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Potential Trade Candidates: Starting Pitching

The non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching and it's high time for wild speculation and fierce arguments about the feasibility/wisdom of potential moves. There are a number of starting pitchers rumoured to be on the market this year for a number of reasons. Some of them are rentals including front-of-the-rotation types with ambiguous values because of changes to the CBA and the mid-to-back of the rotation types with expiring contracts that should be pretty similar in value to years past. In addition to pitchers with expiring contracts, there are a number of pitchers with at least one more year of control left that are likely going to be made available because their teams are not likely to realistically compete during the life of their contracts or their relationships have soured because of on-field/off-field issues.

Starting Pitcher Rentals:

There are plenty of big-name pitchers with contracts that expire at the end of the year (Zach Greinke, Cole Hamels) which strong teams like the Texas Rangers/New York Yankees might be interesting in renting for their playoff runs in the belief that they could push them over the top. The price for rentals of the #1 variety were typically pretty prohibitive in the past and under the new CBA may not make much sense for teams to pay since the receiving teams would no longer receive compensation picks if the rental player could not be signed to a new contract. This change is likely to make for a quiet deadline in many writers' minds but if the conditions were right and a team was in desperate need they might still pull the trigger in order to make a big push.

The conversations for these pitchers would start at the equivalent of two compensation picks and would likely rise significantly higher than that especially if the receiving team were able to get the player to sign an extension as part of the deal. Any deal for a front of the rotation starter that included a contract extension would likely be closely modelled after the Roy Halladay deal. However, these types of deals have not been all that common in baseball in the past. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that top flight pitchers close to free agency, some of them for the first time in their careers, would be any more likely than in years past to sign extensions with their new teams and forego their pending free agency. If I were Greinke or Hamels, I would have to have my socks knocked off by a team that will be a perennial contender for the foreseeable future.

Potential Candidates:

Potential Free Agent

Curr. Team

Current Contract

2012 Stats*

Pot. Suitors

Cole Hamels

PHI

$15 M

111 IP, 9.0 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 0.97 HR/9, 3.08 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.24 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR, FanGraphs

TEX, LAA

Zach Greinke

MIL

$13.5 M,

15 Team NTC

108.0 IP, 8.83 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9, 3.08 ERA, 2.37 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 3.5 fWAR, FanGraphs

TEX, STL, BAL, ATL (w. Ext)

Ryan Dempster

CHC

$14.0 M

81.0 IP, 7.33 K/9, 2.44 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9, 2.11 ERA, 3.25 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, 1.9 fWAR, FanGraphs

ATL

Anibal Sanchez

MIA

$8.0 M

101.0 IP, 8.2 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, 4.19 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 1.9 fWAR, FanGraphs

Competitive-N/A

Brandon McCarthy

OAK

$4.28 M

78.0 IP, 6.00 K/9, 2.19 BB/9, 0.58 HR/9, 2.54 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 4.09 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR, FanGraphs

?

Shaun Marcum (DL)

MIL

$7.725 M

82.1 IP, 8.42 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9, 3.39 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.95 xFIP, 1.1 fWAR, FanGraphs

?

Francisco Liriano

MIN

$5.5 M

76.2 IP, 8.92 K/9, 5.17 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9, 5.40 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 0.9 fWAR, FanGraphs

?

Derek Lowe

CLE

$15 M

95.2 IP, 3.1 K/9, 2.92 BB/9, 0.56 HR/9, 4.42 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.46 xFIP, 1.1 fWAR, FanGraphs

?

*Stats may not be as up-to-date as they should be

Comparable Trades/Asking Prices:

Top-Tier Rental:

The asking price for a one-year rental is unclear because of the new CBA since receiving teams will not receive compensation if/when their prized midseason acquisition bolts for greener pastures. Therefore, it is not clear what teams will be willing to part with in order to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter like Greinke or Hamels for the balance of a year.

In 2010, a struggling Seattle traded a soon-to-be FA ace in Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers for Matthew Lawson, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke, and Justin Smoak. The deal hasn't worked out so well for the Mariners but there was still massive potential for them in the former 11th overall pick Justin Smoak who was the No. 13 prospect in baseball prior to the 2010 season.

