Monday, 16 June 2014

In Your Clubhouse, Taking Your Pitchers: AL Edition

Despite how well he's pitched lately, it's pretty clear that, barring injury, if the Blue Jays were to acquire a starting pitcher to anchor the rotation right now, and really turn this team in to something nasty, it would be JA Happ being relegated to the bullpen or the minors or wherever the fuck.  Obviously Buehrle isn't going anywhere, and if Drew Hutchison can stay healthy and stretched out and not need an extra day or two between starts, he'll remain in the rotation as well.  Stroman's looked great in the rotation, albeit over a very small sample, and RA Dickey is also a pitcher.

No matter who gets bumped in this scenario, though, that's not really what I'm here for.  It's mid-June, and we're about 6 weeks away from the trade deadline.  We have some sort of idea who is going to be contending, and who is already fucking out of the playoff picture.  We may as well go through the teams and try to figure out who the targets may end up being.

There are some obvious targets: really good pitchers who are approaching free agency who are on really bad teams.  Jeff Samardzija was in the banner photo before I changed it, and David Price is there now.  Both are obvious targets, though both of these guys may end up being outside the Jays' price range, as AA has stated that the Jays prefer a rental over a player with more control; he doesn't want to move top prospects or crush the depth anymore than what was done last year.

I'm just going to go team-to-team, division-to-division and explore.

AL East

I don't really expect the Jays to get David Price, for a multitude of reasons.  The first is that they are in the same division as the Rays, and the second is that Price is controllable through next season. Price, in effect, would be pitching against Tampa next year, rather than, say, pitching in the NL-- Tampa wouldn't have to worry about running in to Price other than during inter-league series.  The Jays would also be paying a large price for a year and a half of Price, and they apparently don't want to go crazy with the prospect sales.

Erik Bedard has pitched reasonably well (albeit in a good ballpark and with a strong defence) in Tampa this year, on a one year deal, and he might fetch a low-level prospect.  Other than that though, the Rays have a bunch of cheap, controllable pitchers in their rotation, and have little reason to move them at this point.

For the same reasons as the Price thing, I don't really expect any other trades from within the division either; New York and Baltimore are doing well enough that they aren't going to be selling, and I don't imagine Boston has any interest in improving the Jays either, after the Farrell fiasco.

Having said that, if Boston does completely fall out of it-- and they pretty much need to play .600 baseball from this point forward to have any chance-- I would expect them to sell at least something.  They do have a few pitchers in their rotation right now that could be useful to someone, though a lot of their team is under contract through 2015 or later.  They do have some pretty decent pitching prospects if they wanted to move some starters.

Jon Lester is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and is having a great year, so he'll (a) fetch a lot in a trade relative to, say, letting him walk for a draft pick, not to mention the immediate return vs. a late first rounder who will take multiple years to develop, and (b) is going to cost a lot to sign long-term from 2015 onwards.  Lester has mentioned that he wants to stay in Boston for the rest of his career, but we all know how often that's bullshit.

John Lackey has rekindled his career last year and so far this year, and he also has an option on his contract for next year at $500k.  He makes what's left on his $15.25MM contract, and there's practically 0 risk at taking him on for next year.

Buchholz and Peavy have both been a mess this year, and Felix Doubront seems like the kind of arm you'd want to build around.  De La Rosa, Workman, and Webster are all on their way up or are there, so Boston might want to move something.

AL Central

The Tigers obviously aren't selling anything, and I don't think the Royals will either, unless they just go on a huge losing streak.  James Shields would be interesting if KC does fall off, but I kind of doubt that happens.  Cleveland probably hangs on as long as possible to make up their minds, so the two real sellers are Minnesota and Chicago at this juncture.

Cleveland is pretty likely to move Justin Masterson at some point if things do go any farther south, though he's largely stunk to this point in 2014; strikeouts are down, walks are up, and velocity is way down.  ERA estimators aren't exactly banking on his improvement, though his peripherals and batted ball numbers are close enough to being in line with his career numbers that a comeback wouldn't be a big surprise.  Might be worth a flyer.

The only other useful piece in Cleveland's rotation is budding ace Cory Kluber, and I don't see any reason they'd want to move him.

