Baseball BeatNovember 27, 2006
2006-2007 Free Agency Preview (Part Two)
By Rich Lederer

Part One: Top Ten Hitters

Our free agency preview continues with a focus on the Top Ten Pitchers. As with the hitters, the pitchers are ranked based on their average annual projected salary. Unlike last year, there are no high-end relievers to speak of among the current crop of free agents.

1. Daisuke Matsuzaka - 26 - SP - 2006: Seibu Lions

W-L 17-5 | ERA 2.13 | WHIP 0.92 | 186.1 IP | 200 K/34 BB

Fifty-one point one million dollars. No, that's not how much Matsuzaka got; that's how much the Seibu Lions stand to make if the free agent pitcher agrees to terms with the Boston Red Sox. As the story goes, the Red Sox decided to submit a bid for $50M, then bumped it up a million in case another team had the same number in mind, and finally tagged on a bunch of 1s at the end just to be sure. Well, at an exchange rate of approximately 117-118 Japanese yen to the U.S. dollar, a bid of $51,111,111.11 also equals 6 billion yen.

Matsuzaka was the #1 pick of the 1998 draft, Rookie of the Year in 1999, ERA leader in 2003, Olympian in 2004, and the MVP of the World Baseball Classic in 2006. He has thrown 1402.2 innings in his eight-year career in the Japanese Leagues. His total through age 25 has been exceeded by only eight pitchers in MLB's expansion era. It's a who's who of elite young hurlers but most of them had a difficult time maintaining a similar level of success over the ensuing years.

 1  Bert Blyleven            1909     
 2  Larry Dierker            1625     
 3  Catfish Hunter           1587     
 4  Fernando Valenzuela      1554.2   
 5  Dwight Gooden            1523.2   
 6  Denny McLain             1501     
 7  Joe Coleman              1417     
 8  Frank Tanana             1411.1   
 9  Vida Blue                1367.2   
10  Dennis Eckersley         1346

Projection: 3 x $15M. Total cost? $96.1M or over $32M per year. Boston has until December 15 to ink the Japanese star to a contract. The deal will get done. Everybody has too much at stake not to make it happen. The Seibu Lions pick up a cool $51M, Matsuzaka's annual salary quintuples, agent Scott Boras gets his usual 6%, and the Red Sox add a premier starting pitcher to its rotation. If there is a hitch, it is on the number of years. The Red Sox would like to amortize the $51M over a longer contract whereas Boras will be seeking as short a deal as possible in the hopes of hitting an even bigger jackpot when his client becomes an unrestricted free agent and can negotiate with all 30 teams.

2. Roger Clemens - 44 - SP - 2006: Houston Astros

W-L 7-6 | ERA 2.30 | WHIP 1.04 | 113.1 IP | 102 K/29 BB

Clemens left no doubt last year that he can still pitch. His rate stats were every bit as good as the prior two years when he finished first and third in the NL Cy Young balloting. His monthly splits point to a pitcher who is as good as anyone in the game.

              BAA    OBP    SLG     ERA
June         .225   .295   .275    2.38
July         .215   .254   .333    2.00  
August       .239   .283   .394    2.54  
Sept/Oct     .179   .278   .221    2.33

Projection: Clemens either retires or signs a contract worth about $3M-$4M per month. If not Houston, then Boston.

3. Barry Zito - 28 - SP - 2006: Oakland A's

W-L 16-10 | ERA 3.83 | WHIP 1.40 | 221 IP | 151 K/99 BB

Zito has been a solid pitcher over the years. He has a terrific career win-loss record of 102-63 and a Cy Young Award to boot. However, his reputation may actually exceed his performance at this point. Barry's strikeout rate in 2006 was his lowest in three years and his walk rate was the highest since his rookie season. Furthermore, he is prone to giving up gopher balls, allowing 1.1 HR/9 IP over the past three campaigns. An ace, he's not. A reliable starter who will take the ball every fifth day, he is.

