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2017-18 MLB Free Agency Preview: Starting Pitchers

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There are a few good arms and a ton of interesting ones available.

Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros
Alex Cobb.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

MLB Free Agency has officially begun, and the Milwaukee Brewers figure to be active players on this year’s market. The Brewers have a talented core of controllable ballplayers in place thanks to the deft dealings of Doug Melvin and David Stearns over the past few years, and the franchise will enter 2018 with increased expectations after narrowly missing out on the postseason this past year. With just over $61 mil in commitments projected for next year, the Brewers will be able to make a splash or two this winter if they so choose.

Yesterday we looked at some of the former Brewers that are available on the open market, and today we’ll talk about the crop of starting pitching that can be had. There are two starters that are clearly considered to be a tier above everyone else: Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish. Both hurlers have pitched like aces previously in their careers, although neither had a particularly dominating walk year.

Arrieta, who will turn 32 in spring, logged 168.1 innings for the Cubs in 2017 while producing a 3.52 ERA and a 90 DRA-. His strikeout and walk rates have trended in the wrong direction over the last two seasons, and he had home run issues and lost nearly 2 MPH on his average fastball in 2017. Still, MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Arrieta will land a 4-year, $100 mil contract with none other than the Milwaukee Nine.

Darvish won’t turn 32 until next August and is coming off a year in which he compiled a 3.86 ERA across 186.2 innings for the Rangers and Dodgers. On the other hand Deserved Run Average still saw Darvish as one of the top performing arms in baseball, as he posted a DRA- of 65 on the year (35% better than league average). His home run rate was up a bit this season but his strikeout and walk rates were still terrific. Darvish missed all of 2015 after Tommy John surgery and struggled on the biggest stage in this year’s World Series, but MLBTR pegs him for a 6-year, $160 mil deal.

Arrieta was saddled with the Qualifying Offer meaning that a signing team will have to give up a couple of draft picks to bring him in, while Darvish was ineligble for the QO because he was traded midseason.

The next tier beyond those two arms includes Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, who are more along the lines of mid-rotation starters. Both pitchers recently missed time with Tommy John surgery (Lynn missed all of 2016, Cobb was out all of 2015 and most of 2016) and both players received Qualifying Offers from their old teams. Both pitchers also recently turned 30 years old. Lynn had a reputation for durability before his surgery and outside of the year he missed, he’s made at least 29 starts in each of his five other full seasons. Cobb, meanwhile, has struggled to stay healthy consistently and reached the 29 start plateau for the first time in his career in 2017. Although Cobb doesn’t miss a ton of bats, he had the better season in 2017 (179.1 IP, 3.66 ERA, 86 DRA-, 6.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9). Lynn has never had great control and struggled with the long ball in 2017 (186.1 IP, 3.43 ERA, 97 DRA-, 7.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9). Both pitchers figure to command deals somewhere in the vicinity of 4-years and around $50ish mil.

After that group, we’re mostly looking at back-end starters and rotational depth. Old friend CC Sabathia is available after a 9-year run with the Yankees, and the 37 year old has quietly posted sub-4.00 ERAs in the last two seasons. There’s Andrew Cashner, who somehow managed a 3.40 ERA in Texas last year despite only striking out 4.6 batters per nine innings. Tyler Chatwood is a groundball machine who is finally about to escape the prison of Coors Field and could still have some untapped upside. Jaime Garcia, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Vargas, Chris Tillman, Jeremy Hellickson, John Lackey, Wade Miley, and Miguel Gonzalez are other back-end options that don’t figure to require significant commitments.

There are a few more interesting cases to keep an eye on during free agency, too. Miles Mikolas spent parts of the 2012-2014 seasons in the big leagues, though wasn’t very successful. He then went over to Japan and in his three seasons pitching in NPB, he posted a 2.18 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 across 424.2 innings. Mikolas is looking to make the jump back stateside this winter. Then there’s Michael Pineda, who has looked like an ace at times during his career but has struggled with the long ball. Pineda went down with Tommy John surgery in August and figures to miss most, if not all of 2018, but could be amenable to a modest 2-year deal that will give him a chance to bounce back in 2019. Finally, there’s the curious case of Shohei Otani, who is also considering making the jump stateside after beginning his career in Japan. The two-way superstar would still be subject to the international bonus pool restrictions, meaning that just about every team could make him a competitive offer this winter. That’s only if the MLB and NPB can work out a new posting agreement, though.

David Stearns and the Milwaukee Brewers figure to have plenty of interest in this segment of the market after their rotational depth was severely tested in September when Jimmy Nelson went down with shoulder surgery. Nelson is set to miss “a chunk” of the 2018 season, leaving Milwaukee with only two proven starters - Zach Davies and Chase Anderson - in their Opening Day rotation for 2018 as things stand right now. The Brewers should strongly consider adding at least another two starters during the offseason, including at least one mid-rotation arm or better. Personally, Alex Cobb, Tyler Chatwood, and Miles Mikolas are the free agents that I would advise David Stearns to take a long, hard look at this offseason.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus