Poll: Which Starter Will Be Dealt First?

With the calendar approaching July, trade deadline rumors will soon begin to convert into actual deals. Last season, the first bullet – at least the first to include a starting pitcher – was fired on July 2nd, when the Cubs dealt Scott Feldman to the Orioles. With two notable assets, the Cubs are once again in position to strike first blood. However, they aren’t the only club with a pitcher on the market.

Plenty of teams would like to a starter. Earlier today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman mentioned a desire to acquire a pitcher in the next few weeks, according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. Virtually every contender could benefit from an additional starter. While needs vary by team, the market has the full gamut of options available.

David Price, Rays, 3.63 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 10.45 K/9, 1.02 BB/9: By ERA, Price is having one of the worst seasons of his career. Based on his peripherals, he’s having a career year. Most teams employ a fully realized analytics department, so don’t be surprised if they are comfortable buying Price’s elite command and control profile. The 28-year-old is club controlled through 2015, so he’ll be especially appealing to teams that see themselves as contenders next season. Alternatively, he could make an interesting asset to re-trade, like Cliff Lee circa 2009.

Jon Lester, Red Sox, 3.14 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 9.25 K/9, 2.29 BB/9: Lester, 30, is in the midst of his finest season. He’s a free agent at the end of the 2014, and as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports hypothesized, he’ll probably refuse to open negotiations until after the season. The Sox may decide it’s time to cash in on Lester and open a spot in the rotation for Rubby De La Rosa. Lester should be most appealing to teams that want to go all in this season.

Cliff Lee, Phillies, 3.18 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 8.07 K/9, 1.19 BB/9: The dark horse in this particular competition, Lee is currently on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He’s on pace to return sometime around the All Star break. Any club would be happy to acquire the ace – his contract is another matter. He’s owed the balance of $25MM this season, another $25MM next season, and he has a $27.5MM club option for 2016 that vests with 200 innings thrown in 2015. Given his recent injury and cost, the Phillies can’t hope to receive much in return. Unless they’re facing a budget crunch, they might be better off trading him at a later date. He may be available in August.

Bartolo Colon, Mets, 3.67 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 6.88 ERA, 1.25 FIP: Those who wander the dark corners of the internet may have seen rumors of Colon’s availability. The premise is simple: the Mets are in a position to sell and Colon is a 41-year-old veteran who isn’t helping the team win today. The reason he probably won’t be dealt is because he’s viewed as a helpful mentor to the club’s young staff. The Mets entertain hopes of contending in 2015, and Colon’s veteran presence could be the difference. He’s a weird target for a club hoping to reach the playoffs in 2014. He doesn’t feature the kind of skill set teams like to see in their playoff starters, i.e. dominating stuff. His best talent is not walking anybody.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, 2.53 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 8.48 K/9, 2.71 BB/9: Samardzija, 29, is the poor man’s Price, if by “poor man” you mean the guy with the premium Mercedes rather than the elite Aston Martin. Like Price, he’s club controlled through 2015, which makes him a perfect target for teams with a multi-season playoff window. And like several other pitchers on this list, he’s having a career season.

Jason Hammel, Cubs, 2.98 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 8.50 K/9, 1.84 BB/9: Last season, the Cubs signed Feldman and later parlayed him into a useful reliever (Pedro Strop). Hammel has been even better than Feldman was last season, but a shaky track record and expiring contract will probably keep his price down. Feldman wasn’t the most interesting starter on the trade market last season, yet he was still the first to go. Will Hammel follow suit? Theo Epstein’s Cubs have a precedent of acting early.

Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks, 5.11 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 7.53 K/9, 1.56 BB/9: McCarthy, 30, certainly has the worst ERA of the bunch, yet his peripherals are highly desirable. He’s allowed twice as many home runs as expected, which is why his xFIP (FIP adjusted for a normal home run rate) is 2.92. You can count on several clubs being aware of the excellent peripherals. Somebody will take a shot. The Diamondbacks are dead in the NL West and reportedly need to shed payroll. McCarthy earns $9MM this season.

Ian Kennedy,  Padres, 4.01 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 9.67 K/9, 2.35 BB/9: Speaking of NL West clubs trying to shed payroll, the Padres are reportedly looking to cut costs. Kennedy is one of several veteran Friars on the block. He’s entering his final season of arbitration eligibility, which makes him the true poor man’s Price/Samardzija. The 29-year-old Scott Boras client is probably best suited for clubs with a large home park due to a slight tendency towards fly balls.

Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies, 4.78 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 6.70 K/9, 3.93 BB/9: The 33-year-old pitcher is unlike the others on the list. With the alternatives, there’s at least some kind of possibility for near-elite performance. De La Rosa’s best quality is an ability to eat innings. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and he’s earning $11MM. Teams should find him the cheapest pitcher of those featured…with reason.

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