Spring Training games began last week and we are less than five weeks away from Opening Day, yet three of the top four pitchers available in free agency when the offseason began remain unsigned. Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn are all still looking for new homes for the 2018 season and beyond, but according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the fact that those players are still free agents apparently isn’t for lack of suitors. Per Morosi:
Yu Darvish’s six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs was supposed to clarify the starting-pitching market and create a cloudburst of signings. Yet, two weeks have gone by and Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still available. The issue isn’t a lack of interest. One source said Saturday night that the Brewers, Yankees, Phillies, Rangers, Orioles and Nationals are among the teams continuing to monitor the top available starting pitchers.
Our own Milwaukee Brewers have been linked to starting pitching throughout the offseason, although as we explored last week, those reports have been in stark contrast to what David Stearns and his front office have been saying all along. Slingin’ Stearns and company continue to insist that they are pleased with their current in-house rotation depth and believe that they have enough quality arms to get them through the regular season. Owner Mark Attanasio was recently quoted as saying “we think this group right here, right now, can make the playoffs.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Milwaukee’s rotation certainly appears as though it could use a boost. Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin all have solid track records of productivity, but there’s uncertainty beyond that trio. Bounceback candidates Junior Guerra, Yovani Gallardo, and Wade Miley, rookies Brandon Woodruff and Aaron Wilkerson, and soft-tossing swingman Brent Suter are currently in competition for the final two slots in the rotation. Jimmy Nelson figures to return from shoulder surgery sometime this summer, and the org expects prospects Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta to be able to contribute later this year if need be. If you squint just enough there’s reason to hope that the Brewers can construct a quality starting rotation from the parts they presently have, but it’s not exactly a group that inspires confidence.
For Stearns, any potential move in the starting rotation would need to be one that the organization believes would “move the needle substantially.” It’s worth questioning whether or not any of Cobb, Lynn, or Arrieta fit that criteria at the prices they are believed to be seeking. The projection systems aren’t exactly high on any of the trio, for what that’s worth. Arrieta projects to be the best pitcher per ZiPS (161.2 IP, 3.67 ERA) and PECOTA (147.1 IP, 3.69 ERA), but he’s also seen his velocity and peripherals decline in each of the last two seasons and will turn 32 soon. ZiPS feels much better about both Cobb (160.0 IP, 3.77 ERA) and Lynn (169.2 IP, 3.82 ERA) than PECOTA does (128.1 IP, 4.92 ERA for Cobb, 121 IP, 4.47 ERA for Lynn). If Milwaukee’s own own proprietary projection system (which basically every franchise has these days) is closer to PECOTA than it is to ZiPS, it’s not difficult to see why Milwaukee would be tentative to commit to Lynn, Cobb, or Arrieta long-term.
Arrieta is believed to be seeking a deal similar to the one that Yu Darvish signed with Chicago, while something in the range of four years and $70 million has been rumored as the price for Cobb. There hasn’t been much in the way of a reported ask for Lynn, but it stands to reason he would be searching for a deal similar to Cobb as those two pitchers have been viewed similarly (and a step below Arrieta and Darvish) all offseason.
Perhaps Milwaukee is only interested in something like three years at a higher average annual value for Arrieta instead of the five or six year deal he’s believed to be on the hunt for. Maybe the Brewers would be more attracted to Cobb or Lynn at a price nearer to the three-year, $42 mil offer that Cobb was said to have rejected from the Cubs back in January. That’s pure speculation on my part of course, and those prices may not exactly be fair to the players based on the contracts that comparable free agent pitchers have received in the recent past.
At some point, one side or the other is going to blink. Will spring injuries or underperformance drive up demand from the six parties - including the Brewers - that were reported by Morosi? Will the free agent starters wind up having to settle for unsatisfactory contracts, or will one or more of them continue waiting to sign until after the regular season begins? Based simply on the calendar, we should start getting answers soon.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus