2017 MLB Free Agents: Predictions for Top Pitchers Set to Hit Open Market

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2017

Jake Arrieta could be this year's top free-agent pitching target.
Jake Arrieta could be this year's top free-agent pitching target.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

As the MLB regular season speeds towards its conclusion, the most important part of the year is still to be contested.

Five teams from each league will be playing postseason baseball, and it's difficult to predict if the red-hot Cleveland Indians will make it back to the World Series and win it for the first time since 1948 or whether the Chicago Cubs can defend the title they won a year ago.

There are no guarantees that either team will make it out of the divisional round. There are eight other teams that will try to prevent the Indians and Cubs from staging a repeat of last year's Fall Classic.

Once the postseason plays out, teams will start making plans for the 2018 season, and that means the free-agent market will take center stage.

It is quite likely that pitchers involved in free agency will do quite well financially, as has been the case for several years.

The top names who are preparing to hit the market include Jake Arrieta of the Cubs, Yu Darvish of the Los Angeles Dodgers, reliever Wade Davis of the Cubs and Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays.

     

Arrieta is likely to command the biggest contract of all the free agents because of his past success combined with his excellent conditioning. Arrieta had one of the greatest seasons in recent memory in 2015, and he has been a solid pitcher since then, even if he hasn't been as dominant as he was in that Cy Young year.

Arrieta has never had Tommy John surgery, and his work ethic should make him one of the most attractive candidates.

Prediction: The Cubs have been interested in keeping Arrieta, but it may be difficult to get him to re-sign with the North Siders. Chicago's top rival is the St. Louis Cardinals, and it seems likely that the Cardinals will pursue him aggressively.

Of course, Arrieta is likely to have several other suitors, and he could go to the team that has the best financial offer or to a team that simply makes him feel most wanted.

Yu Darvish
Yu DarvishKelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Darvish was traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline to help this powerful team with its stretch run. While the Dodgers have struggled badly in recent weeks, Darvish is 4-3 with a 3.44 earned-run average and a 1.148 WHIP since coming to Los Angeles.

Darvish had been a No. 1 starter with the Rangers before he moved to the Dodgers, and there's every chance he could return to Texas in the offseason.

Prediction: Darvish pitched with the Rangers from 2012 until the trade deadline after dominating in Japan earlier in his career. We expect him to return to Texas and regain his spot as the ace of the rotation.

However, Darvish has the skills and track record to be a top pitcher for years, and any team that is not afraid of his 2015 Tommy John surgery history could make a big move for him.

Wade Davis has excelled as a closer in his first season with the Cubs.
Wade Davis has excelled as a closer in his first season with the Cubs.Paul Beaty/Associated Press

Davis is the kind of dominant closer who could be the man on the mound when his team wins a championship. 

Davis has 32 saves this season, his first in the National League. If the Cubs can repeat their World Series success of last year, it is likely that Davis will be the last pitcher on the mound. Davis has been a relief pitcher since 2014, and he has strung together ERA's of 1.00, 0.94, 1.87 and 2.38.

This year's ERA is the least impressive of the four, but Davis has been manager Joe Maddon's most dependable bullpen arm.

Prediction: Davis has gotten the job done for the Cubs, and there's no reason they won't want to bring him back into the closer's role once again.

Alex Cobb has been quite consistent throughout his career.
Alex Cobb has been quite consistent throughout his career.Gail Burton/Associated Press

Cobb has has been a dependable pitcher for the Rays since joining the team in 2011. He had an ERA of 2.76 in 2013 and 2.87 in 2014. He has also been quite good this year with his 12-10 record, 3.66 ERA and 1.221 WHIP.

The Rays have limited financial resources to keep Cobb in the fold. While he had Tommy John surgery in 2015, he is a quality pitcher who should be able to help a number of contending teams that need starting pitching.

Prediction: If the Cubs lose Arrieta, don't be surprised if the Cubs and Maddon take a real run at Cobb. They will need another starter, and Maddon is quite familiar with him.