11/1/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Talented hurlers can be found on free-agent market
Solid pitchers such as Santana, Jimenez, Wilson available ... and then there's Tanaka
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
For as many statistical advancements as there have been over the past decade or two, nobody has ever been able to crunch an exact number that quantifies the value of pitching.
The legendary Connie Mack is believed to have estimated it as contributing 75 percent to success.
Maybe it's less than that, but it doesn't seem outlandish given what we've seen over the past few years. It's safe to say the San Francisco Giants won the 2010 and 2012 World Series primarily because of their arms. It's also not a stretch to say that this year's Red Sox were helped to the top because two of their most important pitchers, Jon Lester and John Lackey, rebounded with stellar postseasons.
So yes, pitching is important, and now that the free-agent market is open and teams are sure to be swarming around the available hurlers, there will be millions upon millions of dollars that tell us exactly how important it is, at least for this year and the years written into the contracts.
To be sure, trades will be made, but here is a primer on 10 of the top projected pitchers -- starters and relievers -- available this offseason.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP: Tanaka, who turns 25 next year, technically isn't a free agent but it's expected that more than a few teams will bid for his services. He wants to pitch in the Major Leagues and should be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles following the Japan Series. Tanaka happens to be coming off one of the greatest seasons in Japanese baseball history, with a 24-0 record and 1.24 ERA. He figures to get the most lucrative contract of all the available pitchers if he makes the move.
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP: Talk about a career rejuvenation. It looked like the once-dominant Cy Young contender, who will turn 30 in January, might fade into mediocrity, but Jimenez locked into something with Cleveland this year and rode it out to very good and very timely results. Jimenez went from losing 17 games in 2012 to posting the best ERA in the American League in the second half. Jimenez went undefeated and had a 1.09 ERA in September and tied a career high with 13 strikeouts in Cleveland's Wild Card-clinching victory in the final game of the regular season.
Matt Garza, RHP: Garza still brings it in the mid-90s and has playoff experience, both attractive qualities, especially for a guy who won't turn 30 until later this month. Garza had a rough end of the season with Texas in the ERA category, but he stayed healthy after coming back from arm problems in May.
Ervin Santana, RHP: Santana has been inconsistent through the years, but he picked a good time to post the lowest ERA of his career (3.24) and top the 200-inning mark for the fifth time in his nine seasons in the Major Leagues. He's going to get serious looks from plenty of teams, but if his signing costs a Draft pick, clubs might look elsewhere, because Santana won't come cheap.
Ricky Nolasco, RHP: Nolasco isn't a No. 1 starter, but he's solid, and he proved it while splitting his season with the Marlins and Dodgers. Nolasco went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA down the stretch for Los Angeles and he struck out 165 batters overall in 191 1/3 innings. He'll turn 31 in December and figures to land a multiyear deal as a mid-pack starter for a contending team.
Brian Wilson, RHP: Coming off his second Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, it made sense that the bearded one would need time to get back his velocity. When he did and he signed with the Dodgers at the end of July, he went right to work proving he's still effective. Wilson pitched to a 0.66 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings to finish the regular season and was excellent in the playoffs, setting up for closer Kenley Jansen with eight strikeouts in six scoreless innings. The small sample size might be a concern, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him be a closer again.
Hiroki Kuroda, RHP: Kuroda will be 39 by the time Spring Training rolls around, but teams will be giving him a look, especially after he had another solid season for the Yankees. Kuroda might have had a losing record of 11-13, but he pitched to a 3.31 ERA and chalked up 201 1/3 innings while striking out 150 batters. That's worthy of some serious salary, whether it's for one year or maybe even more.
Bartolo Colon, RHP: It would be tough to expect the wide-bodied Colon to repeat what he did while forging his way into the AL Cy Young conversation at the age of 40, but then again, it was impossible to believe he would improve on a 10-win 2012 campaign for the A's that earned him another year and $3 million. Colon went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA and walked only 29 batters in more than 190 innings. That has this ageless wonder primed for a possible two-year deal and bigger bucks.
A.J. Burnett, RHP: Yes, he'll be 37 in January, but he had 209 strikeouts in 191 innings and a 3.30 ERA, which means he's in line for a good deal. Burnett said he'll consider retirement if he doesn't re-sign with the Pirates, so we'll see if Pittsburgh goes after him.
Suk-min Yoon, RHP: Here's the wild card of the bunch. Yoon is 27 years old and wants to play in the Majors after starring in South Korea. Yoon had a 2.45 ERA in 2011 and a 3.12 ERA in 2012, striking out more than eight batters per nine innings. He has experience as a reliever but intends to start in the big leagues. If his Korean numbers translate to the bigs like Hyun-jin Ryu's did this past season for the Dodgers, Yoon could be a steal.
Other starters: Bronson Arroyo, RHP; Scott Kazmir, LHP; Josh Johnson, RHP; Tim Hudson, RHP; Scott Feldman, RHP; Roy Halladay, RHP; Bruce Chen, LHP; Jake Westbrook, RHP; Chris Capuano, LHP; Gavin Floyd, RHP; Roberto Hernandez, RHP; Shaun Marcum, RHP; Mike Pelfrey, RHP; Jason Hammel, RHP; Dan Haren, RHP; Phil Hughes, RHP; Paul Maholm, LHP; Clayton Richard, LHP; Joe Saunders ; LHP; Jason Vargas, LHP; Edinson Volquez, RHP
Other relievers: RHP; Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Gregg, RHP; Fernando Rodney, RHP; Joba Chamberlain, RHP; Francisco Rodriguez, RHP; Joe Smith, RHP; J.P. Howell, LHP; Javier Lopez, LHP; Eric O'Flaherty, LHP; LaTroy Hawkins, RHP; Manny Parra, LHP, Matt Thornton, LHP; Oliver Perez, LHP