MLB teams can’t sign free agents as of now because of the lockout.
However, they can monitor the market and wait until there is a new collective bargaining agreement to sign players.
Pitchers are always a hot commodity, and there are several impact arms still on the market.
These three are perhaps the best of the bunch.
3. Yusei Kikuchi
Yusei Kikuchi is a really interesting case: he wasn’t supposed to be a free agent, but neither he nor the Seattle Mariners were interested in a reunion.
That’s surprising given how dominant Kikuchi looked at times in 2021.
Overall, his season wasn’t that impressive, as he finished with a 4.41 ERA in 157 frames.
However, he was very good during the first half.
Covering 98.1 innings, he had a 3.48 ERA before the All-Star break, and opposing batters hit .204/.276/.370 off him.
Everything went downhill in the second half, as he had a 5.98 ERA in 58.2 innings.
After the break, hitters performed like Freddie Freeman against him, with a .300/.381/.525 line.
He suffered symptoms of COVID-19 in July, and that, together with fatigue, may have affected his performance.
In any case, he has several three-year offers on the table, and should be a nice investment for a team looking to overlook his second-half woes.
Yusei Kikuchi has 3-year offers. Mets, Jays are interested though their specific offers are unknown. Kikuchi was thought to have gambled by opting out of $13M for 1 year after a year in which he was an All-Star in the first half before struggling late.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 2, 2021
2. Carlos Rodon
If he hadn’t developed arm soreness down the stretch and missed several starts, perhaps Carlos Rodon would have signed a multi-year contract by now.
But he did suffer from those arm issues, putting a question mark on his health status ahead of MLB free agency.
He ended the season on the postseason roster and pitching, though, so there is that.
The White Sox have said they don’t rule out a reunion of some kind, but with so many teams looking for a difference-maker in the rotation, he is most likely gone.
His strong numbers should warrant him a good deal.
In 24 starts, he had a 2.37 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, and a 185/36 K/BB ratio in 132 2/3 innings.
It was by far the best season of his career, and a best-case scenario for him.
Teams shouldn’t pay for a repeat of that performance, but he showed he is capable of dominating even good lineups with his stuff.
Carlos Rodón is now the top pitcher in the free agent market. Where do we think he ends up?
— G.T. Julian Guilarte (@JulianGuilarte1) December 2, 2021
Expecting Rodon to pitch 200, or even 170 innings is foolish, but the team that signs him knows it will get excellent per-inning production and lots of strikeouts.
1. Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw is to the Los Angeles Dodgers what Freddie Freeman is to the Atlanta Braves: they are testing the market, but the odds of him leaving Los Angeles are slim, at best.
For now, the Dodgers don’t seem to be in a hurry to re-sign him, though, even with several openings in their rotation after losing Max Scherzer.
Whether he pitches for the Dodgers or any other team, Kershaw should offer a similar package as Rodon: excellent per-inning production, but not too many innings at this point.
Kershaw is already 33, but managed to have a nice 2021 season.
Covering 121.2 frames, he finished with a 3.55 ERA and 144 strikeouts, with a sterling 1.02 WHIP.
That’s about what MLB teams can expect from the seasoned southpaw, and that’s very, very good.