Ranking the top 10 starting pitchers set to hit free agency

Ranking the top 10 starting pitchers set to hit free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Teams in desperate need of starting pitching heading into the 2024 season are in trouble.

Simply put, the upcoming free-agent class leaves plenty to be desired. After stars Shohei Ohtani and Blake Snell, and perhaps Japanese phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto, there's a glaring lack of No. 1 starters set to hit the open market. Even the team that wins the Ohtani sweepstakes will have to wait until 2025 for him to take the mound as he recovers from a torn UCL.

The Boston Red Sox are among the teams that should aggressively target one of the few impending free-agent aces. In fact, Chaim Bloom (or whoever's running the show for Boston this offseason) should consider adding not one, but two or maybe even three capable arms to overhaul the lackluster rotation.

We could see the Red Sox pull off a trade or two to upgrading their pitching staff. But if they go the free agency route, here are the top 10 options they should consider.

Note: Left-hander Julio Urias is not listed as he recently was arrested on domestic violence charges for the second time.

1. Shohei Ohtani, RHP

Age: 29

Shohei Ohtani

Unfortunately for teams looking for an immediate boost to their starting rotation, Ohtani won't pitch in 2024 due to a torn UCL. Still, he's unquestionably the top free agent set to hit the market and is expected to sign a record-breaking contract. The two-way phenom is a shoo-in to earn his second MVP award after another historic season for the Los Angeles Angels.

The Ohtani sweepstakes will be the No. 1 storyline of the MLB offseason.

2. Blake Snell, LHP

Age: 31

Blake Snell

Snell has inserted himself into the NL Cy Young conversation amid a stellar season for the San Diego Padres. The veteran southpaw already has one Cy Young Award under his belt (2018 with the Tampa Bay Rays) and has proven still capable of anchoring a pitching staff.

The one knock on Snell is his inconsistent command. He currently leads the majors with 92 walks and 12 wild pitches, though he's on pace to surpass his career-high of 221 strikeouts (209 as of Sept. 13).

3. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP

Age: 25

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Yamamoto is expected to be posted by the Orix Buffaloes of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League. When he is, there will be an all-out bidding war for the right-handed ace.

Through 143 innings pitched this season, Yamamoto is 14-5 with a 1.26 ERA, 145 strikeouts, and 24 walks. In his seven-year NPB career, he owns a 68-28 record with a 1.84 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 876 innings.

4. Sonny Gray, RHP

Age: 34

Sonny Gray

Gray hasn't exactly been a model of consistency in his 11-year career, but he has been outstanding over the last two seasons with the Minnesota Twins. In 2023, the veteran righty is on pace to post his lowest ERA and highest innings pitched total since 2018.

5. Aaron Nola, RHP

Age: 30

Aaron Nola

Nola has finished top five in Cy Young voting twice in his career, so the ace potential is there. In 2022, he was a big reason why the Philadelphia Phillies were able to make it all the way to the World Series.

But Nola's 2023 campaign has left plenty to be desired. The nine-year veteran has a 4.64 ERA and 1.16 WHIP through 29 starts. Still, as a true workhorse, his services should be in high demand this offseason.

6. Clayton Kershaw, LHP

Age: 36

Los Angeles Dodgers v Miami Marlins

Kershaw being listed here is a formality. The future Hall of Famer is on the tail end of his career and it's more likely he retires than leaves the Los Angeles Dodgers for a new club. While injuries have plagued him in recent years, his exceptional 2023 campaign shows he still can be a key contributor if he chooses to return for another season.

7. Lucas Giolito, RHP

Age: 29

Lucas Giolito

Giolito's career has been bizarre, to say the least. He was the worst pitcher in baseball during his first full season in 2018 with the Chicago White Sox. He bounced back to earn an All-Star nod and a sixth-place Cy Young Award finish in 2019. That was followed by two more strong seasons in 2020 -- which included a no-hitter -- and 2021. Since then, it's been rough.

Giolito was traded from the White Sox to the Los Angeles Angels at the 2023 trade deadline. The Angels waived him after only six starts, and he was claimed by the Cleveland Guardians. Through 29 starts between the three clubs, he has posted a 4.89 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.

8. Jordan Montgomery, LHP

Age: 31

Jordan Montgomery

Montgomery isn't an ace, but he's a rock-solid mid-rotation arm who can help stabilize a pitching staff. He was one of the New York Yankees' most consistent starters before they traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2022. He enjoyed similar success in St. Louis before being dealt to the Texas Rangers at the 2023 deadline.

9. Jack Flaherty, RHP

Age: 28

Jack Flaherty

Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Flaherty since his Cy Young-caliber 2019 campaign. The former St. Louis Cardinals righty has shown flashes of brilliance, but he has struggled mightily with his command over the last four years and it hasn't gotten any better since being traded to Baltimore. Flaherty is a candidate for a short-term "prove it" deal this offseason.

10. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Age: 32

Michael Lorenzen

Lorenzen shined with the Detroit Tigers for the first half of the 2023 season after signing in free agency. He regressed to the mean after being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, though he did pitch a no-hitter in his home debut with the club. He'll be a strong addition to a team looking to shore up the back end of its rotation.

Honorable mentions: Luis Severino, Kyle Gibson, James Paxton, Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Brad Keller, Martin Perez, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Alex Wood, Carlos Carrasco, Zack Greinke.

This post will be updated with players who opt out of their contracts after the season.