If we have learning anything during this crazy offseason, it is that the new wave of free agents pitchers are looking for shorter deals with higher average annual value (AAV). Guys like Marcus Stroman and Max Scherzer took deals that not only allowed them to make more money per year, but also gave both the team and the player to rework a new contract sooner than normal. For the player, this type of deal is beneficial because if they play better than expected, they are able to hit free agency sooner with a much higher price tag. This is also beneficial for the teams because if the player underperforms, they are not locked into their declining performance for too long and they can either negotiate another salary for less money, or let the player walk all together. Below I will be going over the top 10 starting pitchers based on their AAV. (AAV is determined by Spotrac)
#10 Justin Verlander 2yr/$50mil AAV = $25mil/yr
After only pitching in 6 innings in 2020 and missing the entire 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery, Verlander has not thrown meaningful innings for 2 entire seasons. While not technically official yet, Verlander is set to go back to Houston on a 2 year deal. This deal works for both players because Houston is adding to a World Series rotation with a player who they know what he brings to the table. After posting his highest ERA+ in a full season (179) and third highest bWAR in his career (7.4) in 2019, Verlander is set to continue his dominance. The only thing that scares me is that he has not pitched in two years.
Final Grade: B+
#9 Jacob DeGrom 5yr/$137.5mil AAV = $27.5mil/yr
Arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the moment, I think that the $27.5mil/yr for DeGrom is extremely fair. Before being sidelined the second half of 2021, DeGrom posted a 1.08 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP in 15 games, easily the best marks in the league at the time. Win/Loss record does not do DeGrom’s ability any justice and when on the field, DeGrom is easily the best pitcher in baseball. Because DeGrom took his time rehabbing from injury, I believe that he will be back in the same way he started the 2021 season and now with more bats in the lineups, I think we see another level of Jacob DeGrom that people did not think was possible.
Final Grade: A+
#8 Chris Sale 5yr/$145mil AAV = $29mil/yr
After missing 2020 and the front half of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery, Sale was able to pitch in 42 meaningful innings to cap off the 2021 season. Boston also added James Paxton, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill this offseason adding to a rotation that consists of Sale, Nick Pivetta and Nathan Eovaldi. I think if Sale can even show glimpses of getting back to 2018 form, that the Red Sox are the real winners in this deal. With a rotation that can prove to be 6 or 7 pitchers deep, the burden is not on Sale to carry the team. This is a win/win scenario for both Sale and the Red Sox. However, I feel that Sale needs to post at least around a 4-5 WAR to make it worth it.
Final Grade: B
#7 Clayton Kershaw 3yr/$93mil AAV = $31mil/yr
Kershaw is currently a free agent so his new deal is still up in the air, so I will instead grade how his past 3 years went in LA. In 2.5 seasons since he signed the contact, Kershaw pitched in 60 games with a 32-15 record, 3.06 ERA, 9.92 K/9 and a World Series victory. Kershaw was the face of the Dodgers staff, pitched about as well as you could ask for from a 31-33 year old averaging over 20 starts per (full) year. At the end of the day, the Dodgers got more than their share of value out of Kershaw and it should be interesting to see what his next contract will look like.
Final Grade: A+
#6 David Price 7yr/$217mil AAV = $31mil/yr
2021 saw David Price make a move to the Bullpen for the Dodgers as he struggled in a rotation that already was pretty set in stone before he arrived. Since 2017, Price has seen his ERA+ drop from 135 to 102 in 2020. While this is still (slightly) above league average, it seems that we are starting to see the end of the David Price era as we once knew it. Only once since signing his contract in 2016 has his ERA+ increased from year to year and paying $31 million a year for a starter turned bullpen arm does not seem like good value.
Final Grade: C+
#5 Trevor Bauer 3yr/$102mil AAV = $34mil/yr
I am going to be honest, I never really thought Trevor Bauer was that good. In full seasons of play, he has had an ERA+ over 100 four out of nine seasons and an ERA under 4 in only two of his seasons. While Trevor Bauer is probably the face of player development and might have started the craze of players going for shorter deals with higher AAV, I cannot condone his off the field behavior. Obviously the Dodgers were unaware of the situation before him joining the team so this is not on them but I hope that he never steps on a baseball field again.
Final Grade: D-
#4 Zack Greinke 6yr/$206.5mil AAV = $34.4mil/yr
For some reason when I think of Zack Greinke, I just cannot wrap my head around the fact that he has been in the league for 18 years and has played for 6 different teams. While he is by no means done with his playing days, we may also be seeing the descent of the Zack Greinke we once knew. He posted his third lowest K/9 and his highest HR/9 in his career. His ERA+ has also been dropping every year since 2019 and his WAR has dropped significantly since 2018. Overall Houston didn’t get the better half of his contract but if they can sign him to a much smaller short term deal, I feel that he can be a guy to eat up innings for the Astros next year.
Final Grade: B-
#3 Stephen Strasburg 7yr/$245mil AAV = $35mil/yr
Stephen Strasburg was the #1 prospect in his draft class and some scouts said he was the best prospect to ever play the game. After injuries including neck surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome sidelined Strasburg, he only pitched 26.2 innings in two years. With such a tough injury to rehab from it is tough to predict what is next for Strasburg. In 2018 he posted a career high in wins (18), 2nd most innings pitched in his career (209.0) and his 2nd highest ERA+ in a full season. If Strasburg can bounce back from injury like he was before, he may be able to salvage his pre MLB ranking. However, if he cannot, he might go down as one of the biggest busts in MLB history.
Final Grade: B-
#2 Gerrit Cole 9yr/$324mil AAV = $36mil/yr
Gerrit Cole seemed to be the face of the “sticky stuff” scandal in June 2021. He did see a decline in performance but was able to bounce back to end the year. Cole has been nothing short of dominant since entering the league 2013. He has posted an ERA+ every year except 2014 (where he posted a 99), has had an ERA over 4 once in his career, and has had double digit K/9 in his last 4 years. All signs are pointing up for the Yankees ace and if the Yankees can make a few moves in the offseason to compliment this super star for the next 6 years he is in the Bronx, they will be in a great position moving forward.
Final Grade: A
#1 Max Scherzer 3yr/$130mil AAV = $43.3mil/yr
Probably the biggest splash this offseason was Scherzer signing a 3 year deal with the Mets at age 37 making $43 million a year (plus the $15 million a year the Nationals are still paying him). Scherzer has been nothing short of a hall of fame pitcher so far and nothing seems to slow this man down. His ERA+ has been over 140 for seven of his last years and he has had an ERA over 4 in two of his fourteen years as a professional baseball player. This deal is set up very nicely for the Mets as they now have two of the probably three best pitchers in the MLB with an opt out after the second year. Scherzer looks like he can pitch until he is 45 and whether he does or not seems to be his personal decision. Do not be surprised to see more players following the same path as Scherzer did this offseason.
Final Grade: A+
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