Here I’ll continue to analyze some of the biggest names to watch in the free agency this offseason. I previously focused on positional players heading into the free agency from National League teams, but this piece will focus on pitchers, both starters and relievers. Again, these players are not ranked in any particular order, as I feel all of them will be highly sought after this offseason.
1. Aroldis Chapman – Closer
While closers tend to find themselves traveling to new cities every few years in the offseason, teams know just how important they are to a successful season. A weak bullpen has been the death of numerous teams, especially come postseason, over the years. Chapman was one of the biggest names to hit the market around the trade deadline, and I don’t expect that to change this offseason. A World Series victory on his resume will definitely help his case. He’s got the fastest stuff in the MLB, averaging 100.88 mph per fastball in 2016. He made 13 appearances in the 2016 playoffs, posting a 2-0 record, recording four saves, and striking out 21 in 15.2 innings of work. It may not have been his most dominant showing, but he still proved that he has what it takes to close on a World Series roster. The experience from doing so certainly boosts his value heading into 2017.
2. Kenley Jansen – Closer
Jansen is the second of three big closers hitting the free agent market this offseason. He was tied for second in the MLB with 47 saves during the regular season, and was the final piece of the Dodgers’ dominant bullpen in 2016. While he doesn’t offer the same overpowering stuff that Chapman does (and to be fair, I don’t think anybody does), he was still awarded the NL Reliever of the Year honors. The Dodgers were a team plagued with injuries in the starting pitching role, putting even more stress on the bullpen, and yet Jansen and his teammates delivered over and over in 2016. He also furthered his postseason experience, pitching in seven games and nabbing three saves over 11.2 innings. Like Chapman, Jansen will be another highly sought after closer for 2017.
3. Mark Melancon – Closer
Rounding out the trio of big-name closers to become free agents is ex-Nationals/Pirates closer Mark Melancon. Melancon stabilized a Washington bullpen that was shaky at best with Jonathan Papelbon in the closing role. He recorded 30 saves in 33 opportunities with the Pirates, before recording another 17 in 18 chances with the Nats. In the postseason he displayed his versatility, even coming into games where the Nationals were trailing, and delivering. Melancon is no stranger to moving, having played on five teams during his eight years in the MLB. He’s a strong closer who has experience acclimating himself to new teams and performing well without drawing unnecessary attention to himself. He’ll certainly warrant some looks from a number of teams looking to build or retain a strong bullpen in 2017.
4. Rich Hill – Starter
Rich Hill showed us two things in 2016. The first is, he spends a lot of time on the Disabled List. He made two stints on the DL in 2016, both taking place in Oakland, although one of them carried over to when he was traded to LA. He’s now made seven trips to the DL in his 12 years with the MLB (nine if you count two more that occurred while he was rehabbing in the Minors). He’s also 36 years old, which begs the question of how much teams will be willing to give him, and for how long. But all of these things can be offset by the second thing we learned in 2016. He’s really freaking good when he’s healthy. He posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts during the regular season, 14 with the A’s and six with the Dodgers. He did have a couple of short, rough postseason outings against the Nationals, but he showed up big time when his team needed him most. Even though the Dodgers lost the NLCS to the Cubs, Hill posted a stellar six shutout innings against one of the best offenses in the MLB to tie the series at two. Hill should get plenty of looks this offseason, it just comes down to which teams are willing to chance his injury-prone past.
5. Ivan Nova – Starter
When the Pirates acquired pitcher Ivan Nova from the Yankees at the trade deadline, a lot of people were left scratching their heads as to why. They had already given up closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals, so the team had realistically lost a lot of its talent on the mound to make a serious postseason push. But Nova quickly silenced a lot of doubters, delivering a red hot August, going 4-0 in five starts. While his win-loss cooled off some in September, going just 1-2, his numbers still looked great. In two months with the Pirates, Nova posted a 3.06 ERA over 64.2 innings, with 52 strikeouts. While these numbers certainly aren’t going to blow anybody away, Nova proved himself to be a solid starter, even on a team with a middle-of-the-pack offense like Pittsburgh. I could see him garnering a fair bit of interest on a strong team needing a middle-rotation starter, or a weak staff looking for a potential dark horse ace. Nova is a guy who probably won’t receive as much media attention as the big three closers or Hill this offseason, but is certainly worth keeping tabs on.
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