Lincecum deal sets high market for top starters

 It may be a bit early to truly gauge what this winter holds for free agent starters, but Tim Lincecum agreeing to re-sign with the Giants on Tuesday gives us some clues. His two-year $35M deal, pending a physical, indicates more teams will likely use the qualifying offer as a measuring stick for their free agent expenditures, and as usual, it’s going to pay big you’re an above average free agent starter.

Lincecum’s 3.2 WAR he’s averaged in his career is probably a bigger piece to his contract puzzle than his negative WAR’s in the previous two seasons. Today’s market values one win between $5-7M which makes it easy to see how a three win pitcher can command $15M a season.

As noted by Alex, it’s slim pickings for top free agent pitching. Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jiminez and Ricky Nolasco represent the cream of the crop, and Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka will be highly sought after as well. A.J. Burnett and Hiroki Kuroda belong in that class too, but Burnett has openly stated it’s Pittsburgh or bust for him, and Kuroda seems likely to either re-up with the Yankees or head home to Japan. Kuroda and Burnett are both likely to receive and decline qualifying offers, so for arguments sake, lets assume they both stick with their 2013 clubs and sign one year deals worth around $15M, and fill number 2 or 3 roles in their respective rotations.

The Seattle Mariners have only been associated with Lincecum at this point, so we can probably factor them out of the running for the others, as well as the Giants and Pirates with the resigning of Lincecum and Burnett respectively. The Yankees will have multiple rotation holes even with Kuroda back, and a desire to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189M for 2014. The Dodgers seem set on winning so expect them to spend big dollars. I could see the Rangers, Nationals, Blue Jays, Twins (yes, money will be available), Padres (they get their slice of the TV deal too), and Phillies to possibly get involved in the bidding.

Nolasco and Garza will come without draft pick compensation thanks to being traded during the 2013 season, but Santana and Jiminez are likely to decline QO’s should they receive one, and they both probably will. Tanaka is an interesting case, as he’ll require a posting fee of around $55M based on what Yu Darvish brought, and a contract north of $10M AAV. However, only the AAV will count towards a team’s luxury tax number, and we’re looking at you, Pinstripes. Lincecum’s $17.5M AAV Stands as a reasonable goal for all mentioned aside from Tanaka.

Lincecum’s struggles in 2012 and 2013 means he enters 2014 as a 3 win pitcher, his career average, which is comparative to the value provided by Santana and Jiminez the past couple seasons. Garza projects as a 2 win+ pitcher for 2014 after being healthy for most of the season, but most of the ace potential from his younger years is gone. Nolasco fits the mold of a 2 win pitcher next year as he looks to build on his successful stint with the Dodgers and getting out of Miami.

While Tanaka appears to be the prize, he faces a risky transition to the American game, and the other four starters have their own warts by way of injury, inconsistency, and fondness of the long ball. Factoring Lincecum’s deal into the equation, let’s look at how the market shapes up for the others.

Lincecum is looking to re-establish his value on a short-term deal, but considering the lack of other high quality options available, I expect Nolasco, Jiminez, Garza and Santana to be searching for deals in the 4-5 year range. Along with Lincecum’s guarantee, the $14.1M QO salary definitely has driven up the bottom line price on these pitchers. Some say the Giants paid a premium price for a reclamation project, but what they’re really doing is hoping Lincecum has turned a corner for the better in 2013, and factoring in the high cost of replacing him.

Teams have become increasingly weary of sacrificing top picks to land free agents in years past. If Santana and Jiminez both have compensation attached to them, we could see their market affected similar to how it was for Kyle Lohse, last winter. Still, the two will both get paid handsomely this winter, and I could see Jiminez netting $64M on a four-year pact, and Santana being paid as if he was vintage Johan with a five-year deal approaching $90M in total value. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Garza get something similar to Santana since he won’t cost a draft pick and the Yankees will likely be involved. Nolasco will probably fall somewhere between Jiminez and Lincecum, and I can see him grabbing $17M AAV on a four year deal.

Unfortunately, Mariners fans shouldn’t expect to see any of these players mentioned donning the blue and teal anytime soon, and that’s probably a good thing. If I were to make predictions right now, I would venture that the Yankees spring for both Tanaka and Garza to solidify their rotation, while the Dodgers bid with the Blue Jays and Rangers for Nolasco and Jiminez. I have a feeling that a team like the Twins or Padres will ultimately land Santana with hope that having him pitch in a true pitcher’s park will keep his numbers low enough to justify the contract he receives.

Despite all the uncertainty that exists in free agent market, we can be certain about one thing: a No. 3 starter is now going to cost you $15M annually. Man, King Felix’s contract is going to look like an absolute steal in the next couple years.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

11 Comments

  1. I agree this year’s free agent costs will seem too high but in two or three years they will look like bargains. If the M’s sign Tanaka at a cost with posting fee of $120 million for six years or an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $20 million it may seem to be way too much now but in his 4th, 5th and 6th years of the deal he will look like a very cost-effective acquisition. Additionally he is just 25 years old and just entering his prime years. Another point is that the cost of 1 WAR is now up to $7 million (Dave Cameron’s formulation for determining that value is flawed.) although that figure has gone down as well as up over the past ten years it will continue to trend upwards. Another fact I have found in my research is that prospects are most often not effective for 2 or 3 years after reaching The Show for the first time, some take 4 or 5 years to put it all together. Mike Trout (who was just named BA’s Player of the Year for the second year in a row) is an exception, the Hall of Fame is full of guys who took longer than he has to be recognized. The take away from this that giving up on prospects too early will allow another team to benefit from farmhands that don’t progress as fast as some other players. We have a number of players who were brought up too fast due to circumstances, they will take more time to reach their true value. We need to be prepared to allow this to happen and not trade away our best and true future.

  2. Yeah, I agree that the M’s do need to add talent. But a HUGE consideration is where the team currently is in terms of contention. Right now the M’s have Felix (who’s still only 27), Iwakuma, and a ton of young guys who are a ways away from their peaks. Only Saunders, Smoak, Wilhelmsen, Furbush, and Farquar are older than 25, and key guys like Walker, Ramirez, Franklin, Zunino, Maurer, Montero (yeah, I said it), and Capps are 23 or younger. Besides Wilhelmsen (29) and Iwakuma (32), we don’t have any players who figure to be major contributors who are older than 27. That’s pretty crazy.

    The M’s need to add talent now, but 2015-2017 are more important than 2014. This is a HUGE consideration in free agency.

    So, the M’s need to remember where they are as a team before coming up with their offseason plan and committing lots of years and dollars to free agents.

    Now, think about the potential free agents on the market, their ages, the types of contracts they are likely to warrant, and how old they will be during the deals:

    Hitters
    Jacoby Ellsbury, 30 – 7 yrs/~150 mil* (age 30-36)
    Shin-Soo Choo, 31 – 6/~120 mil* (age 31-36)
    Curtis Granderson, 33 – 3/~45 mil* (age 33-35)
    Mike Napoli, 32 – 3/~42 mil* (age 32-34)
    Cory Hart, 32 – 1/~8 mil (age 32)

    Pitchers
    Ervin Santana, 30 – 4/60 mil* (age 30-33)
    Matt Garza, 31, 5/85 mil* (age 31-35)
    Ubaldo Jimenez, 30 – 4/52 mil* (age 30-33)
    Ricky Nolasco, 31 – 3/36 mil* (age 31-33)
    Dan Haren, 33 – 1/8 mil (age 33)
    Josh Johnson, 30 – 1/10 mil (age 30)
    Phil Hughes, 28 – 3/24 mil (age 28-30)
    Masahiro Tanaka, 25 – 6/60 mil plus post in fee (age 25-30)

    Obviously these are just estimates, but I think they are probably on the conservative side given the contracts already signed this fall (Abreu, Pence, and Lincecum).

    The point? For a lot of the guys above (especially Choo, Granderson, Ellsbury, Napoli, Garza, etc), the M’s would be paying premium money for the ends of their careers. The initial seasons of those deals could be fine, but the latter years will likely be terrible. Unfortunately, thats when the M’s figure to be climbing out if the gutter. Further, they would also be losing draft picks, which is the one area where they actually excel in adding talent. Because teams are resigning really good players before they hit free agency, it’s almost impossible to sign a cornerstone player anymore. The “elite” guys are actually more like solid players at the end if their peaks.

    This offseason, the exception is Tanaka. Other guys who make sense are Hart, Hughes, Haren, and Johnson, because they either won’t warrant long-term deals or are young enough to help the M’s when they are actually ready to make a run.

    I’m terrified about this offseason because Jack is in a situation where he must win now, which puts his own concerns at odds with the best interests of the organization going forward.

