The Next Crop of Free Agent Pitchers

While a lot of the current focus is on the remaining starting pitchers from this free agent class and where they will end up, we are getting close to the point where the focus starts to shift to the players who are going to hit free agency after next season. Generally, spring training is the time of the contract extension, and for players under team control for only one more season, this is often the last time they’ll negotiate an extension before testing the free agent market. Last year, we saw guys like Martin Prado and Carlos Gomez sign new contracts during this stretch of the off-season, and the year before, we saw Matt Cain, Ryan Zimmerman, and Howie Kendrick sign deals that kept them from playing out their walk year. And of course, Clayton Kershaw just reset the bar on long term extensions for players with only one year of team control remaining.

With the recent trend of teams ponying up nearly free agent prices to keep players from testing the market, we should expect that Kershaw won’t be the last pitcher to choose guaranteed security now rather than playing out the string and opening himself up to a bidding war next winter. So, today, let’s take a look at the 2013 lines from the five big remaining starters who are either going to land an extension in the next few months or hit free agency next winter.


Name IP ERA- FIP- xFIP- WAR RA9-WAR
Max Scherzer 214.1 71 68 80 6.4 6.2
James Shields 228.2 77 86 94 4.5 6.0
Justin Masterson 193.0 90 88 84 3.4 3.8
Homer Bailey 209.0 92 87 89 3.7 3.5
Jon Lester 213.1 90 87 98 4.3 3.9

Scherzer is the big name, and probably also the most likely to get an extension. The Prince Fielder trade reduced the Tigers long term financial obligations, while the Doug Fister trade suggested that they must think they can get Scherzer signed, because if they cleared all that money off their books and couldn’t get Scherzer to take it, he probably would have been the one getting moved, not the reasonably priced Fister.

But while Scherzer is the biggest name of the bunch, he’s certainly not the only quality arm that could hit the open market next winter, and the gap between their performances is probably smaller than the gap between their reputations. Homer Bailey is certainly not as good as Scherzer, but he’s a quality pitcher in his own right, so this isn’t Scherzer and the seven dwarves. Scherzer has the largest potential extension price of the group, but I bet all five are probably shooting for over $100 million in guaranteed dollars.

And pretty much all of the recent comparisons point to them each landing nine figure deals. Even setting aside Kershaw’s $215 million contract — given that none of these guys are as good or as young as the Dodgers ace — the price of buying out four or five free agent years of a pitcher of this quality has consistently been at or above $100 million. Matt Cain got $112 million for five free agent years right before the start of the 2012 season, and he would fit right into the middle of this group of starters. Adam Wainwright got “only” $98 million for five free agent years, but he also had the most extensive injury history of the group, and probably gave the Cardinals a big discount over his actual market value.

Cole Hamels got $144 million for six years, though that was at mid-season, so he was a little closer to free agency. Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander got $135 million and $140 million for five free agent years respectively, though they were a year further from free agency. Still, the market has pretty clearly set the price of pitcher extensions at between $20 and $28 million per year for five or six free agent seasons, and they often just take the first year of the already agreed to contract and tack it onto the deal to allow the agent to promote a larger total number than just announcing the new money as a separate extension.

Scherzer already settled with the Tigers for $15 million. The Red Sox exercised Lester’s team option for $13 million, and the Royals did the same with Shields’ $12 million option. For Bailey and Masterson, their 2014 salaries are likely to come in around $10 million, which is the midpoint between what they asked for in arbitration and what they were offered by the Reds and Indians. So, in each case, the 2014 money is pretty similar, and won’t be a big factor in determining the overall size of the extension.

Let’s assume that each pitcher is willing to take the current market price for wins in exchange for avoiding free agency — essentially trading in one year’s worth of inflation for their one year risk of injury or performance decline — and will be looking to sell five of their free agent seasons, starting with 2015, so each pitcher would sign a six year contract that includes their predetermined 2014 payout. What would the deal for each pitcher look like?

Well, let’s start by looking at their projections, using both ZIPS and Steamer’s forecasts for next year.

