The composition of the free-agent class next winter, and two winters from now, is shaping a lot of what we are seeing these days. Big dollars have been paid out for the premium free-agent pitchers, and the asking prices have been high (and the return significant, in the case of Shelby Miller) for the young pitchers who will remain under team control for the next three, four or five years.
Next fall, the best free-agent pitchers could be Stephen Strasburg, Brett Anderson and Jered Weaver, and the best position players figure to be a 31-year-old Carlos Gomez and a 33-year-old Martin Prado, and perhaps Jose Bautista. An NL executive offered a one-word description of the depth of next year's free-agent class: "Horrific."
The class of 2017 might be only a little better, beyond the Kansas City trio of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, and Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez. The best starting pitchers could be Alex Cobb, Michael Pineda and Tyson Ross.
Because of this, the teams with pitching to sell can take a long view, as the Cleveland Indians have done this offseason. When the winter work began, the Indians' front office determined to set high prices for Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who are both under team control for the next five years. Carrasco finished fourth among all pitchers in xFIP in 2015; Salazar was 23rd. Carrasco is guaranteed $19 million through 2020 under the terms of his team-friendly contract -- or about what David Price will earn by the All-Star break in the first year of his deal with the Red Sox. Barring injury, Salazar probably will make a little more than Carrasco in that same time frame.
So the Indians talked with the Giants, Dodgers and many other teams this winter without finding a suitable deal for players who would help them in the major leagues in 2016. As the prices for some free-agent position players dropped, and the Indians' ownership stepped up with money for next year's budget, Cleveland was able to fill two primary needs this week -- locking up first baseman Mike Napoli for $7 million, and outfielder Rajai Davis for $5 million.