This offseason, we saw a number of high-end starting pitchers find new homes. Doug Fister was dealt to Washington for a few bags of sand. Matt Garza joined the Brewers. Masahiro Tanaka settled for a $155 million deal with the Yankees. Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez figure to sign any moment now. Oh, and there's still the possibility of David Price departing Tampa.
So, with the offseason nearly over, exactly who has the best rotation in baseball?
The Braves are entering Spring Training with a rotation that looks largely the same as it did at the end of last year. They lose Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, but Hudson missed the latter part of last season with a fractured ankle, and Maholm's 88 ERA+ should be easily replaced. They gain a (likely) healthy Brandon Beachy, a full season from Alex Wood, and some added depth in Gavin Floyd.
Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, and Julio Teheran form an impressive trio up top, while Beachy and Wood round out the rest of the starting five. Beachy, of course, has shown top of the rotation capability when healthy, best demonstrated by a remarkable 200 ERA+ in a 13-start 2012 season. Wood was outstanding in his rookie campaign with Atlanta, posting a 3.13 ERA in 31 appearances, 11 of which came as a starter. If he can stick in the rotation, scouts have him pegged as a potential number 3 starter.
Beyond that quintet, the Braves added Floyd and retained the 37-year-old Freddy Garcia. Garcia had a 0.9 WAR in just 27.1 innings with the Braves last season, while Floyd averaged 3.3 WAR per season from 2008-2012.
For a team that finished with the 6th best rotation ERA (3.51) in baseball last year, 2014's prospects look pretty good.
Without a true ace, the Red Sox are incredibly deep, with as many as 13 rotation arms who could see time with the big league club this year.
Boston had the 3rd best rotation WAR (15.9) in baseball last year, and returns the same front six that led them to a World Series crown. Jon Lester is the de facto ace, and he enjoyed a solid rebound season last year, with a 4.3 WAR and 3.59 FIP in 213.1 innings. Clay Buchholz was stellar in an abbreviated 16-start campaign, going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA (234 ERA+) and 4.3 WAR. Jake Peavy was his usual reliable self after coming over in a mid-season deal with the White Sox, and the fifth spot duo of Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster combined to post a 4.3 WAR in just over 330 innings last year.
On the farm, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, and knuckleballer Steven Wright all reached the majors last season, and each has the potential to be at least a number 4 starter at the big league level. Meanwhile, highly-touted prospects such as Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes have all reached Double-A and should be expected to contribute in some capacity this year.
The Reds easily have one of the best rotations in baseball, with an outstanding group of starters led by Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey. While each of those three has shown that they are capable of pitching at a high level over a full season, fourth starter Mike Leake also had a 3.37 ERA in just under 200 innings last year, and while it is unlikely that he repeats those numbers, he is just 26 and should be expected to be an above-average pitcher once again. Filling out the rotation, Tony Cingrani was excellent in his freshman 2013 campaign, posting a 131 ERA+ and 2.2 WAR in just over 100 innings. If they can come anywhere close to the 3.43 rotation ERA (3rd best in baseball) they posted last season, the Reds should once again compete for the NL Central crown.
Trading away Doug Fister certainly hurts Detroit's rotation stock (with him it may be the best in baseball), but they still boast an enviable squad led by two Cy Young winners in Justin Verlander and Max Sherzer. Both should be expected to produce at ace-caliber levels in 2014, especially considering Verlander's peripherals all point to his "down" 2013 season being a fluke.
Anibal Sanchez was quietly one of the best pitchers in baseball last year, and may have been the best on a per-inning basis. Despite missing time due to injury, Sanchez still clocked a 2.57 ERA (2.39 FIP) and 6.3 WAR in 182 innings last year. He also struck out well over a batter per inning while posting an absurdly low 5.8% home-run-per-fly-ball rate.
The final two spots are intended to be filled by Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. Porcello was a 2.4 WAR pitcher last year, while Smyly had a 2.37 ERA with 81 strikeouts in relief. He was last a starter in 2012, when he had a 3.99 ERA in 18 starts for the Tigers, and it is unclear if he will be able to adequately fill the void left by Fister.
