MLB Free Agency 2013: 20 Best Pitchers Set to Hit the Market Next Winter

Zachary PeterselFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2012

MLB Free Agency 2013: 20 Best Pitchers Set to Hit the Market Next Winter

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    Coming off a 2012 offseason where the starting pitching market was rather weak, the 2013 class looks strong at the top and should have some quality depth as well.

    There will be a couple of pitchers, namely Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke, who will assuredly top $100M while fighting for $200M-plus.

    In addition to the top of the class, there are plenty of pitchers upside pitchers like Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse who have been great in spurts, but have yet to perform consistently at the major league level.

    There will also be a lot of depth pitchers, such as Joe Blanton and Joe Saunders, who may not be able to wear the shoes of an ace, but will provide their new teams with quality innings that will go unnoticed in a good way. 

    Here is a look at the top 20 pitchers set to hit the free-agent market next winter. 

1. Cole Hamels

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    Over his past four full seasons, Cole Hamels has had an ERA over 3.09 just once and he looks even better this year. 

    In addition to that, he has double-digit wins in five consecutive years and has a World Series MVP to his name.

    Heading into his age 29 season, Hamels has established himself as a perennial Cy Young candidate and will sign a contract that matches or exceeds CC Sabathia's recent extension with the Yankees. 

2. Zack Greinke

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    If Zack Greinke reaches free agency, he will most certainly top Matt Cain's recent seven-year, $127.5 million deal. Not only is he just as good, but he will have an additional 29 teams inquiring for his services. 

    Greinke will only be 29 heading into the offseason, so still has some of his best years ahead of him. Coming off of a 2011 season where Greinke had the league's best K/9 ratio and a FIP under three, he enters 2012 as a top Cy Young candidate, which would only increase his value even more.

3. James Shields

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    Pitching in Tampa Bay has not done James Shields any favors in terms of publicity.

    Shields has become one of the game's best pitchers that nobody knows, and last year he took it to another level. With 11 complete games, four shutouts and 16 wins in an incredible 249 innings, Shields showed he deserves to be talked about among the better right-hand pitchers in all of baseball.

    He will be in great demand heading into the offseason because of his consistency and proven ability to pitch quality innings—and a lot of them.

    If he can repeat his success of 2011, he will be right alongside Zack Greinke as the most desirable right-handed pitcher in the free-agent pool.

4. Kyle Lohse

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    Kyle Lohse has surprised a lot of people this season with a 4-0 record and a 1.62 ERA.

    His 4.00 xFIP will not last the entire season, but considering he had a 4.04 xFIP last season and still finished with a 14-8 record, everything is looking up for Lohse and the Cardinals.

    Age is not an asset for Lohse, as he will turn 34 before the offseason begins, but performance is what earns people contracts, and if Lohse keeps this up, he will have no problem getting a multi-year deal.

5. Shaun Marcum

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    All Shaun Marcum has done over his last four full seasons is win 63 percent of his games with a 3.67 ERA and a 2.85 K/BB ratio.

    He missed 2009 with Tommy John surgery, but has since recovered nicely over the last two seasons with a record of 26-15 and has re-established a clean bill of health. 

    This year, Marcum's ERA is a bit higher than normal (4.13), but with 24 strikeouts in 24 innings, he looks to have upped his game in other areas and he will certainly have multiple suitors throughout the 2013 offseason.

6. Gavin Floyd

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    Gavin Floyd was drafted with the fourth overall pick in 2001, and since he became a member of the White Sox rotation out of spring training, he has been a model of consistency. 

    From 2008-2011, Floyd has averaged 12 wins and 31 starts with a solid 4.08 ERA. He will only be 30 years old when the 2013 season starts, so he still has plenty of innings left in his arm. 

7. Edwin Jackson

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    On a pure stuff grade, Edwin Jackson (average 94 MPH fastball) is one of the top five pitchers that will be available heading into 2013. 

    The problem for him and the teams he has pitched for is that his "stuff" has never translated into a dominant major league pitcher.

    Having said that, Jackson is coming off one of his best seasons in the majors and has gotten off to a good start with the Nationals this year. Maybe five months from now, he will finally earn the long-term contract he sought heading into the 2012 offseason.

    Regardless, with his young age (29) and potential, Jackson will find himself a nice contract if he repeats his 2012 season.

8. Brandon McCarthy

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    Brandon McCarthy was once a former top prospect that earned the "bust" label after multiple years of sub-par performances.

    However, last season McCarthy changed his pitching style and turned himself into one of the most effective pitchers in the American League, finishing with the best FIP in the league. 

    McCarthy will garner a lot of interest in the offseason because of his great 2011 and top-prospect status, but he would guarantee himself a multi-year deal if he can repeat his success from last season. 

9. Jake Peavy

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    Who has been the best pitcher of the 2012 season?

    According to Fangraphs.com, the answer is Jake Peavy.

    After a tumultuous couple of seasons, Peavy has had an incredible turnaround this season, going 3-1 with a 1.67 ERA, not to mention two complete games and a shutout.

    He has the league's best ERA+, WHIP and WAR. If he can stay healthy over the course of a full season, he will be able to get demand something that he probably thought was long gone.

