Searching for Another Starter on the Trade Market

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The Blue Jays, in case you missed it, find themselves sitting atop the AL East on May 27th, looking down on four teams with negative run differentials and a whole list of reasons why they can’t climb back up to the top. So, forgive the media for going all out this past week and declaring the Blue Jays the likely favourites to win what used to be baseball’s best division, because given the way they’re playing, and given the way the rest of the teams are struggling, there is a very good chance that the Blue Jays will be on national television in October.

If the Blue Jays keep this up(well, a little bit worse, they won’t be playing .750 ball for the rest of the season), they will surely be atop the division for the rest of 2014, and will need some reinforcements for October baseball. Those reinforcements start, and end, with the starting rotation. If the Blue Jays want to go far in October, a rotation of Mark Buehrle, R.A Dickey, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ won’t cut it. A team needs 4 starters to win in October, and relying on J.A. Happ is not a smart idea, no matter how well he is playing right now. And what about Brandon Morrow, who is scheduled to return from the 60-day DL sometime in July? Given his inconsistent past when he is healthy enough to play, he isn’t the ideal candidate either. So, the Blue Jays will need to trade for another pitcher if they plan on A) holding the division & B) going deep into October.

This all seemed like a nice and easy plan, until this past Saturday, when Peter Gammons posted a column on his website that talked about the Blue Jays and their future pursuit of pitching that is sure to come before the clock hits midnight on July 31st. The money quote from Anthopoulos is the following

We are pretty much maxed out in terms of payroll…but more important, we cannot keep trading our young pitchers (like Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris). We also have to be realistic about whom we can extend if we make a trade for him

In 10 words, Anthopoulos shut down the idea that Jeff Samardzija could don a Blue Jays jersey sometime this season. Then, the article continues and Gammons quotes Anthopolous again, saying that it is more likely they trade for a pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of this season, than a pitcher with multiple years of control left, because of how much it would cost in terms of prospects to get that extra year of service . Again, that crosses Samardzija off any potential list, as well as David Price, Yovani Gallardo and other 2016 MLB Free Agents.

So, what does the list of free agent pitchers look like at the end of the year? Well, the entire list can be found here, but a shorter one of realistic trade candidates looks likes this:

The problem with Beckett, De La Rosa, Liriano, and Masterson, is that their respective teams will likely still be within 10 games of the wild card come July, and because of that, they won’t be in a rush to sell off their players. That really only leaves Hammel and Lewis as options to analyze right now, as the Cubs are, well, the Cubs, and the Rangers have lost so many players to injury that it would be a miracle if they are still in the race come July.

Hammel is having the best season of his career, striking out 21.8% of the batters he has faced (compared to a 16.9 career K%), while walking only 6.1% (7.8 career BB%). Those numbers plus his low LD% and BABIP might suggest he is due for some regression in the coming weeks, and that is likely true (also, his velocity has declined for 3 straight seasons now), but you have to figure he’d still be better than the Jays’ current option, J.A. Happ. His price tag shouldn’t be too high if he comes back down to earth prior to being traded, but if he keeps the low 3.00 ERA for the next few months, as his FIP suggests he might do, the Jays could be looking at a prospect in the range of #3-#7 for his August-October services. The price will depend on the market, but it shouldn’t be too high.

With that said, Lewis is the guy I have my eye on. Aside from the obvious benefit of rostering another player named Colby, he could actually provide a ton of value for the Blue Jays. His ERA right now is a bloated 5.10, his BABIP a ridiculous .399, and batters are hitting 5% more line drives off of him than they usually do. Positive regression has never been so obvious! His contract is crazy cheap (there will be less than $1M left on his deal by the time the trade deadline rolls around), and his cost shouldn’t be too high. For what it’s worth, he is actually walking less batters than his career rate, and only striking out 0.8% less than normal. Everything about him says his numbers will be more in line with his 3.87 FIP than his 5.10 ERA, and the Blue Jays should take advantage of this. The Rangers will be selling, and the Blue Jays will be buying. It’s a match made in heaven.

The market will likely open up a lot more by the time the calendar hits July, but for now, the only two pitchers who meet AA’s criteria are Jason Hammel and Colby Lewis. Of the two, I prefer Lewis, but let’s just hope the Jays keep up this play, and actually are buyers at the trade deadline.

Picture courtesy of Bart Hanlon via Flickr.

  • monkeyman

    impressive analysis. i’d throw in that lewis has tons of post season experience to bring to the table as well. what do you think it would take to get him? maybe francisco and nolin?

    • Gideon Turk

      Thanks! I didn’t think of that added level of experience, but it definitely is a bonus. As for Francisco, I agree with Geoff. He has more value to the Jays as a platoon player than he would in a trade. And yes, Nolin would probably get it done.

  • Geoff

    Not sure what it would take but Francisco has no trade value. Keep him as a bench piece for now

  • squitis1979

    Positive regression…. progression?

    • Ewan Ross

      Nope. Regardless it is “regressing to the mean” regardless of the direction its going in a positive or negative direction.

  • bob l.

    the one “low salary” pitcher i thought would look good with the jays before the season started was hammel. he had a solid first half of the 2012 season with the o’s and was an all-star (i think), then injuries happened. i didn’t think he would pitch this well , though. would he have the same success in the al east as he is currently having in the nl? he did pitch there with the o’s , so i think he would be the best bang for the buck.

    • Gideon Turk

      He is pitching with the Cubs, who play in Wrigley Field. Not that big of a difference between the RC and Wrigley in terms of offensive production. I’m sure it would be fine. If they can get Hammel for a reasonable price, I’m all for it.

      • bob l.

        i’m more concerned with the leagues. the al has better and deeper hitting line ups (dh/ no pitcher out) , but he should have some familiarity with the al east still.

        • Gideon Turk

          Yeah. it could be a concern, but it’s not like the offenses in the NL Central are that much worse than the ones in the AL East. There’s a difference, but he still comes out as the better pitcher over Happ.

  • JefQ27BlueJayz

    Personally, I am just really happy that AA is not an idiot, and doesn’t give a rat’s grass about what might be a good PR move. He is, a baseball man. We could have so much worse and have. I was in the camp of he pulled the trigger too early on moving up through trading youth, and I guess that shows you why I am not anything more than an MLB fan and he an MLB GM.

    Very logical and systematic appraisal of the reality of things, I like the “Hollywood is over there” approach 7 days a week over bringing in a name and disrupt the room routine. I find through watching AA is that he gets value in very interesting places and always has. This winning streak is really Opening Day 2013 with no injuries, and a bit of fine tuning.

    If we do indeed need to replace Happ and Hendricks is what he might have become, then getting Lewis is by definition very likely. If he makes a move at all. He may stand pat. And that would be something. Gibby was chatting up Happ in the preseason pretty much more than any other.

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  • Stanleys cup

    Iwakuma? The mariners may be looking to move him this year due to Anaheim and Oakland looking really good in that division. Will be tough for them to make playoffs.

    • Gideon Turk

      He isn’t a FA at the end of the year though, which means the price to acquire him will be high. Given AA’s comments, I can’t imagine he’ll go after him.We do know he was trying very hard to trade for him last year though, so maybe it will happen. It’s a good idea.