Along with the Tigers, the Dodgers probably have the best one-two punch in the game with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Behind those two, Hyun-Jin Ryu was a 3.3 WAR pitcher last year, and the duo of Dan Haren and Josh Beckett should make for a pair of interesting reclamation projects this season. If they can hit on one of those, this rotation could be utterly ridiculous.
This rotation comes with plenty of question marks, but has the potential to be a top-five unit. Matt Cain is coming off a sub-par season, but his peripherals were largely in line with his career marks, and it seems that a career-worst 10.8% HR/FB rate may have been his undoing. Madison Bumgarner took a step forward last season, and at 24, he could be in line for another one in 2014.
Behind those two is where the uncertainty really sets in. We don't exactly know how much Tim Hudson has left in the tank, but if he can post ~175 innings of 3.50 ERA ball, the Giants would surely be happy. Ryan Vogelsong is coming off an atrocious 5.73 ERA season, and it would be pivotal for San Francisco if he can return to his 2011/2012 level of play.
Of course, the big question mark here will be Tim Lincecum. The Giants clearly believe in him, or else they wouldn't have signed him to a $35 million deal in October. Still, he is coming off his second consecutive year of non-Lincecum-like performance, and while 2013 did see some positive signs (both his walk rate and FIP vastly improved), his drop in velocity (from 92.2 to 90.2) over the past two years is quite troubling.
The Mariners have an enviable top two of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but it is questionable whether they will be enough to make up for a questionable three-through-five spots. Some combination of Scott Baker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, and Taijuan Walker should comprise those final three spots, but each comes with significant question marks. Walker will be the true x-factor here, as the Mariners are counting on him to live up to his lofty prospect status right out of the gate.
Built firmly on depth, the Cardinals once again have a nice plethora of rotation options that should carry them to the postseaon. Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miler, Lance Lynn, and Michael Wacha appear firmly entrenched in starting roles, but the final spot is up for some debate, mostly between Jaime Garcia and Joe Kelly. Garcia has been highly productive over the past four years, but made just 9 starts in 2013 due to injury, while Kelly was fabulous in his swingman role, posting a 2.69 ERA in 124 innings and providing a trio of solid playoff performances this past October.
Were injuries to arise, the Cardinals have a bevy of young arms ready to step in. The Cardinals seem to be grooming Carlos Martinez in the bullpen for a future in the rotation, and many scouts view Trevor Rosenthal as a potential number 3 starter, though St. Louis seems inclined to keep him in the closer role.
The Rays have no shortage of talented young arms, and that certainly helps considering they just lost Jeremy Hellickson for the first month or so of the season. Up top, the Rays are led by ace David Price, who, as far as we know, will be spending 2014 in south Florida. Alex Cobb and Matt Moore make up the next two spots. Both are 26 or under (Moore is 24) and are coming off strong campaigns with the potential for improvement.
Cobb particularly was a revelation in 2013, as he came out of (relatively) nowhere to post a 138 ERA+ and 3.9 WAR in just 22 starts. Moore has steadily improved over the past couple years, but still has plenty of improvements to make for him to reach the ace-level upside many have bestowed upon him.
Hellickson is coming off a disappointing 5.17 ERA season, but the former ROY had a much better 4.22 FIP last year, and has steadily improved both his walk and strikeout rates since entering the league. Chris Archer was outstanding for the Rays in his 23-start rookie year in 2013, notching a 3.22 ERA and 2.2 WAR in just under 130 innings.
Just 25, he should be expected to take a step forward this season, and could be the next in a long line of fruitful Rays starters. Hellickson's interim replacement Jake Odorizzi has been hailed as a top 100 prospect in the game by many, and was solid in a 7 game trial run last season (3.94 ERA).
Not many can match the Nationals with their outstanding front four of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister. However, the fifth spot remains somewhat of a question mark, with Ross Detwiler seemingly the leading candidate. He is coming off an injury-riddled season that limited him to just 13 starts, but was a 3.40 ERA pitcher in a healthy 2012 season. His main competitors appear to be prospects such as Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, and Nathan Karns.