Free agency’s foremost starter when Clayton Kershaw opted to re-sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers in early November, the left-handed Corbin was in the National League’s top 10 last season in innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP and ERA.
When the contract becomes official, it will be the 13th-highest total value for a pitcher, behind, among others, Scherzer’s $210 million and Strasburg’s $175 million. The Washington Post was the first to report an agreement.
As the winter market stretched into December, Corbin was drawing significant interest from some of the game’s wealthier franchises. The New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Nationals identified Corbin as a potential linchpin for their 2019 season and beyond. The Yankees would have certain appeal, as Corbin grew up outside Syracuse, New York, as a Yankees fan. He recently met with those franchises. The Nationals, also engaged with free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper, ultimately came with the best offer. It is unclear how, or if, the Corbin contract will impact the Nationals’ further pursuit of Harper.
Corbin, 29, had the best season of his career in 2018, when he was an All-Star for the first time in five years. He also threw as many as 200 innings for the second time. Leaning harder on his slider, his best pitch, which he threw more than 40 percent of the time, Corbin retook his status as an emerging ace, delayed four years because of a damaged elbow that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.
He threw a one-hitter against the San Francisco Giants in mid-April, losing the no-hit bid in the eighth inning and launching a comeback season that saw career bests in ERA (3.15), strikeouts per nine (11.1) and hits per nine (7.3). He struck out 246 batters and walked 48, the first time in his career he’d struck out more than a batter an inning. That he won but 11 of his 33 starts reflected poor run support from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Only two qualified National League starters – Jacob deGrom and Aaron Nola – received fewer than Corbin’s 3.82 runs per game.
In a game starved for pitching, Corbin would be viewed as a good middle-of-the-rotation bet who might also exceed those expectations. Among the reasons for his 2018 uptick was better fastball command. Also, a dependable changeup has made him more effective against right-handed hitters (.213 batting average against, .259 on-base percentage against) than against left-handed hitters (.239, .309). Over most of Corbin’s career he’d been more vulnerable to righties.
Corbin was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels with the final pick of the second round in 2009, out of Chipola College in Marianna, Florida. He was traded a year later with three other players to the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren. He debuted in the major leagues with the Diamondbacks in April 2012, and in 2013 he was 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA in 32 starts. Near the end of spring training in 2014, Corbin was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. He did not pitch again until the middle of 2015. He carried a 4.03 ERA over 189 2/3 innings in 2017, then returned to his pre-Tommy John form last season.
At least a third of big-league teams sought starting pitching over the winter, many of those in position to spend in free agency. Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Nathan Eovaldi, Hyun-jin Ryu and J.A. Happ also were available, none with the same 2018 momentum as Corbin.
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