The Major League Baseball trade deadline is slowly approaching and it appears that the pitching market is growing. The Philadelphia Phillies have been actively shopping Cole Hamels for some time now—but may find themselves in a position where they are forced to hold onto the left-hander. As the deadline approaches, teams will decide whether they should buy or sell players for a better return. There are several players on expiring deals that come to the forefront of low-price options in terms of what a team needs to give up. The talk around Philadelphia has been to deal Hamels before the deadline because of the future free-agent pitching market. But there may be an elite pitching market available at the trade deadline.
There is no doubt that Cole Hamels is a top-tier pitcher on a pretty affordable contract. Hamels deal could go through the 2019 season. Each of the next three years, Hamels is set to make $23.5 million with an option year in 2019 worth an additional $20 million. That makes Hamels available with four-year and a max of $90.5 million left. The Phillies could eat some of that money in hopes of yielding a higher return for their asset—but that really shouldn’t be necessary with the favorable deal.
With that said, a market of very good middle-of-the-rotation arms has emerged. These arms could entertain a team like the Dodgers or Red Sox—who have been linked to Hamels. In this market, there could be Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos and Dan Haren. These three arms have all been rumored to be available.
Each of the three listed above could provide a team with an adequate to above-average arm down the stretch. The most obvious to seek would be Jeff Samardzija—who started the season off slow but has since rebounded. Samardzija will be a free agent at the end of the season, which means the acquiring team won’t be locked into a deal. Samardzija could be a cheap, yet quality purchase for a team like the Dodgers. This could allow him to slot behind Kershaw and Greinke in their rotation.
Mat Latos would be the second-best choice of these three. While there are some injury concerns going forward, it could make the right-hander slightly cheaper. Again, this is another one year deal so the acquiring team wouldn’t be on the hook next season. Latos has pitched much better than his 4.90 ERA if we look at his 3.50 FIP. The injury risk for Latos may keep teams away, but his strikeout, walk and home run per nine rates are all in line with his career average. I would bet Latos’ ERA gets closer to his FIP and xFIP by the end of the season.
The least attractive, but still viable, arm is Dan Haren. At this point, I would say Haren is a number five starter at best. This season has been kind of Haren, who has a 3.24 ERA with a significantly higher FIP and xFIP. Haren would most likely be a small trade or packaged in a deal with a player like Latos. Sure the luck could continue, but I think Haren is a regression candidate in the second-half of the season.
Through the above-average to adequate arms, I would say Samardzija and Latos would be smart buys and Haren would not be. But, if you needed two arms and the price remained similar—taking Latos and Haren wouldn’t be terrible.
The next tier of starting pitchers features a few household names that may be available come the trade deadline. The list below compares the upper-tier of starter that may be available at the trade deadline.
I bet two of the names on the list above may shock you. There are no guarantees in this list, but with the struggles in San Diego, I think James Shields could be traded. A move involving David Price is not likely, but he should remain a name open for discussion. Let’s not forget that Miguel Cabrera is still sidelined with an injury, and that could really hurt the Tigers prior to the deadline. If Detroit falls back in the race between now and the deadline, they could seek a large haul for the Cy Young candidate.
James Shields signed a four-year, $75 million deal with the San Diego Padres this offseason. The Padres appeared to be all-in at the time—and now it appears they may be all out of time this season. Similar to the Cole Hamels deal, Shields has an option year in 2019. The option is for $16 million. If a team makes a deal for Shields, they will be banking on him improving during the second-half and remainder of the deal. Following this year, Shields is due to make $21 million per season through 2018. That would take Shields through his age-36 season.
Thus far, Shields has been a victim of the long-ball, surrendering 19 in 116.2 innings pitched. A concern with Shields is also the elevated walk-rate—which is 3.09 walks per nine innings. While he is walking more batters per nine than at any point in his career, he also is striking out a career best 10.11 hitters per nine. There are some troubling signs and some positives for Shields. A team like the Cubs, who entertained Shields this offseason, may consider making a move to add another quality arm behind Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The struggles of Shields could somewhat hurt his trade value—but if San Diego is out and worried about Shields’ future production, trading the 33-year old may make sense.
The Reds are shopping their ace, Johnny Cueto. Cueto will be a free-agent at the end of this season, so a team trading for Cueto should know the risk associated. Of course, if a team is going all-in, Cueto will be the most likely option. Following this season Cueto will hit free-agency and could seek a deal comparable to Max Scherzer (he has been that good). The price for Cueto has not been discussed, but someone could overpay for the right-hander.
There is no doubt that Johnny Cueto is an elite arm at this point. Of all starting pitchers to throw at least 200 innings during 2013-2015, Cueto ranks fifth in ERA (2.47), 36th in FIP (3.31) and 27th in xFIP (3.21). Those are some pretty valuable numbers. If we shrink the sample to 200 innings over the last two seasons, Cueto ranks sixth in ERA (2.41), 27th in FIP (3.22) and 20th in xFIP (3.20). Cueto consistently performs in the top-tier of pitchers and has outperformed his FIP and xFIP. Cueto and Hamels will be referred to as the top-two available arms—as long as the Tigers still contend.
If the Tigers fall out of the race, which is possible at this point, David Price would become an attractive commodity. David Price was dealt from the Rays to the Tigers at the deadline last season. This season, Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball yet again—but the Tigers, according to WAR, have the worst staff in baseball. The Miguel Cabrera injury threw another wrench at the Tigers, so it will be interesting to see if they can overcome losing their perennial MVP candidate. If not, look out for Price’s name near the deadline.
An interesting option for teams is veteran left-hander Scott Kazmir. At one point Kazmir’s career was in jeopardy, but the 31-year-old has found a way to become a top arm again. In 2015, Kazmir owns a 2.49 ERA, 3.18 FIP and 3.50 xFIP. All of those metrics are very good, and quite valuable. At the end of the season, Kazmir will become a free-agent. The acquiring team would have the risk of trading off future-assets for a rental. Kazmir has pitched like a front-line starter the last two years—sporting a 3.18 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 3.56 xFIP.
The haul for Kazmir may not be too much either. This year he has missed some time due to injuries. Although brief injuries, missing time at all is concerning. Most recently, Kazmir exited a start against the Yankees with a triceps injury. He is currently listed as day-to-day and threw a 50 pitch bullpen. He should be fine. There is simply no denying that Scott Kazmir could be a valuable trade chip and will be cheaper than Cole Hamels while having success in the American League.
Each of the pitchers above could bring some trouble to the Cole Hamels trade market. If a team wants a very good pitcher for the long-term, Hamels is a good choice. The issue is the return that the Phillies will be seeking for Hamels’ services. If a team isn’t interested in giving up their prospects, they could look to acquire a cheaper arm like Kazmir or Samardzija for the short-term. There is no doubt the pitching market will have many names floating around near the deadline. There are even names like Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner and Mike Leake that I did not mention. It may not be crazy to speculate about the Phillies holding onto Hamels until the winter. The market for starting pitching near the trade deadline will be quite populated—and it will be interesting to see how it changes the market for Cole Hamels.
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