For MLB teams hoping to find an ace starting pitcher in 2020 free agency, they'll need some luck to do so.
There are some talented arms available, but each is attached to a hurler with question marks. From inconsistent results to persistent injury issues, even the top names available have their share of red flags.
The market will always have interest in skilled starting pitchers, though, and the following three free-agents-to-be all fit that bill.
Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds
When one season statistically jumps off the page compared to the rest of a player's career, like Trevor Bauer's 2018 did, there's always a worry that it's a one-year anomaly.
However, given this particular player's pedigree—Bauer was once the third overall pick in 2011—it's harder to dismiss the campaign as nothing more than an outlier. Maybe he won't ever replicate that production (2.21 ERA with a 2.44 FIP and 11.3 K/9), but the talent is there for him to get close.
The 29-year-old already got his 2020 season off on the right foot. Granted, he was throwing against the Detroit Tigers, but still, getting 13 strikeouts in 6.1 innings while allowing only two hits, one walk and one run is impressive no matter the opponent.
"He probably had more in the tank," Reds manager David Bell told reporters, "but can't do much better than that the first time out, going well over 100 pitches and getting into the seventh inning, that exceeded all of our expectations today, even for Trevor."
The Reds parted with a top prospect, outfielder Taylor Trammell, to acquire Bauer last season. They would presumably like to keep him around longer than a partial season and a condensed one.
Prediction: Bauer re-signs for one year with Reds.
James Paxton, New York Yankees
A healthy James Paxton lands somewhere between good and great on the starting pitcher evaluation scale. He's never had an ERA above 3.90, and in 2017, he paired a 2.98 ERA with 10.3 strikeouts against 2.4 walks per nine innings.
The issue is he often isn't healthy. His next season with 30-plus starts will be his first. He has only twice cleared 150 innings and never thrown more than the 160.1 he gave the Seattle Mariners in 2018.
With his 32nd birthday looming in November, he might have even more difficulty fending off the injury bug. He had back surgery in February, and he was rocked in his 2020 opener, allowing five hits and three runs while completing just one inning. Even more worrisome, his trademark velocity was nowhere near its normal level.
"After averaging 95.7 mph with his fastball last year, Paxton did not throw a pitch above 92.1 mph against the Nationals," CBS Sports' Mike Axisa wrote. "His fastball averaged 92.0 mph Saturday night."
The risk is significant with the Canadian, but so too is the possible reward. Few pitchers performed better down the stretch last season, as he delivered a 2.51 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 61.0 innings over his final 11 starts.
Assuming Paxton turns things around again this season, that should be enough for the deep-pocketed Yankees to keep him around.
Prediction: Paxton re-signs for three years with Yankees.
Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
Robbie Ray's statistical profile is equal parts brilliant and frustrating.
For the glass-half-full crowd, the southpaw has averaged better than 11 strikeouts per nine innings each of the last four seasons and posted 12-plus the past three. However, glass-half-empty pessimists will point out his ERA floated north of four in two of those campaigns, and he yielded at least 4.3 walks per nine each of the last two years.
In other words, Ray has top-of-the-rotation swing-and-miss stuff, but his lack of consistency and control make it tough to depend him on being anything more than a No. 3 starter.
Do the Diamondbacks believe that his stuff will ultimately prevail and put the 28-year-old on a future track to stardom? Or have they endured too many free passes to cough up the money it will take to keep him around?
Considering Arizona just ponied up $85 million for Madison Bumgarner to lead their staff and have younger, equally (or more) promising starters in Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver, this could be Ray's final go-round in the desert.
Prediction: Ray signs four-year deal with Mets.