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2020-21 MLB Free Agency Preview: Starting Pitchers

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Starting pitching is abundant in this free agent class

MLB: Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers will come into 2021 with a number of good arms. Unfortunately there are only two starting pitchers that will have a lock on a rotation spot: Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Adrian Houser, Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer, and dare I say, Devin Williams could emerge to take a spot in the rotation. Josh Lindblom is likely in line to be one of the starters too, or maybe one of the minor league arms takes a spot.

Milwaukee could be set up very well if pieces to the puzzle work out. However most teams like more certainty than the Brewers’ staff grants. Bringing in a veteran starter(s) to solidify the middle- or back-of-the-rotation is at least in the back of David Stearns’ mind. If that is the case, he would have his choice of 40+ starters that are currently at free agent status.

With Marcos Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepting qualifying offers, which MLB Trade Rumors had rated as the #2 and #3 starters available, two of the biggest names are off the board. But there is a buffet of starters left available. There is only one coming off a really strong 2020, however. The rest are track record guys.

Trevor Bauer

If Trevor Bauer ends up in a Brewers’ uniform in 2021, I would be extremely surprised. Fresh off his National League Cy Young Award, his performance value has never been higher. With so many starters available, and the uncertainty around team finances going into next season, his potential earnings might be suppressed. Nonetheless he is the only pitcher on the list to be exceptional in 2020. He has said that he might only sign 1-year contracts for the most that he can get year-to-year. Tim Dierkes predicts he will get 4 years at $128M. In a market apt to be unfriendly, Bauer has arguably the most leverage of any free agent.

Bauer is where it ends for pitchers with market leverage. That means teams like the Brewers can potentially get a starting pitcher with a strong track record at a decent price. The question is will David Stearns let the market come to him, make early offers to someone(s) that he feels will fit into Milwaukee’s needs, or stand pat? Below are quite a few names that could be options, and most of them come with big reputations.

Masahiro Tanaka

Predictions of Tanaka’s contract potential are coming in around the $16M AAV range. Tanaka averaged more than 30 starts per year from 2016-2019. He has been an effective pitcher for some time. That said, there are red flags coming with Tanaka. He was diagnosed with a partially torn collateral ligament, although that was several years ago. To this point, he has not had Tommy John surgery. His xFIP has increased year-over-year since 2014 from a career best 2.58 to 4.29 in 2019 and 4.19 in 2020. Is that arm wearing down? Buyer may need to beware with Tanaka.

Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi had what amounted to a lost season in 2020. He was injury plagued and was only able to cover 13.2 innings. 2019 was a different story. He pitched to a 3.51 ERA and 3.36 FIP across 159 innings for the Minnesota Twins. Odorrizi has been a decent major league pitcher for a long time now. At 30 years old, would the Brewers’ brass entertain bringing their old farm hand back to the organization? Maybe they can bring Jeremy Jeffress and Alcides Escobar back too.

James Paxton

The pitcher with potentially the most upside of anyone in this class of free agents is Paxton. He has the stuff of an ace. He just cannot stay healthy. He did make 28 and 29 starts in 2018 and 2019 respectively. He strikes more than 11 per 9. He did have back surgery early this year and a left forearm flexor strain that ended his season in 2020. He is a huge injury risk. His agent, Scott Boras, says he is back as good as he ever was, for what that is worth. Paxton might be looking to rebuild his market value, and a 1-year deal might be something David Stearns is willing to look at.

Taijuan Walker

Walker has always been enticing. In Seattle, many thought he would supplant Felix Hernandez as their ace. That never worked out. He has pitched to sub 4.00 ERAs over the past three seasons, with a career best 2.70 ERA in 2020. Peripherals do not support his strong performance this season however (4.56 FIP and 4.82 xFIP). Fastball velocity was in the 21st percentile, curveball spin was in the 42nd percentile, and fastball spin was in the 36th percentile. Walker could get a multi-year deal, but will Stearns be the one to give it to him?

Garrett Richards

Here is another pitcher that was thought to have a pathway to ace-hood, but injuries took him down. He is back to throwing really hard as he was in the 92nd percentile in fastball velocity in 2020. His spin rates were exceptional as well. His curveball spin was in the 99th percentile and his fastball spin was in the 97th percentile. He could have the most upside of anyone on this list (I know I said the same thing about Paxton).

Corey Kluber

One of the most dominant pitchers in the game from 2014-2018, Kluber took a line drive off his right arm that resulted in a fracture early in the 2019 season and has not been the same since. He was shut down in July of this season with a tear in his shoulder. He has covered just over 36 innings in the past two seasons and question marks abound for Kluber. Yet could he come back and be something approaching the Kluber of old in 2021. Some team will be dreaming on that. Will it be Milwaukee?

Charlie Morton

He is 37 years old, but posted his best years as a pitcher from age 33 onward. He does not have the fastball velocity he once had, but his curveball spin is still pretty good (89th percentile). 2020 was not a great year for him as he pitched to 4.74 ERA. Still he did have a 3.45 FIP and a .355 BABIP against. Morton still has something in the tank, and he could possibly be had on a 1-year deal.

Mike Minor

Mike Minor was really good in 2018 and 2019, but 2020 was not his year. He evidently lost two miles per hour off his fastball, and his ERA ballooned to 5.56 this past season. Is he a bounce back candidate? If he is, he could be a really nice addition to a starting rotation. That extra two miles per hours might be necessary for him to be good thought. The spin rate on his fastball was still in the 97th percentile in 2020, but his fastball velocity dropped from the 41st percentile in 2019 to the 20th percentile in 2020.

Brett Anderson

Anderson was effective for Milwaukee in 2020. He was effective for Oakland in 2019. He does not strike guys out, but he is a useful piece to solidify a rotation. He will be 33 years old next season. There are a ton of options for David Stearns to choose from if he would like to bring in a starter. Is Anderson going to be his answer?

There are still a lot of starting pitchers that will be available. Jose Quintana, Drew Smyly, Adam Wainwright, J.A. Happ, Cole Hamels, Jake Arrieta, Chris Archer, Jon Lester, Rick Porcello, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Anthony Desclafani, Michael Wacha, Colin McHugh, Ivan Nova, Alex Wood, Martin Perez, Matt Shoemaker, Anibal Sanchez, Trevor Cahill, and Julio Teheran are all out there. Heck the Brewers could contemplate bringing back Mike Fiers, Gio Gonzalez, Chase Anderson, and Jimmy Nelson. The options for starring pitching seem endless this offseason.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant