Best MLB Trade Targets: Pitching the Pitchers

Earlier this week, Perry looked at which MLB teams are going to be buyers and which will be sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline (July 31). Now it’s time to figure out which players are going to be on the move and what color they’ll be wearing come August.

When it comes to pitching, the market is flooded this year, not with hurlers, with teams who need one. It’s a seller’s market, which is making Sonny Gray and his 4.45 ERA look like a ripe guava, when really he’s the mango that was perfect when you bought it last week but you left on the counter too long.

 


2017 MLB Trade Deadline Odds: The Pitchers

Sonny Gray (Athletics)

  • Yankees: 5/1
  • Astros: 11/2
  • Red Sox: 13/2
  • Cubs: 9/1

This year’s market sees a handful of wealthy, contending teams in need of a top-end starter. But there aren’t enough to go around, especially with Jose Quintana sporting a 4.37 ERA. That means the Athletics might be able to get a king’s ransom for Gray, even though he hasn’t really performed like a top-two starter since 2015. Teams get desperate at this time of year trying to load up for the playoffs, and Gray’s potential to get back to the 2.73 ERA, 1.08 WHIP pitcher he was two years ago will lead to one of these teams overpaying.

The Yankees and the Astros are the most desperate right now given the injuries they’re dealing with.

Jeff Samardzija (Giants)

  • Astros: 9/1
  • Red Sox: 11/1
  • Yankees: 14/1
  • Stays put: 3/2

Unlike Johnny Cueto (whom we’ll come to next), Samardzija is under contract through 2020. That means two things: (a) he’s a more alluring trade target and (b) the Giants will be less willing to part with him. Management can’t be expecting this disastrous 2017 to be the start of a long-term rebuild. The team has too many basically unmovable contracts to be planning for a complete overhaul. The Giants will head into 2018 hoping for the postseason, so there’s less motivation to deplete the roster of players who could actually help with that.

However, Samardzija may fetch too good a price for the Giants to pass on. He’s been better than his ERA (4.63) suggests; just look at his WHIP (1.14), his career-best Ks-per-nine (10.0), and his ludicrous Ks-per-walk (9.0). The big AL contenders will all come calling. Whoever doesn’t land Gray will put together an attractive package for Samardzija. Since I see Gray going to the Yankees, the Astros and Red Sox are more likely suitors.

Johnny Cueto (Giants)

  • Astros: 6/1
  • Yankees: 7/1
  • Red Sox: 7/1
  • Stays put: 15/1

Cueto is another erstwhile ace struggling to get outs this year, with an ERA over four and a career-worst 1.6 home runs-per-nine. Again, though, his history will generate interest on the trade market, just like Gray. It was only last year that he posted a 2.79 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. He has post-season experience, too (if not a great post-season track record).

Expect the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros to test the waters, and for the Giants to be all ears. Cueto is going to opt out of his contract next year, by all accounts, and there’s no reason for San Fran to hold onto him if they can get anything of value.

Jose Quintana (White Sox)

  • Cubs: 9/1
  • Braves: 12/1
  • Red Sox: 12/1
  • Astros: 12/1
  • Yankees: 12/1
  • Dodgers: 15/1
  • Stays put: 3/1

Quintana was supposed to be the blue-chip stock at this year’s trade deadline, sporting a 3.41 career ERA and solid 1.24 WHIP with the now-rebuilding White Sox. Instead, nearly every facet of the lefty’s game has regressed: he’s walking more batters (3.4 BB-per-nine) and giving up more hits (1.3 WHIP) and runs (4.37 ERA). The bright spot is that he’s fanning hitters at his best rate ever (8.9 Ks-per-nine). He’s also looked much more like himself in his last three starts, going 3-0 while giving up just two earned runs and striking out 20 over 20 complete innings.

The Braves are rumored to be in the mix for his services. That makes more sense that it appears at first glance, with Atlanta sitting 8.5 games back of the playoffs; Quintana is under contract through 2020 (with club options in 2019 and 2020) and owed just $29.85 million over the next three years. If he’s the pitcher we saw the last few years, that’s great value for a young Braves team on the rise. But with Quintana finally turning the corner on his season, the big-market clubs may come calling and outbid Atlanta.

Justin Verlander (Tigers)

  • Dodgers: 15/1
  • Astros: 25/1
  • Rockies: 25/1
  • Stays put: 3/4

Dealing for Verlander is truly a win-now move (and not a terribly strong one). That goes for almost every deadline-deal, to some extent, but this one more so, because Verlander is 34 years old, on the decline, and due $28 million in 2018 and 2019. By dealing for Verlander now, and hoping he can get back to the form we saw in the back-half of last year, you’re mortgaging part of the future.

Add in the fact that (a) the Tigers — like basically every AL team — are still in the hunt for the second Wild Card and (b) Verlander’s value on the trade market is being hampered by a mediocre 2017 (4.47 ERA; 1.45 WHIP), and it’s more likely that the 2011 MVP stays put.

If they do move him, Detroit will want to send him to a team that they won’t potentially be competing with in the Wild Card race, now or next year. The Dodgers make the most sense, since they need more pitching depth and have the purse strings to swallow some luxury tax over the next couple years.

AlexanderP

Alexander is the MTS editor-in-chief. Frank, Alex, and Geoff brought him in when they realized that their betting expertise far surpassed their grammatical abilities. He loves overanalyzing college basketball trends. Talking to him during the first weekend of March Madness is like talking to a wall. A very focused wall, but a wall nonetheless.