Name SteamerIP SteamerWAR ZipsIP ZipsWAR Average IP 2014 WAR
Max Scherzer 192 4.2 194 4.8 193 4.5
James Shields 192 3.7 212 4.2 202 4.0
Jon Lester 192 3.7 198 3.8 195 3.8
Homer Bailey 192 2.6 192 3.5 192 3.1
Justin Masterson 192 3.0 196 2.4 194 2.7

Scherzer, Shields, and Lester have a good amount of separation between them and Bailey or Masterson, so there’s essentially two tiers here, and their extensions will likely reflect that, especially considering those two play for mid-revenue Ohio teams and aren’t as likely to pony up as Detroit or Boston are for their own aces. Bailey and Masterson might have to settle for selling three or four free agent years at the lower end of the extension range, which would put their total prices at closer to 4/$70M or 5/$90M when their 2014 figures were included.

Lester has already expressed a willingness to take a less than market value deal to stay in Boston, so 5/$90M might be a good target for him as well. Adding in the 2014 guarantee, that would put him at 6/$103M, and would be the kind of price that would likely make Boston interested in pursuing a deal now versus letting the contract play out.

That leaves Shields and Scherzer, who should both be able to sell five or maybe even six free agent years, and probably close to the $25 million AAV that many of the better pitchers have attained recently. That would make a five year extension for Shields look something like 6/$137 once his current year was included, while a six year extension for Scherzer would push the total number to around around 7/$165M.

The uptick in opt-out clauses might shrink these guarantees a bit if any of the players trade a guaranteed year at the end in exchange for the ability to become a free agent again sooner, but given the age of each pitcher, I’d imagine that most of these pitchers will probably aim for contract length over a second bite at the free agent apple. It’s tough to see Kansas City ponying up $25 million per year to keep James Shields, and it seems unlikely that Cleveland will keep Justin Masterson from free agency, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the other three ended up signing long term deals in the next couple of months, and perhaps even sooner.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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LONNIE
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LONNIE
2 years 5 months ago

At those prices I would sign Scherzer and Bailey only. 25mil a year is too much for Shields…20 mil would be my ceiling.

Jim
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

I think Scherzer is the only one of these five that will get the 25M AAV on an extension. I see the others falling in the 6 for 100M – 110M range if they sign an extension this winter. You also have to factor in the weight of the draft pick if they’re at free agency. The pick has no impact on Scherzer but it will weigh on the others. I know all these guys are superior to Jimenez and Santana but it will have some impact on the others not named Scherzer if it also comes with handing them nine figure commitments.

John
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John
2 years 5 months ago

6/137 seems insanely high for Shieldss. He’s entering his age 32 season. Does anyone see a 33 year old pitcher with Shields skill set getting $140 million in free agency?

LaLoosh
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2 years 5 months ago

they all sound high but it’s a function of the times. that said, 5/95M does sound a little closer to what I’d expect for Shields.

Pumpsie Green
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Pumpsie Green
2 years 5 months ago

I think KC would be very happy to pay 4 years at 20M per plus an option, and they may be comfortable at 5/20 plus an option. Depending on what their internal regression projects based on Shields’ physicals and IP, I can see them pushing even a little higher, but not above 24M aav. If only for the optics, I think they’ll want to lock him up until Myers gets expensive in arbitration or hits free agency. Do you think that plays into their thinking at all?

Slacker George
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Slacker George
2 years 5 months ago

If it went into their thinking when they did the trade, I’d be less concerned with their thought process. If they are coming to this realization only now, this is bad zig-zag decision-making.

Mr Punch
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Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

I wouldn’t bet on Lester taking that much of a below-market deal. My read on his statements is that he’d like to stay in Boston and would settle for a fair market-level offer as opposed to seeking top dollar; if that’s right, he might wait for others to set the market. As he’s two years younger than Shields, he might well be the second most valuable of the group.

Matt
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Matt
2 years 5 months ago

What’s the difference between a “fair market-level offer” and “top dollar”? Market value = the going rate on the free market = the most any one team is willing to pay. Anything less than that would be below-market.

