9: 6.4 WHIP: 1.670 FIP: 5.99 bWAR: -0.1

Summary: It was a season to forget for Tyson Ross after signing on with the Detroit Tigers for a one-year deal. His ERA skyrocketed after a solid 2018 season due to ulnar neuritis in his throwing arm. His season ended after only seven appearances, and his future in the MLB is cloudy at best.

Risks: Ulnar neuritis, while someone can come back from it, is no joke. Some return to the same level as before the injury, but some do not. It is also worth noting that Ross has a long relationship with the injured list in his career.

Potential contract: Someone will take a chance on Ross. His 2018 season was extremely impressive, and it’s enough for someone to take a cheap chance on a career 4.04 ERA. A one-year deal with a team option may be the best Ross gets this winter.

LA Angels prospect
LA Angels prospect /

Ervin Santana (37)

W/L: 0-2 IP: 13.1 ERA: 9.45 K/9: 3.4 WHIP: 1.875 FIP: 9.66 bWAR: -0.4

Summary: A lost season for Ervin Santana, as he made only three starts in the big leagues. After two solid seasons in 2017 and 2018, Santana seems to have fallen off a cliff. With his lackluster production, it’s up in the air whether Santana will get another chance in the league it not.

Risks: Santana being unable to bounce back to his 2017/2018 form.

Potential contract: If Santana decides to pitch again in 2020, the only offer he’ll get is that if a minor league contract.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

Edinson Volquez (36)

W/L: 0-1 IP: 16.0 ERA: 6.75 K/9: 5.6 WHIP: 2.000 FIP: 6.65 bWAR: 0.1

Summary: A couple of months ago, Edinson Volquez seemed like a sure bet to retire after coming into 2019 with little to no expectations. However, after being able to return from an elbow injury (albeit with poor results), he is now considering returning for one final season.

While he has stated he would want to return to the Texas Rangers in 2020 to help mold the younger players, he’ll still be a free agent and other teams have young players to mold as well. Basically, it wouldn’t be completely out of the ordinary if Volquez were to pitch for another team in 2020.

Risks: Volquez’s return from an elbow injury was encouraging, but his age and his stats upon the return were not. Relying on him for any sort of high impact pitching in 2020 would be a mistake.

Potential contract: $1-2 million dollars for 2020.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Adam Wainwright (38)

W/L: 14-10 IP: 171.2 ERA: 4.19 K/9: 8.0 WHIP: 1.427 FIP: 4.36 bWAR: 2.1

Summary: Another pitcher who could possibly retire this offseason, Adam Wainwright showed he’s still got it in 2019. He posted a strikeout rate better than his career norm, and was electric during the Cardinals’ postseason run. If he does hang up his cleats, Wainwright will have a case for the Hall of Fame. However, 2019 showed us that he still has enough talent to continue building on that resume.

Risks: Adam Wainwright came back from a handful of injuries to pitch his way to a 4.19 ERA in 2019. If he pitches again in 2020, you know what you’re getting.

Potential contract: $1-2 million dollars for 2020.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alex Wood (29)

W/L: 1-3 IP: 35.2 ERA: 5.80 K/9: 7.6 WHIP: 1.402 FIP: 6.38 bWAR: -0.2

Summary: After pitching through a back injury for seven starts, Alex Woods’ season ended way too early. He enjoyed many successful years with the Dodgers, and that pitcher is still in there. The only question with Woods is whether he can get back to his old self after rehabbing through the back injury. If he does, a team could wind up with a huge steal in the southpaw.

Risks: The back injury that ended his 2019 season in August. Furthermore, Wood gave up an extremely alarming amount of home runs (11 in seven starts) and while that could be due to his back injury, is something worth monitoring wherever he does wind up signing.

Potential contract: The injury-riddled 2019 season won’t help Woods’ case, and he may have to take a one-year “prove it” deal because of it.

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Steven Wright (35)

W/L: 0-1 IP: 6.1 ERA: 8.53 K/9: 7.1 WHIP: 2.368 FIP: 10.16 bWAR: -0.1

Summary: After being released by the Red Sox, Steven Wright might just call it a career. The knuckleballer has dealt with a plethora of injuries and suspensions the past two seasons, and now finds himself as a free agent.

Risks:  Wright was dynamic when healthy, but as his age it’s unlikely he is able to overcome the latest elbow injury to provide valuable innings for any MLB club.

Potential contract: Considering the Red Sox would have only owed Wright $1.5 million in arbitration, it’s hard to imagine him making anything more than the league minimum if a team signs Wright for 2020.