For all the rightful consternation about the continued presence of prized free-agent starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, as well as dozens of other arms on the market less than a week out from the beginning of spring training, a select few pitchers have landed with a select few teams this winter that represent a departure from the prevailing wait-it-out wisdom.
While the Orioles are sitting with the same rotation needs they carried into the offseason, with at least two starters required, teams in similar situations have used the winter to target pitchers who fit their plans and let their managers and players rest easy that they aren't going to be leaving their business late into spring training.
To those whose work seems done as February stretches on, there seems to be more value to it than just peace of mind. There's a chance they could be looked at as overpaying by the time the rest of the market shakes out, but there are surely richer contracts to be given out to starting pitchers as the season grows nearer, even in these conditions.
Until then, there's only the evidence from the signings made and how those players fit the clubs that acquired them. Here's the financial commitments of the teams that have filled out their rotations with some of the top free agents signed this winter so far, and how the acquisitions fit in. (All contract data via Cot's Contracts).
There was little difference between the situations the Rangers and the Orioles found themselves in this offseason, with Texas returning only Cole Hamels and Martín Pérez to a rotation that failed the team down the stretch.
The Rangers have been among the most aggressive teams in adding starting pitching this offseason, both expensively and on fliers. In late November, they added right-hander Doug Fister on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million, including $500,000 in possible bonuses and a 2019 team option, off a season in which he made 18 appearances (15 starts) with the Boston Red Sox, posting a 4.88 ERA.
Eight days later, they bet on Kansas City Royals lefty long man Mike Minor, signing him to a three-year, $28 million deal to try him out as a starter.
Then they traded two prospects to the San Francisco Giants to buy left-hander Matt Moore (who is owed $9 million this year with a $10 million team option in 2019) and international signing bonus slots. The Rangers then rounded out their rotation by signing Bartolo Colón to a minor league deal with a spring training invitation.
All told, they've filled out their rotation, which lost the likes of Andrew Cashner and Miguel González at season's end, for a guarantee of $20.5 million in 2018 and a guarantee of $40.75 million over the course of the three major league contracts. Seems like a worthy investment to pair along with a deep, well-paid veteran lineup that's nearing the end of the road.
St. Louis Cardinals
While they lost Lance Lynn, one of the top free-agent pitchers remaining on the market, the Cardinals effectively replaced him with one of the darlings of the offseason, Miles Mikolas. After struggling to establish himself in the majors with the Rangers and San Diego Padres, Mikolas spent three years in Japan and returns having posted a 2.18 ERA there.
The Cardinals signed him despite plenty of interest, including an offer from the Orioles, for two years and $15.5 million, and will plug him into a young, inexpensive rotation with Carlos Martínez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty, plus veteran Adam Wainwright. It was a low-risk move that puts them on the hook for an average of $7.75 million per year.
The Cubs weren't exactly rebuilding anything — not with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, José Quintana and Mike Montgomery returning — but they lost John Lackey and Jake Arrieta, and used their financial strength to sign one of the more interesting free agents around.
Right-hander Tyler Chatwood, who had a career 4.31 ERA with the Colorado Rockies, signed a three-year, $38 million contract on the back of strong splits away from Coors Field and improved velocity last year. They also signed left-hander Drew Smyly, as he comes off Tommy John elbow reconstruction, to a two-year deal worth $10 million but with plenty of incentives once he's healthy in 2019.
Though there were other options, the Cubs solidified their rotation for at least the next two seasons for a total of $15.5 million in 2018 and $48 million guaranteed.
Like the Cubs, there's plenty to like in the Brewers rotation already, with Chase Anderson, former Orioles prospect Zach Davies and left-hander Brent Suter already in place, and Jimmy Nelson expected back around midseason after shoulder surgery.
But instead of waiting out the market for someone to fall to them, the Brewers pounced on left-hander Jhoulys Chacin, coming off a strong year with a 3.89 ERA with the Padres, signing him to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million total. In addition to a $1.5 million signing bonus, he'll make $8 million in 2018 as part of the front-loaded deal. They also brought back old friend Yovani Gallardo on a one-year deal worth $2 million.
While Gallardo certainly wouldn't have drawn much interest back from the Orioles, the Brewers filled out their 2018 rotation early for a total of $11.5 million this year and $17.5 million over the course of the contracts given out.