Let’s Sign Some Pitchers!

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday marks the 83rd day of the owner-initiated lockout. It still remains to be seen how long it will last, but whatever its length, we’re likely to see a whirlwind of a mini-offseason as soon as the league and the players come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. While that kind of thing is fun to cover — the week before the lockout was a thrilling frenzy — there’s still quite a lot for baseball to do. So let’s roll up our sleeves, lend a hand, and find some new homes for a few of the remaining free agents. The trick here is that they actually have to make at least a lick of sense for the team signing them — but just a lick.

We gave out a half-billion of fictional dollars to hitters last time, but our imaginations could use some pitching too, so let’s get cracking!

Clayton Kershaw to the Texas Rangers – Four years, $120 million

Like Freddie Freeman returning to Atlanta, Kershaw staying in Dodger blue makes the most sense, and there are no major hurdles preventing that outcome. But since it’s more fun to think of new possibilities rather than the status quo, I’m sending him back to his ancestral (and current) home in Texas. It’s not even a preposterous destination; the Rangers didn’t spend more than half a billion bucks this winter to win 75 games, so I can’t imagine they’re leaving the rotation in its present status.

ZiPS Projection – Clayton Kershaw
2022 10 7 0 3.49 23 23 129.0 114 50 17 28 140 128 2.9
2023 9 6 0 3.62 21 21 114.3 103 46 16 26 120 124 2.4
2024 9 6 0 3.77 21 20 112.3 104 47 16 26 114 119 2.2
2025 8 6 0 3.78 19 19 104.7 97 44 15 24 106 118 2.0

ZiPS isn’t giving Kershaw anywhere near as much of the Rangers’ cash, but since this isn’t legally binding, I don’t feel all that guilty. In any case, Texas is the team this season that has busted through the ZiPS contract projections, so why not do it one more time? I’d feel a lot better about a Kershaw-Jon GrayDane Dunning top three, and while it isn’t enough by itself to propel the Rangers into contention, it does inch them closer to where good luck can put them into the 2022 mix. And if the season is shortened, they have an even better chance!

Carlos Rodón to the Minnesota Twins – Three years, $70 million

Making a big commitment to Byron Buxton just months after sending José Berríos out of town did little to clarify the long-term goals of one of the most confusing teams in baseball. After a highly disappointing 73–89 season, the Twins have given almost no indication whether they’re either going to double down and retool quickly or focus more on the years out on the horizon. It’s a roster that seems designed to win neither now nor later.

The discombobulation continues when looking at the lineup versus the pitching staff. Minnesota’s offense remains playoff-caliber, and that Buxton extension keeps one of its highest upside offensive players in town for a long time. But pitching was a particular problem for the Twins in 2021, as they finished near the bottom of the league in most metrics. Even more concerning is that they did that with the benefit of two-thirds of a season of Berríos and 100 innings from both Michael Pineda and Kenta Maeda. The first two are gone, and Maeda, if he returns in 2022 from Tommy John surgery, will only get a handful of innings late in the season.

Facing the challenge of replacing Berríos, Pineda, and Maeda before even improving the 2021 staff, the Twins only signed Dylan Bundy and Danny Coulombe. Bundy is possibly a good reclamation project, and Coulombe projects as a moderately useful/roughly average reliever, but this is entirely inadequate. ZiPS projects Joe Ryan as if Joe Ryan’s mom were the programmer, and it still thinks the rotation is a bottom-five one.

So, let’s improve it a bit.

ZiPS Projection – Carlos Rodón
2022 9 6 0 3.59 21 21 110.3 91 44 13 40 137 120 2.4
2023 9 6 0 3.66 20 20 103.3 87 42 12 38 124 118 2.1
2024 8 6 0 3.73 20 19 101.3 85 42 12 37 120 115 2.0

Is Rodón a bit of a gamble due to his health history? Absolutely. But the Twins didn’t sign the easier choices, like Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, or Eduardo Rodriguez. The Twins were in the Yu Darvish bidding some years ago, so they’ve certainly shown a willingness to spend money on pitching, and they haven’t exactly put the Joe Mauer savings back into their payroll. Why keep this lineup together if you’re just dooming them to be the losers in a bunch of 8–7 games?

Yusei Kikuchi to the San Francisco Giants – Three years, $65 million

Losing Kevin Gausman is a severe hit to San Francisco’s rotation, and crossing fingers to hope that Alex Cobb throws 160 innings is not a suitable follow-up plan. I’m on record now for believing that Logan Webb is now a legitimate ace-type, but the team’s rotation is short at least one starter — possibly more than that due to the injury histories of Cobb and Alex Wood, but certainly one major addition should be in the cards. The pickings are rather thin, but I’m a fan of San Francisco going after former Mariner Kikuchi; projecting him in each park, he gets the best WAR projection of any of the 30 teams with the Giants. (His weakness is the occasional crushable mistake, and Oracle Park is a good landing place for that type of pitcher.)

