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Free agent starting pitchers: The best of the best (including Ubaldo)

The Indians need at least one starting pitcher. Here's a look at the very best ones available.

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Other entries in LGT's free agency series:

The Indians have already made Ubaldo Jimenez a qualifying offer, but he's likely to decline it. Scott Kazmir is a free agent too. That means two of the Tribe's five primary starting pitchers from 2013 are likely gone for 2014. One of those absence will probably be filled in house (Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Zach McAllister are all pretty safe bets for the rotation), but they'll need to go out and sign someone to fill that last spot. Here's a look at some of the best pitchers available (more to come throughout the week), with pertinent 2013 info for each of them:

5) A.J. Burnett
Team Age Throws IP ERA ERA+ FIP
Pirates 36 Right 191.0 3.30 107 2.80

After disappointing results with the Yankees in 2010 and 2011, Burnett has bounced back to have two very solid seasons in Pittsburgh. 2013 included the best ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate (9.85 per 9 innings, which led the NL) of Burnett's career. I'm surprised the Pirates didn't make him a qualifying offer, Burnett seems like exactly the kind of pitcher you'd want back for 1-year (given his age), and $14.1M wouldn't have been outlandish, but the Pirates have solid pitching, and a limited budget. I suspect he gets something like that from another team, or a 2-year deal for $24-26M, though his agent has said he's also considering retirement.

4) Hiroki Kuroda
Team Age Throws IP ERA ERA+ FIP
Yankees 38 Right 201.1 3.31 122 3.56

Kuroda signed for $15 million a year ago, wanting a 1-year deal in case he decided he'd like to return to Japan. He was well worth that figure, and is in the same position now. I could see him signing with New York for $15M again, but he could also command that salary for two years if he wanted it. Kuroda is one of just three pitchers who was made a qualifying offer, which would limit the number of teams that would pursue him if he looks elsewhere, but everyone seems to think he'll either stay with the Yankees or head back to Japan.

3) Ervin Santana
Team Age Throws IP ERA ERA+ FIP
Royals 30 Right 211.0 3.24 127 3.93

Santana has made at least 30 starts in four-straight seasons, averaging 210 innings a year. 2013 was his best season since 2008, and he's still fairly young. In a market without any true aces, Santana is lined up for a big payday. Santana has been a consistently average pitcher in terms of strikeouts, and I view him as basically a bit better than average overall, so I'd be hesitant to go more than 3 years, $40 million, but he'll top that I suspect. I think he'll land a 4-year deal for $56M or so, and could even see some team giving him a fifth year.

2) Matt Garza
2013 Team Age Throws IP ERA ERA+ FIP
Cubs/Rangers 29 Right 155.1 3.82 106 3.88

A shoulder strain kept Garza out until mid-May, but he was very good from then through the end of July, including in his first two starts with Texas. The results weren't so good in August and September, but his ERA shot to 4.89 over his final 11 starts. His strikeout and walk rates were steady, while his BABIP spiked by 42 points in the second half, so it could just be that his luck was worse. Some have theorized that it was AL lineups that did him in, but I find that simplistic, especially given his success with the Rays from 2008 to 2010. I think Garza has been somewhat overrated ove the years, but he's almost certain to land the biggest payday of any pitcher this offseason. 5 years, $75 million is my guess.

1) Ubaldo Jimenez
2013 Team Age Throws IP ERA ERA+ FIP
Indians 29 Right 182.2 3.30 114 3.43

It is no exaggeration to say Jimenez was one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2012, and for the first 8 weeks of 2013 too. His fastball was down 4 MPH from his peak, his strikeout rate had crashed, and he was getting hit hard. He'd been working to improve his secondary pitches though, and in late May, something finally started to click. First his rates improved, but his starts were still short, but after the All-Star break he really turned things on, and was arguably the best pitcher in baseball, with MLB's best FIP, and second-best ERA and strikeout-rate. Ubaldo still hasn't turned 30, and if you think his second half is even mostly-real, he'd be worth 5 years, $85 million or so. The two years he spend wandering the desert before that second half will keep that from happening, and he's been made a qualifying offer, which could scare a few teams off, but he'll still get a major deal, given the state of the starting pitching market. I expect something like 4 years, $56-60 million from a team that believes.