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Where have all the great pitchers gone?

They've all been locked up in long-term contracts by their current teams, that's where. The year 2010 is barely a month old, and already we've seen Josh Johnson (Marlins), Felix Hernandez (Mariners) and now Justin Verlander (Tigers) -- three of the best 20-something pitchers in the majors -- locked up to deals of four-plus years. And those are on top of other recent contracts for Zack Greinke (Royals) and Jon Lester (Red Sox), plus the trade-and-sign deal for Roy Halladay (Phillies).

Johnson, Hernandez and Verlander were all second-year arbitration-eligible players, which is another way of saying they would have been free agents after the 2011 season. And now they won't be. Before his Phillies deal, Halladay was set to reach free agency after this season. And now he won't.

This is a fascinating, important trend in baseball's talent market, because it has kept all but a handful of elite pitchers from reaching free agency -- which is how you arrive at an offseason in which Randy Wolf, no offense to him, is the second-best starting pitcher on the market. As for next winter, the elite pitching market is down to Cliff Lee and Josh Beckett, and there is a pretty good chance one (with Beckett more likely than Lee) or both will re-sign with their current teams before November.

It also underscores why it is more important than ever for even the richest teams to develop their own starting pitchers -- as we've seen the Red Sox do, and even the Yankees attempt to do. Every once in awhile, a CC Sabathia or a John Lackey will come along via free agency. But you can't count on it anymore.

By Dave Sheinin  |  February 4, 2010; 10:02 AM ET
 
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Next: The Lincecum arbitration case

Comments

Stephen Strasburg!!!!

Posted by: cassander | February 4, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

"It also underscores why it is more important than ever for even the richest teams to develop their own starting pitchers -- as we've seen the Red Sox do, and even the Yankees attempt to do."

And seen the Nats do. Merely because it has not yet come to fruition (although Jordan Zimmermann sure seemed like it was before that bad-luck elbow) does not mean that this has not been the Nats policy.

Strasburg, Detwiler, Storen... Whaddya want, eggs in yer beer?

Posted by: FergusonFoont | February 4, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Sorry Natinals fans but until those guys prove anything at the MLB level (and do so for an extended period of time) they aren't great pitchers.

Great prospects, maybe, but great pitchers? Not yet.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | February 4, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Matusz, Tillman, Arrieta, Britton, Bergeson...Orioles are building the arms, if only they got to compete in the Nationals weaker division.

Posted by: jesstyr | February 5, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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