The Next MLB Starting Pitchers Headed for Deals over $100 Million
With the New York Yankees agreeing to terms on a seven-year, $155 million deal with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka on Wednesday morning, another pitcher has joined the $100 million club.
A grand total of 13 pitchers have now received $100 million deals, as Tanaka joins Kevin Brown (LAD), Mike Hampton (COL), Barry Zito (SF), Johan Santana (NYM), CC Sabathia (NYY), Cliff Lee (PHI), Matt Cain (SF), Cole Hamels (PHI). Zack Greinke (LAD), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Justin Verlander (DET) and Clayton Kershaw (LAD).
Turning our attention to the future, here is a look at my best guess on the next six pitchers who will receive $100 million contracts, in no particular order.
*Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Could Reach $100 Million, but Not a Sure Thing
The Cincinnati Reds right-hander will hit the open market after the 2014 season.
He is seeking $11.6 million in his final year of arbitration, with the Reds countering with $8.7 million, though a long-term extension remains a possibility.
The 29-year-old has gone 24-22 with a 3.58 ERA the past two years, finally living up to his potential. In what will likely be a thin free-agent market, he could reach $100 million, but something like a five-year, $85 million deal may be more realistic.
After going 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA in 2011, the Cleveland Indians turned to Justin Masterson as their Opening Day starter the following season.
He took a step backwards though, going 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 2012 and making himself a trade candidate last offseason.
The Indians opted to hold onto him, and he responded with the best season of his career, going 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and an AL-best three shutouts.
He's looking for $11.8 million in his final years of arbitration with the Indians offering up $8.05 million, and he too could be extended. He has an outside chance at $100 million on the open market, but will likely come up short.
The Washington Nationals pulled off perhaps the best trade of the offseason when they acquired Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers for a three-player package. He joins an already loaded starting rotation, and may well be the best No. 4 starter in baseball.
He's looking for $8.5 million in arbitration this offseason with the Nationals offering $5.75 million.
He has one final season of arbitration eligibility next offseason, and with prospects A.J. Cole and Lucas Giolito working their way up the system, the Nationals could opt to let him walk once he hits free agency. By the 2016 offseason, he may well be a $100 million pitcher, but at this point he comes up just short.
|$7.25 million||Arb. Eligible||Free Agent|
The Cincinnati Reds paid a pretty penny to acquire Mat Latos prior to the 2012 season, sending Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger to the San Diego Padres for the burly right-hander.
After a slow start to his first season in Cincinnati, Latos turning things on in the second half and finished the 2012 season 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA while reaching the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career.
He opened 2013 as the team's No. 2 starter, but quickly stepped into the role of staff ace when Johnny Cueto was sidelined for much of the season with a shoulder strain. He more than held his own in the role and could still improve as he enters his age-26 season.
The Reds may need to choose between signing Homer Bailey or Latos to long-term deals, and at this point Latos, looks like the better pitcher of the two.
He signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal to buy out his first two years of arbitration when he joined the Reds, but he'll be eligible one last time next offseason. Given his age and experience, he looks like a prime candidate for a seven-year deal that should easily exceed $100 million.
|$13 million||Free Agent|
Jon Lester was one of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball from 2008-2011, winning at least 15 games each season and going a combined 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA as the ace of the Boston Red Sox staff.
Like much of the Red Sox roster, though, he struggled in 2012, going 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA with a career-worst 1.383 WHIP. Trade rumors popped up as a result, and it looked like the team could consider moving him or declining his $13 million option for 2014.
Instead, he got things back on track this past year by going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA, again stepping up in the role of staff ace.
He followed that up with a terrific postseason, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in five starts, including 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA in two World Series starts.
He signed a six-year, $43 million contract prior to the 2009 season, and whether he re-signs with the Red Sox or hits the open market, the 30-year-old should be able to reach nine figures on his next contract.
|$14 million||Arb. Eligible||Free Agent|
The small market Tampa Bay Rays were expected by many to pull the trigger on dealing ace David Price this offseason, as he made $10.1 million in arbitration last year and was only going to get more expensive moving forward.
Unable to find the right package for the big left-hander, the team came to terms on a $14 million deal to avoid arbitration. Chances are the team still will not be able to lock him up long-term though, and he could wind up dealt in July.
Price missed some time this past season after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA to win the AL Cy Young in 2012, and the 28-year-old remains one of the best starters in baseball when he's on top of his game.
Anyone who ponies up the trade package it will take to land him will no doubt look to lock him up shortly thereafter.
He won't make a run at Clayton Kershaw money, but he should be able to exceed $20 million annually and $100 million total on whatever deal he signs.
|$15.5 million||Free Agent|
After going 8-5 with a 4.72 ERA in the first half of the 2012 season, Max Scherzer turned a major corner after the All-Star break going 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA and continuing his strong play into the postseason.
Scherzer had always had some of the best stuff in the game, but he entered the 2013 season looking to join the ranks of the game's elite arms, and he did just that. He won his first 13 decisions and wound up claiming AL Cy Young honors.
Without an extension in place and set to hit free agency at the end of the 2014 season, he popped up in trade rumors at the beginning of the offseason. Instead of dealing him though, the Tigers dealt Prince Fielder and Doug Fister this offseason, freeing up some payroll space to make a push to extend the 29-year-old.
Scherzer has yet to sign a long-term deal, but his $15.5 million salary this coming season marks a substantial raise over the $6.725 million he made last year. Regardless of whether the Tigers re-sign him or he hits free agency, he should have no problem surpassing $100 million.
|$12 million||Free Agent|
Since the start of the 2007 season, James Shields has thrown at least 200 innings each season and he trails only CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander in that category as one of the most durable arms in the game today.
The Kansas City Royals paid a steep price to land him last offseason, sending three of their top prospects including Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays in a six-player deal. He gave the Royals the bona fide staff ace they'd been lacking, though, and is still a relatively cheap option at $12 million this coming season.
Whether the Royals have the money to re-sign him at the end of the 2014 season remains to be seen, and with top prospects Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura knocking on the door, they may not want to either way.
His last contract was a four-year, $11.25 million deal that ended up being worth $39.25 million once his three option years were exercised.
He'll be 33 years old when he hits the open market, but it's not outrageous to think he could get a five-year, $100 million deal as potentially the top arm available.
|$3.975 million||Arb. Eligible||Arb. Eligible||Free Agent|
Viewed as a once-in-a-generation talent when the Washington Nationals took him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Stephen Strasburg dealt with arm issues at the beginning of his career but has gotten things on track the past two seasons.
He's gone a combined 23-15 with a 3.08 ERA the past two seasons with 388 strikeouts in 342.1 innings of work, but there is still plenty of room for him to take another step forward.
The Nationals signed him to a four-year, $15.1 million deal when they drafted him, and agreed to terms with him on a $3.975 million deal this offseason in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
There are a number of players the Nationals could look to extend in the years ahead, as Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are all candidates for a long-term deal. Still, an extension for Strasburg will likely come well before his 2016 contract year, and it will undoubtedly top $100 million.