By: Noah Wright
Heading into the last day of the first week of December and the two of the top starting pitchers on the FA market have been taken. On December 4th, the Nationals signed lefty Patrick Corbin to a 6 year, $140 million deal. Today, the Red Sox are finalizing detail with a deal that would resign hard throwing right hander Nathan Eovaldi. With him out of the way, the SP market has started to thin out a bit. So with that, let’s look at some other players who are still lurking on the market.
Big Name Free Agents:
1.) Dallas Keuchel:
The likely-former Astros left hander Dallas Keuchel gave the Stros another good season. While it wasn’t Cy Young level like he’s shown before, it was still a solid 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 1.314 WHIP in 204 and two thirds innings. Keuchel doesn’t usually go for missed bats, but more relies on his control to induce soft contact. Keuchel currently has a 25.3 career hard hit rate. This year, it was 28.1%. Like I said before, hre relies on control to, and he showed it again in 2018, having a 2.6 BB/9 rate. Overall, batters hit Keuchel for a .263/.311/.393 batting line. But he does have some buyer beware red flags. For one, his health, outside of this season, has been inconsistent. He failed to reach 30 starts in 2016 and 2017. Along with that, Keuchel can be a bit inconsistent. For example, after a Cy Young 2015, Keuchel produced an ERA above 4.00 in 2016. This season, his ERA would consistently go below 4, then back above 4 multiple times. However regardless, the 30 year old could provide a solid starting pitcher to any MLB team.
2.) J.A. Happ:
Happ is another left handed pitcher on the free agent market. Overall, he pitched quite similar to Keuchel in 2018. Between the Blue Jays and Yankees, Happ had an overall ERA of 3.65, FIP of 3.98 and WHIP of 1.131 in 177 and two thirds innings. However unlike Keuchel, Happ’s strikeout rate rose significantly. Previously being a high of 9.0 in 2012, he raised it to 9.8 in 2018, while only walking 2.6 batters per 9. However Happ does have a few warning signs. For one, he averaged about 1.4 home runs per 9 last season. Along with that, the difference between his ERA and FIP became much worse after going to NY. In 63 and two thirds innings, Happ had a 2.69 ERA, but a 4.21 FIP, as opposed to his 4.18/3.81 ERA/FIP to when he was with the Jays. Also, Happ is getting up there in age. Next year will be his age 36 season. Regardless of what team signs Happ, he should still have a season or two left in the tank to remain a solid MLB pitcher.
3.) Charlie Morton:
Charlie Morton is coming off an all-star season with the Houston Astros. In his second season in Houston, Morton pitched in 167 innings, delivering a sparkling 3.13 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.162 WHIP. His strikeout rate remained high, as he K’ed 10.8 batters per 9, and 201 in total. Plus, the WHIP is the lowest of Morton’s career. However with recent added velocity, Morton’s walk rate has went up. This season, it reached 3.4 walks/9. While it is the highest it’s reached in a full season since 2011, it’s still manageable, and not out of the ordinary. While he may be older than 2017-2018 teammate Dallas Keuchel, he is younger than J.A. Happ at 35 years of age. However like Happ, he should still have some stuff left in the tank, so any team looking to get a veteran #2 starter should definitely show interest in Morton.
Under The Radar Free Agents:
1.) Derek Holland:
It’s a bit surprising not to see Derek Holland’s name thrown up more this off season. I mean, just look at his numbers in 2018. After 3 straight years of struggling to produce well, the SF Giants took a low risk minor league deal, and it certainly paid off. It quite possibly was one of the best off season signings last year, given his $1.75 million salary, and what he did on field. Holland provided 171 and a third innings of work, mainly out of the Giants rotation, and pitched to a 3.57 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 1.290 WHIP. Opponents only hit .241/.313/.405 against Holland. Holland also excelled in one area he never really did: strikeouts. While it was only 171 and a third of an inning, he still struck out a career high 169 batters, resulting in a career high K/9 rate at 8.9. Also, Holland’s WHIP was just .070 points higher than his career low. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have that many red flags. Like I stated previously, he struggled for 3 straight seasons. Between 2015-2018, Holland had a 5.50 ERA, and 1.522 WHIP. He isn’t really that old either, as next season will be his age 32 season.
2.) Clay Buchholz:
Buchholz’ career is summarized in one sentence: he has #2 starter potential, but can never stay healthy. That was the case again in 2018. Turning in terrific numbers when he was healthy, Clay had a 2.01 ERA, 3.47 FIP, and 1.037 WHIP. His walks per 9 was nearly the lowest of his career so far at only 2.0. Buchholz only gave up 8 home runs last season, and reached a career high in K’s per 9 as well at 7.4. Clay reached a career low in opponent BABIP at .255 as well. He even had a bWAR of 3.0. He did that all in only 98 and a third innings. That makes his WAR look pretty impressive. But any team relying on him to deliver 150+ innings of work is a bit unwise. Of the 12 seasons Clay has played in the bigs, he’s only reached 150 innings three times. So whoever signs him might want to sign a 6th starter to place in the pen, since Buchholz doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to health. Also, Buchholz is will be 34 for most of next season, so he is getting up there in age.
