Look for second-tier pitcher to sign before Price, Greinke

A second-tier pitcher such as Wei-Yin Chen might be first in line for a big-money free-agent contract.

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Monday, multiple team executives in search of pitching told me they expect at least one second- or third-tier free-agent starter — think Wei-Yin Chen, Yovani Gallardo, Mike Leake or Jeff Samardzija — to sign before David Price or Zack Greinke agree to their market-setting deals.

The thinking goes that most teams outside of the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox have minimal chances of landing Price, Greinke, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann and therefore will work aggressively to sign a starter before the market moves too far upward.

But that’s not to suggest those teams will find a bargain.

Take Chen, for example. His agent is Scott Boras. And sources say Boras is prepared to make the case that Chen deserves well north of the $20.625 million average annual value Rick Porcello received in his multiyear extension with the Red Sox around Opening Day 2015.

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(Prediction: Over the coming weeks, many agents will cite Porcello’s contract as a floor in their negotiations with clubs.)

Chen, while older than Porcello, had a superior ERA+ in the ’14 and ’15 seasons than Porcello did in ’13 and ’14. Chen also has the benefit of (theoretically) allowing 30 teams to bid up his market price; Porcello was able to speak with only one.

So, is Chen a $22 million per year pitcher? How about $23 million?

Maybe more?

According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, only 10 pitchers in baseball history have received more than $23 million annually in base salary: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Roger Clemens, Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. That group claims numerous Cy Young Awards, World Series rings and no-hitters.

Chen, 30, has yet to earn recognition as an All-Star or throw 200 innings in a regular season. But no one should be shocked if Boras finds a team to pay him $20 million per year — or a good deal more.

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