Previewing the 2014 Free Agent Class: Pitchers

Will Matt Garza land with the Mariners?

With the World Series in our rear-view mirror, the majority of us outside of the Boston area can begin to focus on the off-season. More specifically, the free agent class. 

I posted a piece about position players last month, so this one will be all about pitching. 

Here's a tentative list of starters scheduled to become free agents. The asterisk indicates there is a team/player option for 2014, while the text in parenthesis indicates my prediction.

Note: Some of the names on the list above may have already agreed to a new contract, had their option declined, or opted for free agency. I will briefly discuss two of those names.

Tim Lincecum – signed, San Francisco Giants

On Oct. 25, the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner decided to remain with the only club he's ever played with when he finalized a 2-year/$35 million contract. Will he be able to return to such form? Lincecum's thoughts: "It gives you that freedom that I've done it with this group before. I feel like we can do it again, and personally, I feel like I can succeed there again.''

I feel like $17.5m per year for a fading star is a tremendous waste of money, but at least they were intelligent in offering only two years.

James Shields* – $13m option picked up by the Kansas City Royals

James Shields gave life to a Royals team that hadn't had a winning season since 2003. Although it was an obvious decision to bring him back for the 2014 season, there's no guarantees that Kansas City will be in the market to keep him beyond that. They just don't have the financial resources to compete like other teams do.

Shields will be 32 in December and is coming off his seventh straight season of pitching 200 innings or more. He added 228 this season, a career high. He is a workhorse and was that for the Royals, but can he continue his production? Or will his arm eventually tire out?

Shields posted an ERA of 3.15 this season, an ERA+ of 131, had a WHIP of 1.23 and struck out 196 hitters. Kansas City needs their ace to be healthy and produce similarly in 2014 if they're going to have a shot at the playoffs.

Matt Garza – (5-year/$90m contract with the Seattle Mariners)

I know what you must be thinking: this guy is joking, right? Not so fast. After all, it was reported in December of last year that the Mariners allegedly offered Hamilton 4 years/$100m guaranteed, although Hamilton himself never confirmed that. If true, however, it means Seattle has some money to spend.

Garza will be the most expensive pitcher on the market this time around. He'll be 30 at the end of the month, but coming off his worst season of the previous three. Before the trade deadline he was solid again for the Chicago Cubs, posting numbers such as 62 strikeouts in only 71 innings of work and a WHIP of 1.14. 

It wasn't until he got to Texas that he had issues: One area of concern for Garza is that he saw his ground ball rate drop from 47.3% in 2012 to 38.6% in 2013. That won't help him reduce his rate of home runs per fly ball, which has been an unsightly 16.3% and 11.6% the past two seasons.

Seattle needs to start putting pieces together around King Felix in order to be successful. Imagine those two at the front end of a rotation. If the Mariners do indeed have money to spend, they should start by going after Garza. Based on his career production and reliability, a contract of this stature is plausible.

Ubaldo Jimenez* – (2-year/$30m contract – with team option for 3rd year with the New York Yankees)

Jimenez is quite the enigma. 2010 was the best season of his career – an ERA of 2.88, 214 strikeouts, a WHIP of 1.16, and he logged 221 innings. Since then, but prior to 2013, he hadn't posted an ERA under 4.46, hadn't posted a WHIP under 1.33, and looked utterly lost.

If the Cleveland Indians extend a $14m qualifying offer (which they should), they'd be ensured a first round compensation pick if he were to sign elsewhere. He made $5.75m this past season; will he get more this time around? Yes. Should any team risk a long-term deal on this player? Not by a long shot.

Ubaldo's 2013 campaign saw him return to his 2010 form late due to his 4-0 September in which he allowed just five earned runs in six starts. What many people fail to realize is that four of those six starts came against the Chicago White Sox (twice), The Houston Astros, and the Minnesota Twins. Hardly the best in show.

Jimenez shouldn't even fetch Edwin Jackson-type money (Hell, neither should Edwin Jackson) and he doesn't deserve a long-term deal. He needs to prove he's consistent before teams take a risk on him. With the Yankees lack of pitching (CC is in shambles, Pettitte retiring), this move would make sense and temporarily fill a void left by New York's ace(s). Plus, we all know New York can afford it.

