“You can never have enough starting pitching.” It’s a refrain we hear often this time of year, and it leads to a lot of deadline deals — even for clubs that don’t strictly “need” to add a starter. We’ve already seen the Royals (acquiring Johnny Cueto) and Astros (acquiring Scott Kazmir) strike deals for highly-rated arms, and they’ll likely be joined by teams such as the Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays among others. Making things even more interesting, we’ve heard a variety of rumors involving more controllable pitching — which could re-frame clubs that have fallen back in the standings (such as the Red Sox, Rangers, and Diamondbacks) as future-oriented buyers.
Cueto and Kazmir are taken, but there’s plenty left to choose from:
- If Price is made available — and reports on whether or not that will happen have been conflicting — he’s the prize of the rental market. With all due respect to the excellent Cueto, Price hasn’t had any health scares this year, and he’s simply outperformed all of the other rentals, as one would expect. Price is on nearly any fan or evaluator’s short list of the five to 10 best pitchers in baseball. His latest eight-inning gem dropped his ERA to 2.31 to go along with 8.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. He’s earning an enormous (relative to other arbitration prices, that is) $19.8MM in 2015, of which about $8MM or so remains. That’s a big amount to add midway through a season, so if traded, Price will likely go to a team with both the financial wherewithal to take on a sizable sum and a deep farm system or cache of MLB-ready talent to entice Detroit to part ways with its ace.
- Hamels answered skeptics who questioned his abilities following a pair of ugly starts by turning the best start of his career on Saturday — a 13-strikeout no-hitter against the Cubs. It’d be a storybook ending for one of the greatest pitchers in Phillies history… if he’s moved. Some have questioned whether the Phillies will move him now or move him at the Winter Meetings, once president-to-be Andy MacPhail is running the show and is more acclimated to his new organization. That’d be a risky play, as the winter market could be saturated with arms, though the $73.5MM he’s guaranteed from 2016-18 would be below market value for an arm of Hamels’ caliber at that point.
The Second Tier
- Samardzija hasn’t been as good with the White Sox as he was in 2014 with the Cubs and A’s, but some of that can be pinned on a brutal defense playing behind him. He’s been very good as of late, posting a 2.55 ERA and a 45-to-11 K/BB ratio in 60 innings over his past eight starts. A free agent at season’s end, Samardzija has turned in somewhat of a mixed skill set. His 6.9 K/9 rate is the lowest of his career as a starter, and his ground-ball rate is down nearly 10 percent from its 2014 levels. However, he’s also walking fewer batters than he ever has (1.7 BB/9) and is still averaging better than 94 mph on his fastball.
- The Padres are apparently pushing hard to move Shields and his backloaded contract just five months after signing him to a four-year, $75MM contract. That’s probably a tall order, considering Shields is owed $64MM from 2016-18 and has the power to opt out of his deal following the 2016 season. In other words, if a team pays any kind of premium in terms of talent, they may be sacrificing that talent for just a year and a half of production. But, if Shields declines, they’ve assumed the risk of that weighty contract and could be stuck with an overpriced asset. Recently, though, Shields looks excellent.
- Cashner and Ross are perhaps more desirable than Shields due to their youth, although each is having somewhat of a down season. Cashner’s been more homer-prone than usual and is stranding fewer runners, though in terms of strikeout rate, control and ground-ball rate, he’s largely the same pitcher he was in 2014. He’s a free agent following the 2016 season. Ross is controlled through 2017, and his strikeout and ground-ball rates are both way up in 2015. However, his old control woes look to have resurfaced to some extent (4.2 BB/9).
- Iwakuma’s spent a good chunk of the year on the DL and is a pure rental, but he’s been great over his past three starts and is distancing himself from the bizarre and uncharacteristic homer problems that plagued him upon his return. Iwakuma has a 4.50 ERA, but both xFIP and SIERA feel his skills are more indicative of a 3.50ish ERA. He’s earning $7MM this season, making him very affordable.
- As I noted in profiling Latos earlier this month, he’s been a different pitcher since coming off the DL with a nagging knee injury that likely ties back to the surgery he had in 2014. Latos’ fastball velocity is up more than two miles per hour since coming off the DL, and he’s striking people out in bunches. Since I last examined his stock, he’s allowed four runs in 20 innings with a 19-to-3 K/BB ratio. Overall, he has a 2.96 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 45.2 percent ground-ball rate in 45 2/3 innings since getting healthy. The Mat Latos of old is back, and he might be the most underrated rental on the market.
