Starting pitching is in demand every summer. And as fans of Doug Fister and the 2011 Tigers know, it’s not always the biggest names that have the biggest second-half impact.
Teams are now navigating the trade deadline under a new collective bargaining agreement, and for the first time in decades clubs cannot obtain compensatory draft picks if players acquired midseason depart as free agents. There’s been some speculation that this rule change will mean lowered asking prices for top players. After all, why would a team surrender top prospects for a player who could disappear without a trace a few months later?
It’s a fair question, but there’s still reason to believe top players will cost top prospects. Imagine for a minute that you’re a general manager calling up Doug Melvin of the Brewers about Zack Greinke. You say ‘Hi Doug, we’d like to acquire your ace right-hander, but the CBA changed so we’re going to scale our proposal back and offer a couple B and C prospects. That OK?’ Melvin could then say ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll wait it out and get a top draft pick next year. Good luck having replacement level pitchers in your rotation for the next two months.’
Within a few weeks we’ll know how the trade deadline will affect the value of top pitchers. Until then, here’s a look at which pitchers will — or might — be available between now and the upcoming trade deadline:
- Cole Hamels, Phillies – Hamels is one of the best pitchers in the game. Though he's just 28, he has a seven-year history of success in a major market, including a World Series MVP award. Hamels has the potential to improve some team’s rotation dramatically and demand will reflect that upside if the Phillies make him available.
- Zack Greinke, Brewers – If you go by the numbers, Greinke's just as desirable as Greinke. However, some teams question Greinke's ability to thrive in the spotlight. Still, the right-hander has the potential to make a team’s front office look really smart.
- Matt Garza, Cubs – Garza's 4.32 ERA is pretty ordinary, but he’s still a tremendously valuable trade chip for the Cubs. Unlike Greinke and Hamels, Garza's controllable through 2013. He has succeeded in the AL East and his peripheral stats remain strong.
- Wandy Rodriguez, Astros – Rodriguez has a 3.38 ERA through 18 starts, but his salary could be an obstacle for some clubs. The left-hander will earn $10MM in 2012, $13MM in 2013 and, potentially, $13MM in 2014 (the team’s ’14 option becomes a player option following a trade). However, the Astros showed that they’re willing to absorb salary if it means a chance at obtaining better prospects when they dealt Carlos Lee to the Marlins.
- Ryan Dempster, Cubs – Dempster, who has an NL-best 1.99 ERA, should draw lots of interest as a mid-season trade candidate. The Cubs seem willing to absorb some of his $14MM salary to facilitate a deal.
- Shaun Marcum, Brewers – Marcum, now on the disabled list, is on track to hit free agency this offseason. He has a 3.39 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 through 82 1/3 innings in Milwaukee.
- Paul Maholm, Cubs – Maholm could appeal to teams looking to add back-of-the-rotation depth. His contract includes a $6.5MM option for 2013.
- Randy Wolf, Brewers – Wolf's trade value would be limited by his 5.80 ERA and $9.5MM salary.
- Jeremy Guthrie, Rockies – Guthrie’s trade value may be at an all-time low following three disappointing months in Denver.
- Edinson Volquez and Clayton Richard could be available, but there’s no reason for the Padres to trade such controllable, young arms without obtaining a remarkable package in return.
- Jason Vargas, Mariners – Vargas is similar pitcher to Wandy Rodriguez, but he's younger and less expensive, as I explained last month.
- Kevin Millwood, Mariners – Millwood, 37, has a 3.69 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 90 1/3 innings with Seattle. He earns $1MM and will hit free agency after the season.
- Despite the annual speculation surrounding Felix Hernandez, there’s no indication he’s truly available.
- Bartolo Colon, Athletics – Colon, 39, is the player the Athletics are most likely to trade, according to Ken Rosenthal. The righty has a 3.80 ERA with 5.4 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 through 104 1/3 innings.
- Brandon McCarthy, Athletics – The A's would reportedly consider offers for McCarthy, a prospective free agent who has a 2.54 ERA with 6.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. He's now on the 15-day disabled list.
- Brian Matusz, Orioles – Matusz appears to be a trade chip for the Orioles. He's now in the minor leagues after posting a 5.42 ERA through 16 starts in Baltimore.
- Francisco Liriano, Twins – Liriano, a free agent after the season, has pitched well since returning to the rotation. Still, clubs are wary of trading for the left-hander, whose walk rate remains high.