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ESPN is way off with its early free agent calls

Sep 12, 2012, 2:34 AM EDT

Edwin Jackson Getty Images

By division, here’s a list of teams I can see opening up the wallets for a $10 million-plus-per-year pitcher this winter:

Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox, Yankees
Royals, Tigers, White Sox
Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers
Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Phillies
Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Pirates
Dodgers

And here’s a list of the elite pitching free agents available this winter:

Zack Greinke

I think it should go without saying that demand is going to exceed supply in a big way.

And that’s why ESPN’s Jim Bowden and Dan Szymborski look kind of foolish for a couple of their early calls.

Edwin Jackson is, in my mind, pretty obviously the No. 2 pitching free agent available this winter. He’s 29, he has practically the same ERA as Greinke the last three years (Greinke has a 104 ERA+, Jackson is at 102) and he seems to be on the upswing, if K/BB ratio and WHIP count for anything. I’ll be stunned if he has to settle for less than $48 million over four years this winter and my guess is that he gets something closer to $70 million over five years.

ESPN’s insiders aren’t thinking that far ahead, though. Bowden, in his column, says Jackson has only “proved himself to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter.” He labels the Royals as the best fit for him, putting the Indians and Marlins as alternatives. He obviously doesn’t think the bigger spenders will go after him. But then, that’s the typical lack of insight one gets from Bowden.

(Bowden also has Fernando Rodney going back to the Angels or maybe the Giants or Dodgers in his column, not realizing that the Rays are just going to exercise their $2.5 million option on his services.)

I expect a lot more from Szymborski, and it’s rare that he disappoints. However, he lists Jackson and B.J. Upton among his five free agent bargains, ones “that won’t break the wallet.” And while I agree that those two look like better values than several other top free agents, there’s no way, no how that either goes off at a bargain price.

This winter is going to reveal that there’s a lot more money to be spent than quality players to spend it on. It’s going to take a lot more digging to find any bargains

  1. taxed00 - Sep 12, 2012 at 2:45 AM

    The White Sox are unlikely to exercise Jake Peavy’s $22 million option so he will be on the free agent market too. There’s a chance the Angels might choose to part with Haren too so he also could be on the market.

    Both of those pitchers are better than E-Jax, and what about Shaun Marcum? He’s a big bounce back candidate for a pillow contract. Marcum’s also had much more success in the AL than E-Jax, wouldn’t be surprised to see someone like the Red Sox or Yankees overpay him for a 1 year deal.

    • bougin89 - Sep 12, 2012 at 10:43 AM

      Great post, I would only add that all teams are going to be at least a little weary of Marcum’s durability. He always starts great and slowly wears down to the point of being ineffective. He just isn’t built for 200+ innings but I could totally see a large market club overpaying him for 1 or 2 years.

  2. proudlycanadian - Sep 12, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    AA has made no secret that the Jays are targeting starting pitchers this off season. A free agent for sure plus a possible trade as the Jays have catching depth to trade. Marcum back to the Jays would be a natural fit.

    • hittfamily - Sep 12, 2012 at 8:44 AM

      If they weren’t in the same division, the Rays and Jays are the ideal trade partners. The Rays have premier young starting pitching, with a bullpen surplus, and the Jays have 2 top young catchers, and an MLB ready outfielder in Anthony Gose.

      The Jays need pitching, both in the pen and starting. I don’t think it is farfetched to believe the 2 clubs could make a deal. Friedman has said in the past that he’d deal in the within the division if it makes his club better, and I’d have to think AA feels the same way.

      Just throwing it out there, so in 4 months I might be able to say I predicted it:
      Shields or Hellickson for Arencibia or D’Arnaud and Gose
      or
      Cobb + B/C prospect for Arencibia or D’Arnaud

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 12, 2012 at 8:54 AM

        Gose is probably untouchable (Sierra might not be), but I can see a trade of a catcher for one of your starting pitchers. Shields makes most sense because of his salary. Does TB need a first baseman? The Jays have Lind and Cooper with McDade now in Triple A. How about Arencibia plus a first baseman for Shields and Rodriguez (he would replace Vizquel)?

      • hittfamily - Sep 12, 2012 at 10:26 AM

        I’m pretty sure Sean Rod will be non tendered, so pick him up on the FA market. This isn’t certain, and despite his locker punching/hand breaking, he is a quality person. This will be his his first year of arb, and he took a big step backwards this year. Zobrist moved to short, and I think Ryan Roberts took his place in the lineup, and the Rays won’t have a 1.5-2 million dollar backup. They also have Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac (who might be non tendered too), Tim Beckham and Hak Ju Lee for IF depth.

        Shield’s contract is well below market value at 9 mil next year, and 12 mil in ’14. His #’s aren’t as good as last year, but since the break, he’s actually been better than last year, and his peripherals are nearly identical. Looking back on the deal Friedman made for Garza, the cubs gave up 2 top 100 prospects in Chris Archer and Hak Ju Lee, and 2 top 10 organizational prospects in Guyer and Chirinos, as well as Super Sam Fuld. It was a haul. For Kazmir he got 2 top 100′s in Alex Torres and Sean Rodriguez, as well as a few B/C prospects.

        Judging by his previous trades, Friedman will want 2 top prospects, and a few throw ins. The Rays desperately need a 1st baseman and DH, and their entire offensive farm system sucks too. I didn’t realize Gose was untouchable. The main piece of this hypothetical trade for the Rays would be Arencibia or D’arnaud. They would need another top tier prospect, or an immediate impact bat to make it work though I’d think.

