By the end of the offseason, Tim Lincecum’s stunning two-year, $35 million contract with the Giants might almost seem like a bargain.
Free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana is seeking more than $100 million on a five-year deal, and righty Ricky Nolasco $80 million over the same term, according to major league sources.
The market opened Monday, and club officials already are complaining of sticker shock. But player agents, in plotting their strategies, appear to be banking on both the principles of supply and demand and the vast amount of revenue in the industry.
The pitchers may not get what they want, just as second baseman Robinson Cano might not get the $300 million-plus he originally sought from the Yankees. But Santana, who will turn 31 on Dec. 12, is perhaps the top starting pitcher on the market. Nolasco, who will turn 31 on Dec. 13, had a big second half with the Dodgers.
Righties Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are 29 and in the same age range as Santana and Nolasco, and older pitchers such as righty Tim Hudson, 38, and Bronson Arroyo, 36, also could benefit from a rising tide.
The top free-agent contacts for starting pitchers last offseason went to right-handers Zack Greinke ($147 million, six years, Dodgers), Anibal Sanchez ($80 million, five years, Tigers) and Edwin Jackson ($52 million, four years, Cubs).
Both Sanchez and Jackson profited from not receiving a qualifying offer, which would have forced rival teams that signed them to lose a high draft pick and the accompanying bonus money.
Nolasco, like Sanchez, was not eligible for a qualifying offer after getting traded during the regular season. The Royals made a qualifying offer to Santana, but the attachment of a draft pick is unlikely to significantly dent his market.
Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka, 25, is probably the only starting pitcher more coveted than Santana in bidding. But only one team – the winner of Tanaka’s rights in the posting process – will be permitted to negotiate a contract with him.
The group overall hardly is star-studded, and the shortage of elite talent could spark greater interest in trades for pitchers such as the Rays’ David Price and Tigers’ Max Scherzer. It also could lead teams to pursue deals for less accomplished, more affordable pitchers such as Brewers right-handers Kyle Lohse (two years, $22 million left on his contract) and Yovani Gallardo (one year, $11.25 million, plus a $13 million club option).
The increase in annual television income from $25 million per team to $52 million starting in 2014 gives clubs greater options. Such jumps in revenue historically have led to an uptick in the market and precedent-setting deals.
Santana has a career 4.19 ERA in 1,686 2/3 career innings – a half-run per nine innings greater than Sanchez had in 869 innings when he became a free agent last offseason. Yet Santana produced a career-best 3.24 mark with the Royals last season and has averaged 32 starts, 210 innings and a 3.87 ERA the past four seasons.
Nolasco is known more as an innings eater – his career ERA is 4.37 in 1,312 2/3 innings. But he went 8-1 with a 2.07 ERA in his first 12 starts after getting traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers last season, then faded in his final two regular-season starts and lone postseason appearance.