Who Needs Pitching?

Last winter, two starting pitchers signed multiyear contracts as free agents – Hiroki Kuroda (3 years, $36 million) and Carlos Silva (4 years, $48 million, $#%!). It appeared to be a combination of a really bad year for free agent pitchers and teams learning about the risk of pitcher attrition and how badly long term contracts for free agent pitchers can go. The recent busts of guys like Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt hung like a cloud, suppressing big money deals for starting pitchers.

This winter will be different. This is almost certainly going to be the greatest collection of free agent arms to hit free agency at the same time in the history of the game. The quality and quantity of arms available this winter is staggering – here are the guys who, in my estimation, have some chance of getting either a multiyear deal or a one year contract for a significant chunk of cash.

CC Sabathia, 2.98 FIP, 4.05 WPA/LI
Ben Sheets, 3.20 FIP, 2.18 WPA/LI
Derek Lowe, 3.33 FIP, 2.33, WPA/LI
Ryan Dempster, 3.38 FIP, 2.91, WPA/LI
Mike Mussina, 3.44 FIP, 1.62 WPA/LI
AJ Burnett, 3.65 FIP, 0.00 WPA/LI (can opt out of current contract)
Andy Pettitte, 3.78 FIP, 0.99 WPA/LI
Randy Johnson, 3.83 FIP, 0.23 WPA/LI
Kyle Lohse, 3.90 FIP, 1.54 WPA/LI
Greg Maddux, 4.03 FIP, 0.70 WPA/LI
Jamie Moyer, 4.29 FIP, 0.63 WPA/LI
Randy Wolf, 4.32 FIP, -0.43 WPA/LI
Oliver Perez, 4.74 FIP, 0.37 WPA/LI
Braden Looper, 4.89 FIP, -0.44 WPA/LI
Jon Garland, 4.91 FIP, -0.72, WPA/LI
Pedro Martinez, 5.40 FIP, -0.62 WPA/LI

There’s literally something for everyone. You want to throw huge money at a franchise savior? Sabathia is the jewel, but there’s always the luring upside of Sheets and Burnett that will tempt shoppers looking for an all-star in his prime. Want a solid middle of the rotation arm who never gets hurt? Look at Lowe, but lean on Dempster and maybe even Lohse as a fall back plan. Want a hall of famer with something left in the tank? There’s Johnson, Maddux, Mussina, and even Pedro, whose velocity is back to 2005 levels and whose main problem has been an absurdly high HR/FB% that could easily regress to the mean next year. Or do you want a lefty who misses bats? You can try to get Pettitte to leave NY, but if you lose out, you could turn to Perez and Wolf. Or maybe you just want to give a lot of money to a guy who isn’t that good but your fans won’t know that until its too late – you’ve got options with both Garland and Looper. And I didn’t even manage to pigeonhole Moyer into any specific category.

The supply of quality pitching on the free agent market has never been higher, but don’t expect to see prices dropping just because there are lots of choices this winter. All this quality pitching becoming available also means that there is a lot of payroll commitments expiring at the end of the season – the 16 pitchers above made about $148 million in 2008, so even without any inflation, there’s $9.25 million per pitcher available to that group. Toss in the fact that teams are still making significant amounts of money through new revenues, and I think we should expect that these 16 guys will sign for a total of at least $200 million for 2009, not even counting the value of the long term contracts that the top names will get.

With so many pitchers available, one thing is certain – this will be one of the most fun hot stove seasons we’ve ever seen.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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