The best fits for 10 teams that are hungry for pitching

December 13th, 2023

Now that ’s deal with the Dodgers is finalized, much of this offseason’s focus will center around the starting pitching market, not just in free agency but also the myriad aces reportedly available via trade.

is the headliner among free-agent arms, but he’s far from the only notable name still unsigned. There’s also reigning NL Cy Young Award winner , 2023 postseason hero , Japanese lefty Shōta Imanaga and a host of solid mid-level options such as , and .

In the trade market, the Rays’ , the White Sox , the Brewers’ and the Guardians’ are among those who could potentially be dealt.

Still, the demand for quality starters greatly outweighs the supply. There’s a long list of teams that need to add starting pitching this offseason, including the 10 postseason hopefuls below. Here they are, ranked in order based on how acute their need is for rotation help.

1. Red Sox

Ideal fit: Montgomery

While the Red Sox need to replace free agents and in their lineup, starting pitching is their biggest priority by far, something new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has made perfectly clear. Although Bello and Crawford emerged as possible long-term rotation fixtures in 2023, Sale once again battled injuries, making just 20 starts and posting a 4.30 ERA. Pivetta, meanwhile, was much better as a reliever, though he did close out the season with a strong return to the rotation. All told, Boston’s starting staff finished with a 4.68 ERA, the ninth-highest mark in MLB.

The Red Sox are scheduled to meet with Yamamoto, but assuming the Japanese ace opts for the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles, as many expect he will, Montgomery would make sense as a fallback option. The industry expectation, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan (subscription required), is that Montgomery will land a contract in the range of ’s six-year, $140 million deal. Such a deal would leave Boston with plenty of room in the budget to add a second impact starter in free agency, such as Giolito or Imanaga, and upgrade its offense.

2. Angels

Ideal fit: Snell

The Angels haven’t made the playoffs since 2014 and just lost Ohtani to the Dodgers in free agency, so it’s difficult to see how they’ll contend for the postseason next year unless they make substantial upgrades to their roster, starting with their rotation. While Ohtani had a 3.14 ERA over 23 starts in 2023, the five Halos pitchers mentioned above combined for a 4.53 ERA over 111 starts. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) reports that the Angels are among the teams engaged in the trade market for one of the pitchers with one year of team control remaining, including Glasnow, Burnes and Bieber. But given the current makeup of their big league roster and farm system, which lost two key prospects when they traded for Giolito and in July, trading for another rental doesn’t make much sense.

Neither does shopping in the middle of the free-agent market, something Rosenthal mentioned as another option. They’ve done that before, with little success. No, what the Angels really need is a big splash in free agency, signing an elite pitcher who can help in 2024 but will also be with the club for more than one year. With that in mind, Snell seems like the perfect fit.

3. Orioles

Ideal fit: Cease

A lot went right for the Orioles during a 101-win season no one saw coming in 2023, including the emergence of Bradish and Rodriguez as a pair of rotation anchors around which to build. However, Baltimore didn’t add a frontline starter last offseason or at the Trade Deadline, and the club’s inactivity backfired when its rotation came up small in its American League Division Series sweep at the hands of the Rangers.

The O’s cannot make the same mistake this time. While it may seem like they are set up to contend for years to come given all of their young talent, championship windows rarely stay open as long as expected. (Just ask the Cubs.) The Orioles need to capitalize on the opportunity in front of them right now. The best way to do that? Cashing in some of their prospects to acquire Cease, who would give the O’s a potential ace for not one but two seasons as their nucleus of , , (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) and Rodriguez continues to mature.

4. Dodgers

Ideal fit: Yamamoto

Even if they don’t make another move, the Dodgers have already ensured their place among this offseason’s biggest winners after signing Ohtani. But rings are not won in the offseason. Los Angeles’ offense should be one of the best in the Majors, with Ohtani joining , , and in the team’s lineup, but the Dodgers also had a great offense last year and it didn’t matter. They were swept out of the National League Division Series by the underdog D-backs as their starters combined to allow 13 runs in 4 2/3 innings.

With Ohtani not pitching until 2025 after undergoing elbow surgery, the Dodgers’ rotation currently consists of a pitcher coming off his second Tommy John surgery (Buehler), three youngsters with a combined 43 career starts (Miller, Pepiot, Sheehan) and a veteran swingman with a career 4.36 ERA (Yarbrough). Los Angeles could be near a deal to acquire Glasnow from the Rays in exchange for Pepiot and an outfielder, according to a report, but the 30-year-old flamethrower isn't the only standout starter the Dodgers have pursued. Ohtani reportedly agreed to unprecedented salary deferrals in his contract so that the Dodgers would have flexibility to add more star power to their roster, and they are believed to have Yamamoto in their sights. In “championship or bust mode,” the Dodgers arguably need Yamamoto as much as any of the teams that have been connected to the 25-year-old.

