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With the playoff picture largely taking shape and the majority of clubs around the league eliminated (or virtually eliminated) from postseason play, a number of teams and fans are looking to the offseason and the 2018 campaign and envisioning how best to augment their 2018 rosters.

The 2017-18 free agent class has a stronger group of starting pitching than the 2016-17 class (though that was a low bar to clear), and while there are a limitless factors that go into evaluating pitchers and determining their worth, there are plenty of surface-level indicators that can be helpful in identifying potential upgrades. For the purposes of this post, I’ve used Fangraphs’ customizable leaderboards to make a list of all of the starters likely to hit the open market this winter (excluding those with no-brainer club options like Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner as well as players that’ll obviously forgo opt-out clauses such as Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy). It’s not yet a given that Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of the remaining three years and $67MM on his contract, but given his strong strikeout, walk and ground-ball rates (leading to a 3.61 xFIP and 3.67 SIERA), I’ve included him on these lists as well.

Though there are dozens of ways to evaluate, here’s a look at the top arms on the market (min. 20 innings as a starter) in terms of velocity, missing bats, limiting walks and inducing favorable contact. (And thanks to the folks over at Fangraphs for being an always invaluable source of info.)

Hardest Throwers (Fangraphs leaderboard)

League average = 92.4 mph

  1. Tyler Chatwood*: 94.6 mph average fastball
  2. Yu Darvish: 94.2 mph
  3. Andrew Cashner: 93.3 mph
  4. Francisco Liriano*: 92.6 mph
  5. Yovani Gallardo: 92.3 mph
  6. Masahiro Tanaka: 92.2 mph
  7. Jake Arrieta: 92.1 mph
  8. Matt Garza**: 91.9 mph
  9. Jesse Chavez/Lance Lynn: 91.8 mph
  10. Alex Cobb: 91.7 mph

*Bullpen work for Chatwood and Liriano was not included.

**The Brewers hold a $5MM club option over Garza, which is a modest price even considering his recent struggles. It’s certainly possible that his option is exercised, which would push Jhoulys Chacin (91.4 mph) up a spot.

Top Strikeout Arms (Fangraphs leaderboard)

League average = 20.6 K%, 7.96 K/9

  1. Yu Darvish: 27.0 K%, 10.02 K/9
  2. Masahiro Tanaka: 24.6 K%, 9.40 K/9
  3. Trevor Cahill*: 24.3 K%, 9.75 K/9
  4. Jake Arrieta: 23.0 K%, 8.66 K/9
  5. Doug Fister: 21.8 K%, 8.47 K/9
  6. Anibal Sanchez: 21.4 K%, 8.59 K/9
  7. John Lackey: 20.6 K%, 7.97 K/9
  8. Ubaldo Jimenez: 20.5 K%, 8.50 K/9
  9. Jhoulys Chacin: 19.9 K%, 7.59 K/9
  10. Francisco Liriano*: 19.7 K%, 8.06 K/9

*Bullpen work from Cahill and Liriano following their respective trades to the Padres and Astros was not included.

Fewest Walks (Fangraphs leaderboard)

League average = 8.1 BB%, 3.13 BB/9

  1. Anibal Sanchez: 5.2 BB%, 2.09 BB/9
  2. Bartolo Colon: 5.5 BB%, 2.26 BB/9
  3. Masahiro Tanaka: 5.6 BB%, 2.15 BB/9
  4. Alex Cobb: 5.9 BB%, 2.21 BB/9
  5. Jeremy Hellickson: 6.8 BB%, 2.58 BB/9
  6. John Lackey: 7.2 BB%, 2.80 BB/9
  7. Jason Vargas: 7.4 BB%, 2.81 BB/9
  8. Scott Feldman: 7.4 BB%, 2.83 BB/9
  9. Ricky Nolasco: 7.6 BB%, 2.95 BB/9
  10. Jake Arrieta: 7.8 BB%, 2.94 BB/9