  3. I agree with Tyler and maqman. (NASORB – I’ll take a look, seems like I remember it was hard to post comment).

    Almost every pitcher out there comes with question marks but will demand premium dollars. That said, free agents aren’t going to get any cheaper in 2015 either. The Mariners have to overpay one way or another. Why keep throwing out $10 million or so for end of the rotation starters on a one year contract. If the M’s can get Tanaka, they need to do so regardless of the price. If they get a free agent, they need to take a chance on one that will be here for a few years. That plus farm system is the only shot the M’s have. I don’t believe we have enough depth to be trading our prospects at this point. If we get a free agent, get one that adds some long term value, which the M’s haven’t done for years. I know there are horror stories, but there are plenty of free agents that have worked out nicely also.

  4. Any free agent is going to be expensive compared to prior years, get used to it. The value of a win is now up to $7MM, it’s explained in my Mariner Mine Morsels piece over on NASORB. To me the best buy is Tanaka and he will cost $120MM and up but he’s worth it given his age and accomplishments. After him come Ubaldo and Nolasco, followed by the lesser values like Vargas Feldman, Messenger and Hughes. Trading Iwakuma is a bad idea, last year showed what having two decent starters plus 3 bad choices can do to a team. You don’t get better giving up half of your good pitching. The team has money to spend, they should use it to fill holes for multiple seasons.

  5. I think you are overestimating what it would take to get Porcello. He’s never had his results align well with his stuff, and he’s been just a solid 3/4 type for the Tigers. Detroit currently has Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister in their rotation, and Drew Smyly waiting in the wings. Porcello is likely to get a big raise in arbitration, so he’ll be getting expensive. The Tigers have been rumored to have shopped him before.

    I don’t think it would take Miller or Franklin to get a deal done. The Tigers need bullpen arms. I’d start there. If the cost goes beyond that, I would look elsewhere. But I don’t think that will be the case, given Porcello’s results in the past, cost, and contract situation. He’s a candidate to break out in the future, as he’s a groundball pitcher who’s been playing in front of one of the worst defensive infields in baseball. He’s a great option as a buy low candidate, based on the expectation that he’ll do better in the future with a new team. Basically, he’s a #4 pitcher, with a chance to be more than that in the right environment. A #4 pitcher doesn’t cost Miller and Maurer. He’s only a smart option as an undervalued player. If the Tigers want more than that, there are always other options.

  6. The one thing I cant really grasp about trading for a pitcher like Porcello, the price it would take to get him. There is a reason we would/have interest in him and the Tigers are not going to just give him to us for scraps. IMHO I feel trading for him would cost us at least one of miller or franklin and maybe another one of Erasmo or Maur just to get them talking.

    That would be creating more holes then filling. It takes talent to get talent and the mariners are the last time I checked pretty short on it. What talent they do have is much more valuable to the M’s then to other clubs. Not to mention looking at what the prospects were going for last winter and throughout the season what makes people think that any of their values have been inflated since. I hate the idea of trading away pieces that are very cheap, cost controlled and fill a hole the mariners have at the moment.

    I also hate the idea that the free agent market is the way to go because its not but it is the lesser of all evils in this problem. We have so little in guaranteed money for future the M’s could spend some and not have it cripple the team. Now that goes without saying that you cant just spend money on anyone but really what FA contracts are ever really fully paid back in production. The other major problem here is getting said player to accept our money its a two way street case in point Hamilton. The best bang for your buck is in the first 4 or so years of a players major league career after that its a big crap shoot or unless you sign them to a team friendly deal.

    Sorry for the longer post but I just feel the mariners are in a real tough spot right now. They have so many replacement level players that trading a couple of them will not get you a worthy player without hurting you just as much in another position. Tanaka or one of the group of pitches like Hughes and Haren on sort term deals are what the M’s should be looking at. If they are to trade they should do it for a bat not a pitcher.

  7. Jerry,
    I agree with your approach…if not necessarily your tactics (suggested pitching acquisitions).
    But undoubtedly, pitching and defense is the way to go.
    Why?
    Let’s assume the best of all words–we sign both Ellsbury and Choo. Of course, this is impossible–in fact, I can’t see why either one would take our money–but even with them, will we be a playoff caliber team?
    The best I could say is ‘maybe’. We’d have to have all our young starters be magical.