    A multi-year deal.

10. Anibal Sanchez

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    Akin to Edwin Jackson before him, Anibal Sanchez is a pitcher whose stuff has never translated into a lot of wins. Combined with his injury-plagued past, Sanchez has only won 10-plus games twice in his career.

    On the bright side, Sanchez has shown the ability to strike out tons of batters and his 202 punch-outs may just be the beginning.

    Sanchez's upside and youth will get him some interest on the free-agent market, but if he can maintain his great K/9 (11.3), his agent's job will be a whole lot easier.

11. Ryan Dempster

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    Coming into 2012, Ryan Dempster was coming off four seasons where he averaged 13 wins, 33 starts and 206 innings pitched with a 3.81 ERA. 

    Last season was a bit of a hiccup with a 4.80 ERA, but much of that was because of a 9.58 ERA in April. For the rest of the season, his ERA was just 3.94.

    Dempster currently sits on the disabled list, but he has had no arm troubles since becoming a starter full-time in 2008. Should he recover from this groin injury and pitch like he has the last four seasons, he will be one of the most highly sought-after pitchers on the market. 

12. Derek Lowe

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    Heading into the season, Derek Lowe was not even close to placing on this list. However, after his performance thus far in 2012, he has most certainly earned his spot.

    With a 4-1 record and 2.27 ERA, Lowe has returned to the form he showed years ago in L.A., and if he continues this pace, he will earn himself a multiple-year deal.

13. Ervin Santana

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    Ervin Santana has gotten off to an awful start this season. He sits 0-5 with a 5.58 ERA and 1.47 WHIP on a team that is 9-15.

    Having said that, Santana is still one of the better right-handed pitchers in the game and is coming off a career best 3.38 ERA last season. In addition, he has three seasons of 16 or more wins, and since he will only be 29 when the offseason begins, he will still be one of the hottest commodities available.

14. Erik Bedard

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    Due to injuries, Erik Bedard has never been able to capitalize on his god-given abilities in the free-agent market.

    In 2006 and 2007, Bedard went 28-16 with 392 strikeouts in just 378 innings and appeared to be on the brink of stardom. He had four injury-plagued seasons since, but this year he came in with a clean bill of health and his performance backs that up.

    Bedard has started five games and has a 2.48 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 29 innings. If he can stay healthy this season, he should finally be able to sign that coveted multi-year deal.

15. Joe Blanton

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    While Joe Blanton is not an ace, he is still a very valuable commodity.

    His 4.31 career ERA is better than league average for a starting pitcher, and outside of an injury-plagued 2011, Blanton averaged 199 innings from 2005-2010. 

    With a 75-65 record over the course of his career, he would be a nice addition to every team as a third or fourth starter and a lot of teams will inquire about his services.

16. Jeremy Guthrie

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    Throughout his six-year career as a starter, Jeremy Guthrie has had to pitch against the loaded American League East and after he finally gets to leave that environment, he gets thrown into Coors Field.

    That's life, I guess.

    In spite of his conditions, Guthrie has turned himself into a consistent innings eater capable of winning double-digit games year in and year out. 

    Imagine what Guthrie could do on a team with a good pitcher's park.

17. Joe Saunders

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    Joe Saunders has always caught a bigger negative reputation than he probably deserves because he does not have "great stuff."

    However, he has never had an ERA above 4.60 in any of his full seasons and this year he has taken his game to a new level with a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings.

    While he will not be able to maintain that type of performance for the whole year, Saunders won 17 and 16 games in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and had a 3.69 ERA last year, so it is not like he has never been good.

    Saunders will be 31 heading into the offseason, so he still has some good years left. If he continues to be anywhere near the level he has this April, he will definitely garner a lot of interest in the offseason. 

18. Carl Pavano

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    Carl Pavano's first go-round in free agency did not work out very well for the Yankees, who paid him $38 million for just 26 starts.

    In his second go-round, the Twins found themselves a bargain, as Pavano has won 26 games in his first two years in Minnesota for roughly half the cost. 

    In his third and likely final go-round, Pavano should be able to land another deal similar to what the Twins inked him to, as he is still capable of winning 10 to 15 games while pitching 200-plus innings with a sub-4.00 ERA.

19. Brett Myers

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    While Brett Myers is serving as the Astros closer this year, I believe he will make himself available as a starter heading into the 2013 offseason for the simple fact that they have a much higher earning potential.

    Despite his 11-plus years of experience, Myers is still only 31 years old, and since he has been a closer for two years now, his arm only has the innings of a 29-year-old. In addition, he has won double-digit games six times in his career.

    Regardless of where Myers decides he wants to pitch, he has been effective in both aspects of the game and will generate a lot of interest from multiple teams.

20. Brandon League

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    The 2012 offseason was loaded with quality relief arms (Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero), but the projected 2013 free-agent pool does not compare. As such, I believe Brandon League will generate a ton of interest this winter. 

    League proved himself as a closer last season with 37 saves and a 2.79 ERA. This year, he has gotten off to a good start with seven saves, and he should repeat his performance from 2011.