An Early Look at The Top Free Agent Starting Pitchers
Image courtesy of © Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsThe first area of discussion will be whether the Twins should offer Odorizzi, Pineda or Gibson a qualifying offer. Last year, the qualifying offer amount was 1-year and $17.9 million, so we can project that number to be somewhere between $18 million and $19 million this year. Thanks to Kyle Gibson’s poor performance of late, and the 60-game suspension handed down to Michael Pineda for use of a masking agent, the only likely candidate for the Twins to extend a qualifying offer to is Jake Odorizzi. If you want a deeper dive on what might go into that decision for the Twins, Cody Christie wrote an excellent piece on the subject earlier this week.
The Twins also have a few options within their organization, like Lewis Thorpe, Devin Smeltzer or Brusdar Graterol, but their best options might come from outside the organization. Luckily for the Twins, they will have plenty of money to spend this winter, as they will have only roughly $90 million on the books entering the offseason. That’s with only losing Jason Castro and Jonathan Schoop from the lineup. So, who are the top pitchers that the Twins could look to spend some money on this winter? Let’s take a look.
Among the list of upcoming free agent starting pitchers, Gerrit Cole will most definitely be the prize of the class. With Cole just turning 29 on Sunday, he will have a few more prime seasons ahead of him. Cole is practically a lock to receive a qualifying offer from the Houston Astros, but with a pitcher of his caliber, it shouldn’t have much of an impact on teams wanting to sign him like it did for other starting pitchers in recent years... pitchers like Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn. So far in 2019, Cole has a 2.81 ERA (2.88 FIP), with 13.58 K/9 and 2.19 BB/9 in 176 1/3 innings pitched, across 28 starts.
For much of the 2019 season, Hyun-Jin Ryu was the clear-cut front-runner for the National League Cy Young Award, as he had a 1.27 ERA through his first 15 starts. However, he has seen some regression lately, as he has a 4.31 ERA over his last 11 starts, including giving up 21 earned runs over his last four starts. Despite this, Ryu should still remain a top target for teams looking to add a front-line starting pitcher. For his career, Ryu has a 3.03 ERA (3.35 FIP) in 719 1/3 innings.
We all heard plenty about Madison Bumgarner as a potential Twins target before the trade deadline.. Well this winter they will have another shot at the one-time ace, as he will become a free agent. Much like Cole, Bumgarner is a strong candidate for a qualifying offer. However, unlike Cole, there is a real chance this qualifying offer could impact teams’ willingness to pursue him. Despite a slightly higher ERA this season (3.81 in 2019 vs 3.26 in 2018), Bumgarner has done a lot to help his market value in 2019, as his strikeout and walk numbers are greatly improved from where they were a season ago. Additionally, Bumgarner has shown that he is back to full health, as he has already made 30 starts in 2019.
Much like Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler was linked to the Twins before the trade deadline, and also like Bumgarner, he wasn’t actually moved, as the New York Mets surprised everyone when they decided to be buyers instead of sellers at the deadline. Wheeler is yet another likely candidate to receive a qualifying offer, and if that’s the case, he too could see that impact his signing. Wheeler has had a bit of down year in 2019, has his ERA is a full run higher than it was in 2018. However, many of the underlying metrics suggest he is still the same pitcher he has been over the course of his career.
Despite being well into the latter part of his career, Hamels is still preforming at the top of his game. So far in 2019, Hamels has a 3.69 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 126 2/3 innings. Additionally, Hamels’ strikeout numbers are still around where they were in his 20’s, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s hard to say if Hamels will get a qualifying offer, but it would make some sense for the Cubs to do so, as he could easily be worth a higher-priced 1-year deal.
Stephen Strasburg’s availability this offseason will rely entirely on what he decides to do with his 4-year $100 million player option that he has at season’s end. If he chooses to opt out, Strasburg will join Cole and Ryu among top starting pitchers available this winter. Despite being overshadowed by Max Scherzer over the past few seasons, Strasburg remains as one of the top starting pitchers in the game. In 2019, Strasburg’s 5.3 fWAR ranks sixth in major league baseball. What happens with Strasburg will undoubtedly be the most intriguing story line as the 2019-2020 offseason gets underway.
As we can see, there are plenty of options available for the Twins to target to bolster their starting rotation, and I didn’t even get into the possibility of making a trade. What the Twins actually end up doing is still very much up in the air, but one thing is for sure, Twins Daily will be there every step of the way to cover to Twins, even as we start to hunker down for the winter. What are your thoughts, do you see any of these pitchers sporting a Twins uniform in 2020, and if so, who do you think is is the most likely candidate?