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MLB's Celebrated 2018 Free-Agent Pitching Class Is Overhyped

The 2018-19 MLB offseason is going to be epic. Epic enough, in fact, to justify the use of that played-out adjective.

A galaxy of the game's brightest stars will hit the market. Front offices will throw around enough cash to exceed the gross domestic product of a few small nations.

MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince was already craning his neck toward the 2018-19 offseason in December 2015:

The continued escalation of baseball salaries can be hard for the common fan to wrap his or her head around, yet because of how rare it is for a premier player to reach the open market in his prime years, it's the cost of doing business.

But here's the deal about these deals: You ain't seen nothing yet.

Just wait until three years from now, when the free-agent pool looks to go from deep to downright historic.

As Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan put it, "There is a historic confluence of talent and money coming, and it's going to influence every single move of consequence made not just today but following the 2016 and '17 seasons, too."

Assuming neither signs an extension before then, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be available as they enter their age-26 seasons. By itself, that makes the hitting class a glistening treasure trove.  

Add ancillary names such as Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier and Adam Jones, and the offensive pickings are inarguably impressive.

What about the starting pitching? That's where the hype could exceed the haul. 

In fact, the closer you peer at the 2018-19 starting pitching pool, the shallower it looks.

We begin on a somber note: That's the offseason Jose Fernandez would have hit free agency (assuming, as in all these cases, the Miami Marlins didn't lock him up first).

Fernandez, like Harper and Machado, would have been entering his age-26 season. He paced qualified MLB starters with 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016 and seemed poised to elevate his already enviable game to the next plateau.

Now, after his tragic death in a September boating accident, we're left with a heap of regrets and unanswerable what-ifs.

To be fair, there could be other ace-level arms on the market. The gaudiest name is Clayton Kershaw, who could pull the opt-out ripcord after the 2018 season.

He'll be entering his age-30 season, and he missed more than two months with a serious back injury in 2016. At the same time, he posted a 1.69 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 149 innings. The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP could well command a ludicrous contract.

It's nearly impossible, however, to imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers letting Kershaw get away. He is the face of the franchise. The Dodgers are the only big league club he's ever known and, much like Buster Posey with the San Francisco Giants, they are likely to be the only big league club he ever does know, at least until his prime is fully spent.

Odds are Kershaw's opt-out will merely be a chance to negotiate a raise, with the deep-pocketed Dodgers dutifully paying up.

If Fernandez and Kershaw are off the table, who does that leave?

There's 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, but he took a huge stumble back last season, posting a 4.55 ERA.

There's New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey, but he's coming off a 4.86 ERA and surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.

David Price could opt out of his deal with the Boston Red Sox. That's no guarantee, however, after Price surrendered an MLB-leading 227 hits in his first season in Beantown. Even if he does opt out, Price will be entering his age-33 season, making any long-term pact problematic. 

Cole Hamels could be available if the Texas Rangers don't exercise his $20 million option, but he'll turn 35 in December 2018.

There are other interesting names on the list, courtesy of Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, including Garrett Richards and Carlos Carrasco, but none that leap out as can't-miss options worthy of bank-busting megadeals.

Add it up and you have less of a once-in-a-generation gold mine and more of a hodgepodge of aging veterans and reclamation projects.

What's the point of all this, other than a little simmering speculation to supplant the waning hot stove? At the least, it should be a wakeup call to teams planning to hoard their resources for post-2018.

Take the New York Yankees, who have restocked their farm system and have a glut of money set to come off the books. 

The Yanks should absolutely position themselves to be players for Harper and Machado, and possibly both. As they look to the rotation, however, they'd be wise to consider other avenues, including Chicago White Sox southpaw Jose Quintana, who is inked through 2020 with a pair of club options.

New York may have already gotten the message. It has been among the "most aggressive teams" on Quintana, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale

Whether that happens, the point stands: Franchises with starting pitching needs putting all their eggs in the 2018-19 basket should reconsider.

"With God as my witness, I don't know who is in the 2018 free-agent class," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in March, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. When it comes to arms, though, it's probably the right mentality for Cashman and MLB's other 29 GMs to adopt.

Otherwise, the most epic part of that distant, fabled winter pitching class could be the letdown.

   

All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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