Who Are The Top Pitchers Available At The Trade Deadline?

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It is that time of the year again. We are getting closer and closer to the MLB trade deadline. The point of the season where teams begin deciding whether they will be selling or buying. With the addition of the second wildcard, it has become harder to guess who will be sellers due to the increased chances of making the playoffs. For example, the Cincinnati Reds are 51-48, but are only three games back of a wildcard berth. This makes the deadline both more and less interesting at the same time.

Yes, there are now more teams that are buyers at the deadline, but now there are fewer sellers as well. Jeff Samardzija, the top pitcher on the market this season, was traded before the All Star break, and now the market for pitching seems barren. There are no more aces definitely on the market anymore. The only stud pitchers that could potentially be traded are Jon Lester, James Shields, Cliff Lee, David Price, and Cole Hamels. Lester is unlikely to be dealt by the Red Sox, since they believe that he could resign him to a long term deal. He also could help them if the team has a strong second half and reaches the postseason. Shields is the same story. Unless the Royals really feel they will not contend in the second half, they would rather keep him and offer a qualifying offer at season’s end. However, Lee, Price, and Hamels are different stories. There is no definite reason why their teams would not at least listen to trade offers at this trade deadline. That being said, which of these three is the best option?

 

3. Cliff Lee

As we progress down this list there is a something that should be noted. Almost every Philadelphia Phillies player that might be traded has a no-trade clause, which makes predictions much harder. Also, the Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seems like he still does not want to make a fire sale on the team. Even with the outcries of Phillies fans demanding for the sale, the team might sit pat on the issue or “sell” like they did the past few years. The Phillies might have the top piece on the market, and they could get back some top prospects by the time the deadline is over. 2008 AL Cy Young Cliff Lee could be an interesting trade acquisition at the deadline.

Besides superstar Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee has been one of the most dominant and consistent left handers in the game. If he was the same age as Price and Hamels, he would be number one on this list. Although he does not blow the ball by players (his fastest pitch this season is a 92.5 mph two-seam) he does the job he is supposed to, throw strikes. A pitcher never wants to throw a ball right down the middle of the plate, but throwing a ton of strikes is a lot better than walking people. Lee has mastered this art, in 2013 he threw 70.8% of his pitches for strikes, becoming the only person in that year to break the 70% threshold. Throughout 2009-2013 he threw 69.9% of his pitches for strikes, again leading the league. The most amount of walks Lee has given up is 42 in 232.2 innings pitched in 2011, and he has constantly been a league leader in SO/BB (2010,12,13 and BB/9 (2008,10,12,13) in his career. In fact, he has the sixth highest SO/BB rate in MLB history and the highest for a left handed pitcher. Lee’s mixture of strikes and control has given him a great amount of success in the majors.

To find a bad season from Cliff Lee, you have to go back to 2007 where he posted a 6.29 ERA. Ever since then Lee has not posted an ERA over 3.18, and has an ERA of 2.90 since 2008. He has the second most WAR among pitchers since 2008 with 38.5, behind Verlander’s 38.9 (Verlander has pitcher 100 more innings than Lee) Whatever team wants to pick him up, they will be getting a pitcher that is worth his contract (as large as it may be) Of course teams may be unwilling to trade for Lee at the moment due to his recent arm injury, but if he can impress in his two or three starts before the deadline he could net the Phillies a nice return.

The Phillies could also wait until the August deadline to boost Lee’s value. If Lee proves that he is healthy and that the injury has not affected his pitching, the Phillies could receive two or three top prospects; however, after his rough first outing back it will be hard to sell that he is healthy. Lee is the most likely pitcher between him and Hamels to go, since he is older and costs more money. Earlier on On-Base Talk, Mark Suleymanov listed possible suitors for Cliff Lee. Whether Lee would waive his no trade clause for any of these teams remains to be seen.

2. David Price

This might be a surprise, but David Price is not the top pitcher available at the deadline. Shocking as it may be, the difference between Price and Hamels being number one and two is miniscule. Later on I will explain why Price is not the top available pitcher; however, let us look at why Price would be a terrific addition to a team looking to contend.

Price has had the shortest career out of the three pitchers in this list. Cliff Lee started in 2002, Cole Hamels started in 2006, and Price began his career in 2008. Price was called up late in the 2008 season to help a reborn Tampa Bay Rays make the playoffs.The team did so, and made it as far as the World Series where they eventually lost to the Philadelphia Phillies. Ever since that postseason run, Price has enjoyed success in the big leagues. His career ERA is an attractive 3.17 and an impressive 3.34 FIP. He finished second in Cy Young voting in 2010, and actually won the award in 2012 (he also finished twelfth in MVP voting that season). Price has shown in the past that he can have great control, for example he lead the AL in SO/BB (5.59) and BB/9 (1.3) He has continued his dominance this year, as he leads the league in innings pitched (155.2) and strikeouts (173), and has a 3.06 ERA to go along with that. Besides his rookie year in 2009, Price has never had an ERA over 3.49, and that is a consistency that teams will like.

