Top Four MLB Free Agents




            1.  Max Scherzer – Yankees.  Scherzer is the best starting pitcher in a free agent market loaded with quality arms, a 30-year-old strikeout machine with a Cy Young award on his resume.  Including the postseason, he tallied a 3.08 ERA in 461 1/3 innings spanning 2013-14.  Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215MM deal seems out of reach, as does its $30.7MM average annual value.  A better target would be something closer to the total outlay the Yankees made last winter for Masahiro Tanaka: seven years, $175MM.  Extension talks with the Tigers broke down in March after Scherzer rejected a six-year, $144MM offer.  The Kershaw, Tanaka, and Zack Greinke deals all included opt-out clauses, something agent Scott Boras will likely seek as he negotiates on behalf of his best free agent starting pitcher since Barry Zito.  As he has before, Boras may attempt to bypass GMs in favor of convincing a team’s owner to invest.  The Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Nationals, Orioles, and Mariners are speculative suitors we’ve kicked around, with varying degrees of probability.  And we can’t count the Tigers out entirely quite yet.

            2.  Jon Lester – Cubs.  Lester, a 30-year-old southpaw, posted a 2.46 ERA this year in 219 2/3 innings for the Red Sox and Athletics.  He was actually better this year than Scherzer in terms of ERA, and the two share identical 3.58 career marks.  Owing to a midseason trade to Oakland, Lester is ineligible for a qualifying offer.  Unable to work out an extension with Lester, the Red Sox traded him, but both sides have made an offseason reunion sound more likely than it usually is when a pending free agent star is dealt.  However, the Cubs are viewed as the industry favorite for Lester, given Theo Epstein’s time in Boston, the Cubs’ need for frontline starting pitching, and their large spending capacity this winter.  Lester should command at least the six years and $147MM Greinke received two years ago, and potentially more.

            3.  James Shields – Red Sox.  The last of the Big Three starting pitchers of the 2014-15 offseason, Shields would have been the best available starter in a lot of previous winters.  Big Game James has been a workhorse throughout his career with the Rays and Royals, with a 3.21 ERA in 227 regular season innings this year.  He’s less of a strikeout pitcher than the two hurlers listed above him, he turns 33 in December, and he received a qualifying offer.  The Red Sox are expected to make a push for him if they fail to sign Lester, but he could certainly land with any of the teams we listed for Scherzer and probably a few more.  Shields could be in line for a five-year pact worth $100MM or more, though some teams will likely stop at four years given his age.

         4. Brandon Morrow – Dodgers.  Morrow, 30, has been limited to 212 1/3 innings over the last three seasons due to an oblique strain, an entrapped radial nerve in his forearm, and a torn tendon sheath in a finger on his throwing hand.  He still averages 94 miles per hour on his fastball, and he wants to continue as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever.  The fifth overall draft pick in 2006, Morrow should battle Brett Anderson as this winter’s most attractive high-risk, high-reward starting pitcher.  Those types generally draw a long list of bargain-seekers, though teams in pitcher-friendly environments should be more appealing to the player.