With Zack Greinke now a Dodger via the second-most expensive contract for a pitcher in major league history and James Shields, long a top trade target, a Royal after finally having been traded, the market for above-average rotation reinforcements is quickly dwindling. In addition to Greinke and Shields, free agents Dan Haren, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Brandon McCarthy, Jeremy Guthrie, Joe Blanton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Bartolo Colon, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Kevin Correia, Jason Marquis and Jeff Francis have all signed, and Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Tommy Hanson, Ervin Santana and Vance Worley have all switched teams via trade.
Not all of those pitchers are above average, but that only goes to show how limited the field is beyond the handful of top targets remaining. Here, then, is a look at the top seven starting pitchers still on the market (the leading trade target and six free agents), the latest rumors about each and where each might fit best.
2013 playing age: 38
Last three years: 2.95 ERA, 616 2/3 IP, 1.15 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.12 K/BB, 129 ERA+
On Friday, before Greinke signed his six-year, $147 million deal, ESPN's Buster Olney listed the Royals, Rangers and Blue Jays as the teams the Mets believed were the most likely destinations for Dickey. The Shields trade has likely taken the Royals out of the picture, while Greinke spurning Texas for Los Angeles seems to have pushed the Rangers to the forefront.
Both the Mets and Rangers are reportedly open to a deal that would send a package built around 24-year-old slugging prospect Mike Olt to New York, but the Mets don't think Olt, a third baseman who would likely move to an outfield corner in Queens, is enough on his own. There has been no confirmation yet that the teams have even had any actual discussions about a swap, while the Mets and Dickey continue to inch closer to a contract extension.
Best fit: Rangers. The defending National League Cy Young award winner would fit anywhere, but even if knuckleballers can pitch well into their 40s, a 38-year-old pitcher is a win-now acquisition for a contender looking to get deeper into October. A return to the Rangers, the team that drafted him and converted him to the knuckleball in the first place, would also bring Dickey's fantastic story full circle.
2013 playing age: 29
Last three years: 3.70 ERA, 587 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.89 K/BB, 109 ERA+
As the statistics listed here and my comparison between Sanchez and Greinke from last week both illustrate, Sanchez was the second-best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason, which made him the likely consolation prize for the team that was runner-up in the Greinke derby. That's Texas again, but, as with Dickey, the Rangers don't seem to have zeroed in on any one target just yet. They are also still flirting with the Diamondbacks over trading for Justin Upton and contemplating re-signing Josh Hamilton. With the assumption being that the big-spending Rangers or Dodgers would move on to Sanchez after Greinke signed, the market for Sanchez has yet to really develop.
Best fit: Red Sox. Boston needs starting pitching and has money to spend. Sanchez, who started his professional career in the Red Sox' organization, is a good investment who is likely to come at a fraction of Greinke's price despite being a very similar pitcher in terms of age and effectiveness. Any team looking to avoid long-term commitments will likely be priced out of the running for his services.
2013 playing age: 29
Last three years: 4.10 ERA, 598 2/3 IP, 1.35 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.51 K/BB, 100 ERA+
The Angels bowed out early on Greinke, but CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman reported last Monday that they were "in on" Jackson. That was before they signed Blanton, but Blanton's two-year, $15 million contract doesn't rule them out for Jackson, who for the second straight offseason may find the market for his services lacking.
Los Angeles' rotation has been in flux this offseason, with Greinke and Haren departing via free agency, Santana being traded to Kansas City soon after the Angels picked up his option, Tommy Hanson coming over from the Braves via a late-November trade and Blanton signing late last week. That leaves Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards to battle over the fifth spot, but Jackson would be an upgrade over either one, and, given the concerns about the health of Hanson's shoulder, the Angels could use some more depth.
Jackson would slot in the third or fourth spot in the rotation depending on Hanson's health and effectiveness. That's not going to get him the big contract he may have thought was finally coming his way, but it would put the Angels in a great position for a playoff run heading into the season.
Best fit: Blue Jays. The itinerant Jackson -- who has pitched for seven teams in his 10 seasons -- has had success in both leagues and owns a 3.09 career ERA in Rogers Centre, his best mark in any of the eight ballparks in which he has made eight or more starts. The Blue Jays are making a big push for contention in 2013 and the righthanded Jackson would be a nice upgrade on lefty J.A. Happ in a rotation that already includes lefties Ricky Romero and Buehrle. Jackson would also add depth to a rotation that has been notoriously injury prone over the years and just added the similarly fragile Josh Johnson.
