Most eyes are focused on Bauer as he continues to decide where to take his talents this offseason. Teams like the Padres, Angels, Yankees, and just about every contender without enough pitching is doing their best to persuade the right hander to their city.
However, with the price tag and uncertainty that comes along with Bauer, we think you could make a whole rotation for about the $30 million a year Trevor is seeking. There’s no guarantee these 5 will be cheaper than Bauer when they do sign, but we’ll do our best to allow for a margin of error.
- SP Market and Salary Predictions
- Our Starting 5
- Predictions For the 5
The Starting Market
Here is the player pool we ultimately selected from. To us they are some of the best values on the market. We used the MLB Trade Rumors predicted salaries of their top 50 FA’s and used that as the basis for anyone not on the list. We took into account age as well when deciding where to price these players. (IE Williams is at $10 million because he’s only 29 and still has upside) The salary cap we gave ourself was $30 million so feel free to comment YOUR OWN STARTING 5 as well.
- Jake Odorizzi -$13 million
- Corey Kluber -$12 million
- James Paxton- $10 million
- Trevor Williams – $10 million
- Jose Quintana -$9 million
- Garrett Richards -$8 million
- Taijuan Walker – $8 million
- JA Happ – $6 million
- Iván Nova- $6 million
- José Ureña – $6 million
- Alex Wood- $5 million
- Jon Lester- $5 million
- Mike Fiers- $5 million
- Adam Wainwright – $4 million
- Brett Anderson- $4 million
- Chris Archer- $4 million
- Julio Teheran- $4 million
- Cole Hamels -$4 million
- Gio González – $4 million
- Rich Hill- $2 million
- Aníbal Sanchez – $2 million
Our Starting 5
- James Paxton – $10 million
- Taijuan Walker – $8 million
- Brett Anderson- $4 million
- Chris Archer $4 million
- Julio Teheran- $4 million
Total Salary – $30 million
2020 was merely an injury outlier of an otherwise stellar career for Big Maple, James Paxton. The big 6’4″, lefty will go into his year 32 season after an extra short 2020 due to microscopic back surgery. Usually pitchers recover well from similar surgeries and the free agent Paxton just pitched for major league teams reaching 94 MPH on his fastball. A sign that the lefty has indeed recovered nicely. If anything, Paxton may improve pitching without pain.
“Big Maple” has a career ERA of 3.58 in 8 major league seasons. 6 if you don’t really count his 20 IP last year and his debut season of 2013. He spent his first 6 years with the Mariners and his last 2 with the Yankees, but it’s clear teams like to hold on to Paxton when they have him so far. The Yanks in particular could’ve really used a healthy Paxton last year. They struggled to find a consistent performances from anyone not named Cole and ultimately lost to the Rays in the ALCS because of it.
Paxton’s best year was in 2017 where he pitched 24 starts to the tune of a 2.98 ERA for the Mariners. He went 12-5 with a 1.10 WHIP and 10.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. He had an ERA+ of 140 making him 40% better than average that year and 26% better than his career ERA+ of 114.
His FIP has also consistently been under his ERA, at a career 3.31 versus the actual 3.58 ERA. A sign that maybe Paxton has been somehow consistently unlucky. It would make sense considering the Mariners didn’t achieve much in his time, and the new Yankees stadium is extremely hitter friendly.
Big Maple is compared to several other successful and/or talented lefties when it comes to statcast as well. Names like Snell, Heaney, Boyd, and top prospect McKay. Oddly enough though he performs better than the rest with a batted ball profile against him similar to Manaea, Price, Iglesias, and Free Agent Phenom and Cy Young Winner Trevor Bauer himself.
Baseball Reference projects Paxton having a mediocre 2021. They see him going 8-5, a 4.32 ERA, a 1.304 WHIP, and a solid 38 walks to 120 strikeouts in 102 IP. Oddly enough, they also project Paxton to have a save in 2021. Maybe because they assume whatever team will want to ease Paxton back in to rotation form or limit him throughout the season by putting him in the pen.
Either way, we think Paxton isn’t getting quite enough credit here and should finished closer to a 3.80 ERA. When you take out his stellar 2017, Paxton had an ERA range of only 3.76 to 3.90 from 2015 to 2019. He’s not exactly an ace, but for a team like the Angels, he would be and would be worth every penny.
Prediction: Paxton to the Angels
Walker is another big guy at 6’4″, 235 pounds. The right hander was the 43rd pick of the 2010 draft and is finally looking for retirement money. Unfortunately for the 28 year old, it’s the worst market in years for players. He may only sign for a couple years for as much as twice as what were predicting, or he may sign a long term, guaranteed contract around the $8 million AAV.
Either way, interest should be high on one of the youngest arms in the market. Especially after a solid 2020 performance once he made the move to Toronto… Buffalo..? The Blue Jays! He made 6 starts for the Jays going 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. How good was he? His ERA+ was 325 in those 6 starts. Or 225% better than the average MLB pitcher.
Mix that with his solid career numbers of a 3.84 ERA, 1.246 WHIP, 7.1 WAR, 108 ERA+, and the fact that he missed most of 2018 and 19 due to injury, and Walker may be poised to make a leap as he hits his prime years.
At the minimum, Walker is a solid middle of the rotation starter. As long as he can stay healthy that is. But the ceiling is still Ace potential for the former 1st round pick. Especially considering the improvement coincided with a massive shift in his pitch selection.
Walker cut his fastball rate from around 60% to under 40% in 2020. Hey also cut back down on his split finger and consistently added his sinker and curveball back into the mix. But the biggest jump up came in his cutter usage. It became his second most popular pitch as he threw it 21.5% of the time. And even though the expected statistics on statcast beg to differ, the arsenal shuffle shuffle worked as batters only hit .156 and .151 against the 4-seam and cutter respectively.
