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2014 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the 15 Best Values of the Pitcher Market

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIOctober 21, 2013

2014 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the 15 Best Values of the Pitcher Market

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    There are two teams left in the running for the World Series title, but for the 28 other teams, plans are starting to be made for how to improve for 2014.

    For many teams, improvements have to be made in the pitching department. Whether it's starter or reliever, multiple pitchers will find new teams and help their club win games.

    While it's easy to say who the top free agents available are, determining their value is another story. After all, Edwin Jackson was the No. 4-ranked starting pitcher on the market last year before the Cubs signed him for four years and $52 million. In return, he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA. So the Cubs didn't get good value out of him.

    On the other hand, the Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez for five years and $80 million and got a league-best 2.57 ERA out of him. That was money well spent.

    So, who are the best value pitchers? Here's a look at the 15 best values on the free-agent market.

     

    Note: All stats obtained from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

15. Paul Maholm

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    The year started off great for Paul Maholm, as he didn't allow a run in his first three starts. But he had a 5.16 ERA the rest of the way, hurting his value on the market.

    Maholm was 10-11 with a 4.41 ERA in 2013 and has only had a winning record once in his career. But he still provides a lot of value as a left-handed starter.

    Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Maholm will end up with a one-year, $7 million deal, although he could also see him getting a second year.

    Regardless, Maholm has to build up his value a little more and hope that he can hit the market again after next year, or in 2015, with better results behind him.

14. Ubaldo Jimenez

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    When the Cleveland Indians traded for Ubaldo Jimenez in 2011, they expected to get someone who would be a front-of-the-rotation starter until he hit free agency after this year.

    However, Jimenez has been anything but that, going 26-30 with a 4.45 ERA and 399 strikeouts. He's only had 45 quality starts over that time frame as well.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Jimenez will receive a three-year, $39 million deal, or even an Edwin Jackson-type deal for $52 million over four years.

    However, $13 million a year for less than 11 wins over each of the last three years is a bit too much. That's more than $1 million per win.

13. Joaquin Benoit

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    Joaquin Benoit put himself into a good position in free agency by being a great closer for the Detroit Tigers in the second half of the season.

    He finished the year with 24 saves and a 2.01 ERA.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Benoit is looking at something in the neighborhood of two years and $16 million.

    But will his 6.35 ERA during the playoffs hurt him? Let's also not forget that he was thrust into the closer's role when the Tigers struggled to find a closer. He just happened to do well. But there's no guarantee that it will continue.

    With those question marks, it's hard to say Benoit is a good value at $8 million a year heading into 2014.

12. Ricky Nolasco

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    Ricky Nolasco finally got out from Miami and had a chance in the playoffs with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Now a free agent, Nolasco hits the open market looking more for years than dollars, according to Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com:

    An agent recently told me he focuses much more on years than average annual value, because teams and agents generally know the likely AAV range before they even begin negotiating.  Nolasco should have no problem finding three years; the big question is whether the Dodgers or another team will offer four.

    With an expected average annual value close to $13 million each year.

    The one thing that you can pretty much guarantee out of Nolasco is that he's an innings eater. Having pitched 190-plus innings the last three years, Nolasco's value is in that he'll eat a lot of innings for you during a given year.

    But even at $13 million a year, he hasn't pitched in the AL before. So that could limit the number of teams interested in him.

11. Joe Nathan

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    Joe Nathan isn't officially a free agent until the the Texas Rangers decline a $9 million option on him, but according to Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he can void that option:

    Nathan, who turns 39 on Nov. 22, is expected to join the free agent list this winter, although he’s still a member of the Rangers for now. The club holds a $9 million option on him for next season, but he earned the right to void it by finishing 55 games this season.

    No formal decision will be made until the World Series, but Nathan said he is seeking a two-year deal, and the Rangers have not broached that subject with him yet.

    Nathan was one of the best closers in baseball in 2013, with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves on the year. He now has 341 in his career thus far.

    Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Nathan can get a two-year, $26 million deal.

    However, despite his successes, $13 million a year is too much to pay for a closer. Other closer-type guys will make far less money and put up near the same stats as Nathan.

    He is the top closer available, but he's not the best-valued closer available.

