The free agent market seems to be moving a little faster than usual this offseason, with many of the top available players already agreeing to new contracts. Almost all of that action has taken place with position players (whom we'll get to during the next week or so, as we approach the Winter Meetings, which will take place from December 7-11); the starting pitching market remains almost entirely unformed.
Today, a look at the top available players, along with some guesses at what kind of money they're going to get. The very best available arms are almost certainly out of the Tribe's price range, so I'll mention some of the other guys on the market as well, and discuss which guys might make sense for the Indians, given their current rotation options and financial situation.
1) Max Scherzer (30)
2) Jon Lester (31)
These are the big two, and they'll both command contracts worth over $100 million. I'd guess something like 6 years, $156M ($26M per) for Scherzer, 6 years, $144M ($24M per) for Lester. They are both dramatically outside the Tribe's budget. The Tigers will make a push to keep Scherzer, Boston will make a push to bring Lester back, the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels and Cubs will all make a push to land one of them. I'm hard-pressed to see anyone outside those five teams signing either of these two.
3) James Shields (33)
A clear #3, I expect him to get something like 5 years, $100M ($20M per). The Royals will likely make some effort to retain him, but I don't see it happening. One of the teams listed above that misses out on the big two will likely grab Shields as a consolation prize. I view him as more than a full step back from those two though.
4) Ervin Santana (32)
5) Francisco Liriano (31)
6) Brandon McCarthy (31)
I expect each of these guys to get 3 or 4 years, for somewhere between $12-14M a year. Santana and Liriano each turned down a qualifying offer, which means the team that signs them gives up a draft pick. That won't be much of an issue for Scherzer and Shields (each of whom also declined a QO), but for non-superstars, we've seen the added cost of the draft pick really hurt their value. Still, at something like $40-50M in guaranteed money, there are a lot more potential suitors for these guys. This is the price range at which the Indians could enter the conversation, if they were so inclined.
7) Jake Peavy (34)
8) Edinson Volquez (31)
9) Jason Hammel (32)
10) Hiroki Kuroda (40)
That first trio should each be able to land a 2 or 3-year deal for $9-11M a year. Kuroda will either retire or sign another 1-year deal. If he does, the Yankees or a California teams are the only ones I can see him signing with, probably for $12-13M.
Beyond that there's a wide collection of players I expect to sign 1 or 2-year deals for no more than $8M per year. They include (in no particular order): Justin Masterson, Ryan Vogelsong, Chris Young, Aaron Harang, Brett Anderson, Brandon Morrow, Gavin Floyd, Chris Capuano, Kyle Kendrick, and Josh Johnson.
How are the Indians set up here, and what should they do?
You can look at the Tribe's presently assembled starting rotation and see what you want. You might see the Cy Young winning ace at the top, three other guys who pitched very well down the stretch, and the talent and potential of Trevor Bauer... viewed that way, you may believe the Indians have one of the best rotations in baseball. You might see a guy who's had only one great season at the top, and a bunch of guys with only small samples of success... viewed that way, you may believe the Indians have too many question marks and need to solidify the pitching staff by adding another solid starter.
I find myself landing somewhere in the middle, in terms of my assessment of the current guys. I think Kluber will be great again, but not as great. I think at least one of the next trip (Carrasco, Salazar, and House) will be something of a bust in 2015, and I'm not sold on Bauer turning that talent and potential into anything more than back-of-the-rotation results. On the other hand, I'm also higher on McAllister and Tomlin than most are, as #6 and 7 starters, so I think the team is better situated to handled one of the top five crapping out than most fans seem to.
Any team could use one of those top six guys, but the Indians probably aren't going to spend what it'd cost to acquire them. Meanwhile, once you get beyond that you start running into guys with just as many questions marks as the guys already on the roster. I don't think it makes sense to spend $8-10 a year for anyone who's not a definite upgrade, and so I don't think any of those guys make much sense for the Tribe. I'd be happy to see the time find an interested player to offer a minor league deal to, and maybe get lucky (as with Scott Kazmir in 2013). I wouldn't spend any real money on starting pitching this offseason though.