Is the trade market for elite starting pitching collapsing?
Two weeks ago, it appeared that both Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels and Brewers righty Zack Greinke could be moved before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
As it turns out, neither might be, increasing the demand for the next tier of available starters — and forcing pitching-hungry teams into scramble mode.
Hamels, who pitches Saturday against the Giants (4:05 p.m. ET, MLB on FOX) is in talks with the Phillies on a six-year contract, according to major-league sources.
Greinke, meanwhile, is in the middle of an 11-day layoff to “recharge his batteries,” according to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
So, one ace (Hamels) soon might be unavailable, and the other (Grienke) might be losing appeal, if the Brewers even want to trade him.
The ripple effect could be stunning.
The trade values of pitchers such as Cubs right-hander Matt Garza and Rays righty James Shields could rise dramatically.
Teams debating whether to move starting pitching — think the Rays, Marlins and Athletics — might grow more inclined to sell.
Heck, a surprise entry into the market or two would not be out of question — though it appears only the threat of war would get the Mariners to consider trading Felix Hernandez.
Right now, virtually the entire sport is day to day and series to series. And it’s only going to get hairier in the days ahead.
The Brewers, 7 1/2 games back in the NL Central and six behind in the wild-card race, are trying to get into contention, in which case they probably would not move Greinke.
If they do, the task will be more difficult than before.
One rival executive from a team interested in Greinke responded with a one-word answer when asked if he was alarmed by the recent developments with the pitcher.
An exec from another team with interest in Greinke, when asked the same question, said, “He scares me, period.”
Teams, fairly or not, do not consider Greinke entirely trustworthy, in part due to his past struggles with social anxiety disorder.
Combine that with the price — both in dollars and prospects — and the Brewers could be in a challenging position.
Greinke, 29, is owed nearly $6 million in salary. He has allowed 14 earned runs in his last 14 innings. And, under the new labor agreement, a team that acquires him in a trade could not receive draft-pick compensation if he left as a free agent at the end of the season.
“It’s a hard one to feel comfortable with,” the exec said. “You’re paying a premium (in talent), and you’re paying a premium to keep him (if he signs long-term).”
Of course, Greinke can change the conversation when he rejoins the Brewers’ rotation on Tuesday in Philadelphia. His break could invigorate him. And if he pitches well, teams likely will start clamoring for him again.
Still, most clubs prefer Hamels, a former World Series MVP who is accustomed to big-market pressure in Philadelphia.
The Phillies’ six-year offer to Hamels seems likely to grow to the $130 million to $140 million range. If that happens, Hamels will face one heck of a choice:
Take the sure thing and live in Philly happily ever after. Or wait three months to become a free agent and secure perhaps an even bigger payday.
For most of us, the choice would be easy. For Hamels, it might be easy, too, given that he is comfortable with both his team and his city.
Yet, Hamels is not like most of us.
He possesses not only the supreme confidence of an elite athlete, but also is something of a maverick. Privately, he probably wonders, “What took the Philies this long?” Surely, he is intrigued by free agency.
If Hamels rejects the Phillies, the club then will be forced to decide whether to trade him — and that decision would be more complicated than it might appear.
First off, the Phillies are not ready to concede their season, even though they’re 13 1/2 games out in the NL East and 10 out in the wild-card race.
First baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and right-hander Roy Halladay are back from injuries. The team, winners of four of its last five games, finally is playing better. A successful homestand against the Giants and Brewers, and who knows?
There also is the matter of business: Even if the Phillies fade, they sold 3 million tickets before the season even began. Trade Hamels, quit on the season, and the number of no-shows over the final two months would be staggering.
The best solution, at least short-term, is to sign Hamels and end all other discussion. If that happens — and if Greinke is off the market or diminished in value — the entire dynamic of the trade market could shift rapidly.
The Rays, while competing for a wild card, might be more inclined to move one or more of their starting pitchers. Ditto for the Marlins, who could trade righties Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, and Athletics, who are “highly unlikely” to move right-hander Bartolo Colon, according to a major-league source — unless, of course, some team is willing to overpay.
Eleven days to the deadline. Eleven days of drama. Eleven days of head-spinning, mind-blowing fun.