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A Look at the Free Agent Market: Starting Pitchers

Ryan Arbour

Ryan Arbour writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

A Look at the Free Agents: Starting Pitchers
by Ryan Arbour, RotoWire Writer

The offseason is always an exciting time, with teams picking up new players to build their teams for the following season. Several quality starting pitchers hit the free agent market following the 2010 season. Here's a look at some of the most noteworthy names who are looking for new employment:

Cliff Lee, LHP
Lee is easily the most desirable starting pitcher in this year's free agent market. Despite starting the 2010 season on the disabled list, he still managed to put up some impressive numbers. In 28 starts between Seattle and Texas, Lee was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 185 strikeouts in 212-plus innings. Considering that he spent half the season pitching his home games at the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, his numbers were all the more impressive. The Yankees appear to be the most likely team to acquire the 32-year-old left-hander, which would likely help his win total. On the other hand, the new Yankee Stadium has proven to be a launching pad for hitters, so Lee's ERA and WHIP could suffer as a result.

Hiroki Kuroda, RHP (re-signed by Los Angeles)
The Japanese import has fared pretty well during his three years in the Major Leagues. Although his combined 28-30 record leaves much to be desired, his 3.60 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over that span proves that he can pitch. Dodger Stadium does tend to favor pitchers, but Kuroda's 3.72 ERA on the road during his Major League career shows that his numbers are no fluke. After being re-signed by the Dodgers to a one-year, $12 million contract on November 15, Kuroda should be in for another strong season.

Jorge De La Rosa, LHP

It may seem surprising to see De La Rosa's name this high on the list, considering his unremarkable numbers over the past few seasons. However, it should be noted that he's spent the last three seasons pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in all of baseball. During those three years with the Rockies, he posted an overall ERA of 4.49, but went a combined 34-24 with an excellent strikeout rate of 8.95 per nine innings. He missed the months of May and June this past season due to a tendon injury in his pitching hand, but had a solid second half. Away from the thin air of Colorado, De La Rosa is likely to improve on his numbers and be a valuable fantasy asset.

Andy Pettitte, LHP

The now 38-year-old Pettitte seemed to be defying age as he began the 2010 season by winning 11 of his first 13 decisions while posting an impressive ERA of 2.70. Then, just before the All-Star Break, he suffered a torn muscle in his groin which ended up costing him two months of the season. He finished with an 11-3 record and a 3.28 ERA, but there is a possibility that he will opt for retirement this offseason in order to spend more time with his family. If Pettitte does come back for another season with the Yankees, he is obviously worth taking a chance on, as he can still pitch with the best of them.

Jon Garland, RHP

Garland quietly put together a very solid season in 2010, as he went 14-12 with a 3.47 ERA and a career-high 136 strikeouts for the Padres. Obviously, he received help from his home ballpark, which is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the game, but he is still a decent pitcher regardless of where he pitches. He owns a 4.32 career ERA, and his career strikeout rate of 4.86 per nine innings is not terribly impressive, which limits his fantasy value. However, if he can continue to improve on his strikeout numbers like he did in 2010, he could surprise some owners and increase his value.

Jake Westbrook, RHP (re-signed by St. Louis)

Westbrook missed most of the 2008 season and the entire 2009 season after undergoing surgery on his elbow, but showed no ill effects as he returned to form in 2010. The sinker-throwing righty was 10-11 overall, with a 4.22 ERA in 33 starts between Cleveland and St. Louis. He owns a career ERA of 4.29 and a strikeout rate of just 5.03, so his fantasy value has never been all that high. However, Westbrook was recently inked to a two-year deal with the Cardinals, and the park in St. Louis is very pitcher-friendly. In his 12 starts for the Cards in 2010, Westbrook's ERA was an impressive 3.48, and his strikeout rate was a much-improved 6.60 per nine innings.