Top-Tier (w. an Extension):

Though Roy Halladay had a year remaining on his deal when the Jays traded him to the Phillies, that deal provides one of the better comparisons from recent history for any potential Greinke/Hamels deal this year that includes an extension. Halladay netted the Jays several of the Phillies' top prospects: Kyle Drabek (then BA's No. 25 prospect), Travis d'Arnaud (then BA's No. 36), and Michael Taylor (formerly BA's No. 29 prospect who's stock had dropped him off the list by the time of the trade).

Second-Tier:

Though not ready to step into the top of a legitimate contender's rotation, these starters could make a strong contribution to a playoff team and if they can tap into the fountain of youth/untapped potential/pre-injury form then they could actually wind up as playoff heroes. Francisco Liriano is one such candidate this year that I think could step into a playoff rotation with a chance of having great success. Since he re-joined the Twins' rotation on May 30th, Liriano has pitched to a 2.74 ERA and an equally sparkling 2.81 FIP and his recent success is not exactly being utilized in an optimal way burning a hole in a last-place team's rotation.

In 2011, perennially injured one-time mid-rotation Canadian starting pitcher, Erik Bedard, was traded by the perennial rotation garage sale of a franchise the Seattle Mariners in a three-way deal that netted them Trayvon Robinson (then-Dodgers' No. 10 prospect) and the Red Sox' Chih-Hsien Chiang. Bedard had a 3.45 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 91.0 IP for the Mariners at the time of the trade but would drop off slightly in the AL East. He never got into a playoff game for Boston because of their epic implosion but it was clearly not all his fault and he could have been a valuable piece at the back end of their rotation. Considering he had only a couple hundred-thousand dollars remaining on his contract at the time and would not bring the Mariners compensation picks if unsigned at years' end, the Bedard trade of 2011 might serve as a good comparison for pitchers like McCarthy, Liriano, Marcum, or Lowe who are being paid significantly more for the balance of the year than Bedard in 2011 but are performing better/have a more recent track record of success/durability.

I think the more ambiguous-tiered pitchers like Anibal Sanchez or Ryan Dempster despite the salary remaining for 2012 will likely demand more than Bedard did last year especially if their current owners eat a large portion of remaining salary as is rumoured to be the case with the Cubs and Dempster.

Pitchers with Year(s) of Control Remaining:

Some teams are in need of a rebuild and might look to move top pitchers even though they may still have a few years of control/contract left (Matt Garza, Felix Hernandez) in order to secure a bounty of prospects that could help them build a winner in the years to come. There are a number of pitchers that could fit into this category if their teams have a poor couple of weeks leading up to the July 31st deadline. However, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Baltimore will be sellers as one might have expected prior to the season and they may, in fact, be major buyers come the 31st as the current rumours floating would suggest. It is therefore unlikely that they would make Jason Hammel available despite being a pretty textbook sell-high candidate on a quite likely overperforming team. While the Giants may be able to acquire quite the haul if they traded Lincecum this July, it would be difficult to replace his production as they enter their drive to the playoffs.

Potential Candidates:

Potential Free Agent

Curr. Team

Current Contract

2012 Stats*

Pot. Suitors

Matt Garza

CHC

$9.5 M, Arb Elig. 2013

89.2 IP, 8.03 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9, 4.01 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.65 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR, FanGraphs

TOR, NYY, DET, BAL, CLE, CIN, BOX, ARZ, STL

Wandy Rodriguez

HOU

$10.0 M ('12), $13.0 M ('13), $13.0 M ('14) Plyr Opt

109.1 IP, 5.76 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 0.99 HR/9, 3.54 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 3.93 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR, FanGraphs

TOR, BAL

Tim Lincecum

SFG

$18 M ('12), $22 M ('13)

93.1 IP, 9.74 K/9, 4.73 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 6.08 ERA, 3.76 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR, FanGraphs

Competitive-N/A

Felix Hernandez

SEA

$18.5 M ('12), $19.5 M ('13), $20 M ('14)

116 IP, 9.47 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9, 3.26 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 3.18 xFIP, 3.0 fWAR

Everyone

Bruce Chen

KC

$4.5 M ('12-'13)

95.0 IP, 6.54 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9, 4.83 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 1.2 fWAR, FanGraphs

N/A

Jason Hammel

BAL

$4.75 M ('12), Arb-Elig ('13)

99.2 IP, 8.76 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.87 HR/9, 3.43 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 3.33 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR, FanGraphs

