The free agent season is underway and while rumors continue to rule the interwebs, it's never too early to look ahead. These five starting pitchers might end up with some decent sleeper value should they land in the right spot as a free agent. Note: Some text origionally appeared in my 2012 Free Agent Primer series for The Outside Corner. Player's 2012 age in parenthesis.
12-team mixedJavier Vazquez (35)
Talk about the tale of two halves. Vazquez posted a 5.23 ERA in the first half of 2011, but exploded in the second half to post a 2.15 ERA with almost one strikeout per nine innings pitched. It’s no surprise that his dominance returned along with his once lost velocity
. Vazquez could become a decent late round pick if two things happen: One, he stays in the National League, in a decent pitcher's park. Two, he maintains his increased velocity this coming spring training. If he's throwing 89 MPH in mid-march, I'm knocking him down my draft board.Erik Bedard (33)
– I hate Aerosmith, but the lyrics to the song “Same Old Song and Dance” ring true with regard to Bedard. When healthy enough to toe the rubber, Bedard is a fantastic pitcher. However, he has never thrown 200 innings in a major league season and he hasn’t topped 130 innings since 2007. The Red Sox are among the teams interested in his services, which could mean an increased chance at more wins in 2012. He's going to eat up a DL spot at some point, however, so consider the format of your league before taking a late-round flier.Hisashi Iwakuma (31)
– The A’s won the bid to negotiate with Iwakuma last season ($19.1M), but could not come to an agreement on a major league contract. Iwakuma returned to Japan where he posted a 2.42 ERA in 119 innings with 90 strikeouts and only 19 walks (4.74 K/BB ratio), but he did miss some time with shoulder soreness. His 6.86 career K/9 is likely to fall against major league batters, so he’ll have to rely on command and defense. Should he land in a favorable pitchers park and/or with a team that boasts an excellent defense, he'd certainly be worth a late-round look.Deeper formatsJoel Pineiro (33)
– His 2011 numbers are ugly, there’s no getting around that fact, but they can be explained to some extent due to a right shoulder that had bothered him since spring training. His sleeper status is based on him being 100 percent healthy in 2012. If that happens, he should see a progression in his ground ball and strikeout rate, which would make him quite capable of a 4.00 ERA and xFIP or better.Jeff Francis (30)
– A 6-16 record and 4.81 ERA are nothing to gloat about, but Francis has some skills that could still result in a very valuable season in 2012. He rarely puts runners on via a base on balls (BB/9 under two for the past two seasons) and he gets hitters to pound the ball into the ground with some frequency (47 percent ground ball rate over the last two seasons). 2011 was the first season since 2008 in which Francis did not have to be shut down due to a shoulder injury. I'd like to see him build a little more velocity, but the underlying skills to succeede are still there.