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The starting pitching market will be crazy even without Clayton Kershaw

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
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Free agency has arrived in Major League Baseball, which means we’re off and running with what could go down as the craziest offseason in a long time. That’s despite a potentially chaotic element being settled on Friday.

Clayton Kershaw will not reach the open market. The elite left-hander has elected to remain with the Los Angeles Dodgers after declining his two-year option worth nearly $70 million and re-signing for three years at $93 million.

Kershaw staying with the Dodgers was always the expected outcome. But now that it’s official it gives us a clear perspective of how the starting pitching market will look, at least initially.

The 30-year-old ace would have been the top pitcher available and the third overall free agent behind Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Now everyone behind him gets a bump up, which for the top pitchers available in particular could be a huge boost.

So who are those pitchers we speak of? We’re about to tell you.

We’ve put together a quick rundown of who should be the top five available starting pitchers entering free agency. In other words, these are the guys most likely to benefit from Kershaw staying off the market. We’ll also look at how Kershaw’s deal could boost the possibility of several top pitchers being traded.

Like we said, it’s bound to get crazy.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin is headed for a big payday in free agency. (AP)
Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin is headed for a big payday in free agency. (AP)

Five best remaining free agents

Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks: The star left-hander already figured to draw significant interest on the open market regardless. Now he should be the primary focus for teams needing an immediate top-end starter. That group is expected to include the New York Yankees, who after Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino have a clear need to bolster their starting rotation.

The timing of Corbin’s free agency is perfect. The 29-year-old improved his stock greatly with a solid 2018 season. He went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA, 11.1 K/9 and 4.8 WAR. Arizona did extend a qualifying offer to Corbin. Here’s an explanation of what that could mean for him. It’s safe to assume he’ll turn that down and collect this winter.

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros: Keuchel’s the other pitcher on this list to receive a qualifying offer. That’s despite a relative down season that saw him post a 3.74 ERA, 1.314 WHIP and 6.7 K/9. The 31-year-old was arguably only the fourth-best starter on his own team, but his track record and postseason experience will make him attractive. That he doesn’t rely on his fastball also bodes well for his long-term outlook.

Charlie Morton, Houston Astros: More often than not, Morton has pitched like a top-tier starter for Houston over the past two seasons. During that time, he’s posted 29 wins to go along with a 3.36 ERA over 313 2/3 innings. The 35-year-old was even a first time All-Star in 2018. Though he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, a return to Houston seems likely. That’s assuming Keuchel ends up moving on.

Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox: Coming off his memorable postseason, Eovaldi might be the most fascinating free agent pitcher. The 29-year-old right-hander was used as a starter and reliever by Boston in October, most notably pitching six relief innings in Game 3 of the World Series. The workload is the concern. Teams will have to be confident he can bounce back, especially as a pitcher with two Tommy John surgeries on his medical records.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles: When healthy, Ryu has been a difference-maker. Unfortunately, he’s only appeared in 97 games since joining the Dodgers in 2013. There would be risk involved in making a long-term commitment to the 32-year-old, but his 1.97 ERA over 82 1/3 innings last season highlights his upside.

Possible trade candidates

Is two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber on his way out of Cleveland? (AP)
Is two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber on his way out of Cleveland? (AP)

With or without Kershaw on the market, the starting pitching trade market was expected to be very busy this offseason. With his deal done early, nothing’s preventing the trading frenzy from starting early too.

Here are some names that could be available.

Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians: On Friday, we learned the Indians will be listening to offers on several veteran players. Among them is two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber. Cleveland’s goal will be to shed salary. Kluber, 32, will make $13.2 million in 2019, and has an option for 2020. Though he had some ups and downs in 2018, he topped 200 innings for the sixth straight season. There should be a solid market for him with several contenders looking to fortify their rotation.

Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians: In addition to Kluber, the Indians will reportedly make Carrasco available as well. The 31-year-old is coming off back-to-back exceptional seasons, posting a combined 3.33 ERA over 392 innings. He will make $9.7 million in 2019, which is a bargain. We can’t imagine they’d trade Kluber and Carrasco both, so it will be interesting to see who garners the most interest.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants: Whoever takes over as Giants GM will have a decision to make: To trade or not to trade ace Madison Bumgarner. The Giants already exercised his $12.9 million option for next season, but have no commitment beyond that. With a roster that’s aging and not likely to contend anytime soon, now could be the time to start rebuilding in San Francisco. With no Kershaw available, Bumgarner could make a lot of sense for a team on the cusp of contending.

Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks: Will the Diamondbacks be sellers this winter? That’s one of the biggest questions we’re looking for answers to. If they are, that not only puts Paul Goldschmidt on the market, it also presumably makes starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray available.

To deal Greinke, Arizona would likely have to absorb much of the $104 million still owed to him through 2021. At 35, his best days are certainly behind him. Ray, 27, won’t eat a ton of innings. His efficiency is lacking, but he’s mighty effective when healthy. His wipeout curveball has led to an enormous spike in strikeouts dating back to 2016. During that time, his 11.70 K.9 is second in MLB.

Knowing that Los Angeles will never stop spending could play a role in Arizona’s decision as well.

Clayton Kershaw has a new three-year, $93 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Clayton Kershaw has a new three-year, $93 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

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