With one week to go until the non-waiver trade deadline, we have seen the market move already. Jose Quintana is the best starter to change hands, and just yesterday Jaime Garcia and Trevor Cahill found new homes.
More will likely join them, as the list of teams on the lookout for rotation help is sizable. The Astros, Mariners, Yankees, Dodgers, Rockies, and Brewers are among the teams still weighing rotation additions. It may be that the Royals, Twins, and Cubs could look for more arms. And it’s conceivable that others could yet emerge. The Nationals, for instance, have already lost Joe Ross and saw Stephen Strasburg exit his most recent start with some forearm stiffness. Here’s a look at the names that could be available…
Yu Darvish, Rangers | Salary: $11MM ($4.2MM remaining)
It’s not yet clear whether the Rangers will truly make Darvish available — especially after a weekend sweep of the Rays. The parity in the American League is staggering, as two teams are tied for the second Wild Card spot with another five clubs (including the Rangers) within 3.5 games of that second Wild Card position. It’d probably take a notable collapse for the Rangers to bite the bullet and move Darvish, and the asking price would be exorbitant. Darvish, though, would be far and away the most impactful arm on the rental market, and contenders would line up to insert him into a playoff rotation.
Andrew Cashner, Rangers | $10MM ($3.8MM remaining)
If the Rangers market Darvish, they’ll obviously be open to doing so with Cashner as well. The 30-year-old is sporting a nice-looking 3.64 ERA, but the numbers under the hood are ugly. Cashner has seen his K/9 plummet to 4.5, and he’s averaging 3.9 walks per nine innings as well. His velocity is down a bit, and he’s also working with a career-worst 6.2 percent swinging-strike rate. Add in the durability concerns, and Cashner wouldn’t figure to have a significant asking price. (Tyson Ross could in theory also be an option, but he is on the DL and has been ineffective when available.)
R.A. Dickey, Braves | $8MM ($3.1MM remaining)
Signed to eat innings, Dickey has done just that in Atlanta, racking up 117 1/3 frames with a 4.14 ERA. Dickey’s K/BB numbers aren’t anything to write home about, and while he’s a perfectly durable back-of-the-rotation option, he’s probably not that high on most teams’ wishlists given the limited upside he brings to the table at age 42.
Lance Lynn, Cardinals | $7.5MM ($2.9MM remaining)
Like Cashner, Lynn carries a strong ERA (3.30) and alarming peripherals. Lynn does average 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings against a passable 3.1 walks per nine, but he’s extremely homer-prone and is thriving largely due to a .225 BABIP (second-lowest in MLB) and an 82.4 percent strand rate (seventh-highest). He also missed the 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, so some clubs might be wary about his innings total.
Jeremy Hellickson, Phillies | $17.2MM ($6.6MM remaining)
Hellickson’s strikeout rate vanished into thin air in his second season with the Phillies, but interested teams may at least be intrigued by the fact that he’s punched out 31 hitters against just seven walks in his past 35 1/3 innings (7.9 K/9). Still, the Phillies couldn’t drum up much of a market for him in 2016 when he was pitching better and making only about 40 percent of his current salary. It doesn’t seem likely that he’ll command much of a return, though the Phillies could offer to pay the bulk of his salary to try to enhance interest.
The Padres signed each of this duo (as well as Cahill) to identical base salaries this offseason, and the results have been surprisingly solid. Chacin has been great over his past nine starts, though no one is going to expect him to continue the 2.72 ERA he’s logged in that span. Still, he’s averaged 7.5 K/9 in that time with passable control (3.2 BB/9) and a 52.3 percent ground-ball rate. Richard was solid through mid-June but has been clobbered for 27 runs on 48 hits in his past 25 innings.
Derek Holland, White Sox | $6MM ($2.3MM remaining)
Holland got off to a strong start with the ChiSox, but his home runs and walks always looked to be a dangerous combination. That’s proved to be the case over the past couple months, as Holland’s ERA has soared to 5.12. Holland has given up 24 homers in just 102 innings (2.12 HR/9), and that’s a particularly dangerous trend for a pitcher that has averaged 3.7 BB/9 and also plunked six batters.
Miguel Gonzalez, White Sox | $5.9MM ($2.3MM remaining)
His last two outings have been quite successful (two earned runs through 13 1/3 innings), though that masks deeper concerns. Gonzalez has allowed as many walks as he has recorded strikeouts dating back to the start of June. The 33-year-old’s 4.60 ERA through 15 starts this season isn’t all that impressive, and ERA estimators think it’s actually the product of some good fortune. With Gonzalez exhibiting reduced velocity and a declining swinging-strike rate, there’s frankly not much to commend him as a target at this point.