The Twins have Phil Hughes, but he just signed a multi-year deal in Minnesota, and I don't imagine they have a huge interest in dealing him halfway through the first year of that contract.  He's pitched very well to this point, and may have spun himself in to a situation where he can be of value to someone.  I guess the big issue is that he's pounding the strikezone, but isn't giving up any homeruns.  Moving from Yankee Stadium to Target Field is obviously going to do that, so his stats need to be taken with a grain of salt, but a 3.46 xFIP looks pretty good regardless.  I'd say that Minnesota wants Hughes to be part of the plan, though.

The White Sox have Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, and then absolutely nothing.  Sale would cost a goddamn fortune if the White Sox are even interested in selling him, which I doubt.  Jose Quintana just got a five-year extension this past offseason, and is probably also going nowhere, given how well he's pitched.  Everyone else in that rotation is a testament to why the White Sox are in last place in the division.

AL West

The A's are obviously buyers, and are actually probably buying starters.  The Angels are the current wild card leader, which makes them buyers too.  Seattle seems like they're going for it this year, so they're pretty unlikely to sell anything either.

Having said that, they're only a game over .500 and 7 games out of first in the division, so they're far from a sure buyer.  If things get bad, though, there's not much to move around.  Felix is staying put, and Hisashi Iwakuma is relatively cheap next year, with a $7MM option.  If the M's decide to sell, it will likely be one of their young pitchers being moved for an impact position player.  Between Taijuan Walker, Erasmo Ramirez, Roenis Elias, James Paxton, along with Felix and Iwakuma-- someone might have to move sooner rather than later.  Elias isn't anything special right now, but there's certainly a bit of upside there, and Ramirez has pitched like dick this year.  Unfortunately, the Jays don't really have the position depth or the MLB-ready prospect to move.  Anthony Gose is a fit for Seattle, but that's not enough to bring something major back, and he's probably a contingency plan in case Colby Rasmus jets in the offseason.

Texas is an interesting case.  They'd be nuts to trade Yu Darvish, especially after spending so much money up front to get him.  I feel like I'd want to keep him around for at least most of the 6 years if I spent $50MM for the opportunity to pay him $56MM.

I'd expect Texas to try and move something, somewhere.  They have a lot of money committed to the next few seasons ($109MM for '15, plus arbitration raises and options), and a lot of it is currently on the disabled list.  Fielder, Harrison, Holland, Moreland and Soto are all hurt right now, and it's pretty impressive that they're at or around .500 at this point.  They have a top-10-or-so farm system that could graduate some guys to the bigs soon, so they may want to move some more expensive guys and try to get younger.

Off the top of my head, Darvish, Holland, Perez, Tepesch (Harrison can't really be relied upon) are the main 'when-healthy' rotation, though Texas is usually pretty active in the offseasons, and they have a couple of decent prospects coming through the woodwork.  I can certainly see them trying to move position players for pitching help, or hoping to retool for the future.  Ultimately, I don't expect Texas to move much pitching, unless Derek Holland comes back before the all-star break, pitches well, and gets moved.  Colby Lewis could be worth a shot, considering his .394 babip, but it's tough to call him an upgrade over anything.

Finally, Houston.  The Astros are in a pretty full-fledged rebuild mode, letting the young guys play, for the most part.  Scott Feldman is interesting.  He's striking out approximately nobody, but his LOB% is due for regression (maybe with a better defense behind him?), but I'm still not entirely sure he's an upgrade over anybody on the Jays right now.

Everybody else in this rotation is young, cheap, and have several years of club control remaining-- exactly what the Astros are looking for.  I'm sure more than one of these guys are going to get squeezed out, but there's no reason for that to happen now.  They're much more likely to hang on to all of their young guys and let them develop while they're still cheap, and then trade them before they get too expensive if they aren't winning.

The one exception is Collin McHugh.  McHugh is 27 on Thursday, and is severely out-performing his career numbers.  There's definitely a change in his strategy so far this year (he's pitching both up and down in the zone this year with his fastball) and it has led to more strikeouts, but he's 27 and hasn't done anything before this year.  It's a pretty small sample, and he may very well completely explode before the deadline, and the Astros may have zero interest in moving McHugh, but he could be a sell-high candidate for the Astros.

As a whole, there's really not a whole lot going on in the AL.  The best targets appear to be on teams that aren't likely to send much our way.  As far as AL teams go, Boston and Texas may be the most likely teams to move starters, but neither are sure things, many teams will be interested, and there's a strained relationship between the Jays and Red Sox already.

It looks to me as though if the Jays acquire a pitcher at the deadline, it will come from the National League.  We'll look at that tomorrow.

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