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 5 months ago

A few quotes from Lester concerning an extension:

“I understand that to stay here, you’re not going to get a free-agent deal,” he said. “You’re not going to do it. You can’t. It’s not possible. You’re bidding against one team. I understand you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.

But just like they want it to be fair for them, I want it to be fair for me and my family.

I understand what the market does, both in the free-agent market and when you don’t reach free agency and do an extension. I would love to stay here, and we’ll see what happens.

Hopefully, we can get something done. When the time comes, we’ll worry about it. If it’s spring training, if it’s during the season, the offseason the next year, these guys are my priority. We’re going to listen to them first, and we’ll see where we’re at.

We all understand. Pedey, he left a lot of money on the table to stay here. That’s what he wanted to do,” Lester said. “I understand that. That’s my choice; that’s his choice; that’s all of our choices. But at the same time, you don’t want to be the guy that makes that market come down a little bit.

I want to win. If that means taking a Pedroia deal where you stay here for less money to be happy and be competitive and win every year, let’s do it. Let’s get it done.”

Nothing in that selection of quotes suggests that Lester would want to take a below market deal to stay with the Red Sox. The discount that he says he’s willing to take is the discount that’s expected when a player signs an extension. He knows he’s not going to get a free agent type deal.

At the same time, he’s made it clear that he would really like to stay with Boston, so there’s a good chance that he grants them a little favoritism when it comes to negotiations, but there’s nothing there to suggest he’s willing to take a significant reduction in pay in order to re-up with Boston. He’d prefer to sign an extension with Boston rather than waiting one more year to get a free agent deal, even though that means he’s leaving money on the table. Which pretty much all of the players signing extensions do.

Zach
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Zach
2 years 5 months ago

“Nothing in that selection of quotes suggests that Lester would want to take a below market deal to stay with the Red Sox.” – You.

“I understand you’re going to take a discount to stay. Do I want to do that? Absolutely.” – Lester

Matt
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Matt
2 years 5 months ago

Thanks Zach. Thought I got into the bottle of crazy pills again for a minute there…

Nathaniel Dawson
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Nathaniel Dawson
2 years 5 months ago

Zach, did you even read all the quoted section? That’s why it’s important to consider the context instead of lifting one small passage out.

TKDC
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TKDC
2 years 5 months ago

To say that the entire quote does not “suggest” that Lester would take some sort of hometown discount is crazy. He said Pedroia left money on the table, and if that is what it takes to sign, he’d do that. I mean, this could be all bluster, we all know that talk is cheap, but how you could say that he is not even suggesting he’d take less money to stay in Boston is baffling.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 5 months ago

What a world, get paid $20+ million a year to play baseball and complain about “leaving money on the table”. That fucking table must be stacked with money 6 feet high!!!!

Atreyu Jones
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Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 months ago

You are so noble. I admire how you are able to sacrifice other people’s money.

Grow up.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 5 months ago

Move out of your Mom’s basement.

Atreyu Jones
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Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 months ago

I think you better patent that wholly original insult, it might catch on and you won’t get the proper credit for your creative burn.

But, to address the topic, I’ll never move out of the basement as long as the garage mini-fridge stays stocked with Diet Fanta and root beer!

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 5 months ago

Exactly, entitlement.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

Sigh, it wouldn’t be an article about the player contract market without someone acting indignant about how much money baseball players receive to play a “game.”

[personal-opinion]There are far more serious consequences to capitalism than rewarding the revenue generators of an industry that people willingly pay to watch according to their monetary contribution to said industry.[/personal-opinion]

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
2 years 5 months ago

My comment was simply that $20 million a year is a tremendous amount of money. Market pay is market pay, I get it. But throwing around a salary of $20 million as chump change and someone might get cheated is just wrong. Congrats, they won the genetic genepool.

Atreyu Jones
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Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Who, besides you, is calling $20m chump change or talking about being cheated?