5. Mets

Ideal fit: Yamamoto

The Mets already signed Severino to a one-year, $13 million deal, but that can’t -- and likely won’t -- be the only rotation addition they make this offseason. Injuries have limited Severino to just 45 appearances (40 starts) since he earned back-to-back All-Star selections in 2017-18, and he finished ‘23 with a 6.65 ERA over 89 1/3 innings. Senga was outstanding as a rookie, finishing seventh in the NL Cy Young race, but the quartet of Quintana, Severino, Megill and Lucchesi combined to appear in 66 games with a 4.71 ERA this past season. The Mets will also be without for part of 2024 following left hip surgery, leaving New York with little depth behind its current starting five.

The Mets are another top contender for Yamamoto, who would not only help their postseason chances in 2024 but also fit with their plan to go all in the following season, when he’ll be just 26 years old.

6. Tigers

Ideal fit: Giolito

With the addition of Maeda on a two-year, $24 million contract, the Tigers have the makings of a solid rotation led by Skubal, who returned from flexor tendon surgery to post a sparkling 2.80 ERA and a 102-to-14 K/BB ratio over 80 1/3 innings. But given the recent injury histories of Skubal, Maeda, Manning and Mize, the Tigers would benefit from adding a durable starter to this group.

Giolito makes perfect sense as a target for the Tigers, having thrown 947 innings over 167 starts since the beginning of 2018. A fly-ball pitcher, the 29-year-old would also fit well in Detroit’s pitcher-friendly home park.

7. Cubs

Ideal fit: Glasnow

The Cubs made waves earlier this offseason when they signed manager Craig Counsell to a five-year, $40 million deal, but they’ve been quiet since and still need to replace free agents and . Chicago’s rotation has a sturdy foundation -- Steele finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race, Taillon bounced back from a rough first half to post a 3.38 ERA over his final 16 games (15 starts) and Hendricks looked like his old self in his return from a shoulder injury -- but it needs more swing-and-miss potential.

With that in mind, Glasnow is an ideal target. The right-hander has posted a 12.2 K/9 since joining the Rays in 2018, and he ranked in the 95th percentile with a 35.2% whiff rate in ‘23. Of the Cubs hurlers listed, only Smyly (59th) placed higher than the 33rd percentile in whiff rate this past season.

8. Giants

Ideal fit: Snell

Ohtani just became the latest superstar to spurn the Giants in free agency, following in 2019 and last offseason. Yamamoto could join them -- San Francisco is reportedly in on him, too, but the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets are among the long list of big-market teams with interest. While the Giants did make a move to land center fielder Jung Hoo Lee on a six-year contract (a source told's Mark Feinsand) on Tuesday, this roster still needs a lot of work.

Webb, the 2023 NL Cy Young runner-up, is San Francisco’s best player, but the rest of the club’s rotation is filled with question marks, especially with Cobb expected to miss part of the ‘24 season following left hip surgery. Harrison (MLB Pipeline's No. 20 prospect) is a breakout candidate, but he has just seven career starts under his belt. Injuries have limited DeSclafani to 118 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, and Stripling finished 2023 with an ERA north of 5.00. Snell may not be Ohtani, but he’d help shore up San Francisco’s rotation and give the team another much-needed win in free agency.

9. Reds

Ideal fit: Cease

The Orioles may be closer to contending for a World Series title, but Cincinnati is in a similar spot. Like Baltimore, the Reds are loaded with young talent but need a frontline starter, making them another ideal suitor for Cease.

As currently constituted, the Reds’ rotation does offer some upside. Greene has electric stuff and is still just 24 years old. So is Abbott, who showed promise as a rookie in 2023. Lodolo, 25, had a strong rookie season in 2022 before missing most of last year with a left leg injury. And Ashcraft, who will turn 26 in February, had some outstanding stretches in 2023, including a 2.58 ERA over his final 12 starts. Rounding out the group is the 33-year-old Martinez, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal with Cincinnati after notching a 3.45 ERA with the Padres across 2022-23. Cease, though, could really help this team get to the next level.

10. Padres

Ideal fit: Wacha

With Snell, Wacha, Martinez, and all reaching free agency, the Padres entered this offseason needing to replace nearly 700 innings’ worth of arms from 2023 but had little room in the budget to do so. San Diego addressed both issues with its trade of and to the Yankees, trimming payroll and getting back four pitchers -- King, Vásquez, and  (MLB Pipeline’s No. 99 prospect) -- in addition to catcher .

However, there's still work to be done. Assuming Snell is out of the team's price range, a reunion with Wacha would make sense. The 32-year-old recorded a 3.22 ERA over 24 starts for San Diego in 2023.