Mid-Rotation Arms/Innings Eaters/Back-End Starters
Mike Leake (Reds), Dan Haren (Marlins), Yovani Gallardo (Rangers), Ian Kennedy (Padres), Jesse Chavez (Athletics), C.J. Wilson (Angels), Jeremy Hellickson (D-Backs), Colby Lewis (Rangers), Wandy Rodriguez (Rangers), J.A. Happ (Mariners), Kyle Lohse (Brewers), Aaron Harang (Phillies), Jerome Williams (Phillies), Justin Masterson (Red Sox), Mike Pelfrey (Twins), Bud Norris (Orioles), Kyle Kendrick (Rockies), Matt Garza (Brewers), John Danks (White Sox), Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies)
- Leake, Gallardo, Haren, Kennedy and Happ are the top rentals of this group. No one from that group is overpowering. In fact, Kennedy, who strikes out the most batter os the bunch, is having a down season (like the rest of San Diego’s starters, for the most part). Still, any from this group could conceivably be plugged into the middle of most rotations in the Majors. Leake’s probably the best bet to be moved in the next few days.
- Chavez and Wilson can both be controlled through 2016, though Wilson’s $20MM salary for 2016 will probably be roughly four times greater than what Chavez will earn in his final trip through arbitration. Both can help a rotation, but Wilson would probably need to be moved along with some cash or in exchange for another player with an expensive salary. Hellickson, too, is controlled through 2016, though the former top prospect and AL Rookie of the Year has regressed quite a bit in recent seasons. He got off to a poor start with the Snake but has been great over his past four starts.
- Harang probably won’t be moved until August due to an injury, but he joins the likes of Masterson, Pelfrey, Norris, Williams, Kendrick, Lohse, Garza and Danks in the “struggling veteran” category. Pelfrey has decent numbers but he’s been dreadful of late and was never as good as his peripherals indicated this season. All of these arms, with the exception of Danks and Garza, would be rentals. Danks and Garza are both owed sizable commitments beyond 2015.
Controllable Arms With MLB Experience
Carlos Carrasco (Indians), Jon Niese (Mets), Julio Teheran (Braves), Mike Fiers (Brewers), Vance Worley (Pirates), Jeff Locke (Pirates) Tom Koehler (Marlins), David Phelps (Marlins), Dan Straily (Astros)
- Carrasco is probably the most desirable of this bunch, as the strikeout machine is in the first season of an affordable four-year, $22MM extension that contains a pair of club options valued at $9MM and $9.5MM. As such, Carrasco would require an enormous haul. The Blue Jays have expressed interest, and others figure to do so as well. Jeff Todd and I discussed how the Indians could potentially free themselves of the Michael Bourn and/or Nick Swisher contracts by way of a Carrasco trade.
- Niese’s name keeps popping up in trade rumors, but the latest say the Mets don’t want to move him. He’s pitched well and can be controlled for another two years beyond 2015.
- Teheran has surfaced as a surprise trade candidate after struggling with his control in 2015. He’s owed $29.6MM from 2016-19, including a $1MM buyout of a $12MM 2020 option. Struggles aside, it’s difficult to envision the Braves selling too low. They’d likely value him highly due to that control, though plenty of teams would love to get the opportunity to try to turn Teheran around.
- The Blue Jays like Fiers, but the pre-arbitration 30-year-old isn’t someone the Brewers feel inclined to move. He’d require a relatively notable return, though probably not one on par with Carrasco and Teheran.
- Worley and Locke have had their ups and downs as members of the Pittsburgh rotation over the past two seasons. They’re fourth starters at best — probably closer to fifth starters — but either could be on the move if the Bucs make a more substantial roation upgrade.
- Koehler seems unlikely to be moved by Miami, as he’s a usable fourth/fifth starter option that won’t be arb eligible until this offseason. He’s controlled through 2018 and has a career 3.89 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 458 2/3 innings. Phelps is a swingman that has been useful in both the bullpen and rotation for the Yankees and Marlins. His contract status and his overall numbers are similar to Koehler.
- Straily’s been excellent at Triple-A this year but has bounced from the A’s to the Cubs to the Astros without getting an extended look in a rotation. He might make sense for a rebuilding team with little upper-level pitching depth that could afford to give him a chance (e.g. Phillies, Rockies).
For a look around the rest of the trade market, check out MLBTR’s rundowns of the market for catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, corner outfielders, center fielders and relief pitchers.