Matthew Murphy
Member
2 years 5 months ago

Think Bailey might be underrated a bit. I know some of the other guys have longer track records, but Bailey’s 2013 was excellent and he’s the youngest of the group. While these cut-off values are admittedly arbitrary, only five pitchers in 2013 combined a K% over 23% with a BB% under 7% while posting an above-average GB%: Harvey, Felix, Sale, Kershaw, and Bailey. His increased two-seamer usage has improved is grounder rate, and his surge in FB velocity helped make his change-up a real weapon. If the Reds are only offering him 3/$60M it’s not surprising that talks aren’t progressing, he stands to make a lot of money as a FA next offseason.

pft
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pft
2 years 5 months ago

The numbers seem to be picked out of a hat to some degree. I mean, everyone knows extensions are discounted to the market, but how much? Using Lester as an example, there are 3 questions

What is his market value as a free agent?

What is the typical discount for an extension 1 yr removes from free agency? From which you can derive his extension value knowing the answer to the 1st question.

How much of a hometown discount on top of this would Lester accept?

We seem to have jumped to the 3rd (which is the question only Lester can answer) and kind of skipped over the first 2 questions (except in a superficial way).

My hat has Lesters market value at 6/130, and his extension value at 5/100 (or 6/113), and no idea how much less than this he would accept to stay in Boston and lock in the guaranteed money earlier(although Dave thinks it might be 5/90 or 6/103).

I am wary of players so concerned with security 1 yr removed from free agency that they leave tens of million dollars on the table. Josh Beckett is a good example in my mind, he had an injury riddled season right after signing his extension, was good for 1 yr and then fell apart due to injury and eventual TOS surgery. Have to wonder if he just was not feeling great when he decided to sign the extension.

So its kind of a catch 22, you are loving the team friendly deal when it is signed, but retrospectively it turns into a dog that bites.

Circus Catch
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Circus Catch
2 years 5 months ago

No where do I see in here all of the lessons learned from this year. Everyone of these pitchers will receive the $14mil+ qualifying offer, and don’t you think both sides know that going in? While these pitchers are a much better lot than Jimenez or Santana, all it will take is one off year to completely destroy their market. So, I think the Kershaw deal has nothing to do with the rest of these guys, and you may see some teams take a harder line, knowing that they will be the only bidders for whom it won’t cost a pick.

Matthew
Member
Member
2 years 5 months ago

I look at Lester and see 5/$85. Here is why using comps.

Wainwright: 5/$97M. I know he was coming off an injury but he was an ace prior to the surgery and come back without missing a beat and pitching nearly 200 IP.

Anibal Sanchez : 5/$88M. Took a step forward and pitched like an ace from 2010 on. The strikeouts went up. The walks went down. Home rates were in control. He was a guy you were signing to be a #1-2 starter.

Jered Weaver: 5/$85 Coming off two decent season and two 230 IP sub-3.00 ERA seasons Not in that much of a different situation than Scherzer. Took a “hometown discount”.

I see Lester and I see a #2-#3 starter. The strikeouts are down. The controls has never been fantastic. He is inconsistent in keeping the ball in the yard. While has been durable, he hasn’t been an ace since 2010. His cutter is gone. The curveball isn’t the weapon it was.

I’ve go between 5/$80M and 5/$85M. Essentially a Weaver/Wilson deal adjusted for inflation. If that isn’t good enough than that is fine. I’m paying for future performance, not past performance. I’d rather have Bailey or Masterson for similar money.

Chrissie
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Chrissie
2 years 5 months ago

I wouldn’t be so quick to say Lester’s cutter is gone. It was quite the weapon in the second half of the season and the playoffs. In fact, crispness and power returned to his stuff in his last 22 starts of 2013, for some reason.

I don’t think Lester is necessarily in assured decline the way you seem to believe. His stuff looked much improved in the second half and playoffs. It was actually the best 22 start stretch of his career, at least ERA wise. He is 30; he isn’t irredeemably old. He has the kind of build and non-injury history that would suggest he should be able to maintain his stuff as he ages.