    The fact is, in order for us to move into legitimate contention, a couple of our younger players are going to have to really excel. And in that group, I also include Ackley and Saunders, who both showed real promise the second half.
    But without Ellsbury or Choo, could we honestly assure that we could do better in free agency than Ackley and Saunders in the outfield? I don’t think so. We’d be throwing a lot of money at ‘maybes’.
    So I think we need to make sure our rotation and bullpen are stifling. That means one more viable starter. And if Almonte isn’t the answer, find a center fielder (Pollock?) who defensively can carry on the tradition of Griffey, Cameron and Guti.

    The last year of Z’s contract is not the last chance to contend–but it is the last chance to SHOW we could contend. If Seager is a given, then among Miller, Franklin, Zunino, Saunders and Ackely, we’ve got to see a couple breakthroughs. Without that, nothing else will really make a difference.

  8. Jerry, I definitely agree with you that there are a lot of quality arms coming onto the market this year, but this post was focused on the top of the market based on industry consensus, as opposed to everything the market offers.
    If the M’s grabbed Phil Hughes on a year deal for ten million I’d be all for that, and i believe that’s where the true value lies in the pitching market. My point is that an Ervin Santana is going to be paid like a 1-2 starter despite the fact he hasn’t shown much to that effect and how Lincecum’s deal all but guarantees that.

  9. Tyler,

    I’m kinda surprised by your general conclusion that there isn’t much impact pitching talent available. My impression was that the market for arms was a lot stronger than for position players.

    In fact, I’d love to see the M’s go all-in for pitching, especially guys that won’t command long-term contracts. This is a good market for that type of strategy, and pitching is always in demand by the trade deadline should the M’s fall out of contention (which is highly likely given their current situation). They could even add arms now, then deal some pitching this offseason for a few good hitters.

    The one guy who I think they should open their wallet for is Tanaka. He’s young, so his timetable fits in well with the rest of the M’s roster. He won’t cost the M’s draft picks. And after shelling out for the posting fee, his yearly salaries will be relatively reasonable. He’d give the M’s another legit guy at the top of their rotation.

    The two other guys that are really interesting are Phil Hughes and Dan Haren. Josh Johnson is another intriguing guy. I’d also look into acquiring Rick Porcello via trade.

    If the M’s could add three of those guys – ideally Tanaka, Porcello, and Haren – they could listen to trade offers on Iwakuma, while still allowing Walker, Paxton, and Maurer to compete for the last spot in the rotation. That depth would help them avoid rushing prospects to the big leagues.

    If they add a few good arms, they could listen to offers on Iwakuma and Ramirez. Once Tanaka and Garza sign, and David Price gets dealt (if that actually happens), Iwakuma would represent a great Plan B for a lot of clubs. He’s coming off a Cy Young caliber season, and is signed for two more years at below-market prices. He’d be a fit for almost any club in baseball. Dealing now, when his value is incredibly high, could be a really wise decision.

    Then, the M’s could see what happens. If those guys do well, the M’s could surprise a lot of people. If the M’s tank, they could look to trade Haren or Porcello, especially if Walker, Paxton, Hultzen, Ramirez, Maurer, etc are dominating in AAA. Lots of options.

    The market for good position players is weak, and the M’s have a huge disadvantage in signing them even if they did decide it was worth paying market value for guys like Choo and Ellsbury. For guys like Haren, Johnson, and Hughes, the M’s can point to a great pitchers park and solid defensive team (at least historically) to entice free agent pitchers on shorter term contracts. They should take advantage of that.

    The M’s aren’t close to contention, and going all-in on long-term contracts for the more expensive bats isn’t a good idea right now. But the market for pitching includes more options who could fit into the club’s 3-year plan – either as long-term contributors (Tanaka) or buy-low candidates and potential trade chips (Haren, Johnson, etc).

  10. I completely agree. I loved what Paxton and Walker brought in September, but the M’s should do everything they can to bring in one of those pitchers you mentioned in order to solidify the rotation a little bit and alleviate some pressure from the kids

  11. Unfortunately, I entirely agree. There’s way too much new TV rights money sloshing around, and it always seems to wind up in the pockets of the players fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.
    Beyond the names mentioned, I think the optimal acquisition for the M’s would be a Feldman, Capuano, Hughes, Maholm or even Vargas–and even then, they won’t be cheap, and carry even more risk.
    Remember how last year’s rotation depended on Ramirez being healthy?
    I’m guessing they take the same risk this year with three youngsters, and save their money for hitters.

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