Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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Free Agency Preview - Pitchers

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Up this week is the first of two updated offseason preview columns. Just like in the original columns from two months ago, I'll be making predictions on where the free agents will land, though the guesses should be somewhat better this time. I'll also look at potential trade candidates and non-tenders and run down the free agent classes for the next two years.

Starting Pitchers

CC Sabathia (Brewers) - Sabathia still figures to get the biggest contract of the winter, though if he decides to spurn the Yankees for another team, perhaps Mark Teixeira could overtake him. Everyone assumes that the Bombers will be the high bidders for the 28-year-old, with a seven- or eight-year proposal worth in excess of $20 million per year likely to come. Sabathia, however, is believed to prefer both the West Coast and the NL. The Dodgers and Angels are perfectly capable of making him wealthy beyond belief, and it's too early to rule out the Cubs, Mets and Red Sox. Also, the Brewers are making a valiant effort to retain him. I'd still give the Yankees the edge, but it wouldn't be too surprising to see the Dodgers land him and let Manny Ramirez go.

Previous prediction: Yankees - eight years, $176 million
New prediction: Yankees - seven years, $160 million

A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays) - As expected, Burnett opted out of the two years and $24 million left on his contract with the Jays, making him a free agent. Even though he finished 2008 with his worst ERA (4.07) and WHIP (1.34) since 2000, his stock is higher than ever after he achieved new personal bests in innings and victories and led the AL with 231 strikeouts. There's a pretty good chance that he'll stay in the AL East, with the Yankees, Orioles and perhaps the Red Sox poised to make strong bids. The Angels, Cubs, Braves and Astros are among the longer shots here. The Cardinals are no longer in the mix after extending Kyle Lohse. The Blue Jays already had their chance to keep him and failed. I'm guessing Baltimore, but if the Yankees don't land Sabathia, then they'd be the heavy favorites here.

Previous prediction: Cardinals - five years, $70 million
New prediction: Orioles - five years, $80 million

Derek Lowe (Dodgers) - Lowe got $36 million for four years in his last contract even though he was coming off a year in which he posted a 5.42 ERA. The Dodgers, though, got their money's worth, and despite being 35, Lowe is certain to get a bigger deal this time. His preference is to return to the East Coast, apparently with the Red Sox. Boston made little attempt to re-sign him last time, in part due to some off-field issues. Still, they'll probably be open to bringing him back now. The Yankees and Mets are also likely to be involved. Unfortunately, the Tigers probably won't have the money to ink the Michigan native.

Previous prediction: Blue Jays - four years, $50 million
New prediction: Mets - four years, $60 million

Oliver Perez (Mets) - At 27, Perez is the youngest starter on the market, and while one can never tell what he'll do from game to game, he's produced solid results while making 63 starts for the Mets over the last two years. It's only going to take a couple of teams that think his best days are still ahead of him for bidding to spiral out of control this winter. That he is so young will make him more attractive to teams still a couple of years away from contending, with Seattle, Baltimore, Washington and Cincinnati a few possibilities. However, the heavy hitters could be involved as well. He's currently the toughest call among all of the quality starters.

Previous prediction: Angels - four years, $56 million
New prediction: Angels - four years, $52 million

Ryan Dempster (Cubs) - Expectations were that Dempster would remain with the Cubs, but he's made it clear that he wants to test the open market and his agent is making noises about a five-year deal. The Cubs are believed to have offered $36 million for three years and probably will end up caving on the fourth year. If they do, then they're still likely to retain him. The Braves, Brewers and Astros will sniff around, but none seems all that likely to outbid the Cubs.

Previous prediction: Cubs - four years, $44 million
New prediction: Cubs - four years, $48 million

Jon Garland (Angels) - Although he did finish his one year in Anaheim 14-8, Garland's stock has clearly taken a hit and the Angels aren't expected to make any attempt to re-sign him. Both his ERA (4.90) and WHIP (1.51) were new career worsts for a full season. However, he was having a pretty typical year until getting roughed up in his final two starts. Garland has made 32 starts in seven straight seasons, and he'll be just 29 next year. The guess is that he'll start looking pretty attractive again once some of the more exciting pitchers are off the board. A move to the NL with the Brewers, Astros, Reds or Braves would result in better numbers. He'd also make sense with the Orioles and Blue Jays in the AL.