The Mets seem like the most likely suitor, especially if Tom Glavine ends up in Atlanta. New York has the money, the need, and a pitching coach (Rick Peterson) who enjoyed success working with Zito for four years in Oakland, including Barry's Cy Young season in 2002. The Angels, Dodgers, and Padres are probably in the hunt as well but unlikely competitive at the upper end of the range.

Projection: Minimum 5 x $15M. Given what we have seen thus far, I wouldn't be surprised if Zito ended up signing for something like 6/$100M unless he chooses to give up a few bucks for the comfort of playing in his home state of California.

4. Jason Schmidt - 34 - SP - 2006: San Francisco Giants

W-L 11-9 | ERA 3.59 | WHIP 1.26 | 213.1 IP | 180 K/80 BB

Schmidt is no longer as dominant as he was in 2003-2004, yet still ranks among the top 20 starters in baseball. He is a power pitcher who can dial his fastball up to the mid-90s on occasion and has one of the more effective changeups in the game. Given his age and injury history, Schmidt is a risky bet for the back half of his next contract. He has a higher ceiling than Zito but isn't nearly as dependable.

Projection: Widely rumored to be heading to Seattle, look for Schmidt to ink a four-year contract at about $13M per season. However, don't be surprised if Ned Colletti jumps into the mix and pays up for the veteran righthander with the idea of trading Chad Billingsley or Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton for the bat he covets.

5. Andy Pettitte - 34 - SP - 2006: Houston Astros

W-L 14-13 | ERA 4.20 | WHIP 1.44 | 214.1 IP | 178 K/70 BB

Pettitte had an up and down season last year. You might say he was a Tale of Two Pitchers.

               IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP  K/BB
1st Half    121.0  150  78  71  18  43  92  5.28  1.60  2.14    
2nd Half     93.1   88  36  29   9  27  86  2.80  1.23  3.19

Based on how Pettitte pitched in the second half, you might also say he is the best lefthanded pitcher on the market.

Projection: Depending on what Andy would like to do, I could see him signing anything from a one-year, $15M deal to a three-year, $36M contract.

6. Mike Mussina - 38 - SP - 2006: New York Yankees

W-L 15-7 | ERA 3.51 | WHIP 1.11 | 197.1 IP | 172 K/35 BB

Despite little acclaim, Mussina enjoyed a fabulous season last year. To wit, he ranked third in the AL in WHIP, H/9 (8.39), BB/9 (1.60), and K/BB (4.91); and fourth in ERA and ERA+ (125).

Moose recently re-upped with the New York Yankees for two years and $23 million. His new contract will look like a bargain in six weeks.

7. Tom Glavine - 41 - SP - 2006: New York Mets

W-L 15-7 | ERA 3.82 | WHIP 1.33 | 198 IP | 131 K/62 BB

In a game of cat and mouse, Glavine declined his $7.5M player option and the Mets rejected a $14M team option. One thing we all know for certain, the crafty lefthander will play somewhere next season. More than the money, Glavine's biggest motivating factor for coming back is the desire to win 10 more games to reach the magic 300 mark.

Long removed from being a contender for his league's Cy Young Award, the two-time recipient is still a capable starter. His ERA has only exceeded the 4.00 level twice in the last 16 years. Relying on a changeup for more than one-third of his pitches, Glavine is good for 32-33 starts and 200 innings.

Projection: Look for the future Hall of Famer to work out a two-year deal with either the Mets or the Braves at an average annual salary north of $7.5M and south of $14M. Let's round it to an even $10M per year. The Braves will get the nod if they cough up the dough.

8. Jeff Suppan - 32 - SP - 2006: St. Louis Cardinals

W-L 12-7 | ERA 4.12 | WHIP 1.45 | 190 IP | 104 K/69 BB

More than anything else, Suppan is an innings eater. You can put him down for 31-32 GS and 190-200 IP. The results will be no better than average. He will allow more hits than innings, one walk every three frames, and one HR per nine. Shake it all up and the guy will give you what looks like a quality start every outing. Six innings, three runs.

Projection: Nothing short of 4 x $10M. Mark my words, this is the contract that is going to make people sit up and take notice. Yes, Jeff Suppan is going to sign a new contract for at least $40 million. It won't be with the Cardinals at that price.