10. Eric O'Flaherty

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    There is a little bit of an injury concern with Eric O'Flaherty, but the left-handed setup man is the best setup man on the market this offseason.

    While he will be coming off of Tommy John surgery, many pitchers come back from it even stronger. With a 1.68 ERA over the last four years, it's hard to think of him being any better.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com wrote back in May that because of the surgery, O'Flaherty would have to settle for a one-year deal—or even a minor league deal. For the team that signs him, his value will be huge, provided there are no setbacks.

    For teams that are looking for a setup man, or even a relatively inexpensive closer, O'Flaherty could be that guy that provides the best value.

9. Dan Haren

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    Dan Haren struggled in 2013, going 10-14 with a 4.67 ERA. He was on a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals and will be seeking another deal this offseason.

    According to Bill Ladson of MLB.com, Haren would prefer to pitch for a team on the West Coast to be closer to his family. That cuts the market by more than 75 percent and could see Haren's dollars go down.

    He made $13 million last year and will likely be seeking the same amount of money for 2014. After all, his ERA only jumped up 0.34 points from 2012.

    Haren's value is that he's a strikeout pitcher when he's on top of his game. In five of the last seven years, he's had at least 192 strikeouts, which is likely why he got a $13 million contract from the Nationals.

    If he can recapture that magic, $13 million could be a good investment for a team looking to solve problems in the rotation.

8. Matt Garza

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    Matt Garza may be the most sought-after pitcher this offseason, but he hasn't been overly impressive throughout his career. In eight years, Garza is 67-67 with a 3.84 ERA. He's only had two winning seasons in his career, but he gets strikeouts. 

    Matt Sullivan of SB Nation believes Garza will have the same type of season that Ryan Dempster had in 2012, before he got a two-year, $26.5 million deal:

    Both players started their walk years with the Cubs and put up strong numbers over the first half of the season. Both players were then dealt to the Rangersaround the trade deadline as Texas made a final push to make the playoffs. Dempster posted an ERA over 5.00 in 12 starts for the Rangers last season, more than doubling his pre-trade average and after 13 starts, Garza has been just a little better than Dempster with a 4.38 ERA.

    One thing to keep in mind is Garza's injury history given a potential deal. He has pitched a full season in the last two years, something that was never a concern on Dempster.

    Regardless, Sullivan believes Garza will receive something in the neighborhood of five years and $70 million.

    He doesn't have a history of strong performances, which makes the value of his potential deal not the best in the world. If the signing team can get 15-17 wins on average from him, then it will be a good deal. But he's only gotten to 15 wins once in his career.

7. Grant Balfour

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    Grant Balfour has performed impressively as the Oakland A's closer the last two years, totaling 62 saves and a 2.56 ERA.

    Now a free agent, he'll look to make a little money on the open market after the A's paid him only $4.5 million last year.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Balfour could receive the same type of money Heath Bell received from the Miami Marlins in 2012, with an average annual value of $9 million:

    Relievers rarely get three guaranteed years at this stage of their careers. Heath Bell managed three years and $27MM, but he did so as he was entering his age-35 season. Balfour will begin next season as a 36-year-old, but should be able to match Bell in terms of average annual value.

    Balfour could get that third year, but even if it's only two years, he's the best value as a closer. He's shown he can get the job done, and he's just waiting for someone to open up their checkbooks.

6. Tim Lincecum

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    It's weird to think that Tim Lincecum doesn't have a lot of value as a starter, but the fact remains that he's largely struggled over the last two years.

    He's gone 20-29 with the 4.76 ERA over the last two seasons. His value as a starter hasn't been great as of late, so much so that the Tigers looked to acquire Lincecum at the deadline and wanted to use him as a reliever, according to Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi.

    Now, as a free agent, Lincecum is seeking a short-term deal to try and rebuild his value as a starting pitcher, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman:

    However, a conclusion widely drawn elsewhere that he's going to try for a longer deal elsewhere is only someone's guess. And apparently an incorrect guess, as well.

    While it's possible Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner and two-time World Champion with the Giants, could end up elsewhere and maybe even with a longer deal, people familiar with the team's negotiations suggest the pitcher seemed more interested in a short deal in his dealings with the Giants, for either one or two years.

    If the deal is only for one or two years, Lincecum would be a great value, as teams won't be joined at the hip for as long as they would be with others.

