MLB Free Agency: Top Five Starting Pitchers

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Who are the top five starting pitchers in MLB free agency this offseason?

Not only is today Election Day, but today also marks the first day of MLB free agency. Teams can now negotiate with other teams’ free agents. That’s right. Your favorite team can go after that big free agent they need.

If your team is in need of a starting pitcher, this year’s free agent crop may not be what you had in mind.

Stephen Strasburg was supposed to be here, but the Nationals made sure during the season that he would not be.  He was supposed to be the big fish, but frankly, due to his signing we aren’t left with much here.

If your team is looking for a game-changing starting pitcher, it isn’t here. They are going to have to try and swing a trade for that to happen. If your team is looking to add some depth to their rotation, they can certainly find some arms that can help lengthen their rotation.

You will probably see some of the contracts free agent starting pitchers get and think “How did that guy get that kind of deal?”, but that is the world we live in this offseason.

So who are the top five free agent starting pitchers as we begin to put some coals on the Hot Stove flame? Let’s take a look.

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5. Bartolo Colon

The MLB GIF king begins our top five. He may turn 44 next May, but Bartolo Colon can still be effective and be a part of an MLB rotation.

Colon was supposed to be insurance for the Mets with Zack Wheeler coming back from Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately, Wheeler never made it back in 2016 and the Mets needed Colon more than they thought. All Colon did was make the All-Star team last year, win 15 games, have an ERA of 3.43 and almost pitch 200 innings. He still has a WAR close to 3.0.

Colon’s velocity is down, which is of course what happens when you are as old as he is, but he makes you put the ball in play. He only walked 32 last year, so you have to swing against him.

I wouldn’t give him a multi-year deal, but a one-year deal to eat some innings and provide some leadership for 2017 can really help a club. He’s done that with the Mets since his arrival so there’s no reason to think he couldn’t do that again.

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4. Jason Hammel

The Chicago Cubs declined Jason Hammel’s option over the weekend and now the 34-year-old will hit the free agent market again. Hammel may be coming off of his best season.

As a part of what might have been the league’s best rotation, Hammel won 15 games as the team’s fifth starter. His K/9 dropped below 8.0; however, his ground ball percentage went up to 42 percent which will make him attractive to teams in hitter’s parks. Hammel has proven he can pitch at both Wrigley Field and Camden Yards.

Hammel’s velocity remained at around 92 MPH which is what it has been throughout his entire career.

The question I have is whether he is healthy. Hammel missed the Cubs playoff run and part of September due to issues with his elbow. Has he recovered from that? If he has, then a team can go ahead and add the righty as a part of their rotation.

Hammel’s option was for $10 million and he should easily surpass that figure for next year in the free agent market. It wouldn’t shock me to see him get a three-year deal from a club.

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3. Ivan Nova

Ask any Yankees fan and they would tell you they would be shocked that Nova would be on any top five free agent list when the team shipped Nova to Pittsburgh at the deadline last season. Well, Nova certainly rebuilt his value as Ray Searage‘s genius struck again.

Nova went 5-2 in 11 starts with Pittsburgh including three (!) complete games. He had an ERA of 3.06 and a FIP of 2.62.

Nova won’t turn 30 until January and clearly Searage has unlocked something. If he can take what he learned in Pittsburgh, a team signing Nova could have another J.A. Happ on their hands.

Nova hadn’t won double-digit games since 2012 so a team going after him is going to have to take that into account. What Nova are they getting? The Pirates version or the inconsistent Yankees version?

If a team is getting the Pirates version, they are going to have a starter who could really deepen a rotation. If it’s the Yankees version, you could have a large sunk cost on your hands.

To give you an idea of what this market is like, this is a deal that is possible for Nova in the free agent market:

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2. Jeremy Hellickson

When the Phillies acquired Jeremy Hellickson last offseason in a trade with the Diamondbacks, he was supposed to be a veteran guy who could soak up innings in a young rotation and maybe give the Phillies a trade chip at the deadline for a prospect.

Instead, the 29-year-old turned in a career season and even earned a qualifying offer from the Phillies, something you wouldn’t necessarily expect going into 2016.

Hellickson won 12 games with a 3.71 ERA, his best since 2012. He also had a 3.98 FIP and career best WAR of 3.2.

The one thing I would be concerned about with Hellickson is he had quite a bit of BABIP luck last year. His BABIP against of .274 was his lowest since 2012. Was this a one-year thing or can it be something that is more sustainable? He also started 30-plus games for the first time since 2012; can he remain healthy?

Hellickson isn’t a guy who is going to blow people away. However, if he can continue to pitch like he did last season, he can be another helpful mid-rotation piece for a team.

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1. Rich Hill

Who would’ve thought that a guy pitching in independent ball would be the best free agent starting pitcher on the market? The Boston Red Sox picked him up and helped him make his curveball a weapon. He went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts and went back into free agency.

The Oakland A’s picked him up and he thrived for them. He went 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA and they packaged him with Josh Reddick and sent him to the Dodgers for prospects.

Hill, when healthy, was the Dodgers’ number-two starter down the stretch. He even earned a win in the NLCS against the Cubs.

Now he hits the market for the third straight year, but this time he should be getting a multi-year contract from whoever he signs with.

Hill turns 37 during Spring Training, but he doesn’t have the mileage on the arm that other 37-year-olds might. He does have some history of blister problems which raises some concerns as well.

Pound for pound though, if I am taking any free agent starting pitcher, I’m going to spend the money on Hill. As long as he continues to use that curve effectively, he should be able to impact a rotation over the next couple of seasons.

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