Ranking the 5 Best Remaining Free Agent Starting Pitchers
As we officially prepare to turn our calendars to a new year, most of baseball's biggest free agents have already found new homes for the 2015 season.
Most teams have already gone about their business and locked up most of the prized free agents that were on the market. However, for those late-season shoppers still looking to fill a few holes, there are still some options available.
For teams in the market for starting pitching, here are the five best remaining free agent starting pitchers, ranked according to our nERD statistic.
It should come as no surprise that Max Scherzer is the best remaining free agent starter. Schezer's camp is looking for a deal in excess of $200 million, but no one has bitten yet. Of course, Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, and reasonableness usually takes a back seat whenever he's involved. However, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote Sunday that, since Scherzer is the only blue-chip free agent remaining, a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $189 million is possible.
Scherzer had a terrific 2014 for Detroit, one season after winning the AL Cy Young Award in '13. His nERD of 2.14 -- meaning Scherzer would have saved his team 2.14 runs a game more than a league-average pitcher over a 27-out contest -- was fifth-best among all MLB pitchers last year.
Most see Scherzer heading back to Detroit, but for teams that still need an ace -- such as the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Padres and Angels -- and teams with deep pockets -- such as the Nationals, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, and Cardinals -- it's possible one could pull the trigger on a mega deal for Max.
James Shields is a nice number-two starter for a championship-caliber team but is miscast as an "ace." His nERD last year was 2.03, which was still eighth-best among MLB pitchers, and his ERA wasn't too far off from Scherzer's 2.14.
However, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.59 indicated he was a bit fortunate on balls in play, and his strikeout-per-nine rate was lower than Scherzer's. In addition, he's three years older, 33 next year. He's also logged more than 200 innings every season since 2007, which speaks highly of his durability but also raises concerns of overwork. The human arm (at least those not attached to the body of Nolan Ryan) has only so many innings in it. Just ask Roy Halladay.
I wouldn't give Shields any more than a four-year deal, and most of the momentum seems to be leaning towards the Giants signing him, which would slot him in nicely after Madison Bumgarner and a hopefully-recovered Matt Cain.
Now we get to some of the less-sexy options. Aaron Harang turns 37 in May, but he did have a productive, bounce-back season for Atlanta last year, going over 200 innings for the first time since 2007. His 3.57 ERA was the lowest of his career, but it seems unlikely he'll be able to repeat that in 2015. Still, among the remaining free agent starters, his nERD of 1.88 is third-best and was 24th-best in the Majors last year.
For a team looking for a cheap, two-year commitment for a potential number-four starter, Harang is a decent add, as long as a third year isn't involved in the deal in any way. He's not going to win anyone a championship, but he might help a team get through the grind of a 162-game season.
There are plenty of teams that have that need, but in the end, I could very easily see him back with the Braves, for whom he did so well last year. Colorado was also rumored to have some interest as well.
Like Harang, Ryan Vogelsong is an older gent, 37, with a low ceiling. He made his first All-Star team in 2011 with a surprising 2.71 ERA and followed it up with a 3.37 ERA in '12, but slipped badly in '13 with a 5.73 ERA. Last year, he stabilized a bit, with a 4.00 ERA and a nERD of 1.68 that was 56th-best in baseball and the fourth-best total among remaining free agent starters.
Vogelsong has experience pitching in big games with San Francisco the last four years and could provide a stabilizing presence in the back of someone's rotation. Again, he could go a number of different places, as just about every team is looking for a potential two-year bargain.
Prediction: White Sox
Chad Billingsley represents the last of the younger, high-risk, high-reward options on the market. Guys like Brandon Morrow, Brett Anderson, Gavin Floyd, and Josh Johnson have already signed deals with other teams, which leaves only Billingsley, who is still just 29 years old. He missed all but two starts last year as he tried to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2013 but pushed too hard and suffered a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow in June.
However, he's expected to be back and ready for the spring and could be an excellent option for a team looking to take a chance on a guy with a checkered injury history. From 2007-2012, he went 73-57 with a 3.65 ERA, a 3.56 FIP, 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and 3.6 per nine. If healthy, he could be a tremendous buy-low opportunity for someone.
He makes a lot of sense for a team like the Phillies, who need arms to fill out their rotation and can afford to take a bath on a player who doesn't pan out.