Diamondbacks free agent fits: The starting pitching market

Nov 8, 2023, 11:11 AM | Updated: 1:16 pm

Yoshinobu Yamamoto...

Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of Team Japan looks on during the fifth inning against Team Mexico during the World Baseball Classic Semifinals at loanDepot park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

(Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Less than a week after the Arizona Diamondbacks’ season ended in Game 5 of the World Series, MLB free agency began and the general managers meeting began in Paradise Valley.

The D-backs turned an 84-win regular season into a postseason berth and ran all the way to the NL pennant. But general manager Mike Hazen said there is a lot of room to grow based on the 84-win campaign and he has highlighted starting pitching and right-handed bats given the free agent statuses of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Tommy Pham and Evan Longoria.

The free agency class has a handful of potential top-end starters, including NL Cy Young finalist Blake Snell, All-Star Aaron Nola and three-time Sawamura Award winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto from Japan. It is deeper, though, with mid-rotation depth and players bringing health-related or performance questions from last year.

The Diamondbacks roll into 2024 with Merrill Kelly under contract, Zac Gallen eligible for arbitration and a group of pre-arb pitchers such as Brandon Pfaadt, Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry, Slade Cecconi and Bryce Jarvis.

The rotation fluctuated all season and landed on Gallen, Kelly and Pfaadt making up a three-man order with bullpen games needed in the postseason. Hazen said he likes the young rotation but adding a veteran arm would increase stability.

While there are more pitching that hitting on the market, there is expected to be a lot of competition for the top-end arms.

Here is a list of free agent starters available on the market:

Diamondbacks starting pitching free-agent options

Top end potential

Blake Snell – The 30-year-old lefty is contending for his second career Cy Young Award after winning the ERA title with a 2.25 mark for the Padres. He also led the league in walks with 99 and had the highest percentage of runners left on base, contributing to a FIP of 3.44 (still very good but a drop off from his elite ERA). Spotrac projected his market value at approximately $23.5 million per year on average.

Aaron Nola – Nola, 30, pitched at least 180 innings in each of the last five full seasons (omitting 2020) and has three top-seven finishes in Cy Young voting with the Phillies. In 2023, his ERA climbed to 4.46 from 3.25 in 2022, although his late-season improvements and postseason excellence may have provided a boost to his market. Spotrac projected his market value at approximately $24.5 million per year on average.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto – Yamamoto is 25 years old with a mid-90s heater, splitter, curveball and cutter who has dominated NPB. He’s led the Japanese league in ERA and strikeouts in each of the last three seasons. He also pitched 7.1 innings in the World Baseball Classic with 12 strikeouts.

Sonny Gray – Gray just turned 34 years old and is an AL Cy Young Award finalist with the Twins. The veteran evolved this past season, increasing his use of a four-seam fastball and sweeper. He led the league with a 2.83 FIP and 0.4 home runs per nine innings.

Jordan Montgomery – The Rangers added Montgomery from the Cardinals at the trade deadline, and he made an immediate impact for an injured rotation through the postseason. Montgomery, soon-to-be 31 years old, had a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts and a 2.90 ERA in six playoff appearances with Texas. He does not throw hard but throws strikes, and his sinker is a top-tier pitch in MLB by run value.

Marcus Stroman – Stroman, 32, declined his $21 million option from the Chicago Cubs for 2024 to become a free agent. The two-time All-Star had a 2.96 ERA and 3.38 FIP until the All-Star break, but injuries held him to eight innings over the final two months of the season.

Eduardo Rodriguez – Rodriguez, 30, opted out of three years and $49 million with the Detroit Tigers. He vetoed a trade to the Dodgers at the deadline with his no-trade clause, reportedly due to proximity concerns with his family on the East Coast. The left-hander had a 3.30 ERA in 26 starts in 2023.

Middle rotation depth

Michael Wacha – The 32-year-old has been on five teams in the last five seasons, but his 2022 and 2023 have been strong with a 3.27 ERA and 4.04 FIP. He made 24 starts this past year for the Padres with a plus fastball and changeup.

Seth Lugo – Another 2023 Padres starting pitcher hits the open market. Lugo started a career-high 26 games in San Diego after spending years in the New York Mets’ bullpen. The 33-year-old held his own in 146.1 innings with a 3.57 ERA. He has a six-pitch arsenal but leans primarily on a fastball and curveball.

Hyun-jin Ryu – Ryu has made only 17 starts in the past two seasons, but he rejoined the Blue Jays’ rotation for the final two months of 2023 after Tommy John surgery. His fastball velocity was down but his spin went up while he limited walks and barrels (3.46 ERA). The lefty will be 37 at the start of the 2023 campaign and was a Cy Young finalist back in 2019 and 2020.

Michael Lorenzen – Through Aug. 9, Lorenzen was having a career year with a 3.23 ERA through 20 starts and a no-hitter. His next five starts didn’t go well, and the Phillies moved him to the bullpen. He’ll be 32 years old next season.

Shota Imanaga – The World Baseball Classic’s title game had a starting pitching matchup of Kelly for Team USA and Imanaga for Japan. Imanaga is a 30-year-old lefty who produced 10.6 strikeouts with 1.5 walks per nine innings this past season in Japan.

Kenta Maeda – Maeda, 35, missed all of 2022 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and almost two months of 2023 with a triceps strain. In 17 appearances after his return, the veteran had a 3.36 ERA and struck out 103 batters in 88.1 innings.

Kyle Gibson – Gibson is 36 and coming off two below-league-average seasons via ERA+, but his sweeper remains one of the best in baseball with a 12-run value. He had a 4.20 FIP in 2022 and 2023, which paints a rosier picture than his 4.88 ERA in that stretch.

Wade Miley – The 36-year-old former Diamondbacks lefty doesn’t throw much harder than 90 mph at this point, but he maintained a low ERA with a 3.14 mark in 23 starts for the Brewers in 2023. His FIP, however, was 4.69. He does not miss bats, but his hard hit rate was in the 93rd percentile.

Wild cards

Lucas Giolito – The 29-year-old was a desirable trade target but had a miserable final two months of the season after getting traded to the Angels, waived and picked up by the Guardians. His ERA ballooned to 6.97 in his last 12 starts and he recorded losses in nine of them. He’s not far removed from an outstanding season, though, as he finished No. 11 in AL Cy Young voting in 2021.

Jack Flaherty – Flaherty is only 28 years old but similarly struggled after getting dealt at the trade deadline in 2023 with a 6.75 ERA on the Orioles. Injuries held the one-time ace to 50 starts over the last three seasons, but he threw 144.1 innings in 2023, the most since his top-five Cy Young finish in 2019.

Luis Severino – The two-time All-Star is still only 29 years old, but he is coming off his worst MLB season statistically. Injuries have kept him at 37 starts over the last four years, while his ERA and FIP climbed above 6.00 in 2023. He’s maintained his velocity but not the same spin, while he had a bottom 10% hard-hit rate.

Erick Fedde – The 30-year-old was a 2014 Washington Nationals first-round pick who spent the 2023 campaign in Korea. He had a 2.00 ERA in 30 starts for the NC Dinos, and the D-backs have had success before pulling from the KBO with Kelly.

Notable omissions: Shohei Ohtani (recovering from elbow surgery), Clayton Kershaw (shoulder surgery, out until next summer), Julio Urias (administrative leave after alleged domestic violence)

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