Marco Estrada, Blue Jays | $14MM ($5.4MM remaining)
Estrada had a 3.15 ERA through 68 2/3 innings over the course of 11 starts in the season’s first two months, and he had the peripherals to match (10.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 36.1 percent ground-ball rate). At that point, he looked like could be the top rental on the market if the slow-starting Jays ultimately operated as sellers. Since June 1, though, Estrada has been clobbered for a 9.52 ERA with a diminished strikeout rate (8.9 K/9) and an astounding 6.4 BB/9. He’s also gone from allowing just over a homer per nine innings to 1.99 HR/9 in that time. Estrada dealt with a herniated disk in his back last season, and his recent woes have likely sapped a great deal of his trade value. Teams will assuredly still be interested in taking a chance on him, but the expected return obviously has to be lesser than it was when he was pitching like an ace through late May.
Francisco Liriano, Blue Jays | $13MM ($5MM remaining)
The Blue Jays’ other rental option, Liriano isn’t as appealing as his teammate. His struggles have been persistent all season, as his strikeout and ground-ball rates have dropped while his walk rate has risen. One interesting concept could be to acquire Liriano and put him in the bullpen; he’s held opposing lefties to a .286 OBP with a 15-to-1 K/BB ratio. A move to short relief would likely allow his velocity to tick up as well.
Jesse Chavez, Angels | $5.75MM ($2.2MM remaining)
The 33-year-old has eaten up 107 innings in Anaheim with respectable control, but he doesn’t miss too many bats and has been extremely homer-prone in 2017. With a 4.88 ERA, 1.85 HR/9 and not much of a track record, Chavez figures to draw limited interest. Plus, it’s not known how aggressively the Angels will shop veterans, as they’re thin on pitching and within striking distance of a Wild Card spot.
Anibal Sanchez, Tigers | $16MM ($6.1MM remaining plus $5MM buyout of 2018 option)
Mentioning Sanchez as a trade candidate might induce some eye rolls, but since returning from Triple-A, the 33-year-old has pitched fairly well. In 35 innings (six starts), Sanchez has a 4.11 ERA with 7.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 40 percent grounder rate. His FIP in that time is an even more encouraging 3.78, though xFIP and SIERA both feel that a mark in the low 4.00s is about right. Detroit would have to eat the vast majority of the remaining $11.1MM he’s owed, but if they’re willing to do so, perhaps Sanchez has displayed enough for a team in need of pitching to roll the dice. It certainly won’t cost much in terms of prospects.
Controlled Through 2018
J.A. Happ, Blue Jays | $13MM in 2017 and in 2018
It’s not clear if the Jays will ultimately be open to parting with players that can help them in 2018, but Happ has gone from a fringe-y fifth starter in 2015 to a definite mid-rotation arm. Since a 2015 trade to the Pirates, Happ has a 3.13 ERA with 8.1 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 42.7 percent ground-ball rate. Metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA feel that number should be more in the upper-3.00s, and Happ has been lit up for seven homers in his past four starts. That said, he’s a quality left-handed arm that’s being paid a reasonable salary and should draw interest.
Edinson Volquez, Marlins | $9MM in 2017, $13MM in 2018
Volquez’s walk and strikeout rates have both increased in an up-and-down season that has been highlighted by a no-hitter of a potent Diamondbacks lineup. A team like the Dodgers or Astros isn’t going to look to a player like Volquez and envision him as part of a playoff rotation, but teams like the Twins, Brewers and Mariners could simply view him as a rotation stabilizer and a veteran source of innings. Trouble is, Volquez is hurt and doesn’t seem likely to return before the deadline; he’s more likely to be moved in August, if at all.
Tom Koehler, Marlins | $5.75MM in 2017, arbitration-eligible through 2018
Koehler has been torched for an ERA close to eight this season as his walk rate has increased and his home-run rate has more than doubled. He’s been available for months, and the Fish have yet to find a taker. He’s likely to be non-tendered this season anyhow, barring a significant turnaround.
Sonny Gray, Athletics | $3.575MM in 2017, arbitration-eligible through 2019
Gray is very arguably the most valuable asset available on the starting pitching market. He can be controlled through the 2019 season via arbitration and has returned to form this season, turning in his best strikeout and ground-ball rates since 2014 and the second-best walk rate of his career. Those elements have contributed to a 3.38 FIP and 3.41 xFIP that are superior to his still-solid 3.66 ERA. Gray’s value is tricky to assess after a triceps injury cost him much of 2016 and a lat strain sidelined him into May to open the 2017 campaign. But, he looks every bit like a pitcher that could start in the playoffs for a contender, and he should have plenty of appeal to borderline playoff contenders as well since he could front those rotations in 2018 and 2019.
