Five veteran starting pitchers were traded last summer: Edwin Jackson of the White Sox, Jason Marquis of the Nationals, Erik Bedard and Doug Fister of the Mariners, and Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies. Jackson, Marquis, and Bedard were in contract years, while Fister and Jimenez are under control through 2015 and 2013, respectively. The White Sox were 3.5 games out in the division, the Nationals 12 out in the wild card, the Mariners 15 out in the division, and the Rockies 10 games out in the division.
These five deals demonstrate the difficulty of predicting summer trades — we don't know at which point each team considers itself out of contention, and there are always a few surprising non-contenders. By normal criteria of long-term value, no one thought prior to the season that Jimenez would be dealt, regardless of the Rockies' fortunes. The new collective bargaining agreement adds another wrinkle, in that players traded midseason are no longer eligible for draft pick compensation. Even if they're not contending, the Nationals have added incentive to retain Jackson this summer, because they could make him a qualifying offer and potentially receive a draft pick, while another team cannot.
All that said, assessing potential non-contenders is a good starting point in predicting trade candidates. It can be an offensive exercise, given the optimism spring training brings. Still, the Orioles, Athletics, Mariners, Royals, Mets, Pirates, Astros, and Padres are unlikely to be popular preseason picks for the postseason. The Blue Jays, Indians, White Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, and Rockies also have more than their fair share of question marks.
That pool covers half the teams in baseball. Cross-reference that with starting pitchers who may be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season, and you get Scott Baker, Bedard, Bartolo Colon, Kevin Correia, Jorge De La Rosa, Ryan Dempster, R.A. Dickey, Gavin Floyd, Jeremy Guthrie, Francisco Liriano, Derek Lowe, Paul Maholm, Marquis, Brandon McCarthy, Kevin Millwood, Brett Myers, Carl Pavano, Jonathan Sanchez, and Jake Peavy as names to watch. The Mariners will continue to receive inquiries on Felix Hernandez, though a deal involving Jason Vargas is more likely. The Mets' Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey will generate interest if they're pitching well, though Jonathon Niese is the long-term target. We'll hear plenty more about the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez and the Cubs' Matt Garza. The Padres' Tim Stauffer is an interesting under-the-radar target, as someone under control through 2013. Similarly, the Indians could move Jimenez in the right midseason deal if they're out of contention. With a strong first half, perhaps the Pirates' A.J. Burnett could be flipped. We haven't gotten much into contenders with rotation depth, but rumors involving Braves righty Jair Jurrjens could resurface.
If Felix remains unavailable, should we expect any true aces to hit the market? The Giants have a pair in Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, if they dig a huge first-half hole. The Rays could check the market on James Shields, and David Price is under control only for one year beyond Shields. The Brewers and Marlins appear primed to contend, but if either team bombs, impending free agents Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Anibal Sanchez will be popular names.