What makes Price so successful? Again, Price does a very good job of keeping his walks to a minimum. Every year Price has improved his SO/BB ratio, and last year he had only 27 walks in 186.2 innings. Maybe not as good as Lee, but Price still limits his walks to keep opponent opportunity down. Another way he succeeds in the pros is that he varies his pitches. Price does not have any overpowered go-to pitch, but he uses the good pitches he has to his advantage.  Earlier in his career Price relied on his fastball a lot, so much that in 2010 136 of his 188 strikeouts were on fastballs. Now he varies his pitches a lot more, therefore keeping the batters guessing every at-bat. A mixture of pitches along with good control can go a long way in the MLB, and Price has enjoyed it so far.

Like Lee and Hamels, Price will most likely have the same suitors. According to Buster Olney (Insider-Edition Only), the Cardinals, Mariners, and Dodgers are the three teams best positioned to acquire Price. Ken Rosenthal thinks that the Cubs would be doing the right thing by trading for Price, and they certainly have the prospect power to do that. The Indians have also had their eye on Price, but the real problem would be their prospect depth. Ken Rosenthal’s sources have told him that the Indians have less than a 1% chance of obtaining the left hander. Whoever wants to grab Price is going to have to give up a large prospect package that satisfies the Rays, one probably larger than the Oakland Athletic’s package to the Chicago Cubs for Samardzija. The Rays have all the leverage at the deadline, since they still have another year on Price’s contract. They can wait until the offseason or even the next trade deadline to make a trade; however, Price’s contract is why I have ranked him at number two.

 

1. Cole Hamels

The main reason I have listed Cole Hamels as the top available is due to his contract length and price (no pun intended). As said before, Price only has one year left on his contract, and then it is a mystery. Who knows how much money or how many years he would want on his contract. Hamels not only has a respectable amount of years on his contract, but a decent price as well. After this year Hamels only has four more years on his contract, at a rate of $22.5 million per year. Not exactly cheap, but in comparison to the contracts that Max Scherzer wants and what Price will most likely want, its a bargain deal. It guarantees Hamels’ team his age 31-34 seasons as well as an option for his age 35 season.

Those are prime years for a pitcher, so Hamels should continue to produce during those seasons. This is the edge that a team would have when acquiring Hamels over Price. They have a definite contract with Hamels as opposed to the mystery status of Price, and it is a manageable one as well. Price would not sign an extension with the Seattle Mariners, and might extend if he was traded to a different team. Acquiring Price would be a gamble, while getting Hamels is a definite investment. This is really the only reason Hamels is over Price in this list, otherwise it is a dead tie.

Hamels has been dominant since his debut in 2006 with the Philadelphia Phillies. This is largely due to his devastating changeup. Growing up in San Diego, Hamels marveled at future hall of famer Trevor Hoffman’s changeup. He loved it so much that he wanted to learn and master the pitch just as much as Hoffman did. Ever since then the changeup has been Hamels’ bread and butter, and Fan Graphs shows this. From 2007-2014 Hamels has stuck out the most batters with his changeup; he has struck out 100 more people with his changeup than his fastball and over 400 more than his curveball. This pitch has most likely guided Hamels to the successful career he has today.

Hamels has a career ERA of 3.39 and a FIP of 3.51. He has been an All Star and in the top 10 of Cy Young voting three times. He has shown in the past that he has the skill to throw 200+ innings and strikeout 200+ batters. In fact, he has done that four times in the past six years (2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013) He has a lot of postseason experience and success, as he has a 3.09 ERA through 81.2 innings of work. That includes the championship run the Phillies had in 2008, where Hamels was the NLCS and World Series MVP. Those credentials, along with his respectable contract make him a big target at the deadline, and it has been rumored many teams are interested in him.

Hamels has a 20-team no-trade clause, which normally would be a problem when trade talks begin; however, the teams that Hamels does not need to give consent are mostly contending teams who could want to acquire him. According to John Morosi, Hamels can be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and his native team the San Diego Padres. There has also been a lot of chatter that the Red Sox could want Hamels if they cannot resign Lester, but many speculate this is either false or unwise. There have been conflicting reports as to whether Hamels is even available this deadline. Buster Olney reports that the Phillies are unwilling to trade him, while Nick Cafardo reports that a major league source says if the Phillies receive three top prospects Hamels is gone. Regardless of whether the Phillies want to trade Hamels, I am sure they will get plenty of offers this coming deadline.

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