Baseball is one of the most popular sports in America. Every year, MLB teams spend millions of dollars on free agents and prospects to build a dominant starting rotation. We will use PITCHf/x data from Fangraphs to identify which pitchers are likely candidates for their respective drafts next season
The “mlb free agency predictions” is a question that has been asked for quite some time. The current starting pitchers are all on the market, and it would be interesting to see who will land where.
Max Scherzer is a German football player. Clayton Kershaw is a professional baseball player. Kevin Gausman is a writer. There will be no lack of pitching talent available in MLB free agency in 2021-22, and titles will be won or lost depending on the moves made. Buster Olney, Jesse Rogers, Doolittle, Bradford, and Alden Gonzalez are here to go down what’s at stake this offseason in the world of starting pitching.
On Opening Day 2022, which free-agent starting pitcher would you most want to see on the field for your team?
Olney: I don’t see how you can choose anybody other than potential Hall of Famer Scherzer if we’re going to divorce this topic from the problem of financial commitment and value throughout the course of the deal. Last summer, he dominated for the Nationals, and this year, he did it again for the Dodgers, even shutting out the Giants in the division series. But I’m hoping Max and his future club can agree on one thing: no more playoff relief appearances. Please.
Rogers: It’s difficult to disagree with Scherzer, particularly if we assume we just care about 2022. He has at least one more dominating year in him. However, among lefties, Robbie Ray was in a class by himself. Unless he loses his command and reverts to the old Ray, none of his stats scream fluke. Ray would be my man if I had any inkling that Scherzer was slowing down. On the other hand, I wouldn’t rule out Justin Verlander winning Comeback Player of the Year. It’s a tough pick, but Scherzer is a safe bet right now.
Doolittle: If we mean “Game 1 of a playoff series” by “opening day,” then it’s Scherzer, not because the answer would be different, but because that’s what organizations looking to sign an exceptional free agency starter have in mind. While Scherzer’s dominance waned after the Dodgers-Giants series, he was still strong in the last weeks of the season. If I’m looking for a starting pitcher to round out a championship team, that’s who I’m searching for among the free-agent pitchers.
Scherzer’s first nine starts with the Dodgers (all against contending teams): 58 innings, five earned runs, seven walks, and 79 strikeouts. He’s unquestionably the best option, which is why I believe he’ll receive the three-year, high-dollar deal that many assume he wants, despite the fact that he’ll be 38 next year. At the very least, the manner the 2021 season concluded created some doubt. Next his relieving appearance in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, Scherzer had to be moved back a day, then stated he pitched through a weary arm in his first start of the following round, forcing him to be put back again for his second start, which never occurred. Is he merely tired, or is there anything medically wrong with him?
What do you believe the most lucrative deal for a starting pitcher will be this winter?
Olney: In terms of overall cash, Gausman, who turns 31 in January, will win. No one has ever disputed his ability, but now that he seems to have reached the pinnacle of his career with the Giants, he’ll be his generation’s Charlie Morton.
Rogers: I’d want to see Gausman duplicate his stellar season by pitching in three different parks, all of which are more hitter-friendly than Oracle Park in San Francisco. Ray had to accomplish just that when playing for the Blue Jays in 2021. He or Gausman will command the highest total salaries, but clubs’ thirst for a great left-handed pitcher may put Ray over the top.
Doolittle: It will very certainly be Scherzer in terms of average yearly value, but it might also be him in terms of overall value, despite the fact that he is unlikely to earn more than two or three years. If Gausman or Ray are able to get a fifth year, they may be able to outperform Scherzer in terms of overall deal worth. However, I believe Scherzer will be paid at least $40 million per year for the next three years, which will be difficult to match.
Gonzalez: I think Buster is correct about Gausman, but I’m curious about the market for someone like Ray, who has always had the raw talent but has now put it together for what might be a Cy Young-winning season in 2021. Although Gausman has a longer track record of exceptional pitching, Ray’s potential is likely to be significantly better. I’m sure there are a lot of organizations who feel they can help him repeat his success with the Toronto Blue Jays, when he had a 2.84 ERA in 19313 innings with 248 strikeouts and 52 walks.
Which free-agent starting pitcher do you think you should pursue this offseason?