Previous prediction: Orioles - five years, $60 million
New prediction: Brewers - four years, $46 million

Ben Sheets (Brewers) - Sheets was in position to land the second- or third-biggest contract among free agent starters before going down with an elbow injury in September. An MRI supposedly showed no structural damage, but there's still obviously a lot of concern out there. Sheets may find his best avenue is to take a one-year deal and go back on the market. However, some team will probably take a shot and give him a significant two- or three-year deal if that's what he wants. The Yankees and Red Sox both have the flexibility and depth to gamble on such a talented pitcher, and it'd be worth the risk for a borderline contender such as Houston or Cleveland to do what it takes to add him. If Sheets would prefer to sign for one year, then there'd be about 20 teams that could conceivably put in bids.

Previous prediction: Red Sox - four years, $60 million
New prediction: Red Sox - two years, $28 million

Mike Mussina (Yankees) - All indications are that Mussina will be content to hang up his spikes following his first 20-win campaign. He would seem to have another season left in his arm, but it would take at least two and probably three years for him to get the 30 wins he needs for 300. If he opts to return, it's likely that the Yankees would give him another two-year deal.

Previous prediction: Yankees - two years, $24 million
New prediction: Retirement

Kenshin Kawakami (Japan) - Kawakami, who has long been rumored to be MLB bound, ended up with a career-best 2.30 ERA in 117 1/3 innings for the Chunichi Dragons this season. He had a 112/25 K/BB ratio in the process. Although he was one of Japan's very best pitchers again, he pitched in relief in the Olympics. He'll certainly be a starter if he comes over. Kawakami doesn't exceed 90 mph on the gun very often, but his varied arsenal should make him at least a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the U.S. The rumor back in May was that he wanted to pitch for the Red Sox, and Boston likely will be interested. It's still too early to make a good guess.

Previous prediction: Indians - three years, $27 million
New prediction: Indians - three years, $30 million

Andy Pettitte (Yankees) - It again appears to be the Yankees or retirement for Pettitte. At the end of the season, it seemed likely that the Bombers would bring back either Mussina or Pettitte, but not both. Mussina would have been their preferred choice, but if he ends up retiring, then it's a safe guess that Pettitte will hang around on a one-year deal. Expect a modest pay cut from the $16 million he made last season.

Previous prediction: Astros - one year, $13 million
New prediction: Yankees - one year, $13 million

Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks) - The Big Unit had a terrific second half in his age-44 season, going 5-3 with a 2.41 ERA and a 78/16 K/BB ratio in 86 innings. An easy schedule helped, but Johnson did just fine against the few top offenses he did face. Recent reports have indicated that the Diamondbacks could lowball him this winter, causing him to finish his career elsewhere. He'll probably want to stay in the NL to get the five victories he needs for 300.

Previous prediction: Diamondbacks - one year, $11 million
Previous prediction Astros - one year, $11 million

Koji Uehara (Japan) - After years as a top starter in Japan, Uehara became a full-time closer in 2007 and had a dominant season, racking up 32 saves with a 1.74 ERA. He remained a reliever at the beginning of last season and in the Olympics, but he did return to the rotation and start two games in the Japan Series for Yomiuri. He ended up with a 3.81 ERA in 89 2/3 innings. Uehara prefers to start and likely will only consider joining an MLB team with a rotation spot open for him. He has more upside than Kawakami, but he's not as likely to give a team six solid months. Still, on a three-year deal, he could be a pretty nice investment. It's too early to tell where he might land.

Previous prediction: Athletics - three years, $24 million
New prediction: Dodgers - three years, $27 million

John Smoltz (Braves) - Smoltz opened 2008 throwing about as well as ever, but his shoulder was a problem all along and he ended up undergoing surgery in June. Smoltz was going to pitch out of the pen last season before opting for surgery, but if he attempts a return in 2009, it will almost surely be as a starter. A decision might not come before January.

Previous prediction: None
New prediction: Braves - one year, $8 million plus incentives

Brad Penny (Dodgers) - Penny started the 2006 All-Star Game and was the second pitcher into the 2007 Midsummer Classic, but now he's a free agent after shoulder problems limited him to 17 starts in 2008 and the Dodgers declined his $9.25 million option for 2009. It's a decision that could well come to haunt them, but they do have a better idea about the condition of his shoulder than anyone else does. Supposedly, there was never any serious structural damage. If that's the case, then he'd make plenty of sense on a three-year deal. However, it's more likely that he'll take a one-year contract and try to rebuild his value. A healthy Penny is probably a $15 million-per-year pitcher in this market.

Previous prediction: None
New prediction: Rangers - one year, $8 million

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Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.
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