How Carlos Zambrano Changed the MLB Trade Market: 5 Pitchers on the Block
The last time Carlos Zambrano was an All-Star, most Americans hadn’t even been convinced that an African-American man could be in the White House.
And when the Miami Marlins picked him up in an offseason trade last January for former first-round draft pick Chris Volstad, Yahoo Sports went as far as to claim that the trade made little sense for the Marlins. I mean, Zambrano was thirty and petulant. He had to be washed up, right?
My, what a difference time makes.
Suddenly, the 12-year MLB veteran Zambrano is pitching like the young ace of old, and with an ERA of 1.88 and a 7.3 K per 9 ratio, he looks like a lock to be named to the NL All-Star team again this summer—and this time, in a new uniform.
Even better, the Cubs agreed to eat over 80 percent of the $18 million dollar salary Zambrano is owed for 2012. Isn’t that great? The Marlins get an All-Star pitcher on their staff, and they get him nearly for free!
Volstad, meanwhile, has failed to impress. What was all the hype about him again? After his rookie half-season, he never once managed to keep his ERA under 4.50. And he’s certainly not helping the Cubs compete.
There’s a lesson here, and frankly, it’s one that’s been played out time and time again: If you can sign or trade for an aging, stud pitcher on the cheap, do it (look how successful Jamie Moyer has been).
But there’s a corollary to this dictum: Avoid snapping up young pitchers in the free agent market! Especially when they’re just leaving the franchise that’s groomed them and stepping fresh into that wide and oh so carnivorous world of baseball.
Yes, in this neo-Zambrano era, teams in the hunt will likely reevaluate aging hurlers and try to trade young prospects for cagey vets when the playoff races heat up.
Since there are always rumors about which teams and players are looking to make moves—and lately, the same names keep coming up—let’s go around the horn and take a look at five much-talked about pitchers to see who’s likely to be shopped and who will be saved.
And while we’re at it, let’s identify the fool's gold in the ground where it lies. Because some guys, teams shouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
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There is no question that any GM worth his business cards would snap up Johan Santana in a heartbeat, if given the opportunity. He’s a multiple Cy Young Award winner, a three-time ERA champ, and despite missing all of 2011 to injury, he’s pitched very well throughout his career, including since his move to the New York Mets five years ago.
Even if teams had been reticent before, smart GMs taking note of the Zambrano effect might have changed their tune and decided to go after Santana.
But here’s the thing: Santana has a no-trade clause in his contract. And given that the Mets are contenders now and appear to have solved their cash crunch with Jose Reyes gone, there is no reason for them to look to deal their staff ace.
Sorry, folks. Santana is probably still some distance from the trading block.
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The Boston Red Sox have the worst pitching in the league, and the New York Mets aren’t far behind. Both teams are in the upper echelon of runs allowed—and yet, both currently see this season as one in which they’re in contention.
The Mets, because they’re in a soft division, and the Red Sox, because, well, they’re the Red Sox. Nation fans would call for skulls if they didn’t feel like they still had a shot come September. These are people who drink the Kool-Aid, then get up and go back for seconds.
This puts both teams on the trade warpath, perhaps even for a guy like Barry Zito.
Zito has been a terrible signing for the San Francisco Giants. They spent $126 million over seven years to get him, and for what? A 44-62 record and an ERA never under 4.00 and often over 5.00.
Zito saw greater success in the hitter-happy AL with the Oakland A’s than he ever has with the Giants. And since he’s expensive and expendable—and as a wily vet, he still has potential upside buried somewhere in that left arm of his—you have to imagine he’ll be wearing a different uniform come September.
And if his new team can convince the Giants to eat up some of his contract, as the Marlins did with the Cubs, so much the better for them.
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Bedard is in the middle of a career year. He’s 33-years-old and he’s never pitched as well as he is pitching right now. That should be a big warning sign.
He missed two entire seasons over the course of his MLB life, and what’s more, he lacks both the stamina and the ability to avoid injury that a good starter needs.
Bedard came in fifth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2007. That was his last full season. He hasn’t started 25 or more games since then, and he’s never pitched 200 innings in a year. This guy’s trouble. This year, more likely than not, is an anomaly.
So yes, if Pittsburgh can get something for him, they should. Because as sure as Monday’s a work day (even after Super Bowl Sunday), any team that trades for Erik Bedard—and someone will try to—is going to get burned.
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Unlike Bedard, Wandy Rodriguez is a great candidate to get shuffled around in a midseason trade.
A tough, seasoned pitcher who’s always shown ability (though not overpowering stuff), Rodriguez is in the middle of a strong season. He’s only gotten better over the last few years, and he pitches for a middling team that’s going nowhere, which means they ought to look to deal.
There’s one year left on his contract, and though Rodriguez might even get an All-Star nod this season, he likely won’t turn into Randy Johnson any time soon.
So the Houston Astros would be right to deal him if they can, and any contender that can land him will get the solid mid-tier lefty in the starting rotation they’ve been looking for, exactly as advertised. A trade for Rodriguez could and should be a trade that all parties end up happy with.
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Jake Peavy is a former Cy Young Award Winner and All-Star who’s got plenty of experience and also plenty of juice left in the tank. He’s got a decade in the MLB, but he’s only 31. He’s in the midst of a comeback and is at or near the top of the AL in ERA, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched and WHIP. He’s got upside.
Finally, Peavy has returned to form as the workhorse go-to guy he once was, and given that his contract is almost expired and he’ll have big eyes entering his next one (he received $52 million for three years, according to Baseball-Reference.com), unless the White Sox are in the pennant hunt come early autumn, Peavy’s great trade bait.
And since he’s pitching to form the Sox could get fair market value for him, and should do so now, before he leaves of his own accord in the winter. Peavy, thanks to the market-altering effect of guys like Carlos Zambrano, is a smart trade target for teams on the hunt.