MLB free agency preview: Starting pitchers among headliners

By Rick Kaplan, The Sports Xchange
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke leaves the Dodgers. Photo by Jim Ruyman
Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke leaves the Dodgers. Photo by Jim Ruyman | License Photo

Starting pitching will be the focus when baseball free agency begins Saturday at 12:01 a.m. ET.

As expected, right-handed ace Zack Greinke opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday to become one of the top free agents on the market.


The 32-year-old Greinke, who was due $71 million guaranteed over the next three years, figures to get a longer, more lucrative deal. He is coming off a year in which he is a strong candidate for the National League Cy Young Award, as he finished 19-3 with a league-leading 1.66 ERA.

Left-hander David Price and right-hander Johnny Cueto, who pitched in last month's American League Championship Series for the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, respectively, are other headliners on the open market.


The depth at starting pitching also includes right-handers Jeff Samardzija, Hisashi Iwakuma, John Lackey, Jordan Zimmermann and Yovani Gallardo and left-handers Scott Kazmir, Wei-Yin Chen and Brett Anderson.

Outside of the rotation, the deepest position in free agency might be second base.

Daniel Murphy, who became a New York Mets legend when he homered in an all-time-record six consecutive postseason games, headlines the second base contingent. Also available are Ben Zobrist, a second baseman/outfielder who was a key contributor to the World Series champion Royals after arriving in a midseason trade, and Howie Kendrick.

The list of available outfielders includes two players who are younger than the typical free agent: 26-year-old Jason Heyward and 28-year-old Justin Upton. Slugger Yoenis Cespedes also hits the market, but his inconsistency figures to hurt his value. Cespedes revived the Mets' offense when he arrived in late July, but he largely vanished in September and October. There is a reason why he is likely to land with a fifth team in the past two-plus seasons.


Another outfielder who would draw plenty of interest is Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who likely will decline his $12.5 million player option. As he is the face of the franchise in Kansas City, the Royals figure to do everything possible to retain him, but he might price his way out of town.

Center fielders Dexter Fowler and Denard Span will be fielding offers, too.

Other intriguing free agents include first baseman Chris Davis, who led the majors with 47 homers this year but provides few other skills aside from power, catcher Matt Wieters and shortstops Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Clubs that lose free agents to other teams will receive draft-pick compensation only if they offer the player a $15.8 million qualifying offer by Friday afternoon. No free agent has accepted a qualifying offer from his previous team the past three years.

Here is a look at the available free agents by team, as assessed by The Sports Xchange's national network of baseball writers:




FREE AGENTS: RHP David Hernandez, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Saltamacchia told the D-backs he will test free agency because he wants to be a starter, and his bat played -- 14 doubles, eight homers in 171 at-bats -- after he signed as a free agent. The D-backs would like him back. Hernandez was on-and-off after a May return from Tommy John surgery, and the bullpen is crowded.


FREE AGENTS: 1B Justin Morneau, RHP Kyle Kendrick

Morneau, 34, completed a two-year, $12.5 million contract, and the club declined his $9 million mutual option for 2016, giving him a $750,000 buyout. He is a veteran presence in the clubhouse and the dugout, which the Rockies greatly value, and still productive, but they are wary, given his concussion-related history. It is likely that Morneau won't return to the Rockies, even at a lesser salary. Kendrick was a huge disappointment after signing for $5.5 million and won't be back.


FREE AGENTS: 2B Howie Kendrick, LHP Brett Anderson, SS Jimmy Rollins, RHP Zack Greinke (could opt out of contract), LHP J.P. Howell (player option), INF Chase Utley (club option), RHP Bronson Arroyo (club option)


Greinke is the Dodgers' greatest concern. It is almost certain that he will exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, leaving three years and $71 million on the table. But Greinke is likely to draw big-money offers worth double that. How aggressively the Dodgers pursue him at age 31 remains to be seen. Anderson and Kendrick are candidates for the $15.8 million qualifying offer and could return.