Carl Pavano, RHP

Pavano has to be considered one of the biggest surprises of 2010. He was limited to just 26 starts from 2005-2008 due to injuries, before finally logging a complete season in 2009. In 33 starts that year, he posted a mediocre 5.10 ERA between Cleveland and Minnesota. 2010 was a different story for the 6-5, 250 lb. righty, as he tallied a completely unexpected 17 wins and finished the year with a 3.75 ERA. It remains to be seen whether or not he can duplicate that success in the coming season. It should be noted that he suffered a significant decrease in his strikeout rate from 2009 to 2010, so fantasy owners looking for strikeouts may want to look elsewhere.

Javier Vazquez, RHP

2010 was a forgettable season for the 34-year-old Puerto Rican right-hander. After his impressive showing in 2009 when he went 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts for Atlanta, the Yankees had high hopes when they traded for him. Unfortunately, things did not work out well for Vazquez in the Big Apple, as he posted an ERA of 5.32 while giving up a whopping 32 home runs in just 157-plus innings. His strikeout rate dropped considerably as he was plagued by a decrease in his fastball velocity all season. The loss of velocity could be due to an undisclosed injury or arm fatigue, but hopefully the cause of his ineffectiveness will no longer be an issue by the end of the offseason. When he's on top of his game, he can be a force to be reckoned with, as he's topped the 200 strikeout mark five times in his career. Pitching in a more forgiving environment in 2010 could yield better results for him.

Kevin Millwood, RHP

Millwood has had his share of ups and downs, as he's posted an ERA over 5.00 in three of his last four seasons, but managed to finish with an impressive 3.67 mark in 2009. In 2010, his record was a horrific 4-16 and his ERA and WHIP were mediocre at 5.10 and 1.51, respectively. He's had the misfortune of having to pitch his home games in two of baseball's most hitter-friendly parks for each of the last five seasons, which could only have hurt his numbers. He has shown in the past that he can thrive in the right environment, as evidenced by his 2.86 ERA in Cleveland's pitcher-friendly park in 2005. His fantasy value will be largely determined by where he ends up in 2011.

Freddy Garcia, RHP

After only appearing in a combined 23 Major League games from 2007 to 2009, Garcia finally managed to put together a full season in 2010. Although the results were nothing spectacular (4.64 ERA), his 2010 season still has to be considered a breakthrough given his long and winding road back. Pitching in homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field surely didn't help his numbers, as he gave up 23 dingers in just 157 innings. A move to a different ballpark could yield better results for the 34-year-old righty, but he is still most likely a middle-of-the road third or fourth starter at best.

Aaron Harang, RHP

Harang would rather forget his 2010 season, as things did not go well for him at all. Limited to just 20 starts for Cincinnati due to back spasms, he struggled to a 6-7 record, a 5.32 ERA, and a 1.59 WHIP. Harang can be a solid fantasy contributor when he's healthy and on top of his game, as he topped the 200 strikeout mark in both 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, he hasn't pitched 200 innings in any season since, and has gone a terrible 18-38 during that stretch. However, his 4.71 ERA over the past three years isn't terrible, and he did manage to keep his strikeout rate at a respectable 7.40 per nine innings. Perhaps a change in scenery might revitalize him, but expect his fantasy value to be limited.

Vicente Padilla, RHP

The 33-year-old from Nicaragua has struggled with injuries in recent years, which has limited his effectiveness. Padilla has not started 30 games in a season since 2006, and has posted a combined ERA of 4.77 in the four years since. However, most of that time was spent pitching for the Texas Rangers, who have a home ballpark that is not kind to pitchers. Since moving to the Dodgers in mid-2009, he was 10-5 with a 3.82 ERA, so he can clearly be effective in the right environment. If he enters the 2011 season healthy, and can stay healthy for the season, he might just have some value to a fantasy team. Unfortunately, those are some pretty big ifs.

The rest:

The remaining free agent starting pitchers are mostly players attempting to recover from serious injuries or are pitchers of declining ability. Some of these names might have a breakout year, but most are likely to have minimal value. Here's the rest of the list:

Erik Bedard, Kris Benson, Jeremy Bonderman, Dave Bush, Bruce Chen, Kevin Correia, Doug Davis, Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis, Mike Hampton, Rodrigo Lopez, Brad Penny, Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Brandon Webb, Chris Young