2020 MLB Free Agents: Predictions for Top Pitchers Set to Hit Open Market

Martin FennCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2020

Cincinnati Reds' Trevor Bauer reacts after recording a strikeout against Milwaukee Brewers' Christian Yelich during a baseball game in Cincinnati, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. The Reds won 6-1. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Last year's free-agent pitching class featured multiple top starters.

Gerrit Cole was coming off a dominant season in which he won 20 games and struck out a major league best 326 hitters and had a 185 ERA+ while also leading the American League in ERA (2.50).

Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu won the ERA title with a 2.32 ERA in 29 starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner was on the open market after a sparkling run with the San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, right-hander Zack Wheeler was also coming off a pair of nice years with the New York Mets.

This year's class does not have the same level of star power, but there still are some marquee names.

Cincinnati Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer is one of the top Cy Young candidates in the National League this year. Marcus Stroman elected to sit out the 2020 campaign but should still draw plenty of interest, and veteran Masahiro Tanaka's steadiness and ability to eat innings is likely to garner some attention.

Here is a closer look at the three top starting pitchers in this year's class, as well as where they might land.


Trevor Bauer   

Aaron Doster/Associated Press

Bauer's Reds career got off to a brutal start after Cincinnati acquired him from the Cleveland Indians last summer.

The former third overall pick posted a 6.39 ERA in Cincy, serving up 12 homers in 10 starts and struggling to gain comfort in his new surroundings.

But Bauer has been sensational this year. The 29-year-old improved his ERA to 1.73 after dominating the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday. Bauer threw 8.0 innings of four-hit ball, striking out 12 and showing total command of his arsenal.

Bauer has added more spin to his four-seam fastball while retaining his hard-biting breaking stuff. The result has been a season in which he ranks in the top two percent in xwOBA and xERA, per Baseball Savant.

The Reds would seemingly be keen on retaining Bauer. They could have moved him at the deadline but instead chose to keep him for the playoff push. That move has paid short-term dividends—the Reds are 14-8 in September—and could also provide future dividends if Bauer values the team's investment in him.

But Bauer has previously suggested he might sign one-year contracts for the rest of his career, which is hardly ideal for Cincinnati. He also recently indicated he would like to pitch every fourth day, rather than every fifth day.

The two ideas might go hand-in-hand for teams like the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox.

Atlanta should be desperate to add an impact starter behind Max Fried and Mike Soroka after the Cole Hamels experiment flopped this past year. Meanwhile, Chicago might also want a marquee arm, given they have risen to "contender" status faster than anticipated and should have some money to spend.

The White Sox and general manager Rick Hahn might get aggressive to land Bauer, who even had a fun back-and-forth with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson on Twitter over the weekend.

Prediction: Bauer signs with the White Sox.


Marcus Stroman   

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It will be fascinating to see what Stroman's market looks like this winter.

The 29-year-old elected to opt out in mid-August after previously suffering a calf tear in late-July, so there is some uncertainty as to how much teams will be willing to invest in him.

Stroman is averaging just 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, but his career fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark is almost exactly in line with his career ERA due to low walk and homer rates.

What Stroman lacks in velocity, he makes up for in craftiness and a wipeout slider. Stroman made the All-Star team in 2019 and posted a 2.96 ERA in his first 21 starts with the Toronto Blue Jays. He finished the season in the 94th percentile in barrels, per Baseball Savant, and also ranked in the 88th percentile in fastball spin despite his heater sitting mostly in the low-90s.

Teams will likely be willing to give Stroman the benefit of the doubt given his age and strong peripherals. The Mets will probably look to bring him back, but Jim Bowden of CBS Sports previously reported the Braves, White Sox and Los Angeles Angels might all be interested in Stroman.

The Angels got aggressive in signing third baseman Anthony Rendon to a long-term deal last offseason and—despite still being under bad contracts for Albert Pujols and Justin Upton—have money coming off the books when Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran hit free agency.

Los Angeles desperately needs pitching, and the Halos can sign Stroman to a long-term deal to be more competitive both in 2021 and in the future.

Prediction: Stroman signs with the Angels.


Masahiro Tanaka   

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Tanaka's situation probably has more clarity than those of the latter two pitchers.

The 31-year-old has been a rock for the New York Yankees, a trend that has continued in 2020. Tanaka has a 3.56 ERA in 10 starts, though he did take the loss against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. The Itami, Japan, native had a career-best 1.0 walks per nine innings ahead of Wednesday's starts, and he was also striking out 8.0 hitters per nine.

Perhaps most importantly, Tanaka has arguably been the team's best postseason performer, with a 1.76 ERA in eight October starts. New York brought over Tanaka from Japan, and it is likely the Bronx Bombers will do everything they can to retain him this winter.

The Yankees have multiple starters hitting the open market, with left-hander James Paxton also set to become a free agent. But unlike Tanaka, Paxton has dealt with more injuries this year, and also has a 6.64 ERA in five starts.

New York will not sit idly by and watch two of its current starters depart from the Big Apple. Tanaka is the best bet to return, given his effectiveness and track record of postseason success.

Prediction: Yankees re-sign Tanaka.


All stats and contract information obtained via Baseball Reference, unless otherwise noted.


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