MLB Teams Reluctant to Sign All-Star Free Agent Pitchers

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MLB Teams Reluctant to Sign All-Star Free Agent Pitchers

All-Star pitchers Craig Kimbrel (left) and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned almost one full month into the 2019 season.

All-Star pitchers Craig Kimbrel (left) and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned almost one full month into the 2019 season.

All-Star pitchers Craig Kimbrel (left) and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned almost one full month into the 2019 season.

All-Star pitchers Craig Kimbrel (left) and Dallas Keuchel remain unsigned almost one full month into the 2019 season.

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Major League Baseball’s free agent market was very slow going into the 2019 season, and it now has all but come to a grinding halt with some big-name players still looking for a job. Usually, deals are completed in December and January; however, even the top free agents, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, didn’t sign until February and March, respectively.

And, here we now, almost a month into the season, and all-star pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still sit looking for a contract. But not just any contract; they are looking for the big bucks.

The two are at the top of their craft. Keuchel, formerly a starter for the Houston Astros, is the 2015 Cy Young Award Winner and a World Series winning pitcher. Kimbrel’s agent goes as far as proclaiming the former closer for the Boston Red Sox the “best closer ever.” While he may not be there yet, Kimbrel is still one of the best of this generation.

One of the biggest complications with the pitchers’ contracts is that they hold draft pick compensation. This means that who ever signs them will lose a 2019 draft selection. No teams are willing to sign a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 to a one-year deal and lose a 2019 selection in the process. A two-year deal may be worth it to some teams; however, Keuchel and Kimbrel realize that a deal over two years leaves them looking for a long-term deal starting at 33 years old. Three or more years is out the window for all teams as this would be too risky for expensive for pitchers nearing 35 years of age.

Additionally, teams no longer look for 30-plus year old veterans to complete their rosters. Most teams are looking at internal fixes as minor leaguers won’t make more than one million dollars in a season. Once they sign a bigger contract, it’s still usually less than what Kimbrel and Keuchel are looking for.

Take a look at the Yankees, for example. Young bombers Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar combine to make just two and a half million dollars this season. These are the contracts every team wants for top players. If they can find internal options, then those are the contracts they pay. However, if teams search for free agents to improve their squad, then $15 to $20 million will be spent. Teams know this, so looking at pitchers over thirty for $20 million is not very likely to happen.

In addition, teams are now looking at how free agents’ futures could pan out rather than their past. The league has noticed Kimbrel’s slight decline and less than impressive post season. Both Red Sox starting pitchers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi had to pitch out of the bullpen at times partly because of Kimbrel’s struggles and loss of velocity. Kimbrel’s mechanics were off.

The league also noted his walks-per-nine-innings ratio during the regular season balloon to 4.48 from 1.82 the prior year and his fielding independent pitching (FIP) go from 1.42 to 3.13, while his average velocity overall was the lowest it’s been in four years.

Dallas Keuchel saw dips in his numbers, as well. His walks and hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) rate was at his highest since 2013 last season, and his ERA jumped almost a whole run from just the previous season.

Many teams have expressed interest in the two big time pitchers. Some have even offered contracts. The issue is the amount of years on the deal now. Keuchel did lower his asking price from a five-year deal to just one year, but two years, which is what most teams are looking for, is too long for Keuchel to wait for his next chance at free agency. The same goes for Kimbrel. Only time will tell how this shakes out for the two pitchers and how their signings may shift the balance in pitching in the Major League.

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