9. Vicente Padilla - 29 - SP - 2006: Texas Rangers

W-L 15-10 | ERA 4.50 | WHIP 1.38 | 200 IP | 156 K/70 BB

A strong case can be made "for" or "against" Padilla. He has a live arm and quality stuff. But he also has a poor reputation when it comes to makeup. A lack of consistent focus on the mound has produced a number of good and bad outings over the years. When Padilla's good, he can be really good. When Padilla's bad, he can be really bad.

Projection: Speaking of 4 x 10, the first team that comes up with Padilla's rumored asking price will sign him. The Rangers and Cubs have apparently shown the most interest thus far. Padilla could also wind up being an option for those teams shut out of the higher-priced talent. Drinking problems and all, don't be surprised if he gets it.

10. Ted Lilly - 31 - SP - 2006: Toronto Blue Jays

W-L 15-13 | ERA 4.31 | WHIP 1.43 | 182.2 IP | 160 K/81 BB

Lilly is a lot like Zito in terms of stuff but not necessarily performance. In his defense, Lilly has pitched in more difficult home ballparks than his fellow lefty but has never thrown 200 innings in a single season or had an ERA below 4.00 in over 100 IP.

Despite a less than stellar track record, Lilly will undoubtedly cash in on the fact that he is southpaw who is alive and kicking.

Projection: The Blue Jays or Yankees will sign him for four years at about $9M per season. Raise your son to be a lefty, tell him to hang in there for six years, and then team up with Scott Boras. Heck, Larry O'Brien might even due.


Oh, thank God there's a blog out there where we see a list like this that doesn't include Gil Meche and his "fantastic stuff" and some blurb about "the right pitching coach." Gil Meche's "fantastic stuff" is like the Loch Ness monster or the Bermuda Triangle - rumored to exist but there is no concrete evidence that it does. Beware of blogs that say Meche is the A.J. Burnett of the year (despite the fact that Meche has put up no years like Burnett's 2002 or 2005 and doesn't have his tantalizing G/F,K/9 combo. Has a career 4.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP pitcher ever sparked so much free agent interest?

Anyway, good job leaving Meche off. Lilly is more than a lefty with a pulse, he's a lefty who has been called "uncoachable," seems to have a bad attitude, isn't very durable and has a laundry list of physical woes, but he is a strikeout lefty with some hopes of a friendly NL bounce. Jeff Suppan, it would be funny to see Baltimore give him the big contract and watch him get annihilated in the American League. If there is one pitcher who should not go to the AL it's probably Suppan.

Jason Schmidt scares me. I think he's more of a gamble than people realize.

Lilly vs. Padilla is a close call. Lilly is not a great guy himself but Padilla's personality and alcohol issues scare me even more.

If Ned does trade Kuo or Billingsly, and A-rod isn't the player comming back in that deal, then he's offically the worest GM in baseball and should be gunned down by any Dodger fans.

Would you take Manny???

Heh. Now I wish the Dodgers hadn't signed Pierre. Otherwise they might still be in the running for Andruw Jones, who I would gladly trade for Billingsly/Kuo + Broxton.

Heh. Maybe it'll still happen; they can move Pierre over to LF! :-D

Rich, you've done it again. Thanks for the intelligent approach you take to baseball writing.

Rich, I'm under the impression that if Matsuzaka signs for three to five years that he will NOT be eligible for unrestricted free agency once the contract expires. From what I've heard, because Matsuzaka is technically a rookie, he must operate under the same rules as any rookie, i.e. if his contract runs out before six seasons he is still Red Sox property and eligible for arbitration. For Boras and Matsuzaka, a three year deal would mean a chance to get an annual salary increase, but it would also provide a measure of insurance for the Red Sox. Plus, if he ever becomes to pricey for them (hahaha) they could always trade his rights away.


Both Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui had stipulations in their contracts that effectively waived the team's right to arbitration and shortened the free agency window. I know Hideki's was a three-year deal, which is why the Yankees had to re-sign him last year (even though he'd only been in the league for three years).
I can almost guarantee Boras will invoke this clause on Matsuzaka's deal, as well.
Hope this helps.