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The state of the starting pitching market

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-12-17 20:50:10

The winter meetings were mostly a bust. Most of the offseason trades have involved Jerry Dipoto, including one the Mariners general manager completed from a hospital bed. The Dodgers, with money to spend and players to trade, have yet to add a new major league player to their roster.

We are seeing movement on the starting pitcher market. Patrick Corbin signed with the Nationals before the winter meetings, and then the meetings began with Nathan Eovaldi officially re-signing with the Red Sox. Since then, reports say agreements are in place between Charlie Morton and the Rays (two years, $30 million, plus a vesting option); J.A. Happ and the Yankees (two years, $34 million); and Lance Lynn and the Rangers (three years, $30 million).

That means five of the top six free-agent starters are now off the market. But a lot of teams are still looking for starting pitching! If there was one common refrain from the managers as they rolled through interview sessions at the winter meetings, it was "you can never have enough pitching."

With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the state of the starting pitching market: who is available, who might be available and which teams are in need of additions.

Free agents

Dallas Keuchel: He won't get $140 million like Corbin, but I might rather have him the next five seasons than Corbin:

Keuchel past three seasons: 518 IP, 3.77 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 153 BB, 422 SO, 53 HR

Corbin past three seasons: 545 IP, 4.03 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 175 BB, 555 SO, 65 HR

Of course, Corbin had the better 2018, so he was paid based on that being a breakout season. Teams might also view Keuchel as simply a younger version of Happ, which could put a five-year contract at $85 million. Keuchel switched agents last year from Frontline to Scott Boras, so I wouldn't expect him to sign soon.

Yusei Kikuchi: The Japanese lefty with a fastball/slider combo is another Boras client and will start talking with teams in Los Angeles later this month. His 30-day posting window began Dec. 4, so he'll have to sign in the next couple of weeks.

Anibal Sanchez: It's hard to know what to make of Sanchez after he posted a 2.83 ERA/3.62 FIP with the Braves over 136⅔ innings, given how bad he had been the three previous seasons with the Tigers (5.67 ERA, 85 HR in 415 innings).

Gio Gonzalez: He's entering his age-33 season and his ERA has been over 4.00 in two of the past three seasons, but he's also made at least 31 starts in eight of nine seasons (and 27 the one he didn't get there). Some red flags, however, as his walk rate went up and his strikeout rate went down in 2018.

Wade Miley: Made 16 starts for the Brewers and averaged just 5 innings per outing, but posted a fluky 2.57 ERA thanks to a low BABIP (.274 versus .311 career mark) and impossible-to-repeat home run rate (just three in 80 innings).

Drew Pomeranz: Very good in 2016 and 2017, but injured and ineffective in 2018 (biceps tendinitis and a neck injury). Good buy-low candidate.

Mike Fiers: The A's non-tendered him even after a 3.56 ERA in 30 starts between Detroit and Oakland. Gives up a lot of home runs, so he feels like a bad fit for the Reds, one team reportedly interested in him.

Derek Holland: Made 30 starts for the first time since 2013 and had a 3.57 ERA. Reason for skepticism: It came with the Giants, and he allowed five home runs at home and 14 on the road, with a much better strikeout-to-walk ratio at AT&T Park as well.

Clay Buchholz: The 2.01 ERA in 16 starts with the Diamondbacks was obviously a fluke, but he did have a 3.47 FIP, threw strikes and limited home runs. He also faced an easy slate of opponents and has never been durable. Still, he has bouts of effectiveness. Could be an interesting gamble.

Matt Harvey: He's a back-end starter these days, probably on a second-division team.

Trade candidates

Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer: The Indians have managed to trim some payroll by trading Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso (while adding Carlos Santana), so maybe that means it's less likely they deal one of their aces.

Noah Syndergaard: The rumors won't go away, although now that the Mets have agreed to terms with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, they're out of the picture for J.T. Realmuto and that makes it less likely Syndergaard will be traded.

Sonny Gray: Once the Happ signing becomes official, Gray is bumped down to No. 6 on the Yankees' depth chart. A Gray-for-Scooter Gennett deal with the Reds still makes sense.

Marcus Stroman: He wasn't as bad as his 5.54 ERA suggests, but feels like the Jays would be selling low if they traded him now.

Madison Bumgarner: If the Mets do trade Syndergaard, going after Bumgarner makes sense.

Ross Stripling/Alex Wood: The Dodgers are deep in starters, and their names popped up in rumors during the meetings. A Stripling-for-Francisco Cervelli deal with the Pirates was one that fits for both teams.

Mike Minor: The Rangers need pitching, but Minor had a solid 2018 (4.18 ERA in a tough park), and at about $19.6 million for the next two seasons, he could be attractive trade bait.

Who needs starting pitching

Nationals: They traded Tanner Roark to the Reds, leaving Joe Ross and Erick Fedde as the current fourth and fifth starters. I didn't get the Roark trade, and replacing him with Sanchez or Fiers is a possible downgrade without saving much (if any) money. The top three (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin) are so good that the Nationals still project as the fourth-best rotation in the majors, but that's some sketchy depth at the back end.

Astros: They're down Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. and probably Keuchel, and while they do have potential replacements in Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock, Josh James and Forrest Whitley, I wonder if they'll look to add another veteran.

Reds: The Reds have made it clear they're going to upgrade their rotation -- within their means, of course. They added Roark, could trade for Gray and maybe sign one of the second-tier starters.

A's: The team's website lists only three starters -- and one of those is Sean Manaea, who is out for the season. FanGraphs currently projects the A's 27th in rotation WAR. They got lucky on the scrap heap last season, and manager Bob Melvin spoke glowingly about Jesus Luzardo as a rotation option, but they'll need to add somebody.

Angels: Two years left with Mike Trout guaranteed to be on the roster. This is one team Keuchel has been linked to.

Braves: They have plenty of depth and young arms, but FanGraphs still projects as just middle of the pack in the majors in WAR. No team would benefit from adding a Kluber or Bauer as much as the Braves. Do they have the guts to cash in some of the young pitching?

Brewers: They do have Jimmy Nelson coming back and Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are options as well, so the upgrade scenario would really mean adding one of the Cleveland aces. But that would probably mean dealing top prospect Keston Hiura from a farm system that is no longer all that deep.

Padres: You keep hearing that they want to make a push forward, but they've yet to make a rotation addition. Keuchel could be a possibility here.

Twins: They're in an interesting position to perhaps challenge the Indians. Their top four right now is Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and maybe Michael Pineda coming back from Tommy John surgery. Lynn didn't work a year ago, and they have a couple youngsters like Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves, but maybe they gamble on Buchholz and/or Pomeranz.

Mariners: They're not contenders, but Dipoto doesn't want to be terrible, either. They'll probably sign one of those second-tier starters for back-end depth.

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