Olney: Eduardo Rodriguez’s underlying analytics provide a far more full picture of his season than his inflated 4.74 ERA. He was badly harmed by Boston’s ineffective, inconsistent defense, and because the Red Sox saw this personally, I believe he’ll end up hammering out a deal to remain in Boston for a high-value contract.
Rogers: Michael Pineda has an aura about him. Injuries limited him to 21 starts in 2021, but he still posted a 3.62 ERA for a terrible Minnesota squad. His numbers weren’t terrific — his strikeout rate dropped — but he seems to have more potential. If you give him some fresh surroundings and a healthy spring, he’ll be a great match for the tail end of a rotation. Pineda is just 32 years old and has only thrown 136 innings in the last two seasons because to injuries, a 60-game ban in 2019 and the pandemic. His arm still has some life in it.
Doolittle: If the price is right, I’d take a chance on more than half of the free-agent class as an injury and/or performance bounce-back possibility. James Paxton is a pitcher that misses bats when healthy but hasn’t gotten much attention, so it’s hard to determine how much you can depend on him next season. I’m going to go with Danny Duffy: He misses bats and has yet to pitch in a major league game for anybody other than the Royals, so he could be open to some new ideas. Plus, even if he isn’t in the rotation, I’ve always believed Duffy would have a lot of value as a high-leverage and lengthy reliever towards the conclusion of his career. Before he got wounded last season, he was a fantastic player.
Gonzalez: Jon Gray bounced back from a disappointing 2020 season with a 4.59 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 149 innings, putting him in position for a multiyear contract. The 30-year-old right-hander is a step behind the likes of Scherzer, Ray, Gausman, Carlos Rodon, and Marcus Stroman, but he’s someone you can see taking another step ahead with a team that understands pitching. Gray’s strikeout rate almost quadrupled from a year ago, while his hard-hit rate decreased from 46 percent to 38 percent.
Which club has the most need for an ace this offseason?
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Olney: The Mets have no clue what they’ll get out of Jacob deGrom next season, and if anybody in the organization attempts to create a more optimistic picture, remind them of all the times they said he’d be back last summer. The Mets haven’t really addressed where deGrom stands or why he didn’t throw after July 7 other than Sandy Alderson’s mention of a partial rupture of deGrom’s right ulnar collateral ligament, which deGrom downplayed in the days that followed. They also have no idea what they’d get out of Noah Syndergaard, if the right-hander accepts their qualifying offer, and Stroman is still on the market. The Mets will need a good starter if they want to compete for the NL East with the Braves.
Rogers: I’m going to throw a curveball at the Angels’ choice because they need more than an ace. Of course, it would help, but the Seattle Mariners were closer to reaching the playoffs, and their rotation lacked championship experience. They need an ace who’s been there, done that if they want to take the next step while recuperating from the PR nightmare that was their trade deadline. At some time, every contender-ish squad will have to make that jump. It should be done in Seattle.
The Angels, according to Doolittle. The Angels are constantly present.
The Angels, Gonzalez. It’s an ongoing necessity, particularly now that Shohei Ohtani’s contract is up in two years, Mike Trout is in his 30s, and Anthony Rendon is in the latter stages of his career. To to Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo: “They’re on the verge of becoming a very dynamic unit. There are just a few things they can do to assist.” Starting pitching, namely great starting pitching, is what they need. Angels general manager Perry Minasian admitted as much, and although he emphasized that frontline starters are “difficult to acquire,” the fact is that he needs to get it done. If Ohtani is the Angels’ third starter, they can compete. Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine.
Which of the top starting pitchers do you think may be traded this offseason?
Olney: The Reds’ decision to place Wade Miley on waivers after an outstanding season was a clear indicator that the team is wanting to minimize costs, and the simplest way to do so is to transfer Luis Castillo and/or Sonny Gray.
Rogers: Because the A’s and Reds are dumping payroll, it’s simple to choose any pitcher from either team, but why wouldn’t the Cubs listen to offers for Kyle Hendricks? It doesn’t mean they have to do it, but with the team in rebuilding mode, why squander the remaining two years on his contract? He’d be a good fit for any squad. His demeanor is A-plus, he’s not a tremendous danger of injury, and he’s had success in the biggest games. If he is sold, the Cubs will have spent all of their money this summer. In a year, I won’t be able to say the same. Offers for him and his batterymate, Willson Contreras, may be discreetly considered.
