A year ago, Lance Lynn was coming off a 2017 during which he made 33 starts, pitched 186.1 innings, and put up a 3.43 ERA. He ended up taking a one-year, $12 million contract with the Twins. Coming into this winter, Lynn just finished making 29 starts, with 156.2 innings en route to a 4.77 ERA. In response, the Texas Rangers have agreed to a three year, $30 million deal with the right hander. TR Sullivan reported the sides were close and Mark Feinsand came through with the contract terms.
Lynn’s change in fortune may come as something of a surprise, but there were a number of factors working in his favor this winter that moved him toward a bigger deal. First, he was stuck with a qualifying offer last offseason, which still seems to limit potential suitors even as the penalty for teams signing has been reduced. Second, the free agent market a season ago, particularly for pitchers, was incredibly cold, with nearly all of the big pitchers not signing until February or later. This year, Patrick Corbin got the big money rolling; Nate Eovaldi soon followed. Charlie Morton also came off the board today, and there are rumors that JA Happ and the Yankees are close. There was decent depth in the starting market, but teams appear to be scooping up the decent pitchers early, making more of a market for Lynn.
The final factor in Lynn’s favor was his performance in 2018, which was better than the season before. As Dan Szymborksi noted in our assessment of the Top 50 Free Agents,
Unsurprisingly, Lance Lynn’s 4.77 ERA this past season more closely matched 2017’s 4.82 FIP than the 3.43 ERA he recorded that same year, amassed in large part due to the .244 BABIP that he, luck, and the Cardinal defense conspired to produce in 2017. But in one of those poetic twists of fate, his peripherals were actually considerably better in 2018, Lynn’s strikeout rate cresting the batter-per-inning mark for the first time in years and matched by a similar bump in velocity. I think that if a team lands him for Kiley’s two-year, $18 million estimate, they’ll actually be quite happy with the results.
The crowd was a little more generous than McDaniel, predicting a $27 million guarantee that still undershot Lynn’s deal. It’s possible Lynn’s lack of a spring training contributed to his slow start; after the first month of the season, he put up a very good 3.34 FIP and a solid 4.13 ERA. He was even better with the Yankees after the deadline trade, striking out 26% of batters while walking only 6%. With the exception of the 2016 season, which he missed due to Tommy John surgery, and his first season back in 2017, Lynn has been a consistent 3-plus win player and an innings eater. His offerings aren’t complicated, throwing a wide range of fastballs, but he’s been successful with that for most of his career.
Lynn is a fly ball pitcher, which could cause him some trouble with the Rangers, but if he’s anywhere close to the player he was with the Cardinals, $30 million over three seasons is going to be a bargain. If Lynn had signed a four-year deal for $42 million a year ago, that might have been a little under expectations, but fairly reasonable given the year he had. It took him two offseasons to get that guarantee, but taking a one-year deal last winter rather than a slightly higher guarantee for two seasons looks to have worked out for the righty. For a rebuilding Rangers team, Lynn might be a workhorse who lasts long enough to see their next window of contention, or he might be a trade chip over the next few years if he pitches like he did down the stretch last season.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.