ZiPS Projection – Yusei Kikuchi
2022 9 7 0 4.01 28 28 148.0 148 66 16 51 140 105 2.3
2023 8 7 0 4.07 26 26 135.0 135 61 15 46 127 104 2.0
2024 8 7 0 4.15 25 25 132.3 134 61 15 46 123 102 1.8

It’s not generally appreciated, but Kikuchi has made great strides punching out batters in recent years, as his plate discipline stats and velocity have both improved since his major league debut. The hardest-throwing lefties who tossed 100 innings in 2021 were Shane McClanahan, Carlos Rodón, Blake Snell, and… Yusei Kikuchi. ZiPS even thinks that, based on his swinging-strike rate and first-strike percentage, there’s still reasonable upside left in his strikeout and walk rates.

Kwang Hyun Kim to the Los Angeles Dodgers – Two years, $36 million

Even if Trevor Bauer’s status is cleared by the start of the season and the Dodgers decide to welcome him back, the rotation looks a bit gaunt at the moment. After Bauer, Julio Urías, and Walker Buehler, the only starting pitcher projected for an ERA under four in our depth charts is Dustin May, who seems unlikely to return from Tommy John surgery before midseason. Based on who Los Angeles has in-house, it doesn’t take a lot of misfortune until the team is turning to Andre Jackson or Robbie Erlin.

ZiPS Projection – Kwang Hyun Kim
2022 10 8 0 4.09 27 25 143.0 141 65 24 39 126 105 2.2
2023 9 7 0 4.25 24 23 127.0 129 60 22 35 109 101 1.7

If there’s anything the Dodgers like, it’s flexibility, and Kim has been used both as a starter and a reliever. I also can’t help but think about their long history of wringing performance out of ordinary pitchers, and I still believe that Kim’s deceptive, loopy, slow curve has more potential value than the Cards were able to get from it.

Ryan Tepera to the St. Louis Cardinals – Two years, $16 million

ZiPS currently has only two serious contenders among the bottom 10 bullpens in baseball: the Giants and the Cardinals. I already gave the Giants something today, so St. Louis gets the bump here. Tepera has already been linked to the Cardinals before, by the indefatigable Derrick Goold, so I’m just saving the team some time until spring. Or will it be summer?

ZiPS Projection – Ryan Tepera
2022 1 1 2 3.62 56 0 49.7 40 20 6 19 57 114 0.5
2023 1 1 2 3.68 50 0 44.0 36 18 5 17 51 112 0.4

ZiPS likes Tepera a lot in St. Louis, and I remain generally higher on him; I picked him as one of my eight pitching breakouts for the 2021 season. His cutter moves so well that he’s officially declared it to be a super-hard slider, and it remains nearly unhittable. It even works as well against lefties as does his changeup, giving him almost no platoon split. If the best relief pitcher available isn’t Collin McHugh, I think it’s Tepera; I may get into hot water for this, but I would rather have him than Kendall Graveman.

Zack Greinke to the Kansas City Royals – One year, $10 million

ZiPS Projection – Zack Greinke
2022 9 8 0 4.18 28 28 159.3 164 74 21 32 121 109 2.6

It’s been a long road for Greinke, who’s gone from top prospect to a player who almost left baseball due to anxiety to superstar pitcher to veteran eephus tosser. There’s something satisfying about him completing the journey where it all began, in a very different place in his life than when he started. The initial departure from Kansas City due to Greinke’s desire to play for a contending team was a little bumpy, but his first return in 2012 was warmly received by both sides. The Royals’ lineup isn’t particularly young, but the non-Mike Minor parts of the rotation are, and who would be a better mentor than Greinke? He’s been through it all before, after all.

Greinke still doesn’t have a ring, but he’s never seemed like the type of player to pin his accomplishments on that kind of symbolism. How many players, when signing with a new team, will outright say that they did it for the money, rather than the usual banalities about the spirit of the team or the fans or how great the area schools are? And hey, if his neck isn’t nagging, he might be a solid mid-rotation starter for the team as well (though I’m not as bullish as ZiPS is). Greinke to Kansas City would be fun, and baseball needs more fun right now.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Cave Dameron
5 months ago

Thank you Dan, very cool!

Bernie Sanders
5 months ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

Thank you Cave, very cool!