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Pitchers atop baseball’s free agent list

Reggie Jackson to Terry Pendleton. Greg Maddux to Randy Johnson. Since its inception, in 1975, MLB free agency has played a huge role in the success, or lack thereof, teams have enjoyed on the field.

Though the 2015-16 free agency season is already in full swing, activity, as usual, will likely speed up in December. But who is this season’s Jon Lester?

There is no lack of top-tier talent, but SFBay has compiled the top available. The following are the top five pitchers available in free agency.

Zack Greinke

Not just the top pitcher available, the former Los Angeles Dodger is the best free agent at any position after posting unrivaled numbers in 2015 (19-3, 1.66 ERA).

To say that he boasts a 142-93 won-loss record (.604 winning percentage) and 3.35 in his career ERA doesn’t do his numbers full justice. The first seven years of his career came with the Kansas City Royals where he struggled to find wins, going 60-67 with a sub-4 ERA, peaking with the 2009 AL CY Young Award with a pedestrian 16-8 record despite a 2.16 ERA.

Since transitioning to the NL – traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 then joining the Dodgers through free agency in 2012 – Greinke has been one of the most overpowering forces in the majors. A 72-64 record (.760) in five his five-year stretch in the senior circuit is bolstered by a 2.75 ERA and 1.084 WHIP.

His most impressive string, though, has come in the past three seasons (with the Dodgers), as he has gone 51-15 (.773) with a 2.30 ERA and 1.027 WHIP, leading to top-ten finishes in the CY Young race in each of those seasons. That astounding supremacy in the NL West makes him the most valuable to teams within the division.

Given their deep pockets (highest payroll in baseball in each of the past two seasons) the Dodgers are the favorites to retain the services the three-time all star. The San Francisco Giants, however, have made no secret that the former co-ace of their longtime rivals is square in their crosshairs.

Other suitable matches for the righty include the New York Yankees who have been among the biggest spenders since the first free-agency period and are currently rebuilding despite a 2015 postseason berth. After signing his former manager – with the Dodgers – Don Mattingly, and holding a bit of a hometown discount, the Miami Marlins could be players in the Greinke sweepstakes as well.

David Price

Having spent the entirety of his career (eight seasons) in the AL, Price has posted an impressive 104-56 record (.650) with a 3.09 ERA and 1.132 WHIP. The first overall selection of the 2007 amateur draft is coming off a season in which he made $19.75 million and will get a raise.

The five-time all star has been moved twice, both as trade-deadline acquisitions, and has enjoyed massive success at each stop. What makes him a less-worthy free agent than Greinke, though, is his lack of postseason success. With his high price tag, he will likely only be the target of teams expecting to play October baseball in 2016, and his 2-7 record and 5.12 ERA in 14 career postseason appearances make him less valuable to those teams.

There will be teams who will pay his high demand – likely similar to the nearly $30 million per year Greinke should get –, however, and the list starts with the team he finished the 2015 season with. The Toronto Blue Jays have constructed the most productive offense in baseball but need an ace to accompany Marcus Stroman at the top of the rotation.

Also in play for the services of the 30-year-old Tennessee native will be the Yankees and Dodgers, as will be the case with all big-name free agents. The Giants, in search of top-of-the-rotation help, will also be in extended contact with his representation. A dark horse for Price’s signing is the Detroit Tigers, who traded him to Toronto just four months ago.

Jordan Zimmermann

Like Price, Zimmermann has spent his entire career (seven seasons) in one league, the NL for him, posting a 70-50 record (.583) with a 3.32 ERA and 1.159 WHIP.

After being an all star in both 2013 and 2014, and finishing the in the top 10 of the CY Young race in both, Zimmermann took a step back in 2015. His 13-10 record last season came with a 3.66 ERA and 1.205 WHIP, both his highest since 2010 (his second season), hurt his value heading into an offseason that could have seen him be a top target and reach a huge payday.

Instead, the 29-year-old righty will not see his contract climb much from the $16.5 million he made this year.

At $18-20 million per year for five to six years, his value is at its highest in Washington where he has been a top-of-the-rotation factor and fan favorite of Nationals fans for a half decade.

Also in the running to pay for his services will be the Yankees (like we said) and Boston Red Sox, who will like how he has performed and collected fans in the northeast. If talks fall through with both Greinke and Price, the Dodgers will likely make a run at him, though not too emphatically. The Giants would likely do the same.

Being that he does not come with the $30 million price tag, the Auburndale, Wisconsin native will appeal to a wide range of mid-level teams who are in search of an ace. So don’t rule out a Zimmermann jersey in Cincinnati red, Baltimore orange or Texas blue.

Though the top tier of MLB’s pitcher free agency begins and ends with those three names, there are cheaper but similarly successful options for the teams in search of top-end pitching.

Johnny Cueto, 29, has a career 96-70 record (.578) with a 3.30 ERA and 1.181 WHIP. A strong postseason with the World Series winning Royals improved his value and raised his asking price.

Scott Kazmir, 31, finished 2015 helping the Houston Astros to their first postseason berth in a decade. His 98-90 record (.521), 3.96 ERA and 1.347 WHIP are proof of his successful career. Coming with a contract expectation around $8 million per year, he could collect his 100th career win with any number of teams.

Jeff Samardzija, 30, has drastically improved his stock since his 2014 all-star selection. A career 47-61 (.435) is not indicative of his 4.09 ERA and 1.278 WHIP. After a poor 2015 season in the south side of Chicago, Shark has finds himself in a situation similar to Kazmir – he comes with an affordable asking price and potential to be a front-end starter.

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, we have entered the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Not just at the mall either, but also in baseball.

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