FREE AGENTS: LF Justin Upton, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Brandon Morrow, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Bud Norris, INF Clint Barmes

The Padres believe Upton will be too expensive to re-sign with the options in left being Wil Myers or rookie Hunter Renfroe. The Padres would like to retain Kennedy, and he wants to remain a Padre. San Diego also will move to retain Kelley. The injured Morrow and Johnson aren't likely to be back with the team. Barmes' $2 million contract option was declined.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Mike Leake, RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, 2B Marco Scutaro, INF Kevin Frandsen, OF Marlon Byrd, OF Alejandro De Aza, LHP Jeremy Affeldt, RHP Tim Hudson


Leake and Byrd, both acquired in-season from the Cincinnati Reds, are the most likely to be pursued, although Giants fans probably would want Lincecum added to that list. The Giants are much more likely to spend big bucks on starting pitching than any other position this offseason, which makes Leake their first call. Affeldt and Hudson retired, and Scutaro's career likely is over, too.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Trevor Cahill, OF Chris Denorfia, OF Dexter Fowler, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Jason Motte, RHP Fernando Rodney, RHP Dan Haren

Fowler, the Cubs' leadoff batter, is probably the must-sign of this group unless the Cubs believe minor league prospect Albert Almora is ready. Fowler appeared in a career-high 156 games and batted .250 with 84 walks, a .346 on-base percentage and 20 stolen bases. Haren announced his retirement.


FREE AGENTS: C Brayan Pena, LHP Manny Parra, LHP Sean Marshall, RHP Burke Badenhop, INF/OF Skip Schumaker


Pena made it clear on several occasions that he wants to remain in Cincinnati. If Devin Mesoraco returns to full health, the Reds will have three capable catchers in Pena, Mesoraco, and Tucker Barnhart. Pena has value in the clubhouse, as a manager of the pitching staff and the ability to play first base as proven during his time spelling injured Joey Votto last season. Marshall is making an attempt to come back from multiple shoulder surgeries the past two seasons.



Lohse is as good as gone after going 5-13 with a 5.89 this season. He was shelled in a 10-0 opening day loss and never got back on track, wiping out any possible trade value before he was pulled from the starting rotation in August.


FREE AGENTS: LHP Antonio Bastardo, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP A.J. Burnett, LHP A.J. Happ, 1B Corey Hart, 3B Aramis Ramirez, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez, RHP Joakim Soria, OF Travis Snider, 1B Travis Ishikawa


Burnett and Ramirez are retiring, and Hart is leaning that way. The Pirates would like to re-sign the other five, with Happ at the top of their list. Snider and Ishikawa became free agents after the Pirates removed them from the 40-man roster.


FREE AGENTS: RF Jason Heyward, RHP John Lackey, RHP Matt Belisle, 1B Mark Reynolds, RHP Carlos Villanueva, LHP Randy Choate, RHP Jonathan Broxton

Heyward is the headliner here, as he is one of the youngest players to ever hit free agency and should still have his peak years ahead of him. The Cardinals might have to overpay to keep him, but how high will they be willing to go? Lackey delivered maximum value for the minimum salary (sweetened considerably with bonuses he met), and he loves pitching at Busch Stadium. However, it is not known if St. Louis will give him more than two years. Reynolds' versatility could land him a return engagement, while Villanueva had one of his best years in the majors as a long reliever.




FREE AGENTS: C A.J. Pierzynski, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Peter Moylan, RHP Edwin Jackson

The club would like to bring back Pierzynski, a veteran who was valuable at the plate and as a mentor for the young pitching staff. Unless Pierzynski has crazy demands, he will be back. Detwiler, who missed the last three weeks of the season due to a strained left hamstring, is not likely to return.


FREE AGENTS: OF Don Kelly, C Jeff Mathis, 3B Casey McGehee

It is time to clean house. The Marlins likely will let all three of these players walk rather than have them taking up a spot on the 40-man roster. Mathis is solid defensively and is a leader in the clubhouse, but his offense is so bad that the Marlins would be foolish not to look to get younger and better at backup catcher. McGehee, who turns 33 next month, is a goner in all likelihood -- he produced very little.



FREE AGENTS: 2B Daniel Murphy, OF Yoenis Cespedes, RHP Tyler Clippard, LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Bartolo Colon, UT Kelly Johnson, LHP Eric O'Flaherty, RHP Bobby Parnell, INF Juan Uribe

Murphy drove up his price with his October homer barrage, but whoever lands him shouldn't expect a consistent power threat. There is nothing consistent about Cespedes, who can carry a team when hot but can disappear for long stretches. The Mets are unlikely to give him a long-term deal. The team could have interest in bringing back relievers Clippers and Blevins. Colon was a solid back-of-the-rotation pitcher at 42 this year. There is no reason to think he couldn't do it again next year.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Jerome Williams, RHP Chad Billingsley, OF Jeff Francoeur, LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Justin De Fratus, INF Chase d'Arnaud, C Erik Kratz

