With the start of the new year, baseball fans can officially acknowledge that spring training begins next month. For many team executives around the sport, that's a scary notion. Rosters aren't set, especially when it comes to the starting pitching market.
Amazingly, the 2014 calender year opens with a plethora of options on the open market. If your favorite team is in need of an arm or two for the upcoming season, starters are available. With the holiday-themed news of Masahiro Tanaka's impending arrival in America, the free-agent market retained a top arm.
Over the next 45 or so days, these dominoes will fall. Some will surprise, others will land exactly where you might predict.
Here's a glimpse at the latest suitor odds for the top 10 pitchers on the free-agent market.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
No, we're not starting with Masahiro Tanaka.
Although the Japanese star profiles as a top-tier pitcher in Major League Baseball, the track record of free-agent hurler Matt Garza, along with a potentially smaller asking price, no draft pick loss and the lack of a $20 million posting fee, makes the 30-year-old righty a compelling arm.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, Garza has pitched to a 3.76 ERA and a 110 ERA+ for the Rays, Cubs and Rangers. Those numbers aren't prolific enough to call Garza an ace, but they are consistent enough to make him a solid contributor to the top half of any rotation.
According to MLB.com's Jim Duquette, Garza has a plethora of suitors, but likely won't come off the board until after Tanaka signs. Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 in Minnesota reported that the Twins are once again considering Garza.
Suitor odds: Toronto Blue Jays (3/1), Minnesota Twins (5/1), Arizona Diamondbacks (6/1), Los Angeles Angels (10/1), Seattle Mariners (12/1)
According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes won't heat up until next week. When it does, expect a plethora of teams to pursue the 25-year-old potential ace.
After an undefeated 2013 season in Japan, Tanaka is poised to arrive in America and transform the top of a rotation. With a posting fee of only $20 million, almost any team can engage the free agent in a contract discussion.
When the dust settles, expect the most interest and biggest dollars to come from big-market teams in need of top-tier starting pitching.
The Yankees, in particular, have wasted no time in becoming acquainted with Tanaka's representation, per Marc Carig of Newsday. With a major rotation hole behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, New York is desperate for a dynamic starting pitcher.
When Tanaka's posting became official on Christmas night, Bleacher Report's Adam Wells posted a fresh set of odds for potential landing spots. One week later, his thought process is echoed here.
Suitor odds: New York Yankees (Even), Los Angeles Dodgers (3/1), Arizona Diamondbacks (7/1), Chicago Cubs (10/1), Texas Rangers (15/1)
Jimenez may be enigmatic and inconsistent, but his age (29) and 2013 performance (3.30 ERA) make him one of the best available starters on the open market.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Jimenez may be ticketed for a spot in the New York Yankees rotation, regardless of how their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka winds up. Per Cafardo's column:
A few GMs I spoke with recently feel the Yankees may wind up with Jimenez, even if they land Masahiro Tanaka. “He had an excellent second half, has great stuff, and he has the type of personality that would fit New York,” one GM said. “He doesn’t let things get to him. He’s good at shrugging off things and turning the page.”
Other AL East teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, along with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, make sense as destinations for the former Rockies and Indians starter.
Suitor odds: New York Yankees (8/1), Baltimore Orioles (11/1), Toronto Blue Jays (12/1), Los Angeles Angels (15/1), Seattle Mariners (20/1)
Earlier this offseason, free-agent starter Ervin Santana and his agents were floating the idea of a $100 million contract, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Those stories, along with any major rumors around Santana's next destination, have quieted down in recent months. Even after inking Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract, Santana's 2013 team, Kansas City, would love to bring him back to a strong rotation for a postseason run in 2014.
However, look elsewhere for the most likely suitors for Santana's services.
Arizona, in the market for a veteran starter, has been connected to almost every name on this list thus far. During last month's winter meetings, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers met with Santana's agent.
Seattle, currently balking at the asking price in a trade for David Price, could choose to spend more in free agency after inking Robinson Cano and Corey Hart. According to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi, the Mariners remain interested in the 31-year-old starter.
Detroit, months after trading away the durable and affordable Doug Fister, is a surprising entry into the Santana sweepstakes, per Shane Miller of MLB Advance Media.
After the $100 million figure was floated, the unexpected was to be expected during Santana's free-agent ride. That hasn't changed as the offseason enters January.
Suitor odds: Arizona Diamondbacks (5/1), Seattle Mariners (6/1), Detroit Tigers (15/1), Kansas City Royals (20/1)
From the moment that Pittsburgh's magical 2013 season ended, it's been assumed that A.J. Burnett would either retire or re-join the Pirates rotation for one more run at meaningful October baseball in 2014.
Now, according to MASN's Rock Kubatko, we can add the Baltimore Orioles to the short list of possible destinations for the 37-year-old veteran.
After years of struggles and enigmatic performances for the New York Yankees, Burnett finally turned a corner in Pittsburgh, blooming into a leader and standout performer for the improving Pirates. Last season, Burnett led the National League in K/9 by posting a robust 9.8 mark.
If he chooses to pitch in 2014, a contender will be strengthened.
Suitor odds: Pittsburgh Pirates (3/1), Baltimore Orioles (5/1), Retirement (6/1)
Bronson Arroyo's free-agent plight has three subplots, two of which are widely known. The other may come as a surprise.
