Free-agent right-hander Ricky Nolasco has multiple four-year contract offers, his agent told Yahoo Sports on Thursday, highlighting the huge market for starting pitching and rising prices for innings-eating arms.
"I believe the market for multiple-year starting pitching will start to reveal itself more clearly in the next two to three weeks," agent Matt Sosnick said, and that market is a bullish reflection of how revenue growth in the game is trickling down to players.
[Related: Nick Punto signs with Oakland Athletics]
While Sosnick declined to name the teams or size of the contracts, one league source said he believed the starting price on Nolasco "is Edwin Jackson money" (four years, $52 million) and "may end up at Derek Lowe" (four years, $60 million).
Nolasco, 30, also has multiple three-year offers on the table, Sosnick said. Nolasco is coming off his best season in years, with a 3.70 ERA reflective of his typically strong strikeout-to-walk ratio. Still, 2013 represented just the second year in Nolasco's seven seasons in which he posted a better-than-average ERA, and if that's worth $13 million to $15 million a year, the market for free-agent pitchers in his class, such as Bronson Arroyo, as well as those perceived ahead of him, such as Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza, could skyrocket.
Santana's agents went public recently with a $100 million-plus price point for the soon-to-be 31-year-old, comparing him favorably to Zack Greinke, who signed with the Dodgers for $147 million last offseason. Perhaps a better likeness is Anibal Sanchez, who signed with Detroit for five years and $80 million, which could be a reasonable target for Santana.
Then again, with Nolasco's four-year bird in hand, the recalibration of the starting-pitching market may well be starting already. While one executive expressed surprise at such commitments this early in free agency, he realizes the influx of cash – teams aren't going to see all $25 million extra from the new national TV deal, as the league will siphon off some for other investments, but the number is significant – means market prices must adapt accordingly.
The two- to three-week window Sosnick referenced will lead into the Winter Meetings, at which time Garza and Jimenez could draft off Nolasco and Santana's slipstream. Executives believe a five-year deal for Garza is likely, especially if Nolasco signs for four, and that teams will look past Jimenez's inconsistencies, focus on his upside and lavish him with an average annual value in Santana's range, maybe higher.
Some of how it bears out depends on the trade market. Emboldened by the high cost of free agents, teams' asking prices on trade targets from David Price and Max Scherzer down to fifth starters are similarly high. That market tends to develop later, usually once the bar-setting pitching contract is signed.
That could be Nolasco, who in his career is 81-72 with a 4.37 ERA, 1,076 strikeouts, 306 walks and 153 home runs allowed in 1,312 2/3 innings. Nolasco ranks eighth among starting pitchers and 21st overall in Yahoo Sports' Ultimate Free-Agent Tracker.