There will be trades before August 2. There will be at least one huge trade. A list of possible trade targets around baseball might include Ryan Braun, Josh Reddick, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Jake McGee, Huston Street and Jay Bruce. Is it possible that all of them are moved in the same 13-team deal? Heck, don’t undershoot it, it might be probable. Don’t ever underestimate the potential for deadline chaos.
Just hope that your team isn’t in the market for starting pitchers. Because if they are, well, I hope you’re in the mood for 3,238 different Andrew Cashner rumors.
He’s on the DL, by the way.
The market for starting pitchers is going to be ghastly, and it’s not just a lack of supply. Back in November, we talked about how next year’s starting pitcher market is going to be a post-apocalyptic grocery store. There was going to be only one reliably excellent starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, and now he’s off the market. Put it like this: James Shields is probably pitching too poorly to opt out and get a bigger contract. But a) it’s close and b) he would be one of the best pitchers on the market.
Again, Shields -- who has allowed 23 baserunners in his seven innings with the Chicago White Sox -- still has a chance to pitch his way into something bigger than the $62 million he has remaining on his contract.
What does this have to do with the August 1 trade market? Pretend you’re the Atlanta Braves. No, wait, don’t sit at a vista point drinking warm beer out of a paper bag and sighing loudly, this is just a hypothetical scenario. Everyone is going to want Julio Teheran. He’s been excellent this year, and he’s under contract for the next three seasons at bargain prices. This is exactly the kind of pitcher everyone should want at the deadline.
Why would the Braves trade him now, when 10 or 12 contenders might be interested, when they can wait until the offseason, when 25 or 26 different teams might be desperate? The haul they got for Shelby Miller can’t have done anything but embolden them, and rightfully so.
This goes for every young pitcher on a modest, multi-year deal. Why would the Tampa Bay Rays trade Matt Moore when his value is at its lowest, when they can hope for a boffo second half and a wheelbarrow full of prospects in a barren trade market? Same goes for Tyson Ross (also on the DL), Sonny Gray or Hector Santiago.
Okay, fine, turn to the pending free agents, the ones that teams need to ditch if they want something more than a compensatory pick in return. Except now we’ve come full circle. The free agent landscape is barren and filled with nothing but radstags and mole rats, so you can guess that there aren’t a lot of premium starters on the market.
Here, let’s rank the possibilities, while acknowledging that teams can crater and fall out of the race in the next month:
1. Rich Hill
The 36-year-old has already made more starts in any season since 2009. He was teammates with Sean Burroughs on the Long Island Ducks at this time last year, and now he’s going to be both the best starting pitcher on the trade market and the best free agent pitcher after the season.
Read that paragraph back to yourself, just to make sure you caught it all. Oh, and he's on the DL, too.
2. CC Sabathia (or someone else from a team that drops out of the race)
We’ll just keep this a catch-all for the teams that might not be in a wild card scramble by the deadline. The New York Yankees still have a chance to put together a winning streak and climb into the race. The Miami Marlins are still just a game behind the New York Mets, so you know they aren’t selling. The Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t dead yet, and neither are the Houston Astros.
But at least one of these teams will sell, and they’ll have pitchers who aren’t going to be on the Teheran side of the age-and-production spectrum, but still worth dealing for. They'll ruin the thesis of this article, at least slightly.
3. Jeremy Hellickson
Take a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example. They don’t need another Jeremy Hellickson. That’s their problem: They have 13 different Jeremy Hellicksons, just with different names, numbers and injury concerns. They need a complement to Clayton Kershaw, a way to recreate the buddy movie they had last year.
Hellickson will help a team that’s a complete mess at the back of the rotation. He’s just about the best starter who’s likely to be dealt.
4. Andrew Cashner
Hurt and mostly ineffective for over a year now. The San Diego Padres might want to take the pick, to be honest, because it comes with the chance of Cashner back on a one-year deal. We might play this game again next year.
5. Ervin Santana?
6. Ricky Nolasco?
This segment is over.
7. Jered Weaver?
THIS SEGMENT IS OVER.
The real answer for a desperate team, then, is a pitcher like Teheran. Recognize that the market is going to be barren, and make your move now. Use a trebuchet to send all of your prospects over the ramparts. Now you’ve opened up a new line of possibilities, from Teheran to Ross to Jimmy Nelson to Jake Odorizzi.
But it’ll cost you. And ask yourself just how excited you would be to see any of those pitchers start a Game 3 for you, much less a Game 1. You can probably stretch it to "somewhat excited" for a couple of them. But last year David Price, Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels were traded.
This year? Not so much. Now let’s check in with the teams that might have interest in at least one more starting pitcher:
- Red Sox
They would have interest in a normal season, at least. Perhaps not this year, not with the competition using diamonds to pay for Papa John's pizzas.
Outfielders will be swapped. Relievers will go for a high price. Infielders are a little scarcer, but a resourceful team will find a way. But beware of the market for starting pitchers. It’s a seller’s market to an extreme I’m not sure we’ve seen before. If you want quality on a short-term deal, you’re fighting over Rich Hill. If you want quality on a long-term deal, you’re ditching about half of your top-10 prospect list.
Good luck, everybody. Start your rumors.