First, Arroyo's age (36) makes him a concern on a long-term deal. Of course, that's offset by the other thing baseball fans have come to know about the veteran starter: outstanding durability. Over the last decade, Arroyo has averaged 207 innings per season and surpassed 199 innings in every single season since 2005.
Here's what you might not know: This is Arroyo's first time on the open market. In a recent conversation with Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Arroyo admitted to having little idea of where this process mind land him in 2014.
"There’s no point in me really thinking about where my perfect place is, because I don’t know who’s interested," Arroyo said. "It’s like going to a party and the whole premise is to find a wife. There are 10 girls there, and three of them are smoking hot, but they don’t even look in your direction twice, so there’s no point in going after them. Then maybe somebody else comes along who didn’t seem so attractive at first, and you like what she’s saying and you think, ‘Hey, maybe this is the one.'"
With those words coming straight from Arroyo, it's not easy to set the odds on his next destination.
In December, C. Trent Rosecrans of Cincinnati.com reported that the Pirates and Twins had interest in Arroyo. Before signing Bartolo Colon, the Mets needed a veteran arm. Outside of the logical choices, the Yankees could be looked at as a fallback option if arms like Tanaka, Jimenez or Garza land elsewhere.
Suitor odds: Twins (5/1), Pirates (7/1), Yankees (15/1)
Since the end of the 2010 season, Johan Santana has taken the mound a grand total of 21 times. All of those starts came in the 2012 season, meaning that the former Cy Young standout has totally missed two of the past three campaigns due to lingering injury issues.
At the age of 34, Santana's career doesn't have to be over yet. On the other hand, no team will be willing to give him anything more than a minor league deal and a trip to spring training.
The fall from grace is hard to fathom for a lefty who owns some of the most prolific numbers in baseball history.
Among pitchers with at least 2,000 innings pitched, Santana's ERA+ of 136 ranks 13th all time, ahead of greats like Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax. His career mark of 3.51 SO/BB profiles as 11th best, ahead of Roger Clemens and Don Drysdale.
According to CBS Sports' Mike Axisa, citing reports from Jon Heyman and ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand, eight teams are interested in possibly resurrecting the career of a former great. The Houston Astros, unlisted at the time, make it nine teams monitoring Santana's health, per Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
Here's a breakdown of the odds for Santana landing with those teams.
Suitor odds: Minnesota Twins (3/1), Houston Astros (4/1), Baltimore Orioles (8/1), Tampa Bay Rays (12/1), Pittsburgh Pirates (15/1), Kansas City Royals (15/1), Milwaukee Brewers (15/1), New York Yankees (15/1), New York Mets (20/1)
After an excellent 2012 season (123 ERA+), Jason Hammel seemed poised to land a lucrative, long-term deal when he hit free agency. An awful 2013 (85 ERA+) ruined those plans, making Hammel what he was before arriving in Baltimore: a talented pitcher failing to realize his potential.
At the age of 31, Hammel is no longer close to a prospect. He can't be counted on to pitch 200 innings, stay healthy or put together a 30-start season. Yet, there's potential there for major upside at the end of a rotation.
Of the suitors listed below, the Cleveland Indians make a good deal of sense. Terry Francona managed against a young version of Hammel when the former was in the Red Sox dugout and the latter beginning his career with the Tampa Bay Rays. After succeeding last season with a reclamation project—Scott Kazmir—Cleveland could look to strike gold again, per Paul Hoynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Suitor odds: Cleveland Indians (5/1), Baltimore Orioles (7/1), Colorado Rockies (10/1), Chicago Cubs (10/1), Atlanta Braves (10/1), Pittsburgh Pirates (10/1)
When the Dodgers declined their 2014 option on left-handed swing-man Chris Capuano, an interesting name entered the free-agent market.
Over the last three years, the veteran lefty has pitched to a 4.12 ERA for the Mets and Dodgers. While those numbers don't seem worthy of much more than rotation insurance or a long-relief role, Capuano's numbers profile as better than they seem.
Per Fangraphs, Capuano's xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) marks have been 3.67, 3.97 and 3.67, respectively, over the last three years. Due to solid K/9 and SO/BB marks, an underrated starter could be had on a more than reasonable deal this month.
According to Rich Dubroff of CSN Baltimore, the Orioles, scrambling for pitchers, have discussed the idea of bringing in Capuano. Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com mentioned the Angels as a team that could have interest.
Suitor odds: Orioles (10/1), Angels (12/1)
According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the Braves chose to sign Gavin Floyd, coming off Tommy John surgery, over Paul Maholm because of the belief that Maholm would command a multi-year deal somewhere on the open market.
If that deal is developing, Maholm's camp is certainly keeping the news quiet. After pitching poorly down the stretch of 2013 (5.73 ERA in second half), the 30-year-old southpaw barely cracks this list of the top starters available.
When he does sign, look for the Rockies, Angels and Yankees to show interest. Colorado, with many areas to fill and no discernible direction, could look to Maholm as a decent stopgap option for their 2014 rotation.
Suitor odds: Colorado Rockies (4/1), Los Angeles Angels (8/1), New York Yankees (12/1)