Mid-rotation types aplenty in free-agent market
Wilson, Buehrle best among thin group of top-shelf starters
The Major League free-agent market for starting pitching is relatively thin in top-tier talent. It does have depth in middle-to-back-of-the-rotation arms.
It is unlikely we'll see any Zito-esque megadeals in the $100 million-plus range, now that CC Sabathia signed an extension with the Yankees instead of exercising an opt-out clause in his contract.
If you're not looking for a rotation upgrade, you're probably Tampa Bay, or perhaps one or two other clubs.
The headliners -- pending the availability of Japan's gifted Yu Darvish -- are a pair of seasoned southpaws coming off excellent seasons: C.J. Wilson of the Rangers and Mark Buehrle of the White Sox.
While they would be quality additions to any rotation, they are not quite in the elite class and would not necessarily disfigure a team's payroll.
The Phillies elected not to renew Roy Oswalt at $16 million, buying him out for $2 million with the reported hope of bringing him back at a more modest salary. Oswalt has been among the game's best, but slipped to 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 23 starts and 139 innings. He was limited by back issues, but the general feeling is he has some good years left at 34.
Wilson became Texas' ace when free agent Cliff Lee decided to join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt in Philadelphia. But all that sterling starting pitching, assembled at considerable expense, couldn't get the favored Phillies past the National League Division Series.
As good as he was in the regular season, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 34 outings, Wilson lost some luster because of his struggles in the postseason. At 31, he has been a starter for two seasons, after spending five years in the Rangers' bullpen.
Buehrle, meanwhile, had a typically solid season for Chicago. He was 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA in 31 starts, reaching the 200-innings mark (at 205 1/3) for an 11th consecutive season. He'll be 33 next year.
Only a handful of starters younger than 30 are available, led by well-traveled Edwin Jackson of the Cardinals. If he moves again, it will be the eighth franchise the right-hander has graced since arriving as a heralded future star with the Dodgers in 2003.
Jackson, 28, was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 31 starts for the White Sox and Cards combined. Durable and gifted with premium stuff, he fell one-third of an inning shy of 200, a standard he exceeded the previous two seasons.
Right-handers Mitch Talbot and Kyle Davies (both 28) and lefty Zach Duke (29) are the other free-agent starters under 30.
At the other end of the age spectrum are Boston's venerable Tim Wakefield (45) and Bartolo Colon, who had a remarkable comeback season at 39 with the Yankees.
Looking to buy: Who isn't? Other than the Rays and Giants -- with their wealth of gifted young starters -- and the Phillies (if they bring back Oswalt), it's not easy to locate a team that wouldn't like to add a starter or two. Managers will say it's no longer good enough to go into April with just five capable starters on the depth chart, given the high rate of attrition over the course of a season.
In Boston and the Bronx, where these conversations always start, at least one and possibly two starters could be welcomed additions. ... Texas might have to replace its ace, Wilson, and could do so from within with Neftali Feliz. But that would mean returning Alexi Ogando to the bullpen as the likely closer. ... The return of Adam Wainwright would do wonders, but St. Louis' rotation depth was in evidence in the postseason. ... Detroit, Milwaukee and Arizona all could use upgrades, along with just about everyone else looking to move into serious playoff contention.
Top dog: Excluding Darvish, who may or may not become available through the posting system, Wilson arguably has the highest ceiling, given that he hasn't thrown nearly as many career innings as Buehrle. But Buehrle, as consistent and dependable as they come, could be the missing piece for a handful of contenders, including the Angels, Braves, Brewers, Tigers and Red Sox. ... Jackson will deliver innings, and could put it all together and approach the elite class with his premium stuff. ... Oswalt would vault to the top if he stays healthy and regains his durability. ... Javier Vazquez returned to form for the Marlins. ... Hiroki Kuroda's age (37) works against him, but he's a solid mid-rotation craftsman. Colon, Freddy Garcia (36) and Kevin Millwood (35) fall in the same category.
Best of the rest: Southpaws, as usual, are at a premium. Erik Bedard, Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen, Doug Davis, Jeff Francis, Scott Kazmir and Dontrelle Willis are on the board. Prominent righties include Armando Galarraga, Jon Garland, Rich Harden, Livan Hernandez, Rodrigo Lopez, Jason Marquis, Sergio Mitre, Brad Penny, Joel Pineiro, Brandon Webb and Chris Young.
Worth a shot: Chen and Capuano are coming off productive seasons, and Pineiro could return to form as a quality No. 3 starter. ... Bedard's talent is top-shelf, but durability and availability are issues. The same goes for Harden and Young. Young, the former No. 2 starter for the Padres, could be a steal if he's healthy.
Potential class of 2013: The early list of potential free-agent starters following the 2012 season is brimming with top-shelf talent: Hamels, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, John Danks, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano, Jeremy Guthrie, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Jonathan Sanchez, Joe Saunders, Derek Lowe, Carl Pavano, Brandon McCarthy, Joe Blanton and Kevin Correia. This doesn't include 14 others, of which several fall in the elite class (Dan Haren, James Shields, Tim Hudson), with options to be resolved. A number of these potential free agents will be signed to extensions by their current clubs or dealt to teams that might sign them. But the possibility exists that 2013 will be a bonanza, compared to this winter's class.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.