With less than a week until the calendar turns to 2018, a plethora of high-profile free agents remain available to sign. That especially holds true in the starting pitching market, with the likes of Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish still without a team for the upcoming season.
Entering the winter, the pair of right-handers topped a relatively weak free-agent class for starting pitchers that has seen little movement to date. The exceptions are highly-touted Japanese star Shohei Ohtani, who elected to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, while potential breakout candidate Tyler Chatwood has also found a new home with the Chicago Cubs.
Ohtani has all the makings of a future superstar, but Arrieta and Darvish are the only established top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers with previous Major League success.
Given the lack of star power in the class, it’s no surprise that Arrieta and Darvish were expected to command two of the largest contracts of the offseason — likely in the nine-figure range. While that notion may ultimately become a reality, it’s evident that interested clubs are content in waiting out the market for a possible bargain in the coming weeks ahead.
Arrieta, entering his age-32 season, is coming off an up-and-down campaign with the Cubs, where he posted a 3.53 ERA, 4.16 FIP and 1.22 WHIP over 168.1 innings on the year.
After the All-Star Game, however, Arrieta pitched to a 2.28 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 61 strikeouts over 67 innings. He allowed just one run and five hits in 10.2 innings across two postseason starts — further improving his free agency stock.
Arrieta saw his velocity dip during the 2017 season, but reinvented himself as a curveball-dominant pitcher. He’s just two seasons removed from winning the 2015 National League Cy Young Award, where he led the Majors in wins (22), shutouts (three), hits per nine (5.9) and home runs per nine (0.4).
Darvish, meanwhile, won’t turn 32-years-old until later next season in August. Since he was traded midseason, any club that signs him won’t have to account for draft compensation.
That could give Darvish an edge over Arrieta, as organizations have become more hesitant in recent years to part ways with valuable picks.
Darvish, though, is coming off arguably his worst season since joining the Majors in 2012. With the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, he amassed a 3.86 ERA and 3.83 FIP — all career-highs — over 186.2 innings with 209 strikeouts to 58 walks.
He allowed a career-worst 27 home runs and noticeably faltered in the World Series after a pair of impressive starts in the NL Division and Championship Series for the Dodgers.
Unlike Arrieta, Darvish also has a major surgery under his belt. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and has only logged more than 200 innings in a season once (2013), while the former Cubs ace has accumulated an average of 198 innings over the last three years.
Although there isn’t much clarity for Arrieta’s market, many clubs are reportedly said to be interested in Darvish. He recently met with a trio of teams last week, including the Cubs, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, while the Minnesota Twins are also hopeful in eventually securing a meeting.
The New York Yankees and Dodgers are also said to be monitoring Darvish’s availability, though both teams may have to get creative in order to add his salary without exceeding the 2018 luxury tax threshold.
As the offseason lingers on, the market for Arrieta and Darvish will surely heat up with time. Given the flux of young, controllable arms being discussed on the trade market, the two will likely have to accept a deal that’s less than what they anticipated.
That could create opportunities for clubs to jump into the fray, as it’s not everyday where ace-caliber pitchers could be signed at a discounted rate. That will likely be the theme of this offseason, where organizations have evolved from jumping the market to waiting out the market for a potential steal.