For months I’ve been saying that this free agent class of pitchers is almost historically deep. That might be a little strong, unless you think history only goes back as far as 2007. Because based on the dollars that were thrown around, 2006-2007 was an unbelievably lucrative free agent starting pitching market – for the players. It didn’t work out nearly as well for the owners.
The top two contracts given out that year were unmitigated disasters. San Francisco is still trying to get out from under the $126M contract they gave Barry Zito while the Red Sox are finally finished with the $100+M they paid to get Daisuke Matsuzaka. Those two contracts are legendarily bad, and that’s NOT an exaggeration.
But the next two were almost equally dismal. The Royals invested $55M in Gil Meche, though he saved them some of that when he voluntarily retired only four years into the deal. The next biggest deal went to Jason Schmidt, who made $47M and pitched only 43.1 innings. (Read that last sentence again.) And it didn’t stop there. The majority of the pitchers who signed for big money struggled and there were a lot of them: nine pitchers signed guaranteed deals for at least $20M.
The teams may have figured out something since then. In the five years since, only eleven pitchers have reached that $20M level. No class since has had more than three pitchers reach that plateau. In fact, no class has had more than seven pitchers even get $10 million contracts.
Or it could be that the pitchers since just haven’t been that good. For instance, last year was the year those seven pitchers got at least $10M. The market had three big names – CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish and Mark Buehrle. But beyond them, there wasn’t much. Hiroki Kuroda got a one-year, $11M deal from Yankees. Three others got $10+ million contracts, but they were all for multiple years, so the fifth, sixth and seventh biggest deals went to Aaron Harang ($6M/year), Chris Capuano ($5M/year) and Wei-Yin Chen ($3.8M/year).
Did you just say “Who?” Exactly. If you’re looking for a thin market for starting pitching, the last five years qualify.
This year is different. There are as many as 11 pitchers who could garner a $20M offer from a team. In the first draft of TwinsCentric’s Offseason GM Handbook (which you’ll be able to order soon, I promise), I count six that are virtually locks to make that money There are five more that might, and each will almost certainly get at least $10 million guaranteed. That’s deeper than any class since 2006.
But it’s deeper still than that. Because after those guys there are another dozen pitchers who qualify as “innings eaters” or “intriguing gambles” which are the domains in which the Twins are most likely to dabble. Scott Baker belongs in the latter category and ranks 22nd overall on our list. By comparison, there were only 18 starting pitchers last year that signed major league contracts – and that was the most since 2006-2007.
So, yes, I might have exaggerated a little in the past, so I’ll try and be a little more precise. (John Dyer-Bennett would have wanted it that way.) Right now, this year’s free agent starting pitching class looks to be the best group we have seen in at least five years. It is also flush with mid-level talent, going at least 20 to 25 players deep. And I’ll go a step further.
If the Twins were trying to time find an offseason where average starting pitching would be available at a discount, they couldn’t have done a much better job. (Provided they actually spend some money.)