        I think Hellickson will be a hot commodity this offseason. He has finished in the top 10 for AL ERA 2 years in a row now, and is possibly the Rays #5 pitcher next year. Fangraphs be damned, the kid is good, and 4 years from free agency. Based on what San Diego got for Latos, Gose would probably have to be in that deal.

        Lind is signed for next year at 4.5 million + 3 years team options. I don’t know Lind’s buyout $’s, but I don’t think he any value even, if there wasn’t a buyout tacked on to that.

        Arenc/D’arnaud, Sierra, and a few B prospects for Shields? Maybe the Rays throw in a bullpen arm.

  3. dcfan4life - Sep 12, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    The way Edwin Jackson pitches in the postseason may change your theory here on his demand. And although he has solid numbers, he signs 1 year deals one after another and gets traded. Its been clear he hasnt been in high demand over the years which by the numbers is confusing. Hard to see that changes all of a sudden with a near identical year as last year and the year before. Wouldnt be surprised if the Nats resigned him for 1-2 years. But id be quite surprised if out of no where Jackson gets a 4 or 5 year deal. His demand history says thats unlikely.

    • voteforno6 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:04 AM

      I think that he actually wants to stay in D.C. I don’t see them giving him more than three years, though.

  4. stex52 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    The Astros certainly have a low enough salary structure to go on a spending spree. But I don’t see it. Management seems hell-bent on proving a philosophical point about how teams should be run. That being the case, I see two more years of decent players trying to percolate up through the system before they are any good at all.

    I’m extremely ambivalent. I think they are too weak to fix much with a couple of acquisitions. But I don’t know how much longer I want to watch them be the laughingstock of the league.

  5. hittfamily - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    I don’t know what “bargain” is classified as, but I don’t see BJ being a huge target by many clubs, so I think someone gets a huge bargain for him. It isn’t a knock on him, it’s just that he has been on the block since 2010, and no one has been willing to make a big, daring enough move. The Rays thought they were out of it at the deadline last year, and no one was willing to pay for him. No one wanted him badly at this years deadline either. If they didn’t want him when he was arbitration eligible, I don’t see a massive market now.

    Another thing that leads me to believe he will be a bargain is that CF is the deepest FA position this offseason. With Hamilton, Bourne, and Victorino, no one will be fighting for any of these guys. I don’t think he gets this year, what he would have gotten last year. On top of all of this is that the 5 biggest spenders, the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers and Angels all have premier CFers. The Orioles are set in CF, as are the Rockies, Nats, Pirates, Reds. The Mets are broke, the Braves don’t spend during FA. Tampa Bay, Cleveland, San Diego, Oakland, KC and Houston can’t afford him.

    That leaves the Cubs, White Sox, Phils, Rangers, Dbacks, Giants, Cards, Jays, Mariners, Brewers, Twins, and Marlins. The Cubs, Brewers, Marlins and Twins won’t compete next year. Allen Craig has earned a starting role in St Louis, moving Beltran back to center. Arizona likely doesn’t want 2 Uptons. The Jays will spend their money on pitching.

    So Upton’s possible teams are the Mariners, White Sox, Phils, Rangers and Giants. None of these teams will give him a large, longterm contract. With Zito off the books in a year, and Lincicum getting cheaper by the day, I think the Giants get a bargain for a consistently healthy, 4-5 WAR, 20/40 CF whose HR and RBI numbers have gone up since 2008, despite the offense getting worse.

    • nightman13 - Sep 12, 2012 at 2:04 PM

      Why won’t the Brewers compete next year? They were decimated by injuries and a terrible bullpen. Bullpen help is easy enough to find, most of the offense should be back and they need a starting pitcher.

      Just curious why you think they can’t compete.

      • hittfamily - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:44 PM

        They already lost their #1 in Greinke. They are going to lose Marcum. If you aren’t a .500 team with those guys, you aren’t a .500 team without them. The Brewers lost a lot of prospects in the Greinke deal, and their farm system is empty. Whatever upgrades they make, will have to be made through free agency, and this year’s free agents are terrible. Aside of Greinke, Hamilton, Upton, Bourne, and Edwin Jackson, there isn’t a single possible all star among the bunch.

        They have a potent offense, and Gamel could finally live up to hype he once had. With Prince and KRod off the books, they could potentailly make a splash this winter. However, their pen is a mess, their farm is a mess, and their rotation will be overhauled. The Astros are gone, so 13 games against .300 club won’t be able to pad that W/L record anymore. I think Corey Hart will be coveted by teams, and if the right offer comes to restock the farm system, the Crew would be wise to make a deal. I just see no way that they can match the Reds, Cards, or Pirates.

  6. muskyhunter2542 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    I see Milwaukee making a big run to bring Greinke back. With what he is doing with The Angles. I see a lot of teams thinking twice about him because of the social anxiety disorder he has. That will eliminate 60% of MLB teams right off the top.

    Just a hunch!!!

  7. chip56 - Sep 12, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    To me, Edwin Jackson is AJ Burnett. He’s got talent that makes him capable of going out there and dominating start after start, but he’s so inconsistent that he’ll drive you crazy on a long term contract.

    He, BJ Upton and Chris Ianetta are three free agents that to me have “buyer beware” written all over them.

  8. chumthumper - Sep 12, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    The Royals aren’t in the business of aquiring top notch players; only trading them away.

  9. geraldspaceman - Sep 12, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Jim Bowden is terrible. Rather than writing quality content, he’s much more interested in self-promotion, which includes frequently whitewashing his own Wikipedia article.

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