“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:
David Price (Tigers), Cole Hamels (Phillies)
- 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
Jeff Samardzija (White Sox), James Shields (Padres), Andrew Cashner (Padres), Tyson Ross (Padres), Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners), Mat Latos (Marlins)
- 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.
Really don’t understand why many think ATL would shop Teheran. He’s controllable and has more upside than most, yet he’s struggling in a down year. If we were competing, I could understand, but I can’t see how many teams could really afford him unless they have some prized positional prospects they’re willing to part with.
This is just my opinion, but this is actually a great time to market Teheran. Many teams this year are looking to make moves that help them “Now and in the future”- Such as the Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Padres. All of those teams have great prospects. Even with a down year, Teheran, like you said, has great upside.
I get it, but Coppolella has said the exact same thing about ATL (now and in the future). For a team that is on the bubble of a race with a laughable lineup, I don’t know if there’s many team that would not laugh at the proposed return from ATL. Teheran is just a few years out from being the top pitching prospect in MLB – for whatever that’s worth.
Now or later, one-two of Tehran/Miller/Wood will be shopped/traded for bats and better prospects or players.
I think Shields has earned the right to be called an ace. Sure, he’s having a down year, but he’s on pace to reach 200 strikeouts for the first time in a few years, mainly because he’s averaging 10 K/9. He has a 3.77 ERA which isn’t great, but not terrible either. It’s right in line with his career ERA.
My point is, based on his last few seasons, Shields has definitely shown “ace” stuff.
completely agree with ya shields is an ace in my eyes. Lester isn’t having a great year and he’s still an ace even though i’d rather have shields on my team.
How about a swap of Samardzija for Puig. As a White Sox fan we need hitting and maybe being on a team with more than a few Cuban players especially a down to earth Abreu can help Puig get more professional in his approach to the game. The sox will probably need to add more than the Shark in the deal but they have some assets they can deal.
“Probably” need to add more? I think that’s a pretty big understatement.
who knows if the sox eat salary its always a possibility but I could see like a middle tier sp (beck) and a lower minor leaguer (may) if no money is eaten in that deal because shark and puig are both having down years at the moment. Not too big of an understatement though.
Yeah, but Puig is controlled for a long time and Shark is a rental. That would be awful for the Dodgers. The Sox would have to add quite a lot more. Like multiple top prospects more.
That’s why I said sox would have to eat money as well as add prospects. not like they are gonna give montas and anderson with shark for puig that isnt realistic
What isn’t realistic is thinking the Dodgers are going to accept a team eating money in exchange for giving up much greater value. This is the Dodgers we’re talking about, they eat money to increase the return, not the other way around.
In what world is James Shields’ 2015 season considered “excellent”?
Intent was to say “recently” in reference to his past few starts — not “presently.” Fixed.
Steve, realistically do you see shields improving if he goes to the cubs I have a feeling with wrigleys homer tendency this year and his issues with homers his numbers wont improve if that’s an accurate statement on my end
3.31 sFIP, 10,23 k/9 LOB% 79.5% it may not be excellent but hes pitched better than people have given him credit for. Especially given how poor both the infield and outfield defense has been this year.
You consider Mat Latos a “2nd tier” guy? The Mat Latos of old is not back. Unless of course you mean the clubhouse cancer that wore out his welcome in both Cincinnati and San Diego.
just about to say that. he’s 2 years away (including this year) from being a no.2-3. don’t understand how people can say samardzija isn’t worth a top 10 system prospect but latos somehow is. He has been a no.4-5 at best
What about Leake, Chapman and Jesse Winker for Puig? Who says no?
Reds. Jocketty is big on club chemistry guys. Too much to give.
Whatever the Padres get for Ross you can call that trade a success for the franchise. They got Ross for Andrew Werner and Andy Parrino and are going to trade him for 10x-100x what Andy Parrino and Andrew Werner were worth.