It starts with two 28-year-olds, right-hander Zach Greinke and left-hander Cole Hamels that are both better than anyone in last year’s class. They both could reach nine figure deals with yearly salaries that approach $20M per year.
But the really remarkable variable about the free agent class is the next level. There is a glut of “potential” star pitchers and Liriano falls into that class.
- Anibal Sanchez – The Marlins right-hander is just 28, and has thrown 195+ innings with a mid 3s ERA the last two years. He looks similarly strong this year.
- Shaun Marcum – The Brewers 30-year-old right-hander has a 3.56 ERA over the last three years and has averaged about 200 innings the last two of years. But lately he’s shelved with a sore elbow.
- Jake Peavy - The 2007 Cy Young winner has been injured a lot the past several years, but has finally regained his form with the White Sox with a 2.96 ERA (and 101 K).
- Colby Lewis – the Rangers right-hander who has struck out 455 batters and in 500 innings over the last 2.5 years – but who is now out with “forearm tightness”.
- Dan Haren – After posting an ERA of 3.08 over the last two years with the Angels, the 31-year-old right-hander struggled this year. He recently admitted he’s had lower back pain all season and may find the DL. His performance over the last couple of months may determine if the Angels pick up his $15M option.
- Ervin Santana – Like Liriano, Santana has had good years and bad years. The last two, where he threw 451.2 innings with a 3.65 ERA were very good years. This year, where he has a 5.12 ERA is not so much. He’s not even 30 yet.
Liriano, who currently has 5.40 ERA and 76K in 76.2 IP slots in somewhere among these pitchers. He’s probably been the least consisten, but he’s also one of the youngest. He has never posted the inning totals that these guys have. But he’s also the only left-hander in this group.
Finally, it’s also worth noting that I haven’t included a slew of other pitchers, some of whom might even be more enticing to teams looking for “inning eaters”: Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf, Carl Pavano, Kevin Correia, Derek Lowe, Carlos Zambrano, Fausto Carmona and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
So how much could Liriano expect, provided he continues to be effective? The guys I bullet pointed above could all expect multiyear offers for $10M+ per year any other year. Injuries and late season performances could change that. So could the depth of the market.
Liriano would likely be on the low end of that group, but his age could be a factor in allowing a longer-term deal. Three years and $27M “feels” about right. But there are a ton of unknowns. If some teams really want a left-hander, he could go higher. If the market dries up after the first half dozen guys sign, he could go lower or for fewer years. Plus, there is his performance in July through September. If he wants to cash in now and avoid all that, one would think the price of an extension might be a little lower.
But there is another lesson here too.
The Twins, should they choose to spend some money, have a historically deep free agent class to rebuild their rotation. While the focus is likely to be Greinke or Hamels, there is a lot of value in that next tier – someone is going to fall out of that group and get a lower contract than we anticipate. And there are a lot of other average pitchers (such as Pavano) who might find themselves standing without a chair when the music stops.
If the Twins choose to try and extend Liriano, they place their bet early. It might make more sense to wait until the market sorts itself out and be aggressive later.