Something as small as a blister could have a huge impact on this year’s trade deadline. Rich Hill was forced to leave Sunday’s start against the Blue Jays after just five pitches due to a popped blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand, disappointing the many scouts in attendance and bringing into question the status of perhaps the most hotly-pursued starter heading into August 1.
Injury may have been the only thing that could’ve lowered Hill’s trade value at this point. The 36-year-old lefty already missed a month recovering from a groin strain, though he looked good in his first two outings back from the DL. This blister issue already caused Hill’s first post-break start to be pushed back two days, and now Hill believes it will at least a few days before the blister heals well enough for him to throw again. It could be a full week before Hill takes the mound again, leaving him time for perhaps two starts before the trade deadline.
Needless to say, this isn’t a welcome development for an A’s team that was looking to cash in on Hill’s unexpected dominance. Between his four-start emergence for the Red Sox in 2015 and his continued terrific work in 2016, Hill has posted a 2.06 ERA, 10.8 K/9 and 3.82 K/BB over his past 105 innings. Hill is a free agent this winter and is owed around $2.3MM for the remainder of the season, making him an easily affordable rental for teams in both large and small markets.
Affordable in salary, that is — not necessarily affordable in terms of the return it will take to pry him out of Oakland. Hill has pitched so well that the A’s could justify issuing him a qualifying offer in order to recoup a first-round compensation draft pick back if Hill signed elsewhere. (Though it’s an interesting question if Hill would accept the QO to lock in a one-year deal in the $16MM range, which would certainly impact the A’s decision to issue the offer.) That means the Athletics’ absolute minimum asking price will be a prospect graded as equal to the value of that comp pick, and the asking price to this point has been much higher; the A’s reportedly initially wanted Anderson Espinoza when the Red Sox inquired about Hill.
The blister and groin strain underline the great unknown that is Hill’s durability, as the 76 innings he’s thrown this year is already the third-highest innings total of his 12-year career. This being said, in a very thin summer market for starting pitching, Hill may still emerge as the top arm available if he is able to recover from his blister and deliver at least one more quality start before the deadline. There’s been so much interest in Hill that the A’s should still be able to find a trade partner, even if their hopes of landing a top-tier prospect may not be realized.
Billy Beane, David Forst and company will probably take the usual route of looking for the best talent available when shopping Hill, Josh Reddick, Danny Valencia or other trade chips before Aug. 1. If the A’s do prioritize a need, Baseball America’s Jim Shonerd (BA subscription required) recently noted that the A’s are thin on minor league outfield talent. That could be a particular area of focus in trade talks, especially if Reddick is also dealt. It’s also not out of the question that Oakland looks to add a Major League player, given that the Athletics have been loath to fully rebuild in the Beane era. While the A’s have struggled over the last two seasons, recent history suggests that they have their eye on rebounding in 2017.
Over a third of the league has been scouting Hill or has been otherwise connected to him in trade rumors, and you can make a case that a few other postseason contenders could also be a fit for the 36-year-old lefty. Let’s try to figure out who might be best-positioned to trade for Hill, beginning with the 11 teams who have already shown interest…