We actually do see the Tiger following through and landing Walker this offseason. They desperately need pitchers they can rely on as their team begins to rebuild from within. If they play their cards right, they can replicate the Dodgers in the NL West and compete in the mostly rebuilding AL Central for years to come.
Prediction: Walker To The Tigers
Mr Groundball is a middle of the rotation workhorse who will never be an ace, but still a solid starter. His ability to generate ground balls allows him to pitch deeper into his starts and makes him a great match for any team with a defensively gifted infield.
He has a career ground ball % of 59.2%. The MLB average is only 45.3%. Even in the modern homer happy era, his flyball % is only 13.6% versus the MLB 22%. The only issue is just how many of those go for homers nowadays.
Still, Anderson has a career ERA of 4.06 over 12 major league seasons. According to statcast his stuff compares to other successful veterans like Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzales, Jon Lester, and David Price.
The 32 year old left hander struggled with injuries through the prime of his career sadly. He missed about 70% to 80% of the 2016 to 2018 seasons. But he finally pitched a full season in 2019 again.
In 31 starts, 176 IP, Anderson went 13-9, had a 3.89 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP. He was roughly a top 15 pitcher in the AL in 2019. 17 if his starts were considered quality starts, and he gave up more than 4 runs in only 4 starts. Or in other words, gave his team a real shot to win in 27 of his 31 starts. An absolute steal for a surprise Oakland team, but sadly he wouldn’t get his chance as they lost in the Wild Card.
Even sadder was the loss of movement Anderson saw on all his pitches from 2019 to 2020. Regaining some of that movement could be the key to unlucky Andersons top 15 potential again.
Naturally, 2020 saw some regression, but Anderson was still a great 3 or 4 pitcher for just about any club. He pitched 10 games, going 4-4 with a 4.21 ERA for the disappointing Brewers. He still missed barrels at an above average rate while refusing to walk guys at an elite level. All while throwing his fastball only 2% of the time. He is now a predominately sinker-changeup pitcher.
We see Anderson signing with the Giants or the Rangers. Two teams looking for depth and bargains with massive pitcher friendly parks. However, considering the Giants have already signed two starters, we’ll give the edge to Texas. Our dark horse pick is the Rays targeting the undervalued Anderson as a possible kryptonite for the Bronx Bombers.
Prediction: Anderson to Rangers
This may come as a surprise to most, but anyone who signs Archer understands they’ll be signing a 1-year low risk, high reward contract. He’s cheap because he still needs to prove himself again.
He was phenomenal in his time in Tampa. His best year was in 2015 where he had a 3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.90 FIP, and a 5th place finish in the AL Cy Young. And we’ve tried to find what’s went wrong since then and we have a theory.
Since 2015 theres been a few noticeable declines in Archer’s peripheral stats. 1) His fastball velocity has decreased by 2 MPH since 2015. 2) His movement on his pitches has declined which has 3) lead to his hard contact rate going up by 5% since his stellar 2015.
This is backed up by his HR per 9 innings increasing by almost a full homer. In 2015 he gave up 0.8 home runs per 9 IP. In 2019 he gave up 1.9 home runs per 9 IP. His hits per 9 innings has increased from around 8 to around 9 as well. AKA that extra homer a game he was giving up.
His walk rate has mostly stayed steady. So has his strikeouts. His contact rate. His chase rate. And we will say, Archer’s FIP has been better than his ERA in 7 out of 8 seasons. Meaning consistent bad luck may have played a factor in Archer’s fall from the throne.
So while it’s very possible Archer signs with a team this year and either makes them regret it, or not pitching in the majors at all. However, if a team can find even some of the old Archer, he could be the steal of the offseason and one of the biggest names in next year’s market.
We actually did a piece earlier on why Archer should go to the Dodgers and we stand by it. We repeated most of the Archer dive, but it’s also full of info on 4 more signings we could still possible see.
Prediction: Archer to the Dodgers to reunite with Friedman and Driveline
Teheran is only 30. We feel the need to remind you considering it feels like he’s been around forever. And this will be his 11th major league season. He’ll most likely cross the 1,500 IP milestone this upcoming season as well.
All along the way, he’s been quite the anomaly. Statcast has never been friendly to the slow pitching spinner. Even in 2011 his average fastball velocity was 93.6 MPH. Still it’s been under 90 for the past 3 seasons and he’s using it at career low rates.
2020 saw the veteran go 0-4 with a 10.05 ERA. Still he’s a career .500 pitcher with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP in his career. And considering Julio still found success with the slow fastball in seasons past, we’re willing to give him a mulligan on his exceptionally bad 2020. He’s been consistently successful and underrated for most of the rest of his career.
And this is reminiscent of just about all his stats and rankings from seasons past. Even with strikeouts Teheran manages to be a top 25 pitcher in his league at the very minimum throughout his career.
Considering he’s still youngish, and that the ceiling is actually much higher than most people expect, we think Teheran may have a vey active market when it’s his turn to sign. Sadly, not for very much and most likely for a 1 year flyer contract.
Can you say Rays anyone? If they do move Blake Snell, expect Tampa Bay to be on the prowl for low risk high reward signings.
Prediction: Teheran to the Rays
Obviously there is a lot more to consider than just the possible price of players for the 2021 season, but the point still stands just how much teams can do instead of signing Bauer.
This isn’t a knock on Bauer either. Bauer has earned the payday he’s about to receive. But unfortunately for some teams out there, they need depth before they can afford a stud.
Comment your own lineups and let us know why you made the ultimate free agent staff.