Free Agent Predictions Part 1: Starting Pitchers

The GM meetings in Naples, Florida act as the “opening bell” of the free agent market and serve as an appropriate time to take a survey of the landscape. SGR favorite Daisuke Matsuzaka’s MLB suitor should be announced tonight; all signs point to the Red Sox winning his posting rights for upwards of $30 million. Over the weekend, Aramis Ramirez re-signed with his old team, the Cubs, putting more pressure on GMs looking to upgrade their clubs to act aggressively and decisively. Before anything else can happen, let’s take a quick look at the top free agents and try to guess where they’ll end up (and for how much).

  •  Daisuke Matsuzaka

We consider Matsuzaka to be the top free agent on the market, even if he isn’t technically a free agent. His combination of stuff, statistical profile, and age is unrivaled in this market (and indeed most markets). The media consensus at this point has him landing with the Red Sox, but for how long and how much? If we take it as given that he signs with the Sox (and doesn’t return to Japan), that implies the Red Sox will expect to amortize the posting fee they pay over as many years as possible. That doesn’t mean he has to sign a six-year contract, though; even if Matsuzaka goes into arbitration after a 3-year or 4-year deal, he’ll still have the profile of a top starter (unless something goes drastically wrong) and can count on a big arb award or a contract extension. A contract of 4 years, $40 million would both make Matsuzaka happy and give the Sox a young ace for the foreseeable future.

  • Barry Zito 

Yet another Scott Boras guy, Zito lucked out by reaching free agency this year; in previous years, he’d be nowhere near the cream of the crop. Boras has a busy couple months ahead of him — in between negotiating with the Sox, he’ll play Matsuzaka’s spurned suitors off one another and exploit their desire for a rotation-heading starter. The Mets, despite their gaping hole at the front of the rotation, probably won’t be a big player here. Signing Zito now would be a tacit admission that he could have helped the club last summer, especially if and when they start dealing potential trade chips Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman. The Rangers, Yankees, and Dodgers will probably end up as the front-runners, and it’s hard to bet against a $200 million payroll. The Yankees are the pick, for 5 years, $70 million. 

  • Jason Schmidt

Schmidt has had an interesting career arc. When he joined the Giants at age 28, he had the reputation of a talented but inconsistent starter who didn’t live up to his potential. He immediately became a well-above average starter, including a dominant 2003 in which he finished second in the Cy Young voting. Schmidt turns 34 in a few months and is in the twilight of his career. He still throws hard, but doesn’t have the dominant fastball he once did, and relies more on his offspeed pitches. He reportedly wants to return to his roots in the pacific northwest, which makes him a good bet to join the Mariners for a 4 year, $50 million deal.

  • Roger Clemens

Easily the best bet of this bunch for 2007, Roger ranks this low because of how unlikely he is to pitch in 2008 and beyond. It’s tough to argue with his success in Houston the past three years. A Cy Young at 41? A 1.87 ERA at 42? Three consecutive years below his career ERA, all after age 40? He’s an amazing athlete and perhaps the best pitcher in history. A last hurrah in Houston with pal Andy Pettite, perhaps? There are 15 million reasons why it might happen in a one year deal.

  • Mike Mussina

Friend of SGR David Buckley proclaims that Mussina’s treachery has cursed the Yankees and doubts they will win another World Series until he’s gone. In that case, Yankee haters, rejoice! The Moose is coming back to New York, where he’ll try to improve his Hall of Fame case during a two year, $25 million deal.

  • Andy Pettite

He says he’s done, but don’t believe it. The Rocket will convince him to come back to Houston (but the two years, $20 million he’ll get won’t hurt either). Hey, if you were Andy Pettite and saw Jeff Suppan sign a long-term, big-dollar deal, wouldn’t professional pride compel you to keep going out there?

That’s all for now. Agree? Disagree? Other thoughts? Leave ’em in the comments.

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