It’s sometimes hard to know exactly how difficult it is to actually sign free agents without taking into account what other teams might be willing to spend. Hence, why it’s somewhat useful to see what opposing teams have to spend. I covered the NL Central and West in the first part, and both East divisions in the second part. The final part is me finishing up the American League. This time, I’ll start with the teams I haven’t covered.
The Angels 2023 budget of $215 million was its largest in its last five years, which is interesting because when I think of Angels, I assume they’ve had larger budgets than that. But I guess it’s mostly just that they seem to only have bad contracts. The Angels have two club options I think will be rejected, Eduardo Escobar and Aaron Loup and combined buying them out cost them $2.5 million. I also think they’re done with Jared Walsh and expect his potential salary of $2.7 million to be nontendered. With these assumptions, I have their budget at $148 million. Now that’s a budget they’ve exceeded all five years, so they at least have the budget room for Shohei Ohtani.
They actually have five legitimate starting options, sort of. Tyler Anderson is not a great option, but he’s getting paid $13 million. And while they have interesting options in the minors, it would probably be wise to sign another starter. Especially with no aces. But they may do a rebuild of sorts at the same time.
Another team with no as high of a payroll as you’d expect in past years. But in the opposite direction, the Astros actually are set up to have a higher payroll next year than in the past five years. While they’ll only be on the hook for $17 million or so, Justin Verlander is under contract for them next year. They also have some expensive arbitration players in the form of Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez who should both make around $12 million next year. So I have their payroll at $219 million.
Whether or not they could use a starter, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll get one. Verlander was essentiallly their free agent move. With him, they still have Cristian Javier (signed to a long-term deal) and Valdez. Plus Luis Garcia will return from TJ at some point and maybe McCullers will be healthy.
I’ll put as much effort in this section as the Athletics do in trying to win games. They aren’t getting a starter.
Another team with a surprisngly low payroll especially considering all the long-term deals they have committed. Robbie Ray, Luis Castillo, Eugenio Suarez, Julio Rodriguez, JP Crawford, Evan White, Andres Munoz, and Marco Gonzales are all signed to a contract that last 4+ years. Some are close to ending, others are just beginning. Despite all that, their 2023 payroll was just $140 million. Their 2023 payroll right now is $135 million.
Given the rumors of them trading a starter, which I don’t think will happen, it’s pretty clear they don’t need to sign a starter. And especially for a team with a relatively low budget, they have most of that long-term money, in case you didn’t notice, in the starting pitching.
I guess the AL West is the just the payroll of teams with lower payrolls than I assumed. Mind you, the Rangers do not have a low payroll. Their 2023 payroll is $214 million. But they shelled out money in recent years like a luxury tax busting team (which to be fair, they narrowly are). They are only on the hook for $12 million of Max Scherzer’s salary and in addition to him, they are also paying a good amount for Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob deGrom, Jon Gray, and Andrew Heaney, all of whom are making at least $13 million. I assume they are picking up Jose Leclerc’s club option as well. I have the Rangers at $192 million.
And while deGrom is going to miss most of next year, they do still have Dunning. So with the amount of money invested in the rotation already coupled with not really needing a starter, I expect them to be out of the starting pitching market.
The White Sox have one of the weirder club options I’ve ever seen. Liam Hendriks has a $15 million club option with a.... $15 million buyout. What’s the point, you might ask? Well if they buy him out, they can defer his money. Might as well just pick up the option? So I assume they do. Jake Diekman isn’t in the organization, but he does have a $1 million club option buyout on the books for next year. They are also likely buying out Tim Anderson’s last option year. They are finally paying $5.5 million to Leury Garcia, who has been released long enough to not have played an inning in 2023.
Their payroll next year is only $124 million. The question isn’t do they have the money or need to sign a starter? They clearly do on both counts. But are they actually going to try to win? Because they won 61 games. They aren’t that close to being a winning team.
The Guardians have really had some absmyally low payrolls lately. The $98 million figure is actually high for Cleveland, who were as low as $51 million in 2021. For next season, I have their payroll at about $80 million. They do have an interesting decision, at least in my opinion, with Cal Quantrill. Quantrill is a perfectly acceptable starter to have, but he maxes out at league average and his MLBTR projected arb price of $6.6 million is a little high for a team like Cleveland. The Guardians do have six starters set for next year, and they can either go with all six, DFA Quantrill, or trade Bieber. But looking at their depth, trading Bieber is not a sure thing.
For the purposes of a free agent threat, however, they are absolutely not a threat to sign a starter.
