I refuse to believe that this is it, that the trade market for starting pitchers is essentially down to the Tampa Bay Rays’ struggling right-hander, James Shields, and the Florida Marlins’ oft-injured righty, Josh Johnson.
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Something else is going on. Actually, probably a lot is going on.
Teams aren’t “shopping” players; heaven knows, that never happens. But I’ll bet teams are “listening,” the term executives prefer to avoid looking like street vendors who will sell anything at any time — and trust me, there isn’t much difference.
I can’t tell you if the following nine pitchers are available. All I can tell you is that if I were a general manager in a market like this — a market where the demand for pitching far exceeds the supply — I’d be “listening” on these guys.
Not because I necessarily want to trade them. But because their value might be peaking as the non-waiver deadline looms at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Oh, I know I’ve been down this path before. Every time I write the Mariners should trade Felix, their fans respond, “Leave us alone,” general manager Jack Zduriencik says, “Never,” and the Mariners proceed to finish last again.
OK, maybe the Mariners can sign Felix to an extension before his contract expires in 2014. But they are going to need to beat Cole Hamels’ new six-year, $144 million deal by a significant margin. And the success rate of such contracts is quite small.
Meanwhile, the Mariners are multiple players away from contention. Maybe ownership refuses to move Felix, who is the team’s only marketable player after the trade of Ichiro. But if the M’s won’t even gauge Hernandez’s value, it is nothing short of malpractice. At this point, aren’t they just a wee bit curious?
Matt Garza, Cubs
The consensus is that teams will shy away from Garza, who last pitched on July 21 because of a slight fluid buildup in his triceps area and will not start again before the deadline.
Yet, several executives have mentioned to me in the past several days that Garza would be less of a health risk than Johnson. And remember, the White Sox acquired right-hander Jake Peavy at the 2009 deadline when he had been on the disabled list since June 13 with a strained tendon in his right ankle.
Teams continue to call the Cubs to check on Garza’s health and pitching schedule, according to major league sources. A trade, however, remains “doubtful,” one source said; the Cubs will not offer a discounted price based on a minor injury.
Bartolo Colon, Athletics
I love that I am about to write this: The problem with moving Colon is the A’s will need him to start Game 1 of a postseason series.
The Athletics actually might be better off trading one of their young starters for a promising hitter with comparable service time. But how good would Colon look right now to a team such as the Orioles, or even the Rangers?
The A’s lead the AL in rotation ERA. They’ve got three more starters — righty Brandon McCarthy and lefties Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden — possibly coming off the disabled list in August. And righty Dan Straily, perhaps the best pitcher in the organization, is at Triple-A.
(Don’t believe me on Straily? Well, he has allowed only 27 hits in 53 innings for Sacramento in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, striking out 67 and walking only 14).
Colon is earning only $2 million, and the A’s will want value in return. I sort of doubt that GM Billy Beane will trade him. But I don’t doubt that, over the next 48 hours, Beane will do something.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
This one is complicated, and perhaps a bit of a stretch.
Lester’s stock is down. Some fans would rather see the team trade right-hander Josh Beckett. And GM Ben Cherington made a point of telling me Saturday he still believes in Lester and that the organization is at its best when it rallies around struggling players, helping them get through difficult times.
The fact is, Lester is an above-average starting pitcher — as is Beckett, for that matter. But if the Sox are going to do something “bold” — team president Larry Lucchino’s word — trading an established starter for younger pitchers might not be a bad idea, not with the team one game under .500 and seemingly going nowhere.
Phil Hughes, Yankees
Not as crazy an idea as you might think.
I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to compromise their starting-pitching depth, even with an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL East. But Hughes is a free agent after next season, and he again might be nothing more than a reliever in the playoffs if lefty Andy Pettitte makes a successful return from a fractured left ankle.
OK, that’s a big “if” on Pettitte, but the Yankees wouldn’t exactly be barren even if they traded Hughes. Righty David Phelps, whom some club officials expect to be in the team’s 2013 rotation, has a 2.59 ERA in 48-2/3 innings, including three starts. And righty Joba Chamberlian soon will return from right ankle surgery to bolster the bullpen.
What if the Yankees could turn Hughes into a younger pitcher or, perhaps, a right fielder who next season could replace Nick Swisher, a potential free agent?
Is that so crazy?
Homer Bailey, Reds
Yes, the Reds rank second in the National League in rotation ERA, and Bailey’s 3.53 ERA is nearly a run lower than it was in a comparable number of innings last season, even if his peripherals are about the same.
Still, I sense the Reds are not entirely comfortable with their rotation. Their biggest need is a leadoff man or cleanup hitter, but they’ve asked around about starters; one rival executive described them as “all over the place.”
Right-handers Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos would pitch the first two games of a postseason series for the Reds, but the team likely would want better than Bailey, Bronson Arroyo or Mike Leake for Game 3.
Could Bailey and prospects bring a pitcher such as Shields or Johnson? Don’t know. But it’s an idea the Reds should explore.
Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
It hardly would be blasphemy to trade an All-Star, not when there are about 126 of them.
If D-backs GM Kevin Towers is willing to listen on right fielder Justin Upton, he surely would listen on Miley, particularly when the D-backs would be dealing from their rotation, an area of strength.
Lefty Joe Saunders is a more obvious candidate to be moved, but Miley would bring a greater return, maybe even the third baseman (Chase Headley?) the D-backs need.
The Diamondbacks, currently resting righty Trevor Bauer because of fatigue, could replace Miley with one of their talented minor league lefties, Tyler Skaggs or Patrick Corbin.
Justin Masterson, Indians
Such a move would seem counterintuitive; the Indians have been trying to add a starting pitcher, not subtract one. But seriously, how realistic is it for this club to consider itself a contender?
The Indians entered Sunday’s play 50-51, the same record as the Red Sox. Cleveland is not likely to catch the White Sox and Tigers in the AL Central, or even grab the second wild card. And Masterson, earning $3.825 million, is growing more expensive, with two years of arbitration remaining.
I’m not sure that Masterson, who is 7-9 with a 4.47 ERA, would bring a great return — he struggles against lefties, and his ERA on the road is 6.05. But could he help a team as either a back-end starter or reliever? Absolutely.
Bud Norris, Astros
So far, the Astros have mostly dumped overpaid veterans for marginal prospects in trades that likely will prove inconsequential. Norris holds greater value, even if he is no one’s idea of an ace.
Forget this season — Norris missed time with a sprained left knee, and he has a 5.05 ERA for the most wretched team in baseball. But a year ago, Norris had a 3.77 ERA in 186 innings. And after this season, he will still be under club control for three more years.
He would be a worthy long-term addition for a team such as the Orioles or Blue Jays and the kind of pitcher who could fit nicely with the Cardinals, against whom Norris is 7-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 career starts.