Evaluating Starting Pitcher Trade Candidates

As is the case every year, teams will be looking to add pitching at the trade deadline. For most contending teams, their biggest weakness is starting pitching.

The Houston Astros rotation could use a steady, durable presence. The New York Yankees need another front-line starter due to the ineffectiveness of Masahiro Tanaka. The Chicago Cubs rotation has struggled mightily through the first half of the season.

With all of that in mind, there are plenty of options on the trade market in terms of starting pitchers. Let us look at some of the best options, whether they be rentals or longterm solutions.

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

Archer is the guy teams salivate over when looking for a longterm solution. He is signed through 2019, with club options for both 2020 and 2021.

His results on the mound do not do him justice. He currently has a 3.97 ERA in 104.1 innings pitched. The ERA is not stellar by any standard, but that might not be his fault.

Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against measures what it sounds like: the batting average opposing hitters have when they put the ball in play. That means every fair ball that doesn’t go over the fence on the fly. The league is hitting .313 against Archer when the ball stays in the yard, while the league-average BABIP is around .300. In other words, he has had some bad luck.

Archer ranks fourth in the majors in strikeout rate (K/9). The three guys ahead of him in that category — Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and Robbie Ray — have ERAs of 2.85, 2.09, and 2.87, respectively. The point is, with that many strikeouts, he should have a lower ERA.

Tampa’s ace is still an elite talent, and teams will need to give up plenty to get him, even with the mediocre results.

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

Gray is a huge risk given his health, but he will not be an unrestricted free agent until after 2020. His age and upside will still make him a top trade target come July 31.

Unlike Archer, Gray’s stock has fallen significantly after his monster 2015 campaign when he finished third in the Cy Young voting. He will not net the A’s multiple top prospects like he could have a year or so ago. With that said, he should still net one top and at least one lower level prospect.

Marred by injuries, Gray has been mostly ineffective since the start of 2016. In that time, he has a 5.41 ERA and a walk rate (BB/9) of 3.24. From 2013-15, he had a 2.87 ERA and BB/9 of 2.80.

When healthy, he is as effective as any pitcher in the league. That upside is definitely worth taking a risk on at the trade deadline.

Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

Another risk, but for completely different reasons.

A significant increase in walks allowed this year is a major red flag for teams scouting Quintana. In 208 innings last year, he allowed 50 walks. In 2017, he has already allowed 32 free passes in just 88.1 innings.

The 4.69 ERA is not pretty, but his K/9 is up to a career high 8.9. This indicates that, like Archer, the results do not tell the whole story.

Quintana is one of the most durable starters in the league. He has logged at least 200 innings every year of his career, and has never been on the disabled list. Coupled with the fact that he is under contract through 2020, and teams need to prepare to give up a lot to get him.

He is a proven top-of-the-rotation starter. It feels like a trade for Quintana makes too much sense for a team like the Astros.

Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

He has possibly the most upside of any starter on this list. Like Gray, he had a monster season in 2015 and has struggled to get back to that level.

Unlike Gray, however, Cole is completely healthy. This makes him even more enticing at the trade deadline. He will not be a free agent until after the 2019 season, and the Pirates will look to be sellers this year.

Nothing is too abnormal about Cole’s game this year. He has caught the home run bug that the entire league has felt, though. His home run allowed rate (HR/9) is 1.59, compared to the 0.54 and 0.49 he posted in the two prior seasons. This may scare away teams that play in hitter friendly environments, like the Yankees.

His upside alone will cost teams multiple good prospects, and he has earned that price tag.

Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants

Likely to opt out of his contract with the Giants after this year, Cueto is the only possible rental on this list.

Cueto is like Cole. He has a track record of success, but gives up too many home runs.

With the loss of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have struggled mightily. And in a tough division, they may look to sell at the deadline. Cueto should be the first one to go, given his desire to retire with an American League team.

Cueto is 30 years old, which is reason enough to hesitate with trading prospects for him. He is the type of pitcher that a team trades for to get over the hump.

Teams thinking longterm should not go for him, like the Astros and Yankees. He would be a good fit with the Cubs, Kansas City Royals, or Seattle Mariners.

Other notable rental starters: Derek Holland, Jason Vargas (if the Royals decide to sell), Alex Cobb, Bartolo Colon.

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