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Best Remaining Free Agent Starters

Carlos Rodon

Carlos Rodon

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Rodon

Rodon looked to be pitching his way to a lucrative multi-year contract last season with a fantastic run which included a no-hitter and his first trip to the All-Star Game. He might still very well land a multi-year pact, but the left-hander’s future looks a little cloudy after injury concerns resurfaced late in the year.

Rodon finished with a superb 2.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 185/36 K/BB ratio over 132 2/3 frames covering 24 starts. On the surface, he was equally impressive in the second half as he was the first half, but the southpaw dealt with shoulder problems down the stretch when led to reduced velocity and some abbreviated outings. The White Sox declined to make him a one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer, which could be viewed as a red flag.

Just 29, Rodon might be best off taking a big one-year deal, hoping to prove his health and try again for a long-term contract next winter at age 30. Of course, this still might be his best shot to secure a multi-year deal as long as his physical doesn’t show any major red flags. Either way, he will be a volatile real-life and fantasy asset whose radar gun readings will be watched closely in spring training and early on in the season.

Clayton Kershaw

Kershaw and Rodon are in their own tier here, both because their ceiling it much higher than anyone else on this list and also because injury concerns are hanging over them.

With Kershaw, it’s a flexor tendon issue which limited him to just four starts in the second half and his exclusion from the Dodgers’ playoff roster. The left-hander was given a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow in early October and the hope is that he will be ready to go for spring training and put the ailment behind him. However, that’s far from a sure thing, and the Dodgers said as much when they didn’t make the franchise icon a qualifying offer.

The good news is that Kershaw was still excellent when he was healthy. He finished with a 3.55 ERA (3.00 FIP), 1.02 WHIP and 144/21 K/BB ratio over 121 2/3 innings covering 22 starts. Among pitchers to throw at least 100 innings, he was tops in all of baseball with a 16.7 percent swinging strike rate. Yes, even edging out Corbin Burnes. It would be weird to see Kershaw wearing anything other than a Dodgers uniform, but the Rangers seem to be a threat here. Kershaw grew up near Dallas.

Zack Greinke

Age seemed like it was catching up to the 38-year-old Greinke in 2021. His average fastball velocity failed to reach 90 mph for the second straight season, and he finished with an 11.12 ERA in September which initially bumped him from the Astros’ playoff rotation. The veteran hurler also served up a career-high 30 home runs over his 171 innings.

That said, while Greinke is no longer a front-end starter, he’s still plenty good enough to hold down a rotation spot somewhere and has said he plans to continue pitching. He remains one of the elite strike-throwers in the game and should still be able to provide a sizable workload even if he’s not a 200-inning guy anymore. In terms of fantasy, he looks like more of a deep-league option at this point.

Yusei Kikuchi

Speaking of fantasy leagues, Kikuchi was a popular sleeper target of many heading into 2021. Those that landed him were given a 3.18 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 93/31 K/BB ratio over 93 1/3 frames covering his first 15 outings. Then, the wheels came off.

Kikuchi held a 6.22 ERA in 12 starts the rest of the way, failing to pitch beyond the fifth inning in nine of those outings. It was a bit of a surprise that Kikuchi declined his $13 million player option after such a poor close to the season, but Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported before the lockout that the lefty was weighing multiple three-year offers. A left-hander with a mid-90s fastball and low-90s cutter will always be intriguing, but he’ll have to overcome some major command issues.

Michael Pineda

Pineda made three trips to the injured list last season, first to have an abscess removed from his thigh, then because of elbow inflammation and finally due to a strained oblique. When healthy, he was pretty effective, sporting a 3.62 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 88/21 K/BB ratio over 109 1/3 innings.

Pineda’s fastball velocity (90.7 mph) and strikeout rate (19.2 percent) in 2021 were both easily career lows, and the home run ball has been a problem for the flyball pitcher throughout his career. Still, the 33-year-old would seem to be good for some solid work over 20-25 starts for some team. Landing in a pitcher-friendly park might make him at least streamable in fantasy.

Tyler Anderson

Anderson was the Pirates’ most reliable starter (granted, that’s not a high bar to clear) for a large chunk of last season before he was traded to the Mariners prior to the deadline. He mostly pitched very well for Seattle down the stretch, but a two-inning, nine-run clunker in September skewed his numbers.

Anderson has generally been very good in his career at limiting hard contact, and that was the case again in 2021 as he ranked in the 88th percentile in that regard. It’s allowed him to be reasonably effective even as his velocity and strikeouts go down and his flyball rate goes up. The 32-year-old would appear stretched even as a streaming option in fantasy, though.

Kwang Hyun Kim

Kim had a fine first half for the Cardinals last season, posting a 3.11 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 59/25 K/BB ratio over 72 1/3 frames covering 15 starts. Things didn’t go as swimmingly after the All-Star break, as the lefty held a 4.19 ERA, spent time on the injured list with an elbow issue and eventually was demoted to the bullpen.

Kim boasts a 2.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 48.1 percent groundball rate in his first 145 2/3 major league innings. Those numbers would seem good enough for the 33-year-old to land a multi-year contract after the lockout ends. A 4.22 FIP is a better indicator of his talent level, however. Kim needs a big park and a good defense behind him.

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Best of the Rest:

Danny DuffyDuffy was at his most effective in years in 2021 when healthy, but is out until midseason following flexor tendon surgery. He might return initially as a reliever.

Johnny CuetoThe veteran right-hander is still a capable back-end starter, but he dealt with an elbow issue down the stretch in 2021 and turns 36 later this month.

Zach DaviesDavies was suddenly one of the worst strike-throwers in baseball last year, which was untenable for a guy who doesn’t miss bats. A reasonable bet to bounce back on a modest one-year deal, though.

J.A. HappHapp was decent for the Cardinals in the final two months following a disastrous stint with the Twins, but he’s 39 now and has major home run problems.

Carlos MartinezMartinez can still get plenty of grounders, but he doesn’t miss bats anymore and can’t stay healthy. He’s probably a better bet as a reliever at this point.

Drew SmylyThe velocity and strikeouts boost Smyly experienced in 2020 didn’t carry over into 2021. He might have to settle for a minor league contract.

Chris ArcherAfter missing 2020 following thoracic outlet surgery, Archer managed just 19 1/3 frames in 2021 due to forearm and hip problems. His velocity was notably down when he was healthy.

Cole HamelsHamels made one start in 2020 due to a triceps injury and none in 2021, suffering a shoulder injury after waiting until August to sign. He needed surgery but still wants to pitch in 2022 at 38.

Vince Velazquez – Velasquez can still miss some bats, but his control is worse than ever and he has home run issues. A full-time relief role would be advisable.

Matthew BoydBoyd was non-tendered by the Tigers after an injury-shortened 2021 and flexor tendon surgery. He’s worth a flier but might not pitch until midseason.

Wily PeraltaPeralta was surprisingly decent after the Tigers picked him up off the scrap heap. He still might have to settle for a minor league deal.