Early movement setting the stage for top arms
Clubs positioning themselves for free-agent pitchers ahead of Winter Meetings
The first major domino on the starting-pitching market fell on Monday. Twenty-nine-year-old right-hander Jordan Zimmermann inked a five-year, $110 million deal with the Tigers, becoming the first player to sign a contract worth at least $50 million this offseason.
There is still plenty of quality pitching help available, however. David Price and Zack Greinke headline the market, while Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir and several other options remain available.
In fact, only three free-agent starting pitchers have signed multiyear deals so far this offseason -- Zimmermann with the Tigers and J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada with Toronto. With that in mind, let's take a look at the remaining free-agent hurlers and where they stand on the Hot Stove's rumor mill:
It seems like every team with hopes for contending in 2016 has been linked to Price in some way. And why not? He'd be a difference-maker on any pitching staff, coming off an American League ERA title and a second-place AL Cy Young Award finish.
Price figures to command a hefty price tag, but Peter Gammons is reporting that his decision may not come down to dollars alone. According to Gammons, Price will be swayed by a city he likes, as well as the chance to pitch -- and hit -- in the National League.
Meanwhile, FOXSports.com is reporting that the Cardinals' TV deal, which begins in 2018, could free up some money for them to sign Price. The Red Sox, in desperate need of an ace, could also pony up. According to Gammons, one GM speculated that Boston president Dave Dombrowski appears willing to go $30 million to 40 million above the next highest bidder to sign Price.
Other teams who have been rumored as potential suitors for Price include the Cubs, Dodgers and Giants. The Yankees, Angels and Nationals haven't been linked directly, but figure to be in the market for Price's services.
The market for Greinke is "quietly heating up," with the Dodgers and the Giants at the forefront, according to ESPN.com. If the bidding for Greinke turns into a two-team race between the bitter NL West rivals, his value may go up -- based on what Greinke's signing would also mean to the team that misses out.
The Red Sox and Cubs have also been linked to Greinke, and given Greinke's performance in 2015, he figures to have other unnamed suitors. Greinke posted the lowest ERA in the past 20 seasons and finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting.
MLB.com's Jim Duquette, a former big league general manager, believes the market for Greinke and Price might take more time to develop. But he feels that the demand for second-tier pitchers could increase now that Zimmermann has put pen to paper.
"It's starting to materialize, that marketplace," Duquette said. "I think if you're looking at trying to sign before or during the Winter Meetings, it's usually the mid-tier guys. That's a little easier for teams to go ahead and swallow that price tag and give them the years. Those high-price guys, they take a little time."
Cueto reportedly turned down a six-year deal worth $120 million from the D-backs. It remains unclear who else is pursuing the 29-year-old righty, and whether he'd receive a better offer elsewhere. The D-backs' proposal was only $10 million more than Zimmermann's and at a lower average annual value. (The two pitchers are the same age, and Cueto's ERA+ of 140 over the past four seasons is well above Zimmermann's 124 mark.)
"I think Cueto, when he was offered that deal with the Diamondbacks, he saw the average annual value at 20 and said, 'No, I have to be north of Zimmermann,'" Duquette said. "That's how he stacks himself up. I think that you get pushback any time you see a signing, on either side. I think in this particular case, it's going to push the price tag up a little bit on Johnny Cueto."
After being dealt to the Royals midseason, Cueto is not tied to Draft-pick compensation, which would be a minor plus for any team looking to add his services.
The market on Kazmir appears to be moving slowly. He hasn't been linked directly with any club, but the Marlins, Orioles and Tigers have all reportedly expressed interest. (Detroit is probably out after the Zimmermann deal.) Kazmir -- a Houston native -- has said he'd strongly consider a return to the Astros, too.
Given Kazmir's status as one of the better second-tier arms on the market, he figures to garner plenty of interest. Clubs who don't have the resources to sign Price, Greinke or Cueto may end up shelling out for Kazmir as a more cost-effective option.
However, Kazmir's price tag may have gone up when Happ inked a three-year, $36 million deal with Toronto. Kazmir rates above his fellow southpaw on just about every free-agent list.
"[Happ's signing] takes guys that are around him, and it pushes their price tag up," Duquette explained. "It certainly looks like a minimum of three years, a minimum of $13 million to 14 million. I think guys like Kazmir, it pushes up. Wei-Yin Chen, certainly, is a guy I'd consider ahead of J.A. Happ."
Chen, entering his age-30 season, is the youngest of those three free-agent left-handers, and could command the biggest price tag of the three. CBSSports.com has reported that Chen is in the market for a deal worth five years and $85 million.
That may seem a bit high, but given the premium placed on starting pitching -- especially of the left-handed variety -- Chen could very well come close to that number.
Cubs president Theo Epstein met with Samardzija in mid-November according to MLB.com's Phil Rogers. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Cubs would indeed like to bring back the 30-year-old right-hander, but their first priority remains signing an ace-type starter. Samardzija spent seven seasons on the North Side.
No other clubs have been directly linked to Samardzija, but many expect the Yankees to be in the market for the veteran right-hander, as well.
At 28, Leake is the youngest available starting pitcher in the market's upper echelon. But his value dropped a bit following a rough end to the 2015 season. After being dealt to San Francisco at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Leake went just 2-5 with a 4.07 ERA.
Despite Leake's poor second-half numbers, the Giants are reportedly interested in re-signing him. The D-backs and Cubs are also apparently in the mix, and the Marlins could be as well, if they're willing to open up their wallets a bit. A few other unnamed clubs figure to at least kick the tires on a 28-year-old with (presumably) a lot left in the tank.
Like Leake, Gallardo has youth going for him. At just 29, Gallardo has topped the 180-inning mark in each of the past seven seasons and has become one of the game's most dependable pitchers. He's coming off a season in which he went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA for Texas.
It could be some time before Gallardo signs, however. His agent, Bobby Witt, indicated on MLB Network Radio that Gallardo may "take a little more time" -- essentially waiting until after Greinke and Price sign for Gallardo's own market to establish itself.
Other available free-agent starters: John Lackey, Tim Lincecum, Mat Latos, Ian Kennedy, Doug Fister.