By: Chris Larson
This winter's starting pitching free agent market is headlined by guys, such as Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, but there are a handful of names, that could perk the interest of teams that might be in the market for starting pitching depth, and ones that might not be able to afford the likes of either Corbin or Keuchel.
As is the case every winter, there will be numerous teams after both Corbin and Keuchel on the pitching side and things will likely come down to a nice bidding war, which will play in favor for some teams and not in the favor of others. Regardless, there are enough guys available on the market, to fulfill a need for any team and everyone should have a chair when all is said and done.
With that said, here are three other names to watch, outside of Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, this offseason among free agent starting pitchers:
1. J.A. Happ - J.A. Happ will be one of those guys that many of the teams that, fall out of the Corbin and/or Keuchel derbies, turn to because of the reputation that he has built up over his big league career. The best thing about Happ is that his ERA has stayed fairly consistent the last four seasons and he has put up a consistent strikeouts-per-9 rate over that span as well. If you combine Happ's ERA from each of the last four seasons together, it would amount to a cumulative ERA of 3.48 over 690 innings pitched. In addition, over that span, Happ recorded 649 strikeouts and had a strikeouts-per-9 rate of at least 7.8 every season. Not too bad for someone who could be a valuable middle of the rotation guy and a pitcher, who dealt with the big lights and pitching for the Yankees, during the second half of last season.
Looking more recently at Happ, he finished the 2018 regular season with a strikeouts-to-walk percentage of (19.4%), the highest percentage dating back to 2014 when he was pitching in Triple-A with the Toronto Blue Jays. Furthermore, Happ finished the 2018 regular season with an Opponent Batting Average Against of .223, also the lowest OBAA of his career since 2014, and recorded a 74.9 left on-base percentage. All of those things are indicators that perspective teams might look at and evaluate heavily when determining whether or not to go after a free agent pitcher. Happ checks the boxes in each category and could still have another good season or two left in him at 36 years old.
2. Wade Miley - Wade Miley started to decline following the 2015 regular season, but rebounded nicely last year with the Milwaukee Brewers and a big reason behind that rebound very well could have been due to the advice that Brewers pitching coach, Derek Johnson, provided to Miley. Beyond that, the Brewers are a very analytically driven team, as seen from the bullpen matchups that they employed all year and in the postseason, which likely played a big part in his rebound as well. However, Miley turns 32 years old tomorrow and could put together a couple of productive seasons as he nears his mid-30's. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to have a huge payday or get signed to a 5 or 6-year contract this winter, but rather that he should do well and likely will get a deal somewhere between 1-3 years and one that allows him to be part of a big league starting rotation.
Last season with the Brewers over 16 games started, Miley posted a 2.57 ERA over 80.2 IP. The biggest thing that worked for Miley last season was his ability to execute his cutter in the right situation and his fastball a lot less than in previous seasons. For more, refer to the pitch chart below:
Assuming that Miley continues to deploy the game plan that he used last year with the Brewers and relies heavily on his cutter once again, he would look good at the middle-to-back end of a contending team's starting rotation. He might not necessarily live up to the level of a Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel, but he still would provide tremendous value to the team that signs him.
3. Gio Gonzalez - A lot of people tend to forget about the impactful years that Gio Gonzalez had with the Washington Nationals, most notably during the 2017 regular season when Gonzalez finished the year with a 2.96 ERA over 201 IP. However, while Gonzalez experienced regression during the first part of last season with the Washington Nationals, he ended the season on a positive note posting a 2.13 ERA over 5 games started, or 25.1 IP, with the aforementioned Milwaukee Brewers. Any team that signs Gonzalez, will likely be attracted to his ability to, start at least 25 games, every season during his 11-year big league career. Over the last three seasons, Gonzalez ranks 14th, among qualified starters with 549.1 IP, and had 507 strikeouts over that span, good enough for 20th place on the list.
In addition, the market for Gio Gonzalez might not be just limited to contending teams, as those teams that are rebuilding could use someone like Gonzalez in their starting rotation as well. Gio Gonzalez was always looked up to as a leader within the Washington Nationals clubhouse and helped to mentor guys, such as Tanner Roark, with the help of Max Scherzer. The same can be said for a rebuilding team out there that might have a handful of young starters, who need someone to look up to, and learn valuable pitching lessons from. In addition, Gonzalez might have lost a bit of velocity over the past three seasons, but his overall velocity is not horrible during that time on his pitches, as seen in the chart below.
As is the case with Wade Miley, Gio Gonzalez likely won't end up with a long-term deal, but still has value and should do fairly well, given the demand for proven starting pitching.