In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catcherssecond basemenshortstopsfirst basementhird basemencenter fielderscorner outfielders, and lefty and righty relievers who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Now, we’ll cover the starting pitchers (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).

Top of the Class

  • Trevor Bauer (30): An front-of-the-rotation performer in 2018, Bauer managed only a 4.48 ERA in his 213 frames last year while allowing home runs at about three times the rate he did in the season prior. If you value Bauer somewhere in between, he’s still a high-quality performer. The fact that he’s steadfastly claiming interest only in one-year agreements should enhance his appeal to some organizations.
  • Mike Minor (33): The past health issues haven’t been a concern of late for the southpaw, who last year topped two hundred frames and posted a 3.59 ERA. His fielding-independent pitching numbers weren’t quite as impressive, but at worst Minor figures to be a quality mid-rotation target.
  • Jake Odorizzi (31): He somewhat surprisingly took the qualifying offer after a very strong 2019 showing, but that could still work to Odorizzi’s benefit. He won’t be dragged down by draft compensation and could be the top-available arm. Odorizzi put up a 3.51 ERA last year, though he was only asked to work 159 frames over thirty starts.
  • Jose Quintana (32): The results weren’t there in 2019, as Quintana limped to a 4.68 ERA. But he did manage a 3.80 FIP, so if you believe in his ability to keep the ball in the yard even while others around the game can’t, then perhaps there’s still a good bit left in the tank. Quintana has a long track record of success, so the market could buy into a rebound if he’s able to show it.
  • Robbie Ray (29): The upside here is tremendous with Ray’s propensity for generating whiffs. But he was also more prone to dole out free passes and surrender long balls than the other members of this group. Ray has been pretty durable and has a strong history of strikeouts. Given his age, he probably has the greatest earning upside of any starter in an underwhelming overall market.
  • Marcus Stroman (30): While his strikeout numbers don’t jump off the page, Stroman generates a lot of grounders and has consistently turned in palatable home run tallies. He seems like a good bet for a strong, four-year deal, even if he’s unlikely to take down a monster contract.
  • Masahiro Tanaka (32): Tanaka’s swinging-strike rate dropped to 10.7% in 2019 after a two-season surge. But he has had success at that level previously and continues to avoid walks and generate strong groundball numbers. It’s tough to imagine Tanaka again producing the kind of sparkling numbers he did early in his tenure with the Yankees, but he could be a major factor on the market.

Upside Aplenty

  • James Paxton (32): The big lefty is healing while everyone else waits for baseball to get started. He’s arguably the most talented pitcher on this year’s market and could still command a big payday if he hits the ground running when he returns.
  • Garrett Richards (33): It’s much the same story for Richards as for Paxton. He made it back to the majors briefly in 2019 so should be a full go for the 2020 season. It has been a long time since he has managed a complete season, but there’s a tremendous established ceiling.
  • Kevin Gausman (30): Could there still be some breakout potential here? Gausman didn’t have a successful 2019 by most measures, but he did jump up to a 14.8% swinging-strike rate and 10.0 K/9 — both career-high levels. He posted an ugly 5.72 ERA, but ERA estimators were rather more optimistic as to the value of his contributions (3.98 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 4.10 SIERA).
  • Michael Wacha (29): We’ve already seen Wacha turn in quality MLB campaigns from a rotation and he’s still fairly young, so he could be an interesting name to watch if he’s able to author a bounceback campaign.
  • Taijuan Walker (28): It’s not promising that the Diamondbacks elected to cut bait after watching Walker return from Tommy John surgery. But he has had plenty of time to rest and is reputedly motivated in his return to the Mariners.
  • Alex Wood (30): He has throw 839 innings of 3.40 ERA ball in the majors with metrics to match (3.49 FIP/3.53 xFIP/3.70 SIERA), so there’s no denying Wood’s track record.

Established Veterans

  • Brett Anderson (33): When he takes the mound in 2020, it’ll be a dozen straight seasons of some MLB action. Despite the many injuries and ups and downs, Anderson is still a useful, groundball-oriented starter.
  • Chase Anderson (33): If he’s good enough to be interesting, the Blue Jays will pick up their $9.5MM club option ($500K buyout).
  • Chris Archer (32): Likewise, Archer will probably either be a reclamation project or an easy choice to retain on a $11MM club option ($250K buyout).
  • Jake Arrieta (35): We’re now three full seasons into obvious decline for Arrieta, but he’s still a factor regardless and could yet have a late-career renaissance of sorts.
  • Homer Bailey (35): His deal with the Reds didn’t work out at all, but Bailey settled in last year as a sturdy presence.
  • Tyler Chatwood (31): He has found more success of late in the bullpen than as a starter, with his velo trending up in shorter stints, but who knows what the future holds?
  • Anthony DeSclafani (31): He quietly turned in a strong rebound campaign in 2019, spinning 166 2/3 innings of 3.89 ERA pitching with 9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
  • Mike Fiers (36): Though ERA estimators think it’s a mirage, Fiers carries a 3.73 ERA in 356 2/3 frames over the past two seasons.
  • Gio Gonzalez (35): Gio had a bit of a quiet resurgence last year. If he can carry that forward, the Brewers can keep him for $7MM (or pay a $500K buyout).
  • Cole Hamels (37): Hamels is taking things one year at a time. We’ll see how he bounces back from an injury that was going to take away a big chunk of the 2020 season before it was paused.
  • J.A. Happ (38): We may end up debating Hamels and Happ until one or both finally decide to hang ’em up.
  • Rich Hill (41): Another venerable southpaw, Hill is dead set on returning to glory with the Twins and remains a highly talented hurler when he’s able to take the bump.
  • Merrill Kelly (32): If he’s not good enough for the D-Backs to pick up with a $4.25MM club option ($500K buyout), we likely won’t be featuring him much in free agency.
  • Corey Kluber (35): The Rangers are hoping he’s a slam dunk on a $17.5MM club option; if not, we’ll be talking about a bounceback candidate.
  • Mike Leake (33): He’ll take a $5MM buyout on his way out the door. When last he hit the open market, Leake’s appeal was in his youth. Now, he has a lot to show in his platform season.
  • Jon Lester (37): Could this be the final run or will Lester keep going?
  • Charlie Morton (37): As with Kluber … if he’s what his team expects, his option (in this case, a floating-value vesting/club option) will be exercised.
  • Jimmy Nelson (32): The Dodgers hold a cheap club option, but if he throws enough innings it’ll convert to a mutual option that could allow Nelson to revisit the market.
  • Ivan Nova (34): Steady innings, we all need ’em.
  • Martin Perez (30): The Red Sox went after the southpaw and made sure they’d keep the upside ($6.25MM club option) if he works out.
  • Rick Porcello (32): If he can turn things back around with the Mets, Porcello could be a candidate for a multi-year deal.
  • Tyson Ross (34): We’re well past wondering whether Ross can regain his earlier-career form, but perhaps he could still settle in as a useful veteran swingman.
  • Jeff Samardzija (36): Samardzija rather quietly turned in 181 1/3 innings of 3.52 ERA ball last year for the Giants. The peripherals didn’t exactly suggest he’s in the middle of a Verlander-like late-career run, but Shark could again be a factor.
  • Anibal Sanchez (37): Speaking of resurgent hurler, Sanchez will either get a $2MM buyout or pitch again in D.C. on a $12MM club option.
  • Drew Smyly (32): Still capable of getting strikeouts and somehow rather youthful, Smyly may yet have another run in his left arm.
  • Jordan Zimmermann (35): Unfortunately, there’s really no sugar-coating Zimmermann’s miserable tenure in Detroit.

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