Former Cy Young Winners in their Mid/Late 30s
- Zack Greinke (38): Greinke still provides innings, but his average fastball was down to 89.0 mph in 2021 and he posted a second consecutive ERA north of 4.00. Greinke’s season-long numbers were torpedoed by a poor stretch of four starts to close out the year. His ERA sat at 3.41 as recently as Aug. 23 — albeit with a sub-par 17.5 percent strikeout rate. Still, Greinke is durable and possesses outstanding command. Teams will see him as a workhorse who can provide average or better innings while passing down plenty of knowledge to younger arms. He’s already turned down one qualifying offer, so he can’t receive a second.
- Justin Verlander (39): It was surprising to hear Astros owner Jim Crane say Verlander would be seeking “a contract of some length” recently. The two-time Cy Young winner has thrown just six innings since the conclusion of the 2019 postseason due to 2020 Tommy John surgery. Houston will make a qualifying offer, and if Verlander is indeed intent on multiple years, he’ll reject. Verlander has said in the past that he hopes to pitch into his mid-40s, and his resume speaks for itself. A multi-year deal is risky, but how many arms come with this type of ceiling?
- Corey Kluber (36): Kluber’s comeback looked to be in full swing when he no-hit the Rangers in May. However, he pitched three innings in his next start, went on the injured list for three months, and returned with a 5.40 ERA in his final 26 2/3 frames. Kluber still finished with a solid 3.83 ERA in 80 innings, but his 24 percent strikeout rate was roughly average and his 9.7 percent walk rate was high. That no-no and a dominant outing against the Tigers early in the year stand out, but his season lacked consistency.
- Clayton Kershaw (34): He wasn’t quite peak Kershaw, but the second three-time Cy Young winner on this list rattled off 121 2/3 innings of 3.55 ERA ball with even more promising strikeout (29.5) and walk (4.3) percentages when healthy. Kershaw hit the IL with forearm inflammation in early July and missed two months before returning for four shaky starts down the stretch (15 1/3 innings, 4.70 ERA). He’s out for the postseason due to renewed forearm discomfort but won’t require surgery, instead receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection. There’s huge uncertainty here. If the Dodgers feel he’s healthy enough to make a qualifying offer, perhaps the simplest course would just be for Kershaw to accept.
- Anthony DeSclafani (32): DeSclafani was clobbered by the Dodgers this season and posted a 2.21 ERA against all other teams (hat tip to The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee). The end result was a 3.17 ERA in 167 2/3 innings, a slightly below-average strikeout percentage (22.5) and a very strong walk rate (6.2 percent). DeSclafani has some injuries on his track record, most notably an elbow strain that cost him the 2017 season but didn’t require surgery. He’s made 31 starts of sub-4.00 ERA ball in two of the past three seasons and could find interest on a three- or perhaps even four-year deal — depending on whether the Giants make a qualifying offer.
- Jon Gray (30): Gray went down with a forearm issue late in the season and was rocked upon returning, but it was a solid year for the former No. 3 overall draft pick when healthy. Gray throws hard, misses bats, keeps the ball on the ground and has solid command. He owns a 4.52 ERA and 4.01 FIP over four prior seasons, and he’s the type of prime-aged, power arm another team could dream on. Colorado opted not to trade him at the deadline, so a qualifying offer seems likely, as they’d otherwise stand to lose him without compensation.
- Steven Matz (31): Matz has had an up-and-down career, sometimes looking like a non-tender candidate but sometimes looking like a mid-rotation building block. The latter was the case in 2021, Matz’s lone season with the Blue Jays. He posted a 3.82 ERA in 150 2/3 frames with solid strikeout and walk rates. He’s been on the IL every year since 2015, albeit mostly for minor injuries that required only brief absences. He’s done enough for a team to give him a multi-year deal to pitch out of the middle of a rotation.
- Eduardo Rodriguez (29): One of the youngest pitchers on the market this year, Rodriguez will be overlooked by some simply due to a pedestrian 4.74 ERA. However, E-Rod had the best strikeout and walk percentages of his career and largely allayed concerns about his health and durability after missing the 2020 season due to a troubling bout of myocarditis. Rodriguez has a 4.13 ERA with sub-4.00 marks in FIP, xFIP, SIERA and xERA over his past four seasons. Even if he rejects a qualifying offer, he’ll be a popular multi-year deal candidate.
- Alex Wood (30): Wood barely pitched from 2019-20 and has a history of shoulder troubles, but he made 26 starts with strong cumulative numbers in 2021 (3.83 ERA, 26% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate, 50.8% grounder rate). With an ERA of 3.84 or better in every season of his career outside of those injury-ruined 2019-20 seasons, quality strikeout rates and plus ground-ball rates, Wood will be popular on the market. Like his teammate, DeSclafani, he’s a borderline QO candidate.