In an offseason where Zack Greinke set the record as the highest paid right-handed pitcher of all time and Ervin Santana's $13 million contract was pursued by numerous teams, it's hard to believe that any starting pitching bargains could be found this winter. Yet for those who were patient and played the market well, a few properly valued pieces could be found.
Then again, who can really tell at this point? For every unexpected R.A. Dickey, there are numerous "bargains" who end up producing nothing -- showing why they were a bargain in the first place. Yet every signing and every trade is a roll of the dice. Better to find a good deal than obviously overpay. In the spirit of lists, here's our three favorite starting pitching bargains from the MLB offseason (so far):
2012 Free Agent Pitching Bargains
1. Scott Baker, Chicago Cubs - 1 year, $5.5 million (plus $1.5 million in incentives)
The Cubs are remaking their rotation this offseason as Theo Epstein and company implement "the plan", so Edwin Jackson will win the lion's share of attention among the new faces at Wrigley. Yet it's the former Twins hurler who earns the nod as a top bargain.
Baker missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, and it will take some time for Baker to round into form. The good news, however, is that he's expected to be ready for 5-6 innings per start by the time opening week rolls around and the dog days of summer will allow for Baker to build up his strength. As a starter who's averaged 28 starts and 169 innings the last four seasons, he's a good bet to find his rhythm post-TJ surgery.
Before the injury, Baker was pitching as well as ever. He finished 2011 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts and a WHIP of 1.173, both career bests. Better yet, his nearly 4-1 K:BB ratio was also a career high. At age 31, he's still in his prime and should produce similar results to Jackson for less than half the price in 2012.
2. Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics - 1 year, $3 million
Yes, he will be 40-years-old in May. No, he's not exactly the model of staying healthy and fit in the offseason (or any time of year). However, it's hard to argue with the results he's produced late in his career, and if he can even give the A's anything close to last year's numbers then they have a steal on their hands.
Last year, Colon went 10-9 for Oakland with a 3.43 ERA in 152 innings. He walked only 23 batters in 24 starts and it's clear he's becoming efficient near the end of his career. He's prone to the long ball, but it's hard to understand why he did not command more on the open market. Since 2008, Colon has a 3.81 ERA in 72 games. He won't give you a full season, but when Scott Feldman makes more than twice as much, that's a bargain.
3. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees - 1 year, $15 million
Let me beat you to it: A $15 million bargain? Yes. Pitching wins World Series titles and it costs a fortune to find a frontline starter. The Yanks are paying a premium for 2013, but that's all they're on the hook for. In an age where such pitchers typically garner five- or six-year deals, Kuroda's deal is a one-year marvel.
Kuroda will win 15+, throw over 200 innings and provide the Yanks with the dominant starter they need to stay in the hunt in the AL East. There are question marks all around, but having an anchor like Kuroda in the rotation certainly helps. If Ryan Dempster can approach the twilight of his career and still receive a multi-year deal, Kuroda deserves the same. Brian Cashman should have received more credit for this deal.
Honorable mention: Brandon McCarthy (Arizona Diamondbacks), Dan Haren (Washington Nationals), John Lannan (Philadelphia Phillies)