Doolittle: I’m phoning every hour about Castillo because the Reds are raising the white flag before Thanksgiving. To be sure, his velocity/changeup combo is fantastic, but he had an uneven 2021. He gets chased, stays off the barrel of the bat, is durable, and may be on his way to winning the Cy Young Award with only a few tweaks to his pitch mix. Please add me to the list.
Gonzalez: The A’s are definitely looking to cut costs, and Chris Bassitt, who is just a season away from free agency, is a clear trade asset. Bassitt, 32, was an All-Star pitcher who went 12-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 4.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio in an All-Star season in which he also took a line ball to the face and miraculously recovered to pitch in the stretch.
Clayton Kershaw: will he stay with the Dodgers for the rest of his career or will he go on this offseason?
Olney: He’ll throw for the Dodgers if he pitches again. He’s a legacy player for that organization; he’s family. But he’s had enough health problems that, like Sandy Koufax, there will come a day when he’ll surprise the baseball world with a retirement announcement, and he’ll be on his way to being unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame.
Rogers: On a lesser scale, perhaps the Dodgers. Will they honestly turn him down if he’s reasonable? What about a surprise team? St. Louis is in need of pitching, but not necessarily front-end players. Joining a playoff foe would be a nice story, and if he joins there today, he can punch his ticket to October. It may work if the team had a pitching-friendly venue, a nice fan base, and an experienced catcher in Yadier Molina.
Doolittle: I’m thinking it’ll be the Dodgers or retirement for me. I simply can’t see him playing for another team, even the Rangers, considering his connections to the Dallas region. While Kershaw has enough left in the tank, I can see him looking back on his injury troubles last season, his contract expiry, and his whole career and deciding enough is enough. If he does continue to play, and it isn’t with the Dodgers, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t end up with the Rangers.
Gonzalez: Kershaw has been criticized for not pitching for the Dodgers beyond his just-expired agreement for the previous several years for two reasons: he quits unexpectedly or the local Texas Rangers come knocking. I still believe Kershaw will re-sign with the Dodgers this summer, but I’m not ready to dismiss the other two options. The Rangers seem to be hell-bent on spending money this winter, and Kershaw’s left arm is a serious issue.
What do you think Justin Verlander’s market looks like this winter after a solid showing this week?
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Olney: Evaluators have contrasted Verlander’s position to that of Corey Kluber, who received $11.5 million from the Yankees last winter despite a previous history of injuries. But, considering that Verlander’s medical history is relatively clean compared to Kluber’s, I believe he will fare better. Some club will bet big on Verlander’s work ethic, I’m sure. Verlander could sign a three-year, $55.2 million contract, but he could prefer a one-year pact to let him to return to the free-agent market next winter. There is speculation among clubs that Verlander wants to join a team where he will have a chance to win next season. Houston? The New York Yankees? The Los Angeles Dodgers? We’ll have to wait and see.
Rogers: It will be strong among competitive clubs on a one- or two-year agreement. Even if he declines the qualifying offer, Houston should still give him a chance. If Scherzer left, the Dodgers will be a pretty cool team. Will AJ Hinch be able to convince him to return to Detroit, where the Tigers are on the upswing and play in a weak division? That would be an interesting tale to tell. He’s quite appealing as a comeback candidate who doesn’t need to make a lot of money.
Doolittle: Given those rumors, it’s got to be fairly good. Unless an option year is included, I don’t see a club handing him more than two years. However, you must pay notice if Verlander is already touching 97 mph. He’s one of the most durable pitchers of the period, and he’s eager to continue pitching not only for the sake of a new deal, but because he enjoys it and wants to pitch well into his 40s. This is something the Tigers should go all-in on.
Gonzalez: Verlander should be one of the most sought-after free-agent starters among competing clubs due to his drive, reasonably good health, and the stuff he allegedly showed in a recent workout. He’ll be less expensive than Scherzer, have a better chance of succeeding than Kershaw, and won’t demand a long-term commitment.
The “types of baseball pitches” is a question that many people have been asking. The answer to the question, is not very clear.
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