Trade winds: starting pitchers

During last night’s Red Sox-Yankees telecast, ESPN flashed a graphic featuring the top five pitchers it considered likely to be traded before this season’s deadline. Plainly, the team for which a player plays can have a considerable impact on his value and production. Depending on the situation, a player may have nowhere to go but up or down in just about any trade scenario.

In other cases, a wider range of performance-related outcomes may be in play. If you can correctly anticipate a trade (or non-trade) and its effects on a player, you can get in front of the value shift (or perceived value shift) and tilt the market in your favor. So, today I’ll offer my thoughts on the five pitchers noted in last night’s broadcast and on whether I anticipate their surrounding situation to improve from a fantasy perspective.

Cole Hamels
Of all the pitchers in this column, I think Hamels’ value should be impact the least by any trade rumor and would suffer the least impact on his value if traded.

First of all, I’m not so sure Hamels will be traded at all, despite the tone of the talk surrounding him. Whether the Phillies are in contention seems like it should be irrelevant; Cole Hamels is not their problem. It would be shortsighted to move Hamels for that reason. In fact, I’m not sure if the Phillies consider themselves a non-contender. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this pseudo-dynasty. However, if the team is certain they’ll be unable to resign him and they are still floundering in a few weeks, they may decide to cash in what they can get.

Cole Hamels is such a terrific pitcher that he should be a fantasy ace no matter where he goes. It’s unlikely he could go to a worse ballpark. The one thing I’d be wary of, though, is that the Phillies might be reticent to allow a pitcher that good to stay in the NL.

Obviously, it’s preferable for him to stay in the senior circuit from a fantasy perspective (unless you are in an AL-only league). He’s also due a big pay date, so most likely only teams who think they could sign him would be involved. Some potential landing spots could be Los Angeles (NL). St Louis, or a moneyed AL franchise. The Dodgers are rumored to be the frontrunner, and that would be an excellent spot for him, as he’d benefit from a weak division and favorable ballpark. The Dodgers can’t score runs, but the Phillies haven’t been able to either and that hasn’t mattered to Hamels.

Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke loves him some home cooking. Greinke has yet to lose a game at home as a Brewer, flossing a 15-0 record with 177 Ks in 144.2 innings. Some are inclined to look at the Brewers’ record and presume that Greinke would benefit from a trade. I’m not so sure the odds are in his favor. Greinke seems interested in testing the free agency waters regardless, so if teams see him as a rental and it reflects in Milwaukee’s asking price, more teams could be in play.

It’s doubtful he moves within the division, so that means he’s got a 50 percent chance of going to a stronger division if he stays in the NL. If he goes to the AL, that’s a step back because it always is. He could land in a good park, but he’s never pitched better in any place than he has in Miller Park. Overall I don’t think that the odds are in favor of him going to a better situation for pitchers.

Further, the Brewers are not a poor offensive team. They are fifth in the National League in runs scored and fourth in OPS. At 9-3, the Brewers are certainly a good enough team when they have Greinke on the mound.

I’m of the opinion that Greinke is underrated in the first place. So, I’m not sure there’s much opportunity here. Normally, I’d say this is a chance to trade player because there’s a perceived a chance he’ll be better, but I don’t think he will be. But, since I don’t think Greinke is accurately valued initially, I’m not sure such an opportunity will present itself.

James Shields
I think a lot of folks would be surprised if Shields is traded because the Rays are a playoff contender. Yet, I would not be surprised to see him move. I feel this way for a number of reasons.

One, the Rays are crazy (and by crazy I mean wise, which is crazy within the sphere of pro baseball operations) and innovative enough to make the right long term move regardless of the immediate impact.

Two, Shields is the first starting pitcher age 30 or older in the Rays rotation in several years. They clearly have a philosophy and spending model that favors young pitching and a method of continuing to stock their organization with it.

Three, while he’s middling a bit this year, Shields is coming off his best season of his career, and his value could be elevated. He may essentially be closer to ’12 Shields, but ’11 Shields is still going factor into other teams’ perceptions of him, as will the idea that he’s “clutch” because the media stole James Worthy’s nickname and assigned it to him.

Four, the Rays can’t afford to re-sign him and compensation picks for players leaving via free agency have gotten worse. So, the might want to start a bidding war and consider that the best haul they’ll get for him.

Regardless, getting out of the AL East can only help matters. Sure, he loses the support of a really good offensive team, but if he moves to the NL, he gets a significant value jump. I could see him winding up with the Cardinals, actually, given that Hamels would demand top dollar in the off-season and the other three pitchers in this column are in the NL Central (as is Wandy Rodriguez who didn’t make this column but is another name that will float around in trade talks). NL West, plus best offensive support in the league? That sounds good.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza
Remember how I said that for some players things could only get better? Getting out of Chicago is unlikely to worsen the fates of Garza or Dempster. Even if either went to the AL East, he’d have an increased chance at winning games.

Wrigley Field is no pitchers’ picnic, and that entire team, save for Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, and possibly Jeff Samardzija, will be for sale as well. So, things are bad in Chicago and about to get worse… unless there’s a schedule re-write that allows them to play my Mets everyday. Then they’re world beaters!

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Last I checked, the Cardinals were in the NL Central =P