The Tigers get one bad contract off the books next year.... sort of. Miguel Cabrera technically has an $8 million buyout. I know he’s retiring, but I’m... pretty sure they still owe him the buyout. I’m not actually sure. I know if you retire you forfeit your salary owed, but this seems like a special circumstance. I mean it’s basically $8 million for nothing, because the Tigers would never accept that club option. But besides that, they’re paying Javier Baez $25 million and... literally nothing else above $10 million. Their payroll collapses to $60 million. And they got 2nd place in the AL Central. They should be willing to spend.
Will they think they need to get a starter though? I think they’re a good bet for one starter. How good of a starter, I couldn’t begin to guess. Next year they have Tarik Skubal, Reese Olson, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and I imagine Alex Faedo and Spencer Turnbull will be competing for a spot as well. Not a lot of certainty there. Just one starter would help a whole bunch.
The Royals payroll has been insanely consistent. According to Roster Resource, their payroll has been $91 million in three of the past four years, and in the other it was $88 million. Next year, it’s only at $56 million. But, well, they won 59 games last year. Their not exactly the type of team that would seem to benefit from signing a mid to lower tier free agent. I mean they did give Jordan Lyles $8.5 million a year, so who knows?
With a larger than you’d think payroll of $160 million, the Twins do have a couple of club options they could reject to save money. Jorge Polanco would sort of fit in the Kolten Wong tier of rejecting club options. They have plenty of alternatives to him, and they could put that $10.5 million to better use. Max Kepler seems like a more straightforward keep. Assuming they accept both, I have their payroll at $120 million. I assume they nontender Tyler Mahle.
Will they get another starter? Probably. They have Pablo Lopez, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, and then Chris Paddack is hopefully healthy, but both Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda are free agents. Five of their top 20 prospects (according to Fangraphs) are both starting pitchers and in AAA next year, but they all seem like depth and not actually ready on Opening Day.
They are also like the Cardinals in that they have a ton of position player depth. So if they plan to have a payroll approaching $160 million, they should be in the market for another starter.
My thoughts on the other divisions are condensed here. But needless to say, for these two divisions, not a whole lot of teams dipping their toes in the starting market in my opinion. So here are the main contenders for getting a starter:
If they spend
Reds, Rockies, Nationals, Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Mets
These teams are not all the same. The Reds and Orioles have the need at starting pitcher and are both on the other side of a rebound. In the Reds’ case, the large amount of young starters coupled with the cheapness of the owner leaves doubt. In the Orioles case, well the cheapness of the owner is enough for doubt.
The rest are more willing to spend, well except the Royals (but they certainly have a gap in their budget from past years.) But more importantly perhaps, none of them are particularly close to being a playoff team, and typically they go for bargains more than the better players on the free agent market.
And the Mets well, they’re supposedly sitting out, but we know they have the capital to spend.
Could get away with not getting a starter, but room for improvement and budget
Giants, Red Sox, Angels
In each case, the team does actually have five starting pitchers in the organization who are either getting paid the money to start or actually good enough to start games at the MLB level. But none of the three teams has starting pitcher that can’t be improved either. The back half of all is not exactly the strongest. And they all have a payroll ceiling that can afford another starter, easily.
Might be in the market if starter doesn’t return
Pretty straightforward. If Stroman returns, there’s little chance the Cubs are getting another starter, especially with the owner on record as saying he’s not raising payroll. And if Morton does return, it wouldn’t really make sense for the Braves to pick up a starter either. But a hole in the rotation opens up if those players aren’t on the 2024 team. The Cubs may still choose to get Bellinger instead of Stroman even if he opts out.
Definitely in the market for a starter
Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Phillies, Tigers, Twins, Cards
The Dodgers are the big threat, they probably would be smart to get two starting pitchers, although it’ll be one if they win the Ohtani sweepstakes I imagine. The Diamondbacks and Twins don’t really need a high end starter, so I would be kind of surprised if they landed a Aaron Nola or Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Phillies are losing Nola, so they probably are. The Tigers are something of a wild card, but I imagine they’re into the high end guys. And we know the Cards are.
Honestly, this is probably best case scenario offseason for the Cards. The Dodgers are really the only team absolutely guaranteed to get a starting pitcher who is a big market, big money team. Not to say others join the fray, but they currently could, and in some cases, most likely will, sit out. They’re probably in the best position they could possibly be in. You’re just not going to enter a starting pitcher-rich market with a more favorable set of teams you’re competing against. And yeah the Dodgers being in on it sucks, but I don’t think it was reasonable to expect zero of the high budget teams to be involved.