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Starting pitchers are the early movers in MLB free agency

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Kenta Maeda and Sonny Gray, who signed free agent deals this week, seen here flanking old friend Kyle Farmer for the Twins on opening day 2023.
Kenta Maeda and Sonny Gray, who signed free agent deals this week, seen here flanking old friend Kyle Farmer for the Twins on opening day 2023.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

After a relatively cold stove for the bulk of November, things are picking up a little bit in MLB free agency, including the Dodgers bringing back Jason Heyward on a one-year deal for the beloved outfielder on Monday.

But most of the free agent action thus far has been on the starting pitching front.

Sonny Gray is the latest starter to sign, finding a reported three-year, $75 million contract on Monday with the Cardinals, who added a front-end pitcher after also signing back-end starters Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson this month. Of the six free agent starting pitchers signed so far this offseason, three signed with St. Louis.

Aaron Nola was the biggest prize to date in free agency, returning to the Phillies, where he’s spent his entire career. Nola signed for $172 million over seven years, with the Dodgers in the mix with a $165 million offer per Scott Lauber at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Old friend Kenta Maeda has a reported two-year deal worth $24 million with the Tigers, just a million shy of the total guarantee from his incentive-laden eight-year contract signed with the Dodgers before the 2016 season. Over the non-2020 seasons of that original deal, Maeda earned just over $50 million in all, including a $1 million bonus for getting traded to the Twins in 2020. He likely earned just shy of $4 million during the pandemic-shortened year, depending on how any of his bonuses were pro-rated that season.

Free agency doesn’t have many hard deadlines, which is why we’ve seen some negotiations drag on in recent offseasons into January and even February in extreme cases. But the posting system does provide a more strict calendar for such signings, with a 45-day window for MLB teams to sign players once they’ve been posted.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto was posted last Tuesday, November 21, which means his deadline to sign is 2 p.m. PT on Thursday, January 4. He’s near the top end of the market, with projected contracts for the 25-year-old right-hander including seven years, $203 million at The Athletic, and nine years, $225 million at MLB Trade Rumors, plus seven years, $196 million at FanGraphs.

Fellow Japanese starting pitchers Shota Imanaga and Naoyuki Uwasawa will be posted on Tuesday, per New York Post writers Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman. That puts their deadline to sign at January 11 at 2 p.m. PT.

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving and with the winter meetings starting this coming weekend in Nashville, expect the stove to get a little warmer soon.