Runner up: Indians. Jackson is 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance at Progressive Field, and the Indians are desperate for starting pitching.
2013 playing age: 36
Last three years: 4.04 ERA, 590 2/3 IP, 1.33 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 2.51 K/BB, 102 ERA+
Dempster has reportedly turned down two-year offers worth around $25 million from the Red Sox and Royals, the latter of whom would seem to be out of the picture now following the Shields trade. Dempster's agent, Craig Landis, told Peter Gammons that Dempster is looking to sign a three-year deal with a National League team that holds spring training in Arizona. There are just eight National League teams who fit the latter criteria. Of those eight, the Cubs, Rockies and Padres are second-division clubs, and the Giants, Dodgers, Reds and Diamondbacks are all pretty well stocked when it comes to starting pitching. That leaves the Brewers who have indeed shown interest in Dempster, but have thus far refused to go past two years.
Best fit: Brewers. It was a tiny sample in an unfriendly ballpark for pitchers, but career National Leaguer Dempster was hit hard in his lone American League stint with the Rangers this past season (5.09 ERA in 12 starts), so one can understand his desire to return to the NL. Milwaukee is by far the best fit among the eight teams mentioned above.
2013 playing age: 31
Last three years: 3.62 ERA, 520 IP, 1.18 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.06 K/BB, 113 ERA+
Marcum missed the entire 2009 season due to Tommy John surgery, looked like he was pitching hurt in the 2011 postseason, battled shoulder soreness in spring training this year and then missed more than two months of the season with an elbow strain suffered mid-year. That injury history raises enough red flags to significantly undermine his relative youth and effectiveness and could make him a buy-low candidate for a second-division team like the Royals, Padres or Cubs, all of whom have reportedly shown interest. Marcum has also said he'd be interested in returning to the Blue Jays who, like the Royals, are making a big push for contention in 2013.
Best fit: Royals. Marcum is a Kansas City native and, if healthy, would be an upgrade over just about any member of the Royals' rebuilt rotation other than Shields. The Royals have a two-year window to win with Shields, and Marcum is unlikely to land a contract in excess of two years, so this would seem a perfect fit.
2013 playing age: 34
Last three years: 3.76 ERA, 491 1/3 IP, 1.25 WHIP, 5.6 K/9, 2.68 K/BB, 101 ERA+
Lohse had an awful, injury-plagued 2010 season, but in the two years since he has gone 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA (122 ERA+), a 1.13 WHIP and a 3.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He even picked up a handful of down-ballot Cy Young votes this past season. That performance has drawn the interest of the Red Sox and Angels, who aren't looking to make a big splash in terms of dollars but have room in their rotation for a pitcher like Lohse.
Best fit: Angels. Lohse is a California native and a fly ball pitcher. The latter would seem to make him a poor fit for Fenway Park but an ideal candidate for Anaheim, where Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos roam the pastures and fellow fly-baller Jered Weaver has thrived in his home whites.
2013 playing age: 32
Last three years: 4.07 ERA, 590 IP, 1.37 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 1.96 K/BB, 100 ERA+
Saunders is underrated and the top lefty on the market. Pitching in hitter-friendly parks over the last two seasons, he has posted a 105 ERA+. Acquired by the Orioles in August, he posted a 3.63 ERA over seven starts in a pennant race, then posted a 1.59 ERA in two postseason starts, the first of which was a victory in the one-game wild-card playoff.
Saunders shouldn't be that effective. His strikeout rates are lousy, and he's a bit homer-prone, but after 189 big-league starts, his adjusted ERA is still better than average. That's worth something as a mid-rotation innings-eater, and it says something that two of his former teams, the Orioles and Angels, have expressed interest in his return, though the Twins, who favor contact pitchers, may find his career rate of 5.1 Ks per nine innings hard to resist.
Best fit: Angels. For the same reason as Lohse (too many fly balls). That said, the Angels only have room in their rotation for one of them. Expect Saunders, a Virginia native, to re-sign with the team he grew up rooting for, the Orioles.