Best Ground-Ball Rates (Fangraphs leaderboard)

League average = 44.0 percent

  1. Tyler Chatwood: 57.1 percent
  2. Trevor Cahill: 55.4 percent
  3. Jaime Garcia: 54.8 percent
  4. Doug Fister: 51.8 percent
  5. CC Sabathia: 51.2 percent
  6. Wade Miley: 50.9 percent
  7. Masahiro Tanaka: 49.2 percent
  8. Jhoulys Chacin: 49.0 percent
  9. Andrew Cashner: 48.5 percent
  10. Alex Cobb: 47.8 percent

Least Hard Contact (Fangraphs leaderboard)

League average = 32.3 percent

  1. CC Sabathia: 27.3 percent
  2. Jhoulys Chacin: 28.3 percent
  3. Jake Arrieta: 28.9 percent
  4. Trevor Cahill**: 29.0 percent
  5. Andrew Cashner: 29.0 percent
  6. Lance Lynn: 29.1 percent
  7. Tyler Chatwood: 29.5 percent
  8. Francisco Liriano**: 30.1 percent
  9. Jaime Garcia: 30.5 percent
  10. Masahiro Tanaka: 31.3 percent

*Bullpen work from Cahill and Liriano following their respective trades to the Padres and Astros was not included.

Obviously, this is a high-level look at the starting pitching market, though it’s of some note that a few under-the-radar names continually surface in multiple categories. While pitchers like Chatwood and Chacin may not be Plan A for any club looking to bolster its rotation, they’ve somewhat quietly displayed secondary numbers that are generally more impressive than their ERA. Sanchez has had a dismal year with the Tigers thanks to a major penchant for surrendering home runs, but he’s posted a solid 16.2 K%-BB% (league average is 12.5 percent). Fister, meanwhile, has rediscovered his ability to miss bats and has his velocity back up to an average of 89.8 mph, so while his control isn’t as sharp as it once was, he could draw more interest than many would’ve initially thought when the Red Sox claimed him off release waivers from the Angels.

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With a likely eventful offseason approaching for the Tigers, MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery takes an exhaustive look at the team’s payroll and arbitration class. Woodbery notes that the Tigers will likely shop veterans Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias this offseason, as has been oft-speculated in the past, and he speculates that the team may even eat the remaining $18MM on Victor Martinez’s contract this offseason. Andrew Romine and Alex Presley are both non-tender candidates, and Woodbery points out that Bruce Rondon’s lack of a September call-up makes it all but a foregone conclusion that he’ll be non-tendered this winter as well. The Tigers seem likely to head into the 2018 season with their lowest payroll since 2011, though the combined $54MM that is owed to Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann, plus dead-money commitments to Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder (a total of $14MM) ultimately mean they’ll still spend at a relatively notable clip.

More from the American League Central…

  • Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press opines that prior MLB managerial experience should be prioritized over age or familiarity with analytics as the Tigers search for a new manager. Brad Ausmus’ lack of experience in the dugout “loomed large” over his tenure in Detroit, Fenech writes, before going on to suggest that veteran managers such as Ron Gardenhire or Ron Washington would make sense as candidates to lead what figures to be a young and inexperienced Tigers team in the coming years. Other speculative candidates listed by Fenech include Mike Redmond and Manny Acta.
  • The Twins cut international scouting director Howard Norsetter loose last week, and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey explains to Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that changes to amateur international free agency in the latest collective bargaining agreement played a significant role in the decision. “Historically you did have markets all over the place where you could run independently,” says Falvey. “The way the bonus structures worked, there was no cap, there were no limitations. Now we have it all under one umbrella. Where we devote our time, our resources and otherwise, we’ve revisited that to some degree.” Norsetter was based in Australia and was responsible for scouting virtually everywhere outside of Latin America, where Fred Guerrero was the Twins’ scouting coordinator. Falvey says the Twins will “re-appropriate” resources toward Latin American scouting, and Berardino notes that Guerrero could take on a larger role in the department.
  • Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star fields a host of Royals questions in his latest mailbag column, with topics ranging from the 2018 rotation, to a potential reunion with Jarrod Dyson, to the possibility of retaining Jason Vargas and the lack of a September call-up for former first-rounder Hunter Dozier. Notably, Dodd suggests that the Royals could head to Spring Training with a rotation consisting of Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Nate Karns, Jake Junis and Jason Hammel, but the team will still be on the lookout for depth additions to join Sam Gaviglio and Eric Skoglund this winter. “Salary constraints,” however, could limit the Royals’ range of targets. Dodd also adds that the Royals still have a strong relationship with righty Luke Hochevar, who missed 2017 while recovering from thoracic outlet surgery, and they’d be interested in a minor league pact to bring him back to the organization.