Harang and Billingsley will be gone -- Harang because he is 37 and went 6-15 this season, Billingsley because he has a bad elbow and didn't pitch after July. Francoeur was a valuable extra man who had a productive season, and he could be back. He said he enjoys playing in Philadelphia and is one of baseball's foremost clubhouse guys. In late September, the Phillies declined their $27.5 million option on Lee, paying him a $12.5 million buyout. He missed the entire season due to an elbow injury.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Doug Fister, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, OF Denard Span, SS Ian Desmond, LHP Matt Thornton, INF Dan Uggla, OF Reed Johnson, OF Nate McLouth, RHP Casey Janssen

There is little to no chance the Nationals will re-sign Desmond or Zimmermann. Desmond reportedly turned down a long-term deal with the Nationals before this year. Zimmermann is from Wisconsin, and there is speculation he could sign with the Cubs. Fister hurt his value with a disappointing season. There is a chance he could sign with Washington, though he was taken out of the rotation and sent to the bullpen in 2015. Span dealt with several injuries in 2015, but the Nationals were over .500 with him in the lineup.



FREE AGENTS: LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Colby Rasmus, LHP Oliver Perez, LHP Tony Sipp, LHP Joe Thatcher, RHP Chad Qualls

While the Astros haven't gone as far as expressing resignation over losing Kazmir, a Houston native, to the open market, his steep decline over the final month-plus (0-2, 6.52 ERA) certainly complicates pursuing his services. The inverse is true of Rasmus, who was steady throughout the season and exceptional in the playoffs. A two-year, $20 million deal seems a logical starting point for both sides. Of the three left-handed relievers available to leave, Sipp is the greatest priority to re-sign. He has been outstanding (7-7, 2.66 ERA) during his two seasons with the Astros.



FREE AGENTS: 3B David Freese, C Chris Iannetta, OF Matt Joyce, OF Shane Victorino, RHP Mat Latos, LHP Wesley Wright

Freese is the most likely to be retained after playing a pivotal offensive role in the Angels' late-season surge. Iannetta and Joyce finished their worst offensive seasons batting under .200. Victorino, a four-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time All-Star, never approached expectations. Latos, the Angels' only free agent younger than 30, was signed to provide emergency support for an injured pitching staff in the season's final days. If the Angels let Freese go, INFs Kaleb Cowart and Kyle Kubitza provide immediate in-house solutions.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Edward Mujica, LHP Barry Zito

Zito, who sat out the 2013 season, signed a minor league deal with the A's and spent most of year with Triple-A Nashville before being recalled and making two starts. He announced his retirement in mid-October. Mujica, acquired from Boston on May 9 in a trade, one day after being designated for assignment. He went 2-4 with a 4.81 ERA in 38 relief appearances for the A's. His return to the A's is far from certain.



FREE AGENTS: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, OF Franklin Gutierrez, LHP Joe Beimel

All three players on Seattle's short list have one thing in common: age. Gutierrez and Beimel are both on their ninth lives, having started the season on minor league contracts, while Iwakuma pitched some of his best baseball down the stretch. Iwakuma will turn 35 in April and has had some minor injury problems over the past two seasons, but he'll be an attractive addition for teams in need of a No. 3 starter. He'll be the priority among unsigned Mariners the team wants to bring back this offseason. Gutierrez did enough in a limited role to come back for another year, although ongoing health problems will keep him from ever being an everyday player again.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Colby Lewis, RHP Yovani Gallardo, OF Will Venable, 1B/DH Mike Napoli, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, OF Drew Stubbs

Lewis won a career-high 17 games with Rangers despite having a 4.66 ERA. Texas GM Jon Daniels has said how much he means to the rotation, but Lewis could get more money on the open market than the Rangers are willing to spend. Gallardo will go elsewhere, as Texas can't afford him after he won 13 games. Napoli is the only other Rangers free agent who has any real value, but he can get more playing time elsewhere and figures to get more money from another team.




FREE AGENTS: RHP Jeff Samardzija, INF Gordon Beckham, C Geovany Soto, RHP Matt Albers

Beckham and Soto were reserves and neither is likely to be offered a new contract. The White Sox will likely seek another catcher via free agency or the trade market, and starter Tyler Flowers might shift to the backup role depending on who they get. Samardzija will almost certainly seek greener pastures as a free agent, after disappointing in his lone season with Chicago's South side team. The White Sox hoped to get a potent 1-2 punch at the top of the starting rotation with LHP Chris Sale and Samardzija, whom they got in a trade with the A's, but it never fully materialized.


