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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Free-agent pitchers have reason to smile

Bauman: Free-agent pitchers have reason to smile

Free-agent pitchers have reason to smile
When the New York Yankees re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, the new deal was good for the Yankees, good for Kuroda, and probably good for every starting pitcher of any worth in the current free-agent market.

Kuroda signed a one-year contract with a reported 50-percent raise, from the $10 million he earned in 2012 to $15 million for 2013.

Kuroda deserved a raise. He was 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in 33 starts. He was a source of stability in the Yankees rotation, leading the team in victories, starts, complete games and shutouts. There had been a notion in some quarters that Kuroda's success in four years with the Dodgers could not be repeated with the Yankees, the American League East being so much more inhospitable to pitchers than the National League West. But against generally tougher opposition, Kuroda suffered no decline in performance at all.

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In today's market, Kuroda's kind of consistency and effectiveness was a particular bargain at $10 million. He will turn 38 in February, so he wasn't seeking anything resembling a long-term deal. He had no shortage of other offers, although he had maintained that he wanted to return to the Yankees. But he did have an appropriate sense of the current market when he rejected the Yankees' $13 million qualifying offer.

In the 2012-13 free-agent pitching market, it may be true that there is no overwhelming ace; no towering, lockdown No. 1 for the ages. Zack Greinke, at the top of the class, is very good, but his entire career contains one year of dominant work, and that was 2009.

Still, with pitching the supply once again comes up well short of the demand. It is another sellers' market. Only a lucky few of the 30 Major League franchises will not be scouring the planet in search of pitching. In some cases the searches will not be especially successful.

This is where Kuroda's signing, in a relatively quiet and understated way, sets the process in motion. It removes one front-line free-agent pitcher from the market, thus making everybody else more valuable. But it also underscores the notion that the price of pitching will be escalating.

Kuroda's signing didn't get a major dose of publicity, because it was for one year and it didn't involve mega-millions. It was not completely unexpected, either. And it came just before Thanksgiving, when the national attention is typically focused on feasting, not fastballs.

But it did set a standard, making the case that pitching for 2013 will be more expensive than it was in 2012. It doesn't need to be 50 percent more expensive, but it will be more expensive.

This is good news for free-agent pitchers, well beyond Zack Greinke. Some of the more direct beneficiaries will include Kyle Lohse, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and others. Any starting pitcher who has a recent record of good health and competent performance will be in line for a major payday. The fact is that there aren't all that many who qualify, thus creating a far more pleasant financial prospect for those few who do.

Much of the focus has been on Greinke, as the top starter on the market, but he won't be the only one with a claim on serious money.

What will the market do with, for instance, Lohse? He is coming off the best season of his career (16-3, 2.86 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). His stuff is not overwhelming, but over the last two seasons he has consistently thrown strikes with a sinker and by changing speeds with great effectiveness. And he has been succeeding with the Cardinals, a World Series champion two seasons ago, a postseason qualifier again in 2012.

His timing was impeccable, producing the best season of his career just as his contract expired. Based on that season, and a 30-11 record over the last two seasons, this looks like windfall time for Kyle Lohse.

What's the catch? Lohse is 34. Based on the market, and on his recent performance, he can safely demand a contract with a high average annual value. But how many years will he get?

We'll know soon enough. What we know now is that a highly reputable pitcher, Kuroda, is off the market, as the result of a contract that gave him a substantial raise. He'll soon have plenty of company.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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