With the winter meetings approaching, there will undoubtedly be many conversations about pitching. While pitching is always important, this year could be one of the most competitive ever. Many teams seem to want more, but there is only so much to go around on the market.
However, even in these sparse conditions, the talented upper echelon is still looking very strong.
Here is a breakdown of the six top starting pitching options still available and why teams will be looking at them.
Obviously, their performance last year matters in this ranking, but it is also critical that they have some type of promise for next season. Teams are looking at these pitchers because they want the potential returns in 2013.
Dan Haren had probably his worst professional season in 2012, but he is also a three-time All-Star who should easily be able to rebound.
He ended up going 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA. Although this may seem somewhat intuitive, he surrendered more hits, walks and home runs per nine innings than he had in 2011. That is not a recipe for success.
Nevertheless, in 2011, Haren won 16 games with a very nice 3.17 ERA, so that talent is definitely still there even though he didn't show it last year.
Brandon McCarthy was turning in an excellent season when he suffered an incredibly unfortunate injury.
He will be ready to play baseball in the spring, and any team that signs him will be hoping for a return to normal. Normal in 2012 was an 8-6 record with a 3.24 ERA.
The reason that I highlight that ERA is because he was pitching in a division with both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
He has proven that he can handle powerful lineups, and if he goes to a division with less power and he returns well from injury, those numbers should get even better.
2012 must have been somewhat interesting for Ryan Dempster. When he pitched with the Chicago Cubs, his ERA was 2.25, but his record was only 5-5.
After he was traded to the Texas Rangers, his record improved to 7-3, but his ERA ballooned to 5.09. Obviously, run support plays a huge role in this dichotomy, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.
Dempster has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen during his career, but he has generally been a pretty consistent option who will eat a lot of innings and get outs.
Anibal Sanchez came to the Detroit Tigers in the middle of the season and helped propel them to a World Series appearance. Even though his 9-13 record overall was not that impressive, he posted a 3.86 ERA and kept his home run totals down. In the powerful American League, controlling that number is more important than ever, and he rose to the challenge.
After a series of successful campaigns with the then Florida Marlins and half a season with the Detroit Tigers, he will be a very attractive target on the market this year.
Kyle Lohse blew away the competition in 2012. He went a remarkable 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA. On top of that, he issued under two walks per nine innings on average which demonstrates his control.
Even though his career had been a roller coaster, the past two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals have made him into a household name.
Lohse will never strike out very many hitters, so he relies on the ball being put in play in order to generate outs. While that doesn't always work out, he seems to be figuring it out more and more by forcing hitters to make "bad" contact.
Without a doubt, Zack Greinke will be the most sought-after pitcher on the free-agent market this winter.
Last season, he went 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA and almost a strikeout per inning. The former Cy Young winner is also only 28 years old. He should just be entering his prime, and if he continues to get better, the results will be phenomenal.
It is hard to think that Greinke is the same guy who led the American League in losses as a 21-year-old, but he has developed nicely and seems primed to get even better in the future.
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