    It's a win-win situation for both sides. If Lincecum returns to Cy Young form, he'll become the immediate ace of the staff. If he doesn't, it's only for a year or two that the team will have him.

5. A.J. Burnett

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    A.J. Burnett has gotten paid handsomely over the last five years after the New York Yankees signed him to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in 2008.

    But he was traded in 2012 to the Pirates after three years of struggles (4.79 ERA) and was much better with a 3.41 ERA the last two years.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com believes Burnett is still unsure about pitching in 2014, and if he does, he'll only be seeking a one-year deal.

    If that's the case, Burnett could give it a go for one more year, trying to help the Pirates take the next step. He's a good value in the NL, and the Pirates are where his value is its highest.

4. Hiroki Kuroda

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    Hiroki Kuroda operated off a one-year, $15 million deal in 2013. Next year could be the same only if he chooses to stay in the U.S. to play.

    Some within the New York Yankees organization believe Kuroda could return to Japan to finish out his career, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

    If he does stay in the U.S., Kuroda will likely command another one-year deal for about $15 million. 

    While his record was only 11-13, he still had an ERA of 3.31. In fact, in the six years he's been in the U.S., he hasn't had an ERA over 3.76.

    He was the Yankees' best pitcher this year, and the $15 million was well worth it—at least compared to the money the team spent on a number of injured stars.

3. Ervin Santana

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    Ervin Santana is one of the best free-agent pitchers on the market in terms of overall best and best value.

    In 2013, he went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA and 161 strikeouts. While he had the same number of wins as he did in 2012, his ERA dropped from 5.16 and his strikeouts increased by 28. He also had 23 quality starts in 2013, compared to 15 in 2012.

    Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reported the Royals will give Santana a qualifying offer with the hopes of re-signing the right-hander.

    We’re going to do the best we can to put as many quality guys as we can in that rotation, (Royals GM Dayton) Moore said. We feel like we’ve got a lot of really good internal options.

    We’re really proud of what Ervin did for us, and we’re going to be excited to see if we can get him under contract. But we’ve got to prepare for all different scenarios. That’s what Erv is doing as well.

    Santana could be seeking the same type of contract Kyle Lohse sought last year (five years, $75-90 million). However, Dutton notes how tough it will be for a team to sign Santana, as that team would have to give up a first-round draft pick if it signs him.

    Santana's value to a signing team is hurt more because of the potential loss of a pick.

2. Masahiro Tanaka

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    Masahiro Tanaka is perhaps the top international free agent on this year's market, although he's technically not a free agent since his Japanese team will have to post him.

    Tanaka went 24-0 this year with a 1.27 ERA. And according to George A. King III of the New York Post, one scout says he's better than Yu Darvish:

    He is better than Darvish because he is a strike thrower. Overall, Darvish's stuff might be a little bit better, but this guy knows how to pitch. He is like Kuroda, he has a lot of guts. He throws four pitches but when it gets to [stone]-cutting time, it’s fastball and splitter.

    But for every Darvish and Kuroda, there's also a Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu.

    King goes on to say that Tanaka's team, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles could likely seek $60 million in a posting fee, while Tanaka could command five years and $60 million. If both of those came true, that would mean a team would commit have to $120 million for one player, though the posting fee wouldn't count toward the salary cap.

    The only reason Tanaka isn't in the top spot is that the posting fee will cost teams in addition to his salary. Other than that, he seems to be the most sought-after pitcher this offseason.

1. Tim Hudson

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    The 2013 season was only the second time in Tim Hudson's career that he didn't reach double-digits in wins, and that was mainly due to an ankle injury that ended his year.

    Hudson has been as solid as they come, winning at least 16 games between 2010-12. The main problem is, he is going to be 38 next year and he's not getting any younger.

    Steve Adams of MLBTradeRumors.com sees Hudson signing a one-year deal:

    I expect Hudson to prioritize a winning environment over maximizing his salary (he's already earned $98MM+ in his Major League career). He could follow the route that other veterans such as (Bartolo) Colon, (Hiroki) Kuroda and Andy Pettitte have taken in recent years, signing one-year deals with contenders in search of a deep postseason run.

    If he can even win just 13 games, the money would be well worth it, making him the best value in this year's class.

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