2 QO decisions shake up pitching market

With Stroman, Gausman accepting, what's Plan B for teams after Bauer?

November 12th, 2020

The free-agent pitching market was already a relatively shallow one prior to Wednesday, before Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman decided to accept qualifying offers.

With those two arms off the market, the pool is that much thinner.

National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is clearly the most prominent starter available, while Charlie Morton has already drawn interest from as many as 10 teams in the early stages of free agency.

After those two, Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi and Taijuan Walker seem to be the safest bets, followed by a host of pitchers either coming back from injury (Corey Kluber, James Paxton, José Quintana, Cole Hamels) or looking to rebound from a sub-par season (Mike Minor, Jon Lester, Rick Porcello).

The teams that miss out on Bauer may have considered Stroman and/or Gausman to be suitable Plan Bs, but it’s unlikely that many other free-agent starters would qualify in that regard.

“There was Plan A, Plan A- and then Plan C,” one American League executive said. “Bauer is the first, Stroman and Gausman were the second, and everyone else is Plan C.”

Plan A is still out there for the taking, but what about the teams that don’t land Bauer?

“I have thought all along that the trade market will be heavy this year, and I still think that’s true,” one National League executive said. “I don’t see this as the typical dominos-falling kind of free agency we usually see.”

If general managers turn to the trade market to fill prominent voids in their respective rotations, which pitchers could be on the move?

“I think you will see a lot of shifting starters,” the AL executive said. “I believe the haves and have nots are going to space out; no more middle class. Teams that owe pitchers money and don’t think they can compete will absolutely move them.”

The NL executive concurred with that sentiment, predicting that many starting pitchers with one or two years of control remaining (either through arbitration or their contract) could be in play.

The Dec. 2 non-tender deadline could add more talent to the free-agent pool, though teams could look to trade some of their arbitration-eligible players prior to that date.

Lance Lynn’s name is one that will likely come up often this offseason, as the veteran pitcher has one year at $8 million remaining on his contract with the Rangers. That’s an enticing price given his performance in Texas the past two seasons (22-14, 3.57 ERA in 46 starts) and his durability (208 1/3 innings in 2019, MLB-high 84 innings in 2020).

Other starters with one year left until free agency include the Angels’ Dylan Bundy and the Rockies’ Jon Gray, either of whom could likely be had in the right situation. Danny Duffy of the Royals could also be a target, though his $15.5 million salary could be tough to move.

Pitchers with two years of control who could potentially be on the move include the Athletics’ Sean Manaea, the Pirates’ Joe Musgrove, the Rockies’ Kyle Freeland and the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd.

Then there’s Blake Snell, who has three years and $39 million remaining on his contract. Tampa Bay signed the left-hander to a five-year, $50 million extension after his 2018 Cy Young season, but the deal was back-loaded with salaries of $12.5 million in 2022 and $16 million in 2023.

Trading Snell with three years left on his deal would be something of a surprise, but as the NL executive noted of the Rays, “They aren’t afraid to do stuff like that.”

“I think just about anyone could be in play given the role finances could play in all of this,” the exec said. “There could be a lot of decks shuffled.”