There was a precipitous drop-off after Zack Greinke in this season's free-agent pitching market, and now that he's signed with the Dodgers, the distinction of best pitcher available appears to fall to either Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez. But who is the better option?
Both pitchers are coming off of solid seasons and will no doubt command big money, multi-year deals, but let's take a closer look at one.
Sanchez spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Marlins, bursting onto the scene in 2006 to go 10-3 with a 2.83 ERA as a 22-year-old rookie. That was good for ninth in Rookie of the Year voting and he seemed destined for big things.
However, he struggled with injuries over the next three seasons, making just 32 total starts and going an unimpressive 8-14 with a 4.56 ERA over that span.
While that had potential to be a red flag, Sanchez has made at least 31 starts now in each of the past three seasons, as the injury woes appear to be a thing of the past.
He joined the Tigers at the trade deadline last season, coming over in a deal that also brought Detroit second baseman Omar Infante and netted the Marlins a trio of prospects highlighted by right-hander Jacob Turner.
His 4-6 record over 12 starts didn't tell the story, as he had a 3.74 ERA over 74.2 innings of work and shored up the Detroit rotation for their stretch run as they caught the White Sox for the AL Central title.
He then went on to make three postseason starts, going 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA including seven three-hit, shutout innings against the Yankees in the ALCS.
Sanchez likely would have been one of the more coveted arms on the market even if he had stayed in Miami, but he no doubt boosted his stock with his impressive October performance.
The 28-year-old throws four pitches well, using an impressive slider/changeup combination to make his low-90s fastball an even more effective pitch, and he's learned to rely on his curveball less and less.
That stuff should translate to wherever he winds up pitching, and while he may not have the upside to be an ace, he's proven to be a steady and reliable innings eater.
Lohse began his career with the Twins back in 2001, and he spent the first five-plus seasons of his career in Minnesota before being dealt to the Reds at the deadline in 2006.
The following season he was again moved at the deadline, as the Reds shipped him to the Phillies where he went 3-0 with a 4.72 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch to help them to the postseason.
Entering free agency with a 63-74 and 4.82 ERA, Lohse didn't garner much attention and wound up signing a one-year, $4.25 million with the Cardinals.
He proved to be a huge surprise in St. Louis, going 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and earning a four-year, $41 million extension in the process.
The extension appeared to be a mistake over the first two seasons, as Lohse battled injury and went 10-18 with a 5.54 ERA.
He turned things around though with a 14-8, 3.39 ERA in 2011 and opened last season as the Cardinals ace with Chris Carpenter on the shelf.
He looked every bit the part of an ace all season for St. Louis, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA to finish seventh in Cy Young voting and effectively making himself one of the market's top free agents.
The 34-year-old Lohse relies heavily on a sinking fastball, while pairing it with a slider, changeup and the occasional curveball. He doesn't strike out a ton of hitters, but he also doesn't walk many with a 2.6 BB/9 mark for his career.
So which of the two is a better option? The wishy-washy answer here is that it depends on the team that's pursuing them.
Who Is The Better Free Agent Pitcher?
For a team looking to win now and needing a front-line guy to shore up their staff, Lohse appears to be the more appealing option. Where he's at by the end of what will likely be a four-year deal is a question seeing as he's already 34, but he should have at least a couple more top-tier seasons in him.
On the flip side, for a team looking for a reliable starter to improve their staff now and moving forward, Sanchez is no doubt the safer option.
Lohse is coming off of a career year and will likely experience at least some regression after an up-and-down four years with the Cardinals. Sanchez, on the other hand, has put up roughly the same solid numbers for the past four years and can be counted on to do the same regardless of where he ends up.
So for the 2013 season, I think Lohse profiles as the better pitcher, but over the course of the contracts the two players are likely to sign, Sanchez will likely be the safer and more productive option.