Sunday, March 26 2023

Our free-agent rankings are based primarily on how much we believe these players can help a team in the relatively short term — the next three to five years or so. Sure, the biggest contracts signed are awfully likely to extend beyond that range, but no big-name free agent is ever being signed for what they are going to do in Year 6 or 7. It’s about improving a team in the short term for the cost of potentially paying for some less-stellar years in the long-term. 

Earlier this week, we wrote up our top 30 overall free agents, as well as which teams you might see sign them. Today, we’ll focus on pitchers and expand from 12 to 20.

The aces

1. Jacob deGrom

2. Justin Verlander

3. Carlos Rodón

Astros’ Justin Verlander celebrates his second World Series title with his brother

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander celebrates his second World Series Title with his brother Ben. Justin talks about what this World Series means after coming back from Tommy John surgery.

In terms of pure talent, all three pitchers belong comfortably ahead of Nimmo and Swanson — if not even higher than that — but committing huge money to pitchers will always be riskier than hitters, and especially this trio of arms. Verlander has proven the most durable, but he turns 40 in February and can’t maintain this standard for that much longer … right? Maybe he can! Rodón’s own track record of trips to the IL is largely what prevented him from getting a long-term deal last winter, but he just went out and dominated for 31 starts in San Francisco and has a compelling case for being the best left-handed pitcher on Earth, which you can imagine would be a handy selling point for his agent, Scott Boras.

And then there’s deGrom, who, when healthy, is one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen, full-stop. That fact will earn him plenty of deserved attention and eager suitors, and it’s why he was more than comfortable opting out of a contract that would have guaranteed him $32.5M in 2023 despite only making 12 starts this season including the playoffs. He’s just that good. But again, gambling big-time on arms who throw this hard for this long who have had repeated issues pop up is an undeniably large risk. That’s a risk, however, that a lot of teams with World Series aspirations should be willing to take. 

Best fits: Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Red Sox, Angels


4. Clayton Kershaw

Welcome to another winter of everyone’s least favorite Kershaw game show: Dodgers, Rangers or Retirement! Those are the only possible options! There’s nothing else! Either Kershaw signs another one-year deal with the only team he’s ever known, he signs a one-year deal with his hometown team, or he hangs it up.

Age be damned, he’s still really freaking good, legitimately one of the five best left-handed starters in the world. Sure, he’s not Cy Young-level Kershaw anymore, but he’s a solid No. 2 starter on a contender. Any team would be thrilled to have him, but only two have an actual chance. Three if you count playing wiffle ball with his kids in the backyard.

On Thursday night, The Athletic reported Kershaw would return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal.


This is where Edwin Díaz would have ranked had he not already signed the biggest reliever contract in MLB history. Congrats to Edwin!

Tier 2 starting pitchers

5. Martín Pérez

6. Tyler Anderson

Two of the league’s biggest pitching breakouts in 2022, Pérez and Anderson both catapulted themselves from a half-decade of mediocrity into All-Star nods. Pérez has a slightly more reliable track record; even when he wasn’t posting a good ERA, he was still pitching every fifth day. The Venezuelan lefty is one of just 14 pitchers with at least 1,000 innings since 2016. That’s more than Kershaw, Adam Wainwright and Yu Darvish. Even if Pérez can’t replicate his superb 2022, he’s a good bet to show up every fifth day and keep you in the ball game.

Anderson was yet another Dodgers player development revelation. By throwing his changeup more, the 32- year-old became one of the best pitchers in baseball. Is it really that easy? It will be interesting to see if Anderson is anything more than another magic trick of Chavez Ravine’s baseball incubator. A return to the Dodgers is probably the most likely scenario, but some team could certainly push all the chips in on Anderson.

Neither of these guys will get Robbie Ray/Kevin Gausman money, and considering their age (31 and 32 respectively) they probably don’t even get Eduardo Rodríguez money. But something in the three-year, $50 million dollar range isn’t out of the question.

Best fits: Mets, Rangers, Yankees, Padres, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, Orioles


Tier 3 starting pitchers

7. Kodai Senga

8. Chris Bassitt

9. Nathan Eovaldi

10. Jameson Taillon

Senga has been one of the best pitchers in Japan for the past decade, and is primed to become the latest top NPB arm to make the jump to MLB. His fastball is up to 99 MPH, but his forkball is the true headliner. 

