With the offseason now underway, theScore’s MLB editors rank the top 20 free-agent pitchers (10 starters, 10 relievers) available this winter (all statistics from 2018).
Top 20 MLB free-agent position players
Players’ official seasonal ages for 2019 listed in parentheses.
Note: If Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw winds up opting out of his contract, consider him the top-ranked starting pitcher on the free-agent market.
1. Patrick Corbin, LHP (29 years old)
At 23, Corbin seemed poised to be an ace in waiting. That was before he lost the entire 2014 season to Tommy John surgery. At 28, he bounced back and returned to dominance. He made his second All-Star team, threw 200 innings for the second time in his career, and will almost certainly finish third behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer for the National League Cy Young Award. At 29, expect him to decline a qualifying offer from the Diamondbacks, but draft-pick compensation won’t scare suitors away.
2. Dallas Keuchel, LHP (31)
Keuchel’s 2018 ERA is somewhat alarming, but it’s worth noting that he was limited to only 145 2/3 innings the season prior due to neck issues. It’s encouraging that he was able to reach 200 innings for the first time since 2015. A pitch-to-contact hurler, he’ll always give up his fair share of hits, but another expected step forward after his recovery makes the former Cy Young winner the second-best option on the list.
3. Charlie Morton, RHP (35)
Morton has re-written his career arc since signing with the Astros, posting a 10.4 K/9 with a combined 3.36 ERA in his two seasons in Houston. However, durability issues make him a risk. His career high of 171 2/3 innings in 2011 may be out of reach, but if he’s willing to keep playing, he’ll be a solid mid-rotation arm into his mid-to-late 30s.
4. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP (29)
A reliable hand during the regular season, Eovaldi turned into a superhuman in the postseason. He posted a 1.61 ERA across 22 1/3 innings over three playoff series, including a gritty six-inning relief outing in Game 3 of the World Series. He isn’t eligible to receive a qualifying offer since he was traded from Tampa midseason, so a supplemental draft pick won’t be attached to his signing.
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP (32)
Ryu may be the poster child for a crop of free-agent starters largely marked by questionable health and durability. Back and shoulder problems ended his 2015 campaign before they even started, while an elbow issue limited him to one appearance in 2016. He’s been reliable when healthy, especially this past season, but he failed to reach 100 innings in 2018. His ceiling remains high, but he’s not without risk.
6. J.A. Happ, LHP (36)
Improbable as it may seem, Happ’s trip to the 2018 All-Star Game at age 35 was his first such appearance. The lefty was the Blue Jays’ most consistent pitcher for parts of three seasons before he anchored the Yankees’ rotation down the stretch this past summer. He went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA over 63 2/3 innings in 11 starts after being traded to the Bronx. The only knock against him is his age, which may be overblown.
7. Gio Gonzalez, LHP (33)
Gonzalez has pitched at least 158 innings in every season since 2010, often touching the 200-inning plateau. While he won’t dazzle with top-notch stuff, the veteran lefty has shown he can hold his own as a durable mid-rotation starter. He rebounded from an uneven start to the season once he was traded to the Brewers for the home stretch.
8. Matt Harvey, RHP (30)
The Dark Knight’s tumultuous last few seasons have obscured just how incredible he was to start his career; hopes that he can rekindle that fire will earn him ample interest. Harvey did make 28 starts between the Mets and Reds in 2018 – his most since 2015 – and he improved in every statistical category after his trade from New York to Cincinnati.
9. Lance Lynn, RHP (32)
Lynn had a disastrous start to his 2018 campaign, posting an 8.37 ERA through the end of April. A rough July (6.08 ERA) ballooned his stats the rest of the way, but a 3.34 FIP showed he was the victim of some rotten luck. He’s now two seasons removed from a lost 2016 to Tommy John, and could be a stealth innings-eater like he was during most of his tenure with the Cardinals.
10. Ervin Santana, RHP (36)
Santana barely pitched last season thanks to finger surgery, and now hits free agency after having his option declined by the Twins. He made 33 starts and went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA over 211 1/3 innings in 2017, marking the sixth time in 14 seasons that he’s thrown at least 200 innings. He’s getting a little long in the tooth, but he could still round out a rotation if his finger issues are behind him.
1. Craig Kimbrel, RHP (31)
Kimbrel is bound to receive a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which he’ll almost surely decline. As good as he is, the seven-time All-Star wasn’t without his warts in 2018. He walked 4.48 batters per nine innings, up from 1.83 in 2017, and had a career-worst 1.01 HR/9. He also posted a 5.91 ERA in 10 2/3 innings during the postseason. Still, since 2013, no one has recorded more saves than Kimbrel’s 244.
2. Adam Ottavino, RHP (33)
While he doesn’t fit the “proven closer” mold, Ottavino possesses the nastiest slider in the game. His propensity to issue walks is concerning, but he compensates for that by allowing hits at a low rate. He was the Rockies’ best reliever by a wide margin and was worth more wins above replacement (2.0) than any other free-agent relief pitcher in 2018.
3. Zach Britton, LHP (31)
That Britton stayed on the field this year after returning from a ruptured Achilles is a great sign for potential suitors, even if he wasn’t the version of himself who converted 120 saves with a 1.38 ERA over 209 innings from 2014 through 2016. At his best, he limits damage in a variety of ways by almost never allowing home runs and striking out around a batter per inning.
4. David Robertson, RHP (34)
Robertson had a typically productive season out of the Yankees’ bullpen. You can pretty much set your watch to him throwing at least 60 innings each year while posting a quality ERA. He has the most reliable floor of the available relievers.
5. Andrew Miller, LHP (34)
Miller was the most dominant reliever in baseball from 2014 to 2017, posting a 1.72 ERA with 421 strikeouts in 261 innings (14.5 K/9). He’s only a season removed from making the AL All-Star team, but his injury-plagued 2018 will temper expectations as he nears his mid-30s. A return to form is hardly guaranteed.
6. Jeurys Familia, RHP (29)
Familia put together an all-around impressive campaign between the Mets and Athletics, and was used primarily as a setup man in Oakland in front of Blake Treinen. He’ll seek a big contract and will likely settle in as a team’s ninth-inning option to open 2019.
7. Kelvin Herrera, RHP (29)
Nothing went right for Herrera after he was traded from the Royals to the Nationals in June. He posted a 4.34 ERA in 18 2/3 innings after the deal – compared to a 1.05 mark with Kansas City – and suffered a season-ending foot injury in late August. It was the right-hander’s first stay on the disabled list in seven seasons as a full-time major leaguer.
8. Brad Brach, RHP (33)
Brach returned to form as a premier middle reliever after a midseason trade to the Braves. He posted a 1.52 ERA with 22 strikeouts over 23 2/3 innings with Atlanta down the stretch. It was a welcome sight after he posted uncharacteristically miserable numbers with the Orioles at the start of last season.
9. Cody Allen, RHP (30)
Allen’s rough season proved to be emblematic for an Indians squad that saw its bullpen, one of its greatest strengths the previous two years, become its biggest problem. He posted his worst ERA, walk rate, and HR/9 since becoming a fixture in Cleveland’s relief corps in 2013. Despite all that, Allen had the third-best win probability added among free agent relievers at 2.01, trailing only Kimbrel and Ottavino. He’s also never been bitten by the injury bug, totaling between 67 and 70 1/3 innings in each of the last six seasons. The question is whether or not he’s burned out due to overuse.
10. Joe Kelly, RHP (31)
A solid postseason where Kelly allowed only one run over 11 1/3 innings doesn’t erase an uneven regular season. He did hurl 65 2/3 innings, though, which is his most since becoming a reliever in 2016.