Even if it feels somewhat counterintuitive to our brains, Pitchers can look like they are trending downwards for a span of time, and then suddenly change course upwards. Careers do not play out in a logically linear fashion.Even HOF good pitchers have had up and down years when you look at their careers as a whole. Remember how many thought that Cliff Lee’s first dominant few months (around the age of 30), would prove to be fluky and unsustainable? Why is it that Francisco Liriano had a very good year this year? Had it been foreseen in projection systems? Did people think that AJ Burnett would put up quality years after the Yankees traded him in a salary dump? He was getting up there in age.

Lester, Bailey and Masterson may not just continue whatever trends they seem to be on, based on extrapolating from the last 3 years. We could be thinking very differently about these players a short year from now. Baseball is nothing if not unpredictable. Trends can trend differently seemingly out of the blue.

Ben Cherington said at the end of last year that Lester appears to be successfully making the adjustments that pitchers make as they move along in their careers – namely that their knowledge of pitching and craft comes more into play, as opposed to just blowing pure stuff by people. Cherington noted that Lester was now pitching to both sides of the plate and mixing up his pitching sequences in a more dynamic fashion then when he was younger. I also do think that poor coaching may have had a hand in his 2012 years, as it has been reported that the communication between coaches was practically non existent. Farrell also seems to have a particularly good comprehension of Lester.

michael b
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michael b
2 years 5 months ago

The thing with lester is he has a bit of derek Lowe in him. Hate to say it but just like Lowe till the pressure starts to get on, either play off or otherwise Lesters stuff tends to be extremly up and down and inconsistent yet like Lowe, he is dam good in the play off and under pressure. So I guess the real question is, on a team fresh off a world series how much IS the post season worth?

michael b
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michael b
2 years 5 months ago

For example Lesters regular season ERA is 3.76 career, his post season more then a full run lower at 2.11 in a pretty large sample size of 8 series and more impressively in the WS ERA of .43. His whip drops almost 300 points from 1.304 to 1.043. His hits per nine drops from 8.5 to 6.9, walks per nine from 3.2 to 2.5. So really his worth seems to almost depend on whether the Red Sox think they can compete again in the Post season.

NS
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NS
2 years 5 months ago

“pretty large sample size”

You may need to reevaluate your definition of this term. You are talking about 11 starts across 4 seasons.

Mike
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Mike
2 years 5 months ago

I initially read this as “the more reasonably priced Fielder” (instead of Fister) and was really confused.

Tim
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Tim
2 years 5 months ago

Homer Bailey has an extra dimension that should make him more valuable.

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 5 months ago

space-time?

M W
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M W
2 years 5 months ago

No reason for Bailey to accept that short of contract just 9 months from FA.

rotorankers.tumblr.com
Guest
rotorankers.tumblr.com
2 years 5 months ago

I’d take Bailey next after Scherzer and it’s not even close. He’s much younger than Lester and Shields and arguably better.

Renan
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Renan
2 years 5 months ago

Isn’t there a concern that the qualifying offer will depress the market for at least a couple of these guys? Probably not Scherzer given the year he had last year, or Bailey and Lester given their ages, but are teams going to be clamoring to give up a nine figure contract AND a first round pick for Masterson or, to a lesser extent, Shields? Unless either of them has a monster year this year, wouldn’t it be better for the Indians and Royals to play it out, make a qualifying offer and see if the market will come to them instead of paying full value for their services?

Atreyu Jones
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Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 months ago

If we assume teams are acting rationally, the QO will depress the market for ALL of these guys (if they get to free agency without being traded). It might just get noticed for Scherzer, because the market depression is proportionately smaller with a bigger contract.

Atreyu Jones
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Atreyu Jones
2 years 5 months ago

I meant to say “It might not get noticed for Scherzer….”

illinibob
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illinibob
2 years 5 months ago

I’m hoping the Astros are able to get Homer to come back to Texas next year and lead a rotation that will include Rodon, Appel, Folty and McCullers in a few years.

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