MLB Free Agent Rankings: Best starting pitchers available on the hot stove market

The MLB offseason has been painfully slow when it comes to actual transactions, but at some point it's going to pick up and players will start to be signed. In the meantime, we're going to run through the positions and rank the available free-agent options. For one huge list, we have a free agent tracker with every position included. We've also ranked the best options at catcherfirst basemiddle infieldthird base and outfield. Now we're onto starting pitchers. 

A word of note before we move forward (OK, lots of words of note). Perhaps the biggest name on the market here this offseason is two-way Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. He's not included here because he's an international free agent, which means he's held back in his earnings potential by the international free agent bonus pool of each team. Some can pay him over $3 million while other teams can only offer up around $300,000. As such, the word "free" in there is a misnomer. He's far from free here. 

We also can't be 100 percent sure how well he'll translate to MLB, especially in trying to play a position when he's not pitching. 

For those interested, here are Ohtani's 2016 numbers in Japan's NPB (he was injured for a good portion of 2017 but finished the season strong and healthy): 

.322/.416/.588, 18 doubles, 22 homers, 67 RBI, 65 runs, seven steals in 382 plate appearances
10-4, 1.86 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 174 strikeouts, 45 walks, four complete games, one shutout in 140 innings

He's 23 years old, swings lefty and throws righty. 

Now onto the actual free agents. 

Free Agent Starting Pitchers
Yu Darvish Free Agent SP

Darvish left a sour taste in his mouth with two terrible World Series starts, including taking the Game 7 loss, but he's still the cream of the crop here. He's entering his age-31 season with a career ERA of 3.42 (126 ERA+) and he's long been a high-volume strikeout guy (career 11.0 K/9). There's definite risk here, as Darvish has struggled to maintain consistency since his Tommy John surgery caused him to miss all of 2015. The upside here is still a Cy Young contender and puts him on top, even if not in blowout fashion.
Jake Arrieta Free Agent SP

The 2015 NL Cy Young winner battled command issues through most of 2016 and then that bled into 2017. His last 11 starts before a hamstring injury last season, though, Arrieta posted a 1.69 ERA. He only allowed one earned run in 10 2/3 playoff innings once he was again healthy, but he also walked 10 batters. Point blank, the command issues likely aren't going away. What you've got here is a guy who can completely dominate a game or walk himself out of it on any given day, likely with far more good starts than bad. He'll be 32 next year, but he doesn't have a ton of wear on his arm and has avoided major injury.
Lance Lynn Free Agent SP

Lynn's type has become underrated in this day and age. There's a Tommy John surgery mixed in there, but otherwise he's averaged 32 starts and 189 innings pitched in his five full seasons. He fits the cliche of a guy who takes the ball every fifth day. Last year was his first off the major surgery and he still made all 33 of his turns, going 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA. His walks were up and strikeouts down, but generally speaking, pitchers don't have their best in the first post-TJ season. He's a very strong mid-rotation guy.
Alex Cobb Free Agent SP

Another Tommy John surgery vet, Cobb, 30, had his procedure in 2015. He came back for five (mostly bad) starts in 2016. Last year, he threw relatively well, pitching to a 3.66 ERA (113 ERA+). He was great in the two years pre-surgery (2.82 ERA, 134 ERA+ in 2013-14 combined), so perhaps his second full year afterward he can get back to his previous level.
CC Sabathia Free Agent SP

The big southpaw is 37 now, but he's coming off a good season. He was 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 2017. He closed strong, rocking a 2.91 ERA in his last eight regular-season starts and then throwing very well (2.37 ERA in four starts). CC's been durable through most of his career, but he's up there in age and has thrown 3,317 innings in the regular season alone. Something to watch: He's 152 strikeouts away from becoming the 17th pitcher ever to reach 3,000. That's more rare than 3,000 hits, though it doesn't carry quite the fanfare.
Andrew Cashner Free Agent SP

In the era of big power bats and arms, Cashner doesn't miss many bats. He only struck out 86 batters in 166 2/3 innings last season, an alarmingly low 4.6 K/9. That was the second worst among qualifying pitchers last year after Ty Blach of the Giants. Still, Cashner kept the ball in the park, on the ground and left men on base well enough to post a 3.40 ERA.
Tyler Chatwood Free Agent SP

Chatwood is a fun one, because the smart folks that we are, we can laugh at those who pay attention to the league-leading 15 losses and the 4.69 ERA. Forced to pitch roughly half his innings in Coors Field, Chatwood had a 6.01 ERA and 1.68 WHIP there. On the road he had a 3.49 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Also, Chatwood is only 27 years old while most guys here are in the 30-32 range. He's not outstanding or anything, but teams looking to fill a fourth spot in the rotation could do far worse.
Jaime Garcia Free Agent SP

The 31-year-old southpaw was remarkably traded three times in an eight-month span, going from the Cardinals to the Braves to the Twins to the Yankees. In 2017 with the latter three teams combined, Garcia was 5-10 with a 4.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 157 innings.

Remember the strikeout rate discussion on Cashner? The next one on the list is Hellickson (third-worst in MLB). The 31-year-old righty wasn't awful with the Phillies (4.73 ERA in 112 1/3 innings), but was after being traded to the Orioles (6.97 ERA in 51 2/3 innings). He was good in 2010-12, pretty bad the next three seasons and then rebounded with a good year in 2016.
Chris Tillman Free Agent SP

From 2012-16, Tillman was 65-33 with a 3.81 ERA (108 ERA+) for the Orioles. He topped 200 innings twice. In 2017, he was utterly dreadful (7.84 ERA in 93 innings). Entering his age-30 season, Tillman is a big risk to be slotted into a rotation, but signing him as a bit of a lottery ticket could end up producing a mid-rotation starter.

More starting pitchers available: Jason Vargas, Jhoulys Chacin, Michael Pineda (coming off Tommy John surgery or he'd be higher), John Lackey, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Miguel Gonzalez, Brett Anderson and, of course, Bartolo Colon

Perhaps Lackey is safer than Tillman and Pineda possesses far more upside, but we're really nitpicking once it gets past Chatwood. There seem like seven starters here who definitely, firmly belong in a 2018 rotation. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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