Competitive-N/A

Jason Vargas

SEA

$4.85 M ('12), Arb-Elig ('13)

117 IP, 6.15 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.97 FIP, 4.39 xFIP, 0.2 fWAR

ATL

Edinson Volquez

SAD

$2.2375 M ('12), Arb-Elig ('13)

107.1 IP, 8.22 K/9, 5.28 BB/9, 0.67 HR/9, 3.52 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 4.34 xFIP, 0.7 fWAR, FanGraphs

ATL

*Stats may not be as up-to-date as they should be


Comparable Trades/Asking Prices:

Top Tier:

The number one trade target in the 2012 deadline sweepstakes among starting pitchers, Matt Garza, has been compared to Ubaldo Jiminez and the asking price for him in 2011. That deal netted Colorado Joe Gardner (2009 3rd-rounder then in Hi-A), Alex White (BA's No. 47 prospect pre-2011), Matt McBride (middling 26 year old 1B in AA), and Drew Pomeranz (BA's No. 61 prospect pre-2011) for what was at the time a potential ace in the making having a down year. Jiminez came along with team control through 2015 and a reputation as a clubhouse cancer (though this became much more public following the trade). The centrepiece of the deal, Pomeranz, was a former No. 5 overall draft pick from 2010 and the No. 61 prospect in baseball prior to 2011 according to Baseball America. Pomeranz was in the midst of a strong season in the Cleveland system and shot up to the No. 30 rank in baseball in Baseball America's offseason rankings.

Another comparable might be the Cliff Lee deal in December 2009 which saw the Phillies trade the ace (and deadline acquisition from the preceding summer) to the Seattle Mariners for prospects J.C. Ramirez (20-year old in Hi-A coming off 5+ ERA season with 2.09 K/BB), Philippe Aumont (No. 11 overall draft pick in 2007 and BA's No. 93 pre-2010 and 2009 prospect) and Tyson Gillies (a CF coming off a .900+ OPS season in HI-A ball). At the time, Lee had one year remaining on his contract before free agency and while he was clearly a better pitcher in 2009 than Garza is in 2012, the compensation picks that Seattle would have received had he left via Free Agency after 2010 make their values comparable.

Buy Low:

There is a potential to buy-low on an under-performer like Tim Lincecum who has only one year remaining on his deal with the Giants after 2012. The Giants already have the makings of a stellar rotation locked up for the foreseeable future with the recent deals with Matt Cain/Madison Bumgarner and may believe Lincecum's best days are behind him and could be the next Zito if given a lucrative extension. Though Lincecum is vastly under-performing his ~$20 million contract this year, he has recently shown flashes of his Cy Young-potential and is still likely to command a lucrative contract after next year even if he isn't a finalist for the Cy in '13. The Giants are seemingly always looking to upgrade offensively and perhaps there could be a deal to be had centred around Travis Snider. I doubt that would be enough to satisfy the Giants even with a Lo-A arm in the mix and there is a lot of doubt about whether AA would even be interested in taking on such a high risk contract like Lincecum's who is potentially on the decline with dropping velocity and a violent delivery/injury risk.

Why We Should Care What Happens at the Deadline:

The Jays have an obvious need for an improved rotation though it might not be advisable for us to sell out the future for one of the many rental options listed above (despite our superstar's public pleadings) when they could be signed for nothing in the offseason in time for 2013 when the Jays are better positioned for a realistic run at the AL East or one of the two Wild Cards. If someone like Liriano or Marcum (if he can get healthy) became available on the cheap in a Bedard-like trade for one or more of our plentiful expendable prospects, there would be little downside to acquiring them. However, Rosenthal or Morosi (who can keep track of these things) has reported that the Blue Jays have been most active in scouting pitchers with at least one year of control remaining after this season though I wouldn't rule out a pitcher who is a potential FA based strictly on their tweet.

Personal Wish List for the Toronto Blue Jays:

1. Greinke/Hamels + Extension

2. Francisco Liriano

3. Shaun Marcum

4. Matt Garza

5. Wandy Rodriguez

6. Ryan Dempster

7. Tim Lincecum

8. Felix Hernandez

9. Derek Lowe

10. Brandon McCarthy

Suggestions only for realistic or purposely outlandish trades in the comments please?

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