This offseason already features a very active market for starting pitchers, with teams treating them like Black Friday door-busters in advance of a potential lockout Dec. 2. The Tigers introduced Eduardo Rodriguez Monday, celebrating the signing of his five-year, $77 million deal.
On the same day, the Giants announced the re-signing of righthander Anthony DeSclafani (three years, $36 million) and reportedly neared a two-year deal to re-sign lefthander Alex Wood. Justin Verlander (two years, $50 million with the Astros), Noah Syndergaard (one year, $21 million with the Angels), and Andrew Heaney (one year, $8.5 million with the Dodgers) also are off the board.
According to a major league source, lefthander Steven Matz has agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal with the Cardinals, pending a physical. According to the source, the Red Sox made a “very strong” multi-year offer to the southpaw and were engaged in talks with Matz throughout his free agency.
The run will continue, but the deal-making is relevant for the Red Sox, who plan to be active in the starting pitching market with Rodriguez having departed.
“We don’t have anything teed up that I’d say is close, but we’re very active in conversations with a few different guys,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said Monday. “We’ve touched base with a wide variety of players, just about everybody who’s on the market, and it’s gotten more serious and more involved with some of them.
“I don’t know if that’s going to lead to anything or when, but I think by the time the offseason is over, we will have added pitching of various sorts, including starting pitching. I think that’s something that’s a clear goal of ours. Who that’s going to be or when, I don’t know yet.”
Major league sources confirm that the Sox have cast a wide net and have been in touch with the agents for virtually every available free agent, up to the top of the market (including lefthander Robbie Ray, expected to get the biggest contract this winter).
There are options, even without considering potential trades with teams such as the A’s (Frankie Montas, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt) and Reds (Sonny Gray) that are slashing payroll. Here’s a look a look at 10 free agents:
Top of the market
Scherzer’s excellence makes him appealing to any team with championship ambitions, and his age (37) means that he’ll be available on a shorter term than younger peers. However, he’s still expected to command a historic average annual value, and he’s widely expected to stay in the National League.
Ray re-signed with the Blue Jays on a one-year, $8 million deal last winter, then added strength that translated to more velocity, moved past his career-long aversion to throwing strikes, and narrowed his mix to (primarily) two pitches and dominated en route to a Cy Young Award. He’s now in line for a deal that could surpass $100 million.
Yet Ray’s underlying numbers (strikeout rate, walk rate, quality of contact) weren’t very different from those of Rodriguez. As such, given that the Sox were outbid for the latter, it’s hard to envision them making the biggest offer for the former — especially since they’d have to give up a second-round draft pick to do so after he rejected a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer from the Blue Jays.
It’s also worth noting that as a pitcher who relies chiefly on two pitches (four-seamer and slider), he could be particularly susceptible to a steep performance dropoff if/when his velocity drops while aging.
There are a lot of similarities between Ray and Gausman, pitchers who transformed elite stuff into elite results last season while leaning heavily on their two best pitches (four-seamer and splitter for Gausman). But in two years under Bloom, the Red Sox have reached just one deal of more than one guaranteed season — the two-year deal for Kiké Hernández last winter — and none with pitchers.
They’re considering a wider array of contracts, but would they go beyond three years — especially in the high-risk demographic of pitching? Signing Ray or Gausman would be a surprise.
Rodón is one of the most fascinating pitchers on the market. One NL evaluator described him as perhaps the most dominant starter in the AL on a per-inning basis in 2021. But he pitched just 132⅔ innings, landed on the injured list for most of August with what the White Sox described as shoulder fatigue, and saw his fastball velocity drop from 95-96 to 92-93 in September. (It was back at 99 in his one playoff appearance.)
Rodón might find himself in a spot similar to Syndergaard and Verlander, both of whom are coming back from Tommy John surgery — a pitcher who merits a large salary but on a short-term deal, given the questions about health.
Or, based on the fact that he actually pitched last season, he might be in a better spot, capable of snagging a longer deal with the ability to opt out.
Stroman is perhaps the best true pitcher on the market, his command and ability to mix four pitches giving him a more solid floor than perhaps any other starter. But his strikeout rate is the lowest in this group, and though he gets grounders at an elite rate, the Red Sox were the worst team in the majors last year at turning ground balls into outs, making him a questionable fit for Boston unless the team upgrades its defense.
Teams generally pay little attention to ERA at this point, and that’s especially true of Gray, who has spent his career in Coors Field. He has sustained mid-90s velocity throughout his career, been roughly as durable as Matz, gets swings and misses with his fastball and slider, and his seldom-used curveball has potential to emerge as a more prominent pitch, creating the potential for a bump in a solid strikeout rate.
In some ways, Gray has been a healthier and more consistent version of Garrett Richards, whom the Sox signed as a mid-rotation contributor last winter.
The 41-year-old is coming off his highest innings total since 2007, and plans to seek another one-year deal for 2022 with a heavy priority placed on pitching for a contender. The Milton native said recently that he’s had some contact with the Red Sox, and there’s some mutual interest.
While Hill proved durable last season, his strikeout rate declined from its peaks with the Dodgers, and contact against him became louder. That said, he showed flashes of dominance, generally offered stability to the Rays and Mets rotations, and won’t require a long-term commitment.
Kluber lives in Winchester and had interest in pitching for the Red Sox and living at home a year ago. But coming off two injury-ravaged seasons, he opted to head to New York based on the expectation that the Yankees were closer to a title and on New York’s willingness to do a straight one-year deal rather than a one-year deal with an option.
Kluber was healthier than in the previous two years and looked great at times (like Rodón, he threw a no-hitter) but still missed considerable time because of injury. That said, he showed flashes of excellence and could hold appeal on an incentive-laden short-term deal.
Kikuchi was outstanding in the first three months but cratered in the last three, ultimately losing his spot in the Mariners rotation. Most of his struggles down the stretch came against righties — a considerable issue in an AL East loaded with righthanded mashers — but despite ugly year-end numbers, he could appeal to a team willing to bet that his second-half decline was driven by the oddity of going from a 60-game season in 2020 to a 162-game campaign in 2021.