So far this offseason, Jason Vargas' reported four-year, $32 million accord with the Kansas City Royals stands as the biggest contract earned by a free-agent pitcher.
But that is bound to change with a few other established veteran starting pitchers on the market seeking big deals and a closer who could bring in a significant payday. Let's take a look at the latest MLB free-agency rumors surrounding three of the big-name pitchers still available on the market.
Ervin Santana, RHP
Ervin Santana might be waiting a while if his negotiating team sticks to its guns on a desired five-year, $112 million deal.
The right-hander looked great in 2013, going 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 6.9 strikeout rate, but has been largely inconsistent throughout his career.
Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland recently made an appearance on SiriusXM MLB Network Radio and said he thinks Kansas City still has a serious interest in bringing Santana back, despite adding Vargas:
From what (general manager) Dayton (Moore) has told me, he's still going to be in contact with Erv and his people and we'll see where it goes. I don't think we're totally out of the running, but we'll just have to see where that heads. Like I said, that's not my department. But from my personal standpoint, I hope we're still in the running for him.
Eiland admitted that he's not connected with the daily free-agent process, but his words reveal some insight behind the team's thinking. Still, after such a sizable commitment to Vargas and a trio of young arms ready to help contribute, don't expect Kansas City to put more money in the rotation.
Santana has also been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but until his asking price goes down, don't expect to hear of any new contract for the 30-year-old righty.
Matt Garza, RHP
Matt Garza and Santana are widely viewed as the top two pitchers on the free-agent market this season. Like Santana, Garza has also been discussed as a possible signing for the Blue Jays, per Jim Bowden of ESPN:
Anthopoulos Blue Jays GM told us they have made calls on all the Free Agent starters including Matt Garza @BlueJays— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) November 24, 2013
If the contracts of Tim Hudson (two years, $23 million) and Josh Johnson (one year, $8 million) have told us anything, it's that the market value for pitching is going up. Meanwhile, Vargas' deal also may have affected the negotiations of other pitchers like Garza, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
Jason Vargas gets 4 years and $32 million from the #Royals, and Matt Garza is the one celebrating, knowing he's got a 5-year deal coming.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 21, 2013
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports speculated the New York Yankees could try to make three big signings this offseason with filling a rotation spot being a top priority alongside re-signing Robinson Cano. As Heyman reported, the Yankees have targeted Garza but haven't pursued Santana, so perhaps we could see him in pinstripes next year.
Garza turned 31 on Tuesday and has been much more consistent than Santana in recent years, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in each of the past seven seasons. In 2013, Garza went a combined 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with a 7.9 strikeout rate, so he'll surely command a healthy payday this offseason.
Joe Nathan, RHP
Joe Nathan is widely viewed as the top option at closer on the free-agent market this year after opting out of a one-year, $9 million contract with the Texas Rangers earlier this offseason. Even though Nathan just turned 39, he's in line for a nice multi-year deal after converting 43 of 46 save opportunities with a 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 10.2 strikeout rate in 2013.
As of last week, Nathan told Bowden that he was getting recruited to the Detroit Tigers by Torii Hunter:
But with word emerging from Detroit that the Tigers will try to sign Brian Wilson to be their new closer, per The Detroit News' Lynn Henning, Nathan could be looking elsewhere for work.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees had “peripheral interest” in Nathan to succeed Mariano Rivera as the team's closer, but he's probably on the back burner now with the five-year, $85 million signing of catcher Brian McCann and David Robertson waiting for the ninth-inning call.
Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group recently relayed comments from Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, who said the team is looking internally and externally for a new closer.
But with Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto claiming that his team will go with Ernesto Frieri as the closer in 2014, the number of suitors for Nathan is appearing to drop.