The Market for Starting Pitchers — Free Agents, Non-Tenders, and Trades

This week we’re going to take a look at the market for various positions that the Pirates may be interested in this offseason.  Today’s article will look at the market for starting pitchers.

While the market for catchers is weak and the market for corner infielders/outfielders is slightly above-average, the starting pitcher market is rather deep.

Whether you think the Pirates will actively pursue a starting pitcher this offseason depends on your ideas on two pieces of data:

1) If you think the Pirates will non-tender Jeff Karstens.  If Karstens is non-tendered, the Pirates will have three holdovers in Burnett, Rodriguez, and McDonald.  The Pirates will have to fill two slots in the rotation, whether using internal options or new acquisitions.  If Karstens stays, then the Pirates would only have one opening that could be filled by Jeff Locke and/or Kyle McPherson.

2) What you think of Jeff Locke and Kyle McPherson.  Under the Karstens gets non-tendered scenario, the Pirates could turn to Locke and McPherson to fill the last 2 slots, especially if Gerrit Cole is ready for the majors at mid-season.  If you think the Pirates can hold the fort with these guys until Cole is ready, then you probably don’t think the Pirates need a pitcher.



The free agent market for pitchers has a wide variety of pitchers available throughout the whole price range spectrum.  Here are some of the highlights:

Zack Greinke — Greinke is the belle of the ball for starting pitchers this year.  Greinke is presumably going to get $20M+/year over 5-6 years, so that puts him out of the Pirates’ price range.

Ryan Dempster — Dempster has been a very durable and effective pitcher for the past few years, consistently posting 3 WAR seasons.  Dempster will be 36 in 2013, so I can’t endorse giving Dempster more than a 1 year deal.  Dempster enjoyed his time in Chicago, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him end up back there.

Edwin Jackson — Much like the ronin of the Far East feudal days, Jackson has been a man without a home despite posting solid numbers and logging large numbers of innings.  The Pirates courted Jackson, 29 in 2013, last offseason and offered a multi-year deal, but Jackson signed a 1 year deal with the Nationals instead.  Perhaps the two sides can get together this offseason.

Anibal Sanchez — Sanchez has logged just under 200 innings each of the last 3 years and posted K/9’s in the high 7’s.  Sanchez, 29 in 2013, has been very consistent in his ERA (3.55, 3.67, 3.86) and his FIP (3.32, 3.35, 3.53) over the past 3 years, as well.  He has been rumored to be asking for a six year, $90 M deal, which would put him just out of the Pirates’ price range.

There are some intriguing buy-low candidates in the form of Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, and Dan Haren.  Each of those pitchers, though, have varying degrees of injury concerns.



Jair Jurrjens — Jurrjens has been downsliding since his 215 inning effort in 2009.  Last year he split his time between Atlanta and AAA and wasn’t particularly effective at either stop.  Jurrjens is not the kind of pitcher that the Pirates should be depending on at the start of the season in the rotation.



The trade market could actually prove to be more robust than the free agent market, as the rumor mill has already added some key names early in the offseason.

Tampa Bay — It must be frustrating to be a Rays fan.  The Rays have a coveted young rotation and have been extremely competitive in the AL East the last 5 years.  But thanks to an awful stadium in an awful location that makes it difficult for the fanbase to access, the Rays are continually forced to trade away talent to stay competitive on an ultra-low payroll.  This year speculation has already started about James Shields.  Shields is a workhorse that has pitched well over 200 innings each of the last 6 years.  His $10.25M option for 2013 and $12M option for 2014 (plus some unknown bonus incentives) will make him a steal for whatever team may end up with him.  Jeremy Hellickson is also rumored to be on the block, but he is clearly the 2nd choice behind Shields, even though Hellickson has more years of control and yet to reach arbitration.

Chicago White Sox — The White Sox picked up Gavin Floyd’s $9.5M option for 2013, but he could be traded to help re-allocate payroll for Chicago.  Floyd is a solid mid-rotation option that will upgrade someone’s rotation.

New York Mets — The Mets picked up R.A. Dickey’s ultra-affordable $5M option for 2013, but if a long term deal can’t be reached, the Mets may try and trade the 38-year old knuckleballer.  The Cy Young finalist may be at the peak of his value this offseason and could land a series of prospects for the Mets.

Cleveland — Although the Indians hired Terry Francona and seemingly saying that they wanted to contend sooner rather than later, the Indians have a number of players that may be traded this offseason to hasten their rebuild.  Sinkerballer Justin Masterson is one of those players.  Masterson, 28 in 2013, regressed last season but he may be re-energized to be with Terry Francona again.  Masterson still has 2 years of control left before free agency.

Arizona — In one of the stranger early developments of the offseason, a report surfaced that Trevor Bauer is on the trading block, although the report has been denied by the Diamondbacks.  It’s not entirely surprising, though, as GM Kevin Towers said that Bauer was “stubborn” when he demoted him this summer.  That could easily be code for “uncoachable” as the eccentric Bauer believes strongly in his theories of pitch tunneling, effective velocity, extreme long toss, and workout regimen that he developed himself.  Gerrit Cole’s former UCLA teammate and fellow 2011 draft pick could improve someone’s rotation, but it will be interesting to see what his market value is at this point, if he’s even on the block at all.

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willie lopez

ill let karstens walk and morton….

give a spot to mcpherson and trade hanrahan for a starter…

there are some closer free agents that can do well for less than the 7.5mil joel will get in arbitration..imo

Blue Bomber

James Shields in the black and gold? Garrett Jones seems like good trade bait for the Rays, but they seem pretty cautious about trading.


You won’t be getting James Shields for a platoon OF in his 30’s. The Rays are notoriously difficult to trade with. Its not really worth discussing.

Kevin, you seemed to have missed several other good targets like Brandon McCarthy, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, Jeff Francis, Shawn Marcum, Chris Young, and Joe Saunders among others.

Also, Haren should be the #1 priority if he is even remotely being honest about his health. The chance to add a legit #2 SP on a short term deal is super attractive. If he isn’t healthy then you try EJax, if he says no then probably Guthrie level guys.

We absolutely need a SP, even if you keep Karstens you can’t go into the season with only 6 options, two of which are raw, and another one is an enigma. There is no reason why McPherson and Locke can’t start in the pen. St. Louis has used that approach very well for years.


I want to see the young guys get a real shot too, but if the non-tender Karstens you have only 5 SP’s and no options if someone gets hurt or fails to perform. With only two relative sure things (AJ/Wandy) an innings eater seems like a pretty good idea to me. The guys I listed are all much better than Kevin Correia and would be very useful.

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