There's always a manhunt for quality arms at the trade deadline, and the 2013 season shouldn't be any different. The only question is who the big prizes will be.
In an article about potential trade targets for the Boston Red Sox, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal singled out three right-handers as candidates to be dealt before the 2013 trade deadline: Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers, Jarrod Parker of the Oakland A's and Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
This is a reasonable list of players.
Both Gallardo and Kennedy are creeping up on free agency and could be jettisoned for prospects rather than extended. Parker is many years away from free agency, but MacPherson points out that Oakland GM Billy Beane has a track record of dealing young pitchers for prospects while their value is still sky-high.
As crazy as all of this sounds, in theory, what are the odds of these three pitchers actually being dealt?
Odds of Yovani Gallardo Being Dealt
Gallardo is Milwaukee's de facto ace with Zack Greinke long gone, but in reality he's more like a No. 2-level starter.
Over the last four seasons, Gallardo has compiled a 3.68 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP over 782 innings of work, or a little less than 200 per season. He's a good strikeout pitcher, with a 9.4 K/9 since 2009, but he can only be so good because of typically high walk rates and elevated BABIPs (.301 career).
While these numbers don't make Gallardo an ace, they would certainly make him an attractive option for arms-needy teams (i.e. pretty much everyone) at the trade deadline. What would make Gallardo even more attractive, and thus worth a high price in a trade, is the friendliness of his contract.
Gallardo has two guaranteed years left on his contract worth $19 million, and he also has a $13 million club option for the 2015 season. As such, a team that was to trade for Gallardo would be able to count on having him for two and a half seasons at modest rates relative to the skyrocketing prices for frontline pitchers.
However, the friendliness of Gallardo's contract works both ways. He's going to have a limited no-trade clause in 2013. And just as Gallardo's contract will inspire teams to make offers for him, it could also make the Brewers more intent to hold on to him with the idea to contend in 2014 and 2015.
The Brewers wouldn't be nuts to do so.
They have some good young talent, and losing Corey Hart and/or Carlos Gomez to free agency after 2013 wouldn't necessarily crush whatever hopes they have of contending in 2014 and 2015. The Brewers could just become more of a run-prevention team centered even more around Ryan Braun.
Milwaukee's starting rotation features some solid talent, and won't be broken up in the near future. Their offense might be weakened, but Braun is one of the game's best hitters and he's not going anywhere.
Obviously, the Brewers would first have to fall out of contention in 2013 to even consider trading Gallardo at the trade deadline. It must not be taken for granted that this is going to happen after the way they wrapped up the 2012 season.
The Brewers were 11 games under .500 in late July, but they finished the season by going 36-23 in their final 59 games and finished only a handful of games out of the National League wild-card race. They're looking to carry this momentum into 2013.
The Brewers play in a strong NL Central that no longer features a local whipping boy in the Houston Astros, but they are at least an intriguing sleeper team heading into the 2013 season.
Combine their potential to contend with the team-friendliness of Gallardo's contract and his partial no-trade clause, and it's not likely that he's going to be moved.
Odds of Jarrod Parker Being Dealt
His accomplishments stayed well under the national radar, but Jarrod Parker was Oakland's best pitcher in 2012.
In 29 starts, Parker compiled a 3.47 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP over 181.1 innings. He wasn't a high strikeout guy, but he got a lot of ugly swings with his changeup that helped him hold hitters to a .358 slugging percentage. When he did give up hits, they weren't hard.
On most teams, the 24-year-old Parker would be deemed untouchable because of how many years of club control he has left. Free agency won't come for him until 2018.
MacPherson referenced Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren and Mark Mulder as young pitchers who were traded by the A's before they hit free agency, but they aren't necessarily precursors to a Parker trade.
Gonzalez was arbitration-eligible for the first time when the A's traded him to the Washington Nationals last year. Haren was into his arbitration years when the A's traded him to Arizona in 2007. Free agency was fast approaching for Mulder when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004.
Parker, by comparison, isn't eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season. That means the A's can look forward to having him for one more year at dirt-cheap rates even if they don't contend in 2013.
And Oakland should contend in 2013. The A's are going to have one of baseball's top starting rotations if Bartolo Colon can keep his nose clean and Brett Anderson can give them a full season's worth of production. They're also returning many members of what was an elite bullpen in 2012.
On offense, the A's have a deep outfield with the addition of Chris Young, and Yoenis Cespedes could be an MVP-caliber player with good health in 2013. They have good depth across their infield, and they added some offense at catcher with the trade for John Jaso.
Due to his controllability, it's doubtful that the A's will trade Parker at the deadline if they fall out of the race. Since they should be in the race, it's even more doubtful that Parker will be traded.
Odds of Ian Kennedy Being Dealt
Ian Kennedy was a surprise ace in 2011, winning 21 games and posting a 2.88 ERA over 222 innings.
He couldn't keep it up in 2012. Kennedy did make 33 starts, but his ERA rose to 4.02 and he gave up a total of 28 home runs.
There's some evidence that Kennedy's regression in 2012 was a fluke, as his strikeout and walk rates stayed steady from where they were in 2011 and he was victimized by a significant BABIP spike.
That's about where the excuses run out, however.
Kennedy was never a great ground-ball pitcher to begin with, and 2012 saw more of the fly balls he induced either go for extra bases or go over the fence. Opponents had a .453 slugging percentage against Kennedy, and his HR/FB rate jumped up to 10.8 percentage (see FanGraphs).
That, for the record, is right where Kennedy's HR/FB rate was in 32 starts in 2010.
Based on these figures, Kennedy's 2011 season looks like an outlier, which means that his true calling is that of a mid-rotation innings-eater rather than as an ace pitcher.
If that's the kind of pitcher Kennedy is, then the D-Backs won't be desperate to hold on to him for his final two arbitration years in 2014 and 2015 if they fall out of the race in 2013. They could sell Kennedy off as a two-plus-year rental for the middle of somebody's rotation.
Which of these three is most likely to be traded in 2013?
Another thing that could further convince the D-Backs to trade Kennedy is the pitching depth that they have. They no longer have Trevor Bauer, but they still have Tyler Skaggs and the recently acquired Randall Delgado. Also, Daniel Hudson will eventually return from Tommy John surgery.
Arizona's odds of falling out of the race in 2013 aren't that high, but exactly how in the race the D-Backs are going to be is where things get tricky. The Diamondbacks are a solid team, but they could really miss Justin Upton and they have the misfortune of sharing a division with two elite-looking teams in the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
If the D-Backs are treading water right around .500 by the deadline while the Giants and Dodgers are battling for NL West supremacy, and if they can shore up their future by sacrificing pitching depth, Kennedy could most definitely be moved.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.