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has been diagnosed with a pair of herniated disks in his back after undergoing an MRI, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters Sunday (link via MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery). The team doesn’t yet have an exact treatment plan lined up, but Woodbery notes that surgery is not believed to be on the table at this time. Further, Cabrera could still conceivably play again before season’s end.

As Woodbery notes, back issues have been a persistent problem for Cabrera throughout the season, and they could expedite the decision to move the former AL MVP to a full-time designated hitter. That won’t happen in 2018 unless Detroit can find a taker for Victor Martinez and the $18MM he’s owed next season at some point this winter, but the 2018 season is the final remaining year on Martinez’s four-year, $68MM contract.

While the decision of where to play Cabrera down the road won’t be up to Ausmus, who will not return as the team’s manager in 2018, Ausmus wasn’t shy in expressing that he feels Cabrera will eventually have to make that move. “Not only do I think that would benefit him, I think that’s probably going to happen,” said Ausmus of a potential move to DH for Cabrera. He also indicated that treatment options presently include anti-inflammatories, injections and various means of conditioning to alleviate the discomfort Cabrera is feeling.

The 34-year-old Cabrera has had far and away the worst offensive season of his career in 2017, hitting just .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs in 529 plate appearances. The 2017 season marks the first time that he’s ever been below the league average in terms of offensive production, per OPS+ (92) and wRC+ (91).

Cabrera’s sudden decline and newfound back issues are particularly problematic for a rebuilding Tigers club that has been looking to shed payroll and get younger. While there’s never been any talk of moving Cabrera, his massive contract figures to be somewhat of an impediment to achieving those goals in the coming years. Cabrera inked a mammoth eight-year, $248MM contract extension prior to the 2014 campaign, which added onto a preexisting contract that still had two years and $44MM to go. He’s just wrapping up the second season of that deal and is still owed $192MM over the next six years.

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The Mariners have extended congratulations (via Twitter) to Tacoma News Tribune writer Bob Dutton, who will retire at the end of the season. Dutton’s reporting on the Mariners and the Royals (he previously was a longtime beat writer for the Kansas City Star) have been indispensable to us here at MLBTR for years. We wish him the best of luck as he begins the next chapter of his life. Here’s more from throughout the game.

  • Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen could have rebuilt the team when he was hired following its 69-93 record last season. He didn’t, and the club was rewarded when the Diamondbacks clinched a Wild Card berth today, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com writes. “The reason we kept the team together in the offseason was because we wanted to give these guys a chance to redeem what happened last season,” says Hazen. Last winter, the Diamondbacks did make one big trade (sending Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis to Seattle for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte) and a few cheap free-agent signings (including Chris Iannetta and Fernando Rodney). But they mostly retained a core held over from previous front offices, and much of that core (including Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke) thrived in 2017. Hazen also, of course, later added J.D. Martinez in a huge mid-summer move that propelled the team to the finish line.
  • In taking over the Marlins, Derek Jeter is also taking over “what might be baseball’s most complicated set of obstacles,” ESPN’s Buster Olney writes. One of the many problems Jeter will face is the team’s debt, which is tied to Giancarlo Stanton’s hefty contract. Keeping Stanton could leave the Marlins with little room to maneuver in the coming years, but trading him would be seen as a move similar to the team’s trade of Miguel Cabrera years ago.
  • While Rangers right-hander Andrew Cashner told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and other reporters on Sunday that he’s open to re-signing with the team, an offseason trip to the open market looks inevitable. “It’s going to be fun. I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait,” said the free agent-to-be. “I might strike early. I think there will be some good offers soon. I’ll take what’s best for me and where I want to go.” The Rangers’ $10MM investment in Cashner last winter has paid off this season, but they still haven’t approached the 31-year-old about a new deal. That’s understandable on Texas’ part, as even though Cashner has logged a 3.44 ERA over 157 innings, he’s second last among qualified starters in K/9 (4.7) and third from the bottom in swinging-strike percentage (6.1).
  • As they’ve done in the past, the Rays will at least listen to offseason offers for right-hander Chris Archer and closer Alex Colome, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Topkin adds that there’s no reason to believe the team will attempt to move third baseman and longtime face of the franchise Evan Longoria. On the other hand, righty Jake Odorizzi may find himself in another uniform next season, per Topkin. The 27-year-old has endured a down 2017 and only has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.
  • Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy hopes to return for 2018, MASN’s Steve Melewski tweets. “I still feel I can play and we’ll see what happens,” Hardy says. It’s been a frustrating season for Hardy, who’s batted a mere .218/.255/.321. Hardy also suffered a broken wrist in June, then watched the Orioles trade for Tim Beckham, who replaced him at shortstop and thrived. The O’s seem all but certain to pay Hardy a $2MM buyout rather than picking up his 2018 option. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the 35-year-old, although it’s worth noting that he was a productive player as recently as last season.

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Here are the top stories from the last week here at MLBTR.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore OriolesExtensions everywhere. Several players agreed to extensions this week, keeping them off this winter’s free agent market (or, in the case of Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart, postponing his free-agency eligibility from after 2020 through at least 2021). Righty Marco Estrada and the Blue Jays agreed to a $13MM deal for 2018, while catcher Kurt Suzuki and the Braves agreed to a $3.5MM pact. (The Braves also indicated they plan to exercise Tyler Flowers’ option, keeping both members of their catching tandem for 2018.) The Padres, meanwhile, extended lefty Clayton Richard for two years and $6MM.

Tigers to part ways with Brad Ausmus. The Tigers will continue their rebuild with a new manager at the helm. It emerged this week that the team planned to part ways with Brad Ausmus, their skipper for the past four years, at the end of the season. Ausmus has accumulated a 312-327 record in his managerial career.

Bronson Arroyo calls it quits. Veteran righty Bronson Arroyo called it a career this weekend, as the Reds honored him during a series against the Red Sox, the other team with which he’s most strongly associated. Arroyo finishes with a 4.28 ERA and 148 wins over parts of 16 big-league seasons.

Drew Storen to have Tommy John surgery. Another 2017 Reds pitcher, Drew Storen, will presumably miss the 2018 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Storen is eligible for free agency this winter, but his injury will obviously all but ruin his market. Once one of baseball’s better righty relievers, Storen posted a 4.45 ERA, 7.9 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over 54 2/3 innings this year.

Jimmy Nelson to miss start of 2018 season. Brewers righty Jimmy Nelson had shoulder surgery this week, and doctors found they needed to repair his labrum. As a result, he’s expected to miss “a chunk” of the 2018 campaign. That’s bad news for the Brewers, as Nelson was one of the keys to their surprising emergence this season — he posted a 3.49 ERA, 10.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over 175 1/3 innings, breaking out after a 2016 season in which he led the Majors in walks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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Here are today’s minor moves from around the league.

