Monday marked the deadline in which teams could offer free agents a qualifying deal for 2014, and it's a day that very much will dictate the way the Giants go about this offseason.
The Giants didn't have any significant free agents who they had to consider giving the offer to, seeing as they already got Lincecum and Pence done long before the deadline. They did, however, come to an official
decision regarding Ryan Vogelsong's 2014 option of $6.5M. As expected, the Giants declined the option, though they've made it clear they'd like to bring Vogey back at a reduced price. With that news though, the Giants now officially have two open rotation spots, and if they're really planning on upgrading from 2013's sub-par performance, they're likely going to have to bring in some new blood. I wouldn't mind seeing Vogey back, but maybe as a long reliever/emergency starter, in much of the same role Chad Gaudin carried in 2013. The only way I take Vogey back as a sure fire #5 is if the Giants can land a legit #3 in free agency, thus making Lincecum the #4. Only 3 starting pitchers were extended qualifying offers, so the Giants will have some options out there without needing to part with a one of their top draft picks.
Here is the list I've compiled of the top-10 free agent starters. Most likely, the top 4-5 guys on the list will be out of the Giants price range, either because of draft pick compensation, monetary demands or both.
#1 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP Japan
: The 25 year-old went 24-0 in Japan last season with a 1.27 ERA and will be the most intriguing free agent starter on the market this winter. Though he's definitely a roll-of-the-dice like any free agent coming in from another country, he's got top of the rotation ability and will likely be significantly out of the Giants price range. I've been hearing he could get 5 years in the $15M/per range and will take at least a $55M+ posting fee. He's clearly talented, but that's a huge gamble for a guy who's never pitched an inning in the big leagues.
#2 Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP Cleveland
: Jimenez is really the guy I was hoping wouldn't get the offer, but unfortunately he did. He had a 1.83 ERA and 100 K's after the all-star break last year, and has regained the form that made him an ace in Colorado. He could decide to accept the $14.1M offer from Cleveland in hopes of building off last seasons re-found success and really cashing in next winter. If he explores the market, he could get upwards of $80-90 million over 5 seasons.
#3 Ervin Santana, RHP Kansas City
: Santana likely had no chance of ever really signing in San Francisco. He's been an AL pitcher his whole career and now is really out of the picture as he was offered a contract by KC anyway. He's got talent and when he's on, he's a legit 2, but he likely stays in the AL.
#4 Matt Garza, RHP Texas
: Garza is the best starter that didn't get a qualifying offer, due to his mid-season trade. He didn't
overly impress with Texas after the trade from Chicago, so he may not have been offered it even had he been eligible, but he is a legit #3 with the ability to carry a staff when he's on (just look at that stretch he had with Chicago before his trade last season). The market for that type of arm in his age-range (30 years old) is about $17-18 million per year. He's going to be high on a lot of teams list because he won't cost a pick, and won't likely fall into the Giants' plans, but he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. I'd be perfectly content with a three years at that price, possibly even four, but chances are some team will go five and it won't be the Giants.
#5 Ricky Nolasco, RHP Los Angeles
: Now we're starting to get into the class in which the Giants may be players. Nolasco was on their radar before he was dealt to LA, but he'll likely be one of the guys the Giants inquire about. He's an above-average starter with good stuff though not a top of the rotation talent. He gives you consistent innings, has stayed relatively healthy and has been a winning pitcher throughout his career (89-75), despite pitching for some bad Marlins teams. I wouldn't go more than 3 years and $36M with the 31 year-old right-hander.
#6 A.J. Burnett/Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Pittsburgh/New York
: I clump these two together because both are almost certain to stay put. The 37 year-old Burnett is coming off a great year in Pittsburgh, but he's getting up there in age and has stated he'd rather retire than pitch for an organization other than Pittsburgh at this time. He'd be worth a 1-2 year gamble if they could convince him to come out West, but it makes too much sense for both parties for him to stick in Pittsburgh. Same can be said for Kuroda and the Yankees, though he has a better chance at leaving than Burnett. Neither are options for the Giants, as Kuroda was extended an offer from New York anyway.
#7 Tim Hudson, RHP Atlanta
: You can almost put
Huddy in the category with Burnett and Kuroda, as he's unlikely to leave
Atlanta. That being said, if he does, the Giants would appear to be a
nice fit on a short-term deal. Hudson was hurt and missed the end of
last season, but he should be healthy for 2014. On a one-year deal with
incentives, I'd take him, but chances are he stays in ATL.
#8 Bronson Arroyo, RHP Cincinnati
: Arroyo has been linked to
the Giants since early in the season when he had nothing but glowing
remarks about the city of San Francisco and how it would be among his
top destinations should he leave Cinci. I personally hope the Giants go
another route, as I think Arroyo is really more of a back-end of the
rotation starter than a front-end one, though he's likely to get paid
closer to a #2 than a 4 or 5. That being said, I think of these top-10
starters, he's the most likely to wind up in the Bay Area. His 2013
season was impressive and it's going to earn him more than a 37 year-old
pitcher who's been just a hair above-average throughout his career
should to get. I think the Giants can do better than Arroyo,and I
wouldn't offer more than 2 years at $10-12M per if they can't.
#9 Dan Haren, RHP Washington
Haren is interesting because he's had so much success in the past, but
is coming off such a roller coaster couple of seasons. He'd definitely
be worth a one-year deal with plenty of incentives and is a candidate to
bounce back in 2014 in the right environment. He is just 2 years
removed from a 16-10, 3.17 ERA, 238-inning season in 2011, though he was
a bit off in 2012 and the first part of '13. My guess is he gets back
to his 15-win form and posts an ERA in the high 3's rather than 4's in
2014, and should be on the Giants radar as a potential 4th or 5th man. A
one-year, $10M deal with incentives built in and maybe even an option
on a 2nd year would be completely reasonable on both sides.
#10 Josh Johnson, RHP Toronto
: Rounding out the top-10 is a guy who has the ability to lead this list if
healthy. Josh Johnson was not extended an offer from Toronto, and in turn should be near the top of the list for the Giants if they decide to roll the dice on a pitcher bouncing back in '14. Despite coming off an injury-riddled down year, he's shown the ability to be a true ace when he's on the field and healthy, plus he's still just 29 years old. Problem is, he's rarely on the field and healthy. Of all the guys on this list though, he's the highest potential risk/reward signing of the bunch and may just be a risk worth taking in the Giants' case. He's another guy worth a 1-year gamble at $10M with big incentives, like starts and innings, built in that are very reachable should he just stay healthy for 25+ starts.
Injury/Baggage Long Shots
: Roy Halladay RHP, Johan Santana LHP, Bartolo Colon RHP
Best of the Rest:
Scott Kazmir LHP, Scott Feldman RHP, Jason Vargas LHP, Ryan Vogelsong RHP, Phil Hughes RHP, Scott Baker RHP, Jason Hammel RHP