Julio Teheran, Braves | $6.3MM in 2017, $8MM in 2018, $11MM in 2019, $12MM club option ($1MM buyout) for 2020
We’ve seen dips from Teheran before, but this one is perhaps more concerning. He has long outperformed his peripherals, and that has continued, but now his 4.67 ERA is running ahead of a 5.51 FIP, 5.15 xFIP, and 5.07 SIERA. Teheran has never carried such worrying peripherals as his current 6.7 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and 1.79 HR/9. The bottom line: while the Braves are evidently willing to consider offers, they likely won’t be terribly appealing with Teheran’s value down at the moment. While he may still be viewed as a useful long-term piece, given that he’s still just 26 years old, rivals won’t likely be willing to pay a premium to add him right now.
Justin Verlander, Tigers | $28MM annually through 2019
His walks are up and strikeouts are down since turning in a 227 2/3-inning gem of a 2016 season. While Verlander still shows most of the stuff and durability that has made him an ace in the past, that’s not showing up in the results at present. Though the veteran isn’t cheap for a pitcher who’s carrying a 4.50 ERA at 34 years of age, Verlander will still hold appeal. The question remains whether the Tigers will be willing to pay down enough salary, or reduce their prospect requests, sufficiently to facilitate a trade.
Cole Hamels, Rangers | $22.5MM in 2017 and 2018, $20MM club option ($6MM buyout) for 2019
Neither is there reason to believe the Rangers will deal Hamels, who has taken a step back this year but remains an important part of the future rotation plans in Texas. In his 64 1/3 innings this season, Hamels owns a 3.78 ERA, but he’s checking in with only 5.0 K/9 on the year (with a plummeting 7.8% swinging-strike rate) and has benefited from a .229 BABIP.
Dan Straily, Marlins | $552K in 2017, arbitration-eligible through 2020
Straily has given Miami everything it hoped for, with 113 1/3 innings of 3.49 ERA ball on the year. And he’s also showing improved K/BB numbers (8.3 K/9 vs. 2.5 BB/9) that help to support his results. Given the strong 2016 output that led the Marlins to acquire him in the first place, Straily’s value is in fairly strong standing. The thing is, all indications are that the Fish aren’t planning to shop him this summer, as the team continues to slog through its sale talks.
Jeff Samardzija, Giants | $18MM annually through 2020
The 32-year-old has combined elite K/BB numbers (9.7 K/9 against just 1.1 BB/9) with ugly results (5.05 ERA). That’s due in part to a hefty 1.47 homers per nine, on a 17.4% HR/FB rate. The truth, perhaps, lies somewhere in between, and odds are there’ll be clubs willing to bet on the talent — particularly since Shark has continued to show excellent durability with 128 1/3 innings over twenty starts. But the Giants will value that quite highly as well, so it’d probably take a creative trade scenario to get something done here.
Johnny Cueto, Giants | $21MM annually through 2021, plus $22MM option ($5MM buyout) for 2022; Cueto can opt out of deal and receive $5MM buyout after current season
Speaking of creativity, that’ll be needed in spades to find a deal for Cueto. He has not been quite himself this year, with a 4.59 ERA that is fueled by an uncharacteristic 3.2 BB/9 and lofty 1.48 HR/9. His velocity is beginning to fade, and his grounder rate is below 40% for the first time since his debut season, but contenders will also take note of a 10.6% swinging-strike rate that sits above Cueto’s career average. In the main, though, the difficulty here is finding a way to account for the fact that he’ll likely re-enter the market at season’s end — unless a catastrophic injury or major performance downturn give him reason to hang big money on whatever organization possesses his contract.
Speculative Assets On Selling Teams
There haven’t really been any indications that these organizations will listen on these pitchers, though there are arguments to be made in favor of each. Fulmer has steadily dominated and is just 24 years of age; he could enable the Tigers to get back real talent and even move some other contracts. All signs are, however, that Detroit isn’t interested in pursuing deals for its most valuable trade asset. The Mets could command a king’s ransom for deGrom at a time when there are few palatable rotation options on the market, and they have enough other pieces around the roster (plus top prospects Amed Rosario and Dom Smith on the horizon) that they could move the former Rookie of the Year and still not punt on 2018. Manaea is pitching well right now and controlled for another five years, but A’s president Billy Beane could conceivably sell high on the lefty and rely on other young pitching assets. Stroman could command a similarly impressive haul, though the Jays are giving no indication they want to undertake a dramatic rebuilding effort.