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There’s a lot of time left to assess the 2020-21 free agent class. It would help to have, y’know, some actual baseball to help inform. But in the absence of that, we can still make some assessments based upon what we already know.

Scanning the upcoming group of open-market starters, there’s no clear top arm. It’s certainly possible that one or more hurlers will significantly boost his stock with a big (partial) 2020 season, as we’ve seen in recent years from guys like Zack Wheeler and Patrick Corbin. But it’s pretty clear we’re not going to see another $200MM+ pitcher in the upcoming offseason.

There’s necessarily some serious guesswork here, but let’s see what the MLBTR readership anticipates. Here are the candidates we’ll consider … which is likeliest to be the top free agent starter? (In alphabetical order below, randomized in the poll.)

  • Trevor Bauer: Well, we just gave you our best early guesses on camera. There’s no denying the upside here, as exhibited in his monster 2018 season. Bauer has all the necessary tools and is a curious craftsman when it comes to driving improvement. With a strong showing, he could be chased by quite a few contenders that find appeal in the idea of a rental ace.
  • Mike Minor: The results have been quite good and Minor’s health issues have faded. Perhaps his two lost seasons (2015-16) can even be spun as a bit of an advantage, in that he wasn’t logging mileage on his arm in that span.
  • Jake Odorizzi: Here’s a hurler that is easy to overlook. Odorizzi is coming off of a 3.51 ERA campaign and can’t be issued another qualifying offer.
  • James Paxton: With a long layoff, Paxton has had an opportunity to rest his surgically repaired back. That could help him more than any other player on this list.
  • Jose Quintana: Steady production. Excellent durability. He was probably somewhat unfortunate to post below-average results in 2019.
  • Robbie Ray: Probably the favorite for top dog status … and yet … the strikeout numbers are gaudy, but so are the walk rates. And Ray hasn’t consistently turned swings and misses into output. He owns a 4.11 ERA and landed higher than that mark in 2019.
  • Garrett Richards: When he’s healthy, he’s usually pretty awesome. Richards is recovered from Tommy John surgery and well-rested.
  • Marcus Stroman: It’s possible we’re not hyping Stroman enough. He just turned in 32 starts of 3.22 ERA ball.
  • Masahiro Tanaka: Through his six years in the majors, Tanaka has run up over a thousand frames of 3.75 ERA pitching.
  • Other: There’s a case that you’d be best off betting on the field. There are some talented arms out there who could launch back into big-contract status with a strong showing in 2020. Among them: Alex Wood, Kevin Gausman, Taijuan Walker, Michael Wacha, Jimmy Nelson, Anthony DeSclafani, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, etc.

Who’s the favorite to be the market leader? (Poll link for app users.)




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