But for all the hype and intrigue surrounding Senga, some teams will prefer to target starters who have Been There, Done That and that’s what the other three represent. Bassitt continued to deploy his deep arsenal of pitches successfully in Queens and would be a quality addition elsewhere if he is to depart the Mets rotation. 

Eovaldi’s tenure in Boston has given us some spectacular highs and some ugly lows along the way, but a healthy version of him can still look like a legitimate frontline arm on the right day. Taillon’s selling point since returning from Tommy John has, somewhat ironically, been his durability — only 16 pitchers have made more than his 61 starts over the past two seasons. He may not possess the star power of the two guys who sandwiched him atop the 2010 MLB Draft (Harper and Manny Machado), but he’s still a quality mid-rotation option who would fit great on a ton of teams. 

Best fits: Mets, Rangers, Yankees, Padres, Red Sox, Cardinals, Angels, Orioles


The Padres

11. Nick Martinez 

12. Robert Suárez

Martinez was signed out of the NPB and had a 3.47 ERA (and 4.43) in his return to MLB. He picked up a little fastball velocity during his time overseas and looks like a more dynamic pitcher than he was when he initially broke into the league.

Suárez, who the Padres also signed out of Japan, made himself a nice chunk of change with a stellar performance in the postseason. The Padres need relievers, and on the first day of free agency, they reportedly paid him handsomely: With a five-year, $46 million contract that includes an opt-out after the third year.

They won’t get 100 million like Edwin Diaz, but these relievers should get paid

13. Rafael Montero

14. Kenley Jansen

15. Chris Martin

Suárez, who the Padres signed from the NPB in Japan last offseason, made himself a nice chunk of change with a stellar performance in the postseason. The Padres need relievers, but so does every other team, and Suárez is one of the most enticing arms on the market.

Montero was arguably the shakiest member of the Astros relief core during their World Series run, and he was still pretty damn good along the way — not to mention his tremendous regular season. Jansen’s surface-level numbers like saves and strikeouts still look great, but he started to become a bit too homer-prone for comfort again at points during his year in Atlanta. Still, a ton of teams would’ve happily traded their closer for him in 2022 and he should have a strong market again for 2023. 

And am I missing something with Martin? He’s 36 and has bounced around a good bit already, but he was incredible after the Dodgers acquired him — a smaller-sample version of what happened with Anderson and Heaney. Relievers are fickle, so any of these three could reasonably dominate or implode in 2023 but there’s a lot to like with each one. 

Best fits: MetsYankeesCubs, D-backs, RangersAngelsCardinalsRed SoxBlue Jays

Tier 4 starting pitchers (RHP)

16. Ross Stripling

17. Taijuan Walker

18. Corey Kluber

Stripling was quietly excellent in his second year as a Blue Jay and now hits the market fresh off a year that looked a lot like his 2018 All-Star campaign with the Dodgers. Walker is a classic No. 4 starter with a small chance for more, but you really have to squint to see the kind of upside he offered as a prospect nearly a decade ago. He’s awfully similar to Taillon in that sense, though we’d slightly prefer Taillon moving forward.

Turning 37 in April, Kluber is by far the most decorated pitcher of this group, though also likely the one with the lowest upside. He’s now a control artist first and foremost, with a career-low 1.2 BB/9 in 2022 alongside a 7.6 K/9 that was also a career-low. He’s far from the ace he once was, but he can still be useful. 

Best fits: Mets, Rangers, Yankees, Cubs, Padres, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles

Tier 4 starting pitchers (LHP)

19. Jose Quintana

20. Andrew Heaney

After a troublesome three-year run from 2019-2021, Quintana reverted back to the mid-rotation stalwart we once knew him to be with a stellar 2.93 ERA across 32 starts for Pittsburgh and St. Louis in 2022. His lack of strikeouts may not make him especially exciting, but you have a good sense of what you’re getting in the veteran lefty.

The upside play would be Heaney, although as with Anderson and Martin, it’s worth wondering whether the run-prevention magic is possible if these arms are wearing something other than Dodger Blue. Still, even with a good chunk of missed time due to injury, Heaney’s numbers are pretty absurd: his 35.5% strikeout-rate was bested only by Spencer Strider among pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched in 2022.

Best fits: Mets, Rangers, D-backs, Cubs, Padres, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles


Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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