FREE AGENTS: INF Mike Aviles, OF Ryan Raburn (club option), RHP Gavin Floyd, RHP Ryan Webb

The versatile Aviles probably would be happy to return on a one-year contract, but the Indians have multiple younger, cheaper players who could fill that utility role. If the Indians fail to acquire a right fielder, the right-handed-hitting Raburn might be brought back to platoon with left-handed-hitting Lonnie Chisenhall in right field. Floyd missed most of the year recovering from elbow surgery, but he pitched so well out of the bullpen in September that the Indians fear he could get an offer from another team more than they would be willing to pay, although they would love to re-sign him and bring him back as a starter.



FREE AGENTS: C Alex Avila, RF Rajai Davis, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Alfredo Simon, LHP Randy Wolf, RHP Joe Nathan

Avila lost his job to rookie C James McCann, and at an expected salary of $4 or more, he seems to be priced out as a backup. Before the 2014 season, Davis signed a two-year deal for $10 million to come to Detroit. He would like to return, likely for similar money, but the Tigers need to decide the cost of keeping him versus the cost of a replacement. Gorzelanny likely will have to sign a minor league deal to return. Simon led the staff with 13 wins but fell out of favor and probably won't get an offer to return. Wolf is mulling retirement. Nathan's $10 million option was declined after a second Tommy John surgery cost him all but one game this year.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Johnny Cueto, RHP Ryan Madson, RF Alex Rios (mutual option), LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Chris Young, INF/OF Ben Zobrist, RHP Jeremy Guthrie (mutual option)


The Royals certainly want Zobrist back, but he will be a valuable commodity on the free agent market. Whether he will price his way out of the Kansas City market remains to be seen. Young and Madson, whom the Royals gave an opportunity to in 2015, rank high on the club's list to return. Both proved valuable additions.


FREE AGENTS: OF Torii Hunter, RHP Mike Pelfrey, LHP Brian Duensing, RHP Blaine Boyer, LHP Neal Cotts

Hunter retired. Pelfrey looked solid at times in 2015, but he likely won't be back. Neither will Cotts, who was largely ineffective after coming over from Milwaukee in August. Boyer and Duensing could return, but it will come down to salary. RHP Kevin Jepsen could see a raise to around $5 million, which could force the Twins look toward their minor league cupboard to fill out the bullpen. Boyer was one of the team's biggest surprises, posting a 2.49 ERA in 68 appearances. He put together a second consecutive quality season after not playing in the majors in 2012 and 2013.




FREE AGENTS: 1B Chris Davis, C Matt Wieters, LHP Wei-Yin Chen, RHP Darren O'Day, OF Gerardo Parra, INF/OF Steve Pearce

Davis is going to get very big money, and the Orioles have said they want him. He wants to be back, but will the team pay the large amount the first baseman will command? Same with Wieters and Chen. O'Day also could slip away but he said last weekend that he'd love to come back if the team would have him. Parra, a late-season pick-up in a deal with the Brewers, gave the Orioles speed they didn't have before and played solid in right field. The Orioles love Pearce's versatility even though he didn't hit as well this year. He could be the only player they re-sign, and the fans in Baltimore would be furious if that happens.


FREE AGENTS: LHP Craig Breslow, LHP Rich Hill

Breslow, who made the first two starts of his major league career in the closing days of the season, isn't likely to return. Hill re-invented himself as a starter and could fit into the 2016 picture.



FREE AGENTS: LHP Chris Capuano, 2B Stephen Drew, OF Chris Young, RHP Sergio Santos

Only Young is a candidate to stay with the Yankees. Young became a serviceable fourth outfielder, especially against left-handed pitching, and he wound up appearing in 140 games either by starting or being a defensive replacement. Drew and Capuano were re-signed for $5 million apiece last winter, and neither is likely to be retained. While Drew played decent defensively, his bat was sub-par most of the year, and the Yankees may have cheaper options in Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley. Capuano never got on track after getting injured early in spring training.


FREE AGENTS: SS Asdrubal Cabrera, DH John Jaso, OF Grady Sizemore

Cabrera set the tone defensively and came around at the plate with solid power numbers, though he is likely to command a multiyear contract that might take him out of the Rays' price range. Jaso, too, was a positive veteran presence who was limited by injuries but was effective even in a leadoff role when healthy. With a glut of young outfielders, it is possible Tampa Bay wll let him sign elsewhere.



FREE AGENTS: LHP David Price, RHP Marco Estrada, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, C Dioner Navarro, INF Maicer Izturis, INF Cliff Pennington, LHP Jeff Francis, INF Munenori Kawasaki

Price will be offered big money and it is not certain how far the Blue Jays will be willing to go, so Estrada might be a more realistic goal. Hawkins said he is retiring and Buehrle is considering retirement. Navarro is unlikely to return, with C Russell Martin established as the regular catcher. He will go where he has more playing time.

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