Ranking MLB's Top 5 free agent pitchers

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

November 7th, 2021

The MLB offseason is upon us, with over 160 free agents ready to be wined, dined, and signed.

We’re counting down the Top 5 free agents available at various positions this month, beginning with the best pitchers on the open market, while attempting to figure out where they might land.

5. Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer is still going strong at age 37, and might have pitched the Dodgers into the World Series if not for a “dead arm” at the end of a long campaign following a shortened 2020 – a scenario that impacted many pitchers across baseball.

Scherzer made 11 regular season starts with L.A. after being brought in at the trade deadline, and went 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 0.820 WHIP. The three-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star is unlikely to come off the board quickly, as he is a Scott Boras client. For what it’s worth, Scherzer took until January 21 to sign with the Nationals as a free agent in 2015. 

Don’t be surprised if “Mad Max” remains in the sunny California – the Dodgers and the Angels are considered the favorites to sign him.

4. Carlos Rodon

One of the more intriguing free agents at any position this winter is Carlos Rodon, a southpaw who’s had some injury issues with the White Sox, but is a terror to opposing batters when healthy.

After tossing just 42 1/3 combined innings in 2019 and 2020, Rodon came out guns blazing in 2021, highlighted by a no-hitter against the Indians (which was a hit-batsman away from being a perfect game) on April 14. Unfortunately, shoulder issues made Rodon’s campaign a tale of two half-seasons.

Like Scherzer, Rodon is also represented by Boras. It will be interesting to see if the lefty stays with the South Siders or not, and if he inks a long-term deal rather than some kind of “prove it” contract to build up his value.

3. Marcus Stroman

Marcus Stroman was a modest 4-2 with a 3.77 ERA in first 11 starts with the Mets in 2019, then opted out of the 2020 season and became a free agent. New York took a flyer with Stroman when they gave him a one-year qualifying offer, which he surprisingly accepted.

Then he turned into arguably the Mets’ most reliable arm in a year where their pitching staff was decimated by injury – multiple Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom included – as he authored a 3.02 ERA and 1.145 WHIP.

Stroman will be 31 next year, so he should still have several prime seasons ahead of him. But with the contract parameters Stroman is rumored to be pursuing, he could price himself out of Flushing. The Padres are rumored to have Stroman on their radar this winter.

2. Kevin Gausman

After pit stops in Baltimore, Atlanta, and Cincinnati, where he showed flashes of promise but lacked consistency, Kevin Gausman appeared to find a home with the San Francisco Giants in 2020.

He went 3-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.106 WHIP in the pandemic year, and followed it up with a brilliant campaign in which he went 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 1.042 WHIP, playing no small part in guiding the Giants to an MLB-best 107-win season.

After playing on a qualifying deal last year, Gausman in now in line for a big payday. It isn’t the most exiting rumor for hot stove fans, but San Fran GM Farhan Zaidi has said that starting pitching is his club’s “number-one priority.”

1. Robbie Ray

The best pitcher in the AL by ERA (2.84) and strikeouts (248) in 2021, Robbie Ray could be a Cy Young winner on the move this offseason.

Ray lowered his hits per nine innings (8.0 career, 7.0 in 2021) and walks per nine innings (3.9 career, 2.4 in 2021) dramatically as a member of the Blue Jays this season. Now it will be up to GMs across baseball to determine if this season was a fluke for the previously-wild Ray, or if the 30-year-old southpaw is just hitting his best stride now.

It’s hard to believe we haven’t mentioned the New York Yankees in an article about MLB free agency until now, but the Bombers have to be considered a serious contender to lure Ray away from division-rival Toronto. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman believes they could sign Ray, and a former pitching coach of Ray’s – Mike Harkey – is currently on the Yankees’ staff as a bullpen coach.