Zack Greinke, Hiroki Kuroda and Kyle Lohse are among the most coveted free-agent starting pitchers on the market this offseason. While those stars will surely help whatever rotation they join, not every team will be able to afford to chase them.
Luckily, there are several other options that should be available in a more reasonable price range. They aren't on the same level as the three names mentioned above in terms of ability, but they should still provide terrific value.
Let's take a glance at three starters that should fall into that category.
1. Brandon McCarthy
The last time baseball fans saw McCarthy on the mound, he was struck by a line drive—an extremely scary moment for everybody involved. Thankfully, he was recently cleared for baseball activity and should be ready for roll for 2013.
McCarthy has been widely overlooked for quite some time because today's stat-centric baseball world loves pitchers who strike out a lot of batters, which he doesn't do. Yet he's posted an ERA below 3.35 for two straight seasons.
The 29-year-old starter relies on terrific control (less than two walks per nine innings) and good pitch variation to keep hitters off-balance. As long as he remains healthy, he's the perfect target for a team looking to fill a No. 3 spot in its rotation.
2. Shaun Marcum
Marcum is a high-upside target who also presents some risk. He has only topped the 200-inning mark once during his career and is coming off a season in which he made just 21 starts. Giving him a contract would be based on the hope he can stay healthy.
That said, a quick look at his numbers will show why he's worth taking a chance on. The right-hander has not posted an ERA above 3.70 since becoming a full-time starter in 2008. Just as impressive, his strikeout rate was nearly eight batters per nine last season.
He finished the season healthy and should enter spring training in good shape after having the winter to rest any lingering issues. If he goes on to make a full complement of starts next season, he will be viewed as a major free-agent steal.
3. Carlos Villanueva
Villanueva is another interesting case. He has never made more than 16 starts in a season. Instead, he's been used mostly as a swingman between the rotation and bullpen over the past few seasons. But now he wants a guaranteed spot in the rotation, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
Judging by his performance during July and August last season for the Toronto Blue Jays, it's an agreement teams will probably be willing to make. He was Toronto's best pitcher over that span, including a 4-0 record with a 1.93 ERA in July.
The biggest concern is control (3.3 walks per nine), but every pitcher outside the top tier is going to have at least one flaw. Given his high strikeout rate and periods of dominance last season, he'll be a tremendous rotation filler for next season.