AJ Burnett – (accepts $14.1m qualifying offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates)

After a disastrous stint as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, Burnett revitalized his fading career with the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last two seasons. In two seasons with the Pirates, Burnett has logged 393 innings, struck out 389 batters while walking 129, has a WHIP of 1.22, and an ERA of 3.41. Coupled with Francisco Liriano, the Pirates found great success in 2013 and will be looking to continue their competitive run through 2014.

It's been reported that Burnett doesn't have any interest in signing with another team, so the qualifying offer might not be necessary. Also, Burnett will be 37 in June, and I don't see any team offering him more than a 1-year contract anyway. However, a qualifying offer should be the most likely scenario because in the event of Burnett signing with another team, at least Pittsburgh would get compensated for it.

I don't see Burnett landing anywhere else in 2014, and I see him giving the Pirates one last good year before he rides off into the sunset.

Ervin Santana – (signs 4-year/$60m contract with the Cleveland Indians)

It's somewhat of a bold prediction, for sure, but in losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency the Indians are in need of a starting pitcher. We'll see how desperate they're willing to get, depending on how much Garza and Jimenez will seek in free agency. Should Santana get this kind of money? No, but that's the way the market is. If I were a general manager, I wouldn't offer him more than two years. If I were a general manager, I wouldn't last long, as moves like that would ensure no free agents ever signed with my club.

It is fully expected that Kansas City will offer the 1-year/$14m qualifying offer to Santana, but knowing he can get multi-year contracts from several clubs will lead to him declining the offer. Also, with the limited financial resources in Kansas City, a multi-year contract makes little sense to a player who has problems displaying consistency.

MLB Trade Rumors suggest, “Any team in search of pitching figures to at least place a call on Santana, meaning that the Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, Twins, Indians, Mariners, Giants, Rockies, Pirates, Cubs, Nationals, Phillies and Mets should all have varying degrees of interest.”

Santana's 2013 campaign with the Royals was arguably the best of his inconsistent career: A 3.24 ERA, 161 strikeouts, only 51 walks, and 211 innings pitched were all much-needed contributions to a Royals team who took a chance on Santana after his dismal 2012 season in which he surrendered 39 home runs and posted an ERA of 5.16. The home run ball has always been Santana's kryptonite; he gives up 26 per season on average.

Do I expect him to produce in 2014 like he did in 2013? Absolutely not – the proof is in this pudding. Do I expect him to get paid a lot in 2014? Absolutely. He doesn't deserve it, but that's what happens when you have a great season in an inflated market: teams spend foolishly.

Josh Johnson – (signs 1-year/$11m contract with the Kansas City Royals)

I know what you're thinking: why doesn't Kansas City just pay Santana? Two reasons:

  • The Royals don't have the money for a big multi-year contract, and
  • Santana is guaranteed a multi-year contract; Josh Johnson shouldn't be.

Let's get two more things out of the way:

  • Johnson, although his velocity is still intact, had an abysmal 2013, and
  • He's a health risk. He needs to prove his worth; he's owed nothing.

Is that a little harsh? Perhaps, but in two of the last three seasons, he's failed to start more than 16 games. Between 2007 and 2008, he started in just 22 games combined.

On the other hand, when he's been able to stay healthy, he's been productive. In four full seasons, his worst ERA mark was 3.81, he's good for 160+ strikeouts, and he doesn't walk tons of batters. Again, it comes down to his health.

No logical general manager is going to look at his 2013 line of 81 innings, 6.20 ERA, and 1.66 WHIP and think: 'Hey, I'm going to offer this reliable veteran all of the money!' No, what it will take is a fairly big one-year contract, laced with incentives and options for one, maybe two more years depending on 2014 performance.

Remember when the Royals took a chance on Ervin Santana and were mocked because of it? Well, it worked out for them. I'm not saying lightning will strike twice but if the price is right for Kansas City, it's worth a shot.

That's all I've got for notable starters who I think will have an interested market this off-season. Sure, aged pitchers like Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, and Bronson Arroyo will catch on somewhere, but it won't be because they're the studs these five free agents could prove to be.

Am I missing anyone you'd like to see on here? Do you think I'm way off in my predictions? Let's discuss below, shall we? Until then, 146 days until Opening Day!

See related post:

Previewing the 2014 Free Agent Class: Position Players

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