From a monetary standpoint, it was an outstanding offseason for free agent pitchers. But, will the teams benefit from or regret these big money decisions down the line? Here are the ten signings that will result in the best return value.
10. Wei-Yin Chen
It’s not an insult to say that Chen doesn’t have the stuff reminiscent of an ace. It’s reality. Still, his effectiveness with multiple pitches makes a viable middle-of-the-rotation starter. That’s exactly what Miami had in mind when they inked him to a five-year, $80 million deal – to slide in as a No. 2 behind Jose Fernandez. For someone who’s gained a reputation as a fly ball pitcher, the cavernous outfield of Marlins Park could suit Chen quite well.
9. Scott Kazmir
While Chen will certainly benefit from pitching behind Fernandez, Kazmir now occupies the same staff as Clayton Kershaw. The former first round selection in 2002 will try to help fill the void left by Zach Greinke, along with 27-year-old Japanese import Kenta Maeda. It’ll be his second go-around in Southern California. The first trip didn’t go so well: a mark of 11-17 in two-plus seasons with the Angels.
8. Antonio Bastardo
In their continuing effort to put together a World Series winner sooner rather than later, the Mets made certain that they are fully capable of handling left-handed hitters in late-inning situations. The 30-year-old southpaw formerly of the Phillies and Pirates will team with fellow lefty Jerry Blevins – altogether strengthening a bullpen that should be entrusted with many leads if the rotations plays up to expectations.
7. Mat Latos
Almost all free agents come with labels regarding their health – ranging from very durable to extremely injury-prone. Place Latos is the latter category. A bum knee here and a bad elbow there…his last two seasons were filled with DL stints – unable to truly feed off the four quality seasons preceding it. Naturally, teams were leery this winter. The White Sox took a chance. And at one-year, $3 million, it’s not that big of a risk.
GM Rick Hahn on risk of #Whitesox signing Mat Latos to one-year, $3 million contract: “Too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 9, 2016
6. David Price
Needing an ace for a rotation that had one of the worst ERAs in all of baseball, Boston risked future repercussions for a ‘win now’ maneuver in signing the AL Cy Young runner-up to a seven-year, $217 million contract. It very well could bite the Red Sox in 2022. In 2016, it could be a difference maker in a division filled with parity. Over the past four seasons, Price has been as durable as they come (217 innings per year) along with an average ERA of 2.90 ERA.
5. Craig Kimbrel
Prior to getting its ace starter, Boston had already secured a top-notch closer. Kimbrel’s stay as a San Diego Padre was brief – not before notching 39 saves with a 2.58 ERA for an underwhelming club. What the Padres received in exchange are some acclaimed pieces from the Red Sox farm system. However, those players are in positions already occupied in the big leagues by long-term talent. Like Price, Boston should benefit from his presence in the short-term.
4. Mike Leake
The Cardinals aren’t exactly playing “moneyball,” but they have been prudent in who they acquire in free agency over the past decade…and it’s worked. After seeing Jason Heyward depart to its closest rival, St. Louis began to focus on obtaining a reliable (and affordable) starter to complement a strong bullpen. Leake – with 30 or more starts since 2012 – fits the mold.
3. Jordan Zimmermann
Paying any pitcher $110 million over five years comes with a great deal of risk. But relative to the other signings that would follow to arms at or above the age of 30, the Tigers may have gotten a bargain. Zimmerman, a 29-year-old Wisconsin native, wasn’t as stellar in 2015 (13-10, 3.88 ERA) as he was in the previous two seasons with Washington. That said, he’s a starter who’s durable – something that can no longer be said about Justin Verlander.
2. John Lackey
His age indicates that the best days are behind him. However, Lackey has been a revelation since healing from Tommy John surgery in 2013. And at age 36, he finished 2015 with a career-low 2.77 ERA and matched a career high with 33 starts. A veteran of eight postseasons, Lackey’s playoff experience (along with an 8-5 record) should be most crucial to a Chicago Cubs team primed for another deep run into October.
1. Zack Greinke
There’s always the one team during the winter that “wins” the offseason. Last year, it was the Padres (to less-than-spectacular results). This year, it goes to another club hoping to shake up the NL West. Greinke’s numbers in 2015 were more than good enough for a Cy Young – and, thus, his value was as high as ever. It’s doubtful Greinke will ever equal that performance. It’s also unlikely the Diamondbacks would have a chance of taking a step forward if they didn’t do this. Now, Arizona is in the playoff discussion.