If your favorite team is contending for a playoff spot — or harboring dreams of contending — chances are, they could use an extra starting pitcher or two to fortify their rotation. Your favorite team is not alone, because there is no such thing as having too many quality starting pitchers, not when winning a title is the goal.
Getting that help, though, won’t be easy. Costs are high. Supplies are low. Think of the trade market like trying to find a cheap rental car or baseball/basketball cards are a retail store. Probably ain’t happening.
Cardinals president of operations John Mozeliak was looking for help on the market a few weeks ago, after ace Jack Flaherty landed on the IL, and talked with reporters about that experience on Monday: “We didn’t really see a whole lot out there that we thought was going to make a difference.”
Yep. Pickings are slim and prices are high. Not exactly a buyer’s paradise. Let’s break down the market.
Hey, we’re good! No deals now
Once upon a time, the Reds seemed almost likely to part ways with either Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo, or maybe even both. But now? They’re 15-10 in June and have a chance to contend for the NL Central title, which would be the first back-to-back playoff berths since the days of the Big Red Machine in the mid 1970s. They’re still six behind the Brewers, but at the moment it’s looking doubtful that the Reds will ship away either pitcher anytime soon. A bad stretch into the All-Star break could change that, though.
Same thing for Max Scherzer. The free-agent-to-be was going to be the prize of this trade deadline, a veteran three-time Cy Young winner who is still pitching at an elite level. In anticipation of the inevitable trade rumors, his agent, Scott Boras, went so far as to say that Scherzer would require an extension to waive his no-trade rights. But the Nationals have had a splendid June, rattling off a 17-9 record to pull into second place in the NL East, within three games of a Mets team struggling to find offense. Same thing as the Reds — they’re probably not selling unless things fall apart.
Oh, and not much was expected from the Giants this year, right? The thought going into the season was that Kevin Gausman, who accepted the qualifying offer extended by the team last offseason, would be traded if he was having a solid season. A quick glance at the standings shows why that won’t happen. The Giants are one of the best teams in baseball, and Gausman would be the top Cy Young candidate if Jacob deGrom didn’t exist.
Maybe when healthy?
The most famous not-officially-a-no-hitter no-hitter this year belongs to Madison Bumgarner, a seven-inning gem against the Braves in late April. That was part of a brilliant stretch that produced a 0.90 ERA over five starts. Since then, though? A 10.13 ERA in four starts and his current spot on the IL with shoulder issues. He shouldn’t be out too long, but nobody is trading for a starter with a sore shoulder.
John Means was red-hot to start the season, throwing a no-hitter and posting stellar start after stellar start. He’s under club control through 2025, which means if the Orioles decided to move him for the right offer — it would have to be a ransom — he would be the type of win-now, win-later addition that lots of forward-thinking teams crave. Remember how the White Sox landed Eloy Jimenez for a couple of years of Jose Quintana? Well, Means is on the IL with a shoulder issue and is expected out through the All-Star break.
Matthew Boyd is another lefty with a lot of upside and a bit of club control (he’s arbitration-eligible for the final time this offseason, then can be a free agent after the 2022 season). Like Means, he was cruising along with a solid bounce-back year — 3.44 ERA in 13 starts after a 6.71 mark in 12 starts in 2020 — but like Means, he’s on the IL through at least the All-Star break (tendinitis/inflammation in his left arm).
And, yet another pitcher off to a solid start but now on the IL: Michael Pineda’s career rebounded in Minnesota, where he’s posted a 3.86 ERA in 42 starts since 2019, including a 3.70 mark in 2021. But he’s been on the IL since June 14 with forearm tightness, though he’s likely back before Means or Boyd.
James Paxton signed a one-year deal with the Mariners this offseason. It seemed like a great fit; the big lefty was coming back to his baseball home, where he’d revive his career and maybe bring back a decent prospect or two when he was eventually traded. Nope. He made one start, faced five batters and had to leave. Tommy John surgery ended his season.
So who’s actually available and healthy?
Here are seven pitchers would could actually be moved at some point in the next month.
1. Kyle Gibson, Rangers: This is Gibson’s ninth year in the bigs, and he’s never been better. He has one year left on his deal, a $7 million steal if he’s pitching like this. Gibson, a right-hander who played his college ball at Mizzou, leads the AL with his 2.00 ERA. In a season when starting pitchers are regularly checking out after five innings, Gibson has lasted at least six full frames in 12 of his 15 starts, including at least seven five times.
He’s the prize of the market at the moment, and someone will have to overpay to get him. Remember, though, the Rangers had a similar situation last year at the trade deadline with Lance Lynn — a highly effective pitcher with a year remaining on his contract — and they didn’t wind up trading him until the offseason.
2. Danny Duffy, Royals: He’s spent time on the IL, too, missing a few weeks with a forearm issue. Duffy was stellar before going on the shelf, posting a 1.94 ERA in seven starts. The Royals have slowly worked him back into the mix. He’s a free agent after this season, and it’s not out of the question that the Royals would retain him at the right price. It’s also not crazy to think they’d trade him now, get a few prospects in return, then try to bring him back as a free agent after the season.
3. Jon Gray, Rockies: He’s a free agent after this year, so he’s almost certain to be moved. The Rockies’ quest to make that happen got a boost when Gray returned from a stint on the IL and threw five shutout innings, recording 10 strikeouts in Milwaukee against the first-place Brewers. For the season, he’s at a 3.97 ERA in 13 starts, and he’s actually been better in Colorado (3.25 ERA) than on the road (5.32 ERA).
4. Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks: Kelly is a unique story. He didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 30 years old; after struggling in the minors, he found his stride as a reliable starter in Korea. The Diamondbacks signed him before the 2019 season to a three-year deal with an option for 2023 ($5.25 million). He’s had a few rocky stretches in 2021, but he’s allowed just one run in his past two starts, covering 13 innings.
5. German Marquez, Rockies: He’s less likely to move than Gray, mostly because he’ll cost more and the Rockies don’t have to move him. Marquez is under contract for $26 million, total, for 2022-23, with a $16 million club option ($2.5 million buyout) for 2024. He has a 3.99 ERA and 3.51 FIP this year; his walk rate is up, but his strikeout numbers are right at his career average (8.9 per nine).
6. Tyler Anderson, Pirates: He’s not the guy you trade for as a postseason ace, but he’s a guy who could help you get there. His ERA’s not great (4.75), but look at Anderson this way: When he starts, there’s a good chance your team will be in the ballgame in the second half of the contest. He’s allowed more than three earned runs only three times in his 15 starts, and he’s lasted at least five innings every time he’s started a game. What more do you want from a No. 4 or 5 starter if you’re chasing a playoff spot?
7. Mike Minor, Royals: The 33-year-old is slated to earn $10 million in 2022, with a $13 million club option ($1 million buyout) for 2023. His ERA this year isn’t pretty (5.12), but his other numbers aren’t bad. For example, his 4.03 FIP, 9.3 K/9 and 3.48 K/BB numbers are all better than what he posted for the Rangers in 2019, when he had a 3.59 ERA and made the AL All-Star squad.