3.) Trevor Cahill:
Cahill is coming off a nice season with the Oakland A’s. Though he only pitched in 110 innings, he still turned in quality results. Those quality results include a 3.76 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 1.191 WHIP. Cahill also gave up only 8 long balls, resulting in a .7 HR/9 rate, which ties a career low. His strikeout to walk ratio was also pretty decent, sitting at 2.44, also a career high. Even if a team isn’t interested in Cahill as a starter (which he should be), he has ample experience as a long relief/bullpen piece. 60 out of 61 games Cahill spent as a Chicago Cub were relief appearances. Overall, he had a 2.61 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, but a bit of a high 4.10 FIP.
4.) Wade Miley:
Wade Miley had a nice bounceback season with the Milwaukee Brewers this season. Having struggled with the Mariners and Orioles, the Brew Crew brought in Miley on a minor league deal to provide some depth to a rotation that was going to be missing one of their main cogs from the 2017 season: Jimmy Nelson. He may have spent a good amount of time on the DL, Miley did pitch well when he was healthy, kind of like Clay Buchholz. In 80 and two-thirds innings, Wade provided the Crew with a 2.57 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 1.215 WHIP. After walking a little over 5 batters per 9 in 2018, he regressed back to his usually control, having walked only 3.0 batters per 9. Miley was never a big strikeout guy, and mainly a soft contact guy, but he was very,very good in inducing soft contact this year. 19.5% of the balls hit off of him were soft contact, .2 off from a career low. But Miley does come with some downsides. This is, afterall, his first semi-quality-at-best season since 2015. Between 2016 and 2017, Miley had a 5.48 ERA, 4.85 FIP, and 1.571 WHIP. Sure he almost reached a career best in soft contact, but he did reach a career worst in hard contact at 37.1%. Still though, a team in need of some back end rotation help should turn to Wade Miley.
1.) Corey Kluber:
The Indians aren’t about to sell off Kluber just yet, but his name has popped up in a few trade talks. The Tribe, afterall, has stated that they are looking to cut some budget, and trading Kluber would be one of the multiple ways they could stack the farm, and clear some payroll space. Since 2014, Kluber has been an ace pitcher. This season, he turned in a 2.89 ERA, 3.12 FIP, and .991 WHIP. For the second straight year, Kluber led the league in walks/9 at 1.4.While it was his lowest K/9 since he proved that he was an ace, he still had an above average 9.3 K/9. Plus, Kluber is on a team friendly contract. This season, he’ll be paid $17 million. After 2019, he has options for 2020 ($17.5 mil.) and 2021 ($18 mil.).
2.) Michael Fulmer:
While Fulmer hasn’t been in trade talks as of recently, he could be later in the off season, or during the 2019 regular season. Fulmer is coming off of a rough 2018. He pitched in an injury limited 134 and a third innings, producing a 4.69 ERA, 4.52 FIP, and 1.315 WHIP. Plus, he had given up 19 home runs, the most he had given up in either of his two previous seasons. The usually control focused Fulmer’s control seemed to not be there this season. His walks per 9 nearly jumped a whole walk per 9 between 2017 and 2018 (2.2 to 3.1). Plus his hard contact rate went from 30.0% in ‘17 to 39.5% in 2018. However, he does come with some upside. You can’t just ignore the two seasons prior when he had a combined 3.45 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and 1.137 WHIP in 323 and two thirds innings between ‘16-’17. Plus Fulmer was the AL Rookie Of The Year in 2016. To add on, he just entered arbitration, and is controllable through the 2022 season. Right now, the Tigers won’t likely deal him, unless they get exactly what they’re looking for, since his value is down. However, Fulmer is on a Tigers team that looks to be in the rebuilding process for the next few seasons, so a trade shouldn’t be ruled out completely.
3.) Trevor Bauer:
There’s another Indians ace on this list, right hander Trevor Bauer. While Bauer doesn’t come with the track record Kluber does, the 27-soon-to-be-28 year old right hander did just come off an amazing 2018. His ERA, FIP and WHIP were all lower than Kluber’s (2.21/2.44/1.089 WHIP). He struck out a career high 221 batters, and had a career high K/9 rate (11.3) in ‘18 as well. Bauer also seemed to improve his control in 2018. He reached a career low BB/9 rate at 2.9, and gave up just 9 home runs in 175 and a third inning. Compared to 2017, he gave up 25 home runs in just an inning more (176.1). Bauer comes with two years of control remaining, 2019, and 2020. Both are arbitration years.
There are plenty of more teams in need of some starting pitching help. Many of these players, including the under the radar pitchers, are likely going to be sought after by many teams. There has already been numerous teams being thrown around in rumors as to where they’ll end up. The Yankees have been one of the teams. Another team that definitely will be looking for some rotation help is the Astros. Then there’s teams that might not be as big of spenders like the Stros or Yankees, such as the Brewers, A’s, Rays, and Pirates, who could also be in the market to land some of the cheaper options left to improve the ball club.