The Surprisingly Robust Starting Pitching Market

Much like fingerprints, no two off-seasons are exactly alike. Every year develops at its own pace and has its own quirks, and this year is certainly no exception. Multiple Scott Boras clients have signed one-year deals, hoping to get more interest next season. One of the top players on the market didn’t sign until late January. The Florida Marlins were one of the high-rollers at the Winter Meetings. And in the wake of Edwin Jackson signing with the Washington Nationals, we’re left with another oddity: an over-supply of starting pitchers in February.

At the moment, there are at least four pitchers available as a free agent or on the trade block:

Roy Oswalt (4.04 SIERA in 2011)
John Lannan (4.47 SIERA)
Jeff Niemann (3.79 SIERA) / Wade Davis (4.83 SIERA)
Kyle McClellan (4.36 SIERA)

Oswalt is easily the best free agent starter that has been available as late as February in a few years. John Maine was the best starter signed after February 1st last off-season, and Livan Hernandez and Chien-Ming Wang were the two hot February acquisitions back in 2010. And back in 2009, the list was just as paltry: Adam Eaton, Jorge Vazquez, Livan Hernandez, and Brett Tomko.

Come February, the trade market for starting pitchers is also normally bone dry. Dana Eveland was traded in early February of 2010, and the Rays traded away Jason Hammel in April of 2009. Outside of that, the only other significant starting pitchers to get traded this late in the off-season were Johan Santana and Erik Bedard back in 2008.

How many teams currently need starting pitching? The Red Sox certainly do, and it appears that the Orioles, Indians, Blue Jays, and Cardinals have all been searching to some degree. The Mets could also use to add a starter, right? But as we get down to the wire, it feels like there are fewer and fewer teams clamoring to add starting pitching, while the market for starters is (relatively speaking) flooded.

Of course, the market isn’t quite as straightforward as it looks. Oswalt doesn’t appear to want to sign with the Red Sox, and the Rays aren’t going to be willing to sell low or trade in-division with either Niemann or Davis. Meanwhile, Lannan and McClellan are both average-to-below-average pitchers that will be due a few million each this upcoming season.

Will this market end up being more favorable to teams interested in buying or selling starters? It’s difficult to say, but based on the recent past, this looks like an unusually strong buyers market.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

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