  • The Braves announced today that they selected the contract of catcher Tony Sanchez. It’s been an eventful few weeks for Sanchez — at the end of August, he headed from the Angels to the Braves in the Brandon Phillips swap, then spent less than two weeks on the Braves’ roster (striking out in his only plate appearance) before being outrighted. The Braves didn’t call on him while Tyler Flowers was out for a week with a bruised hand, but now Flowers is back and available, and Sanchez is as well. It seems unlikely Sanchez will play much with Flowers, Kurt Suzuki and David Freitas all available, and after a season in which Sanchez batted .272/.355/.374 in the minors, he seems like a good bet to come off the Braves’ 40-man when the season ends. Once the fourth overall pick in the draft, the 29-year-old Sanchez has now played for four organizations in the last two seasons.

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Here’s the latest from out of Atlanta, via a highly informative column from Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

  • The Braves are “believed to be leaning toward” keeping Brian Snitker to manage in 2018, Bradley writes. Snitker met with Braves brass yesterday. While the team hasn’t made a final decision, and while it seems likely the team will make coaching changes even if it doesn’t dismiss its manager, GM John Coppolella characterizes the meeting as a “productive” one. Snitker’s status has been a subject of speculation over the last week, as it has looked at various points like the Braves could aim to replace Snitker with special assistant Bo Porter or third base coach Ron Washington, both of whom have MLB managerial experience. The Braves have an option on Snitker’s services for 2018.
  • Looking forward to 2018, Coppolella believes the Braves will get younger. “We’ve got arguably the best prospect in the game (Ronald Acuna) pushing his way up to Atlanta. He’s going to be given every opportunity in Spring Training,” Coppolella says. “When he’s ready, nobody’s going to stand in his way. I said the same thing about Ozzie Albies this spring, and it’s the same way.” Elsewhere, Coppolella notes that it’s possible the team could trade Matt Kemp or Nick Markakis to clear space, although that acknowledgement seems to have come in response to a direct question from Bradley.
  • Coppolella says the team “needs to make a decision” on R.A. Dickey’s club option for 2018. Other than that, the team “won’t be playing in big free-agent pitching waters,” preferring instead to give opportunities to younger pitchers. Dickey’s option is worth $8MM or a $500K buyout. He’s posted a 4.32 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 while eating 183 1/3 innings this season and would seem to be an asset at that price, although he’ll turn 43 next month. Dickey’s option is a team option, although Coppolella notes that Dickey too “needs to make a decision on whether he’s coming back,” perhaps referring to the possibility Dickey could retire. (About 70% of MLBTR readers believe the Braves should exercise Dickey’s option, via a recent poll by Jeff Todd.)
  • The Braves’ biggest priority this winter will be relief pitching Coppolella says. The team will look for one reliever or “preferably two.” The Braves’ bullpen’s 4.62 ERA this season has ranked fourth worst in the Majors.
  • The Braves have already extended Kurt Suzuki, and Coppolella repeats they’re likely to exercise fellow catcher Tyler Flowers’ $4MM option as well (rather than paying him a $300K buyout). That the Braves would plan to exercise such a cheap option comes as little surprise after Flowers’ strong .286/.378/.445 season. Also unsurprisingly, Coppolella indicates that he’s happy about the Braves’ catcher position for 2018.
  • The Braves, of course, haven’t contended in 2017, although with 70 wins, they’re already topped their 2016 total. “We’re going from 67 wins to 68 wins to 70-something wins,” says Coppolella, who emphasizes the contributions of young players (including, one assumes, rookies like Albies, Johan Camargo and Sean Newcomb, along with even newer arrivals like September callup Luiz Gohara). “We’re seeing us do it with young players. A big point for me is that you’re not seeing starts go to Joel De La Cruz. You’re not seeing innings go to Jake Brigham or Ryan Kelly. We’re doing it with kids.”

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