Now that the free-agent pitching market has dried up following the Atlanta Braves' signing of Ervin Santana, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, all eyes will focus on the few trade chips that are floating out there right now.
The starter who could generate the most traction if/when his team decides to seriously pursue a deal is Detroit Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Tigers are open to the possibility of moving the 25-year-old:
The Tigers are said to be willing to listen to offers on him, according major league sources. Porcello is once again at the back end of the Tiger rotation. While still young and promising, the Tigers need more consistency in the rotation.
Of course, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski got wind of this report and completely dismissed the idea of trading a pitcher, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. It makes sense given how much pitching depth a team needs just to get through a season.
Look at the Braves. They came into spring training thinking they had a deep rotation, yet injuries to Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy forced them to make a move they never would have otherwise.
But let's play the hypothetical game using Cafardo's report and look at the MLB teams who could use someone like Porcello if the Tigers decide to make a move.
Why not start with a team making panic moves for starting pitchers?
The Braves have an interesting rotation, even when healthy, that starts out really strong and drops off quickly. Medlen, Minor, Beachy and Julio Teheran would make for a solid group that can lead a team to the postseason.
But now Medlen is a volatile powder keg, assuming he undergoes Tommy John surgery, which Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports he's prepared himself for, because it will be the second elbow construction surgery since 2010:
Kris Medlen confirms he has spent the past couple days preparing himself to undergo a second TJ surgery— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) March 12, 2014
Beachy made just five starts in 2013 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. It was obviously a small sample size, and he was still regaining arm strength, but his fastball averaged just 90.2 mph last year, per FanGraphs, the lowest of his career.
That leaves Minor and Teheran as the only "sure thing" arms in Atlanta's rotation moving forward.
Which team should pursue Rick Porcello the hardest?
Porcello serves two functions for the Braves. He's young and under team control through 2015, fitting into Atlanta's payroll structure of roughly $90 million. There's also upside as he's coming off the best year of his career in 2013 with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Even though he hasn't lived up to the hype as a first-round pick, keep in mind the Tigers rushed Porcello to the big leagues in 2009, and his ERA has dropped each season since 2012. Moving from the AL to the NL would only help his ERA and counting stats pitching to lineups that aren't as deep because there's no designated hitter.
The Braves still have some high-ceiling pitching in the minors. Lucas Sims is a right-hander whose stuff has gotten better since being drafted in 2012, but he's at least two years away after pitching in A-ball last season.
J.R. Graham has a good ceiling but an inability to stay healthy. He made just eight starts last season before a shoulder injury shut him down in May.
They need more sure-fire depth in the rotation to be more than just a borderline playoff contender. Porcello isn't an ace but has the upside of a No. 3- or No. 4-type starter, and he has pitched close to it recently.
If the injury bug has hit Atlanta hardest this spring, Seattle isn't far behind. In fact, based on talent and impact, the Mariners might be worse off than the Braves right now.
Hisashi Iwakuma, who finished third in AL Cy Young voting last season, and star rookie Taijuan Walker aren't going to be healthy for Opening Day.
Iwakuma injured his finger prior to the start of spring training, and the Mariners announced on Feb. 28 that he wouldn't start throwing for another three weeks. That puts him on track to pitch again on or around March 21.
However, factoring in the amount of time it takes to stretch out an arm and leaving room for any potential setbacks, Iwakuma is likely looking at a mid- to late-April return at the earliest.
Walker's a different story entirely. He's got the dreaded shoulder inflammation, which is about as vague an injury as any pitcher can have. The same day the Mariners announced Iwakuma would start throwing in three weeks, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reported Walker would be shut down for a week:
#Mariners shut down RHP Taijuan Walker for seven days after exam in Los Angeles reveals shoulder inflammation.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) February 28, 2014
After an offseason that saw them spend huge money on Robinson Cano and make other smaller deals to supplement their roster with the hopes of contending, the last thing they needed was questions about their rotation.
Felix Hernandez is still going to be his usual, dominant self. We have no reason to believe otherwise, though, the Mariners might want to put him in bubble wrap before the season starts to ensure he stays healthy.
Porcello doesn't have the upside of Iwakuma or Walker, but he's certainly more attractive than the quartet of Scott Baker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan. He will also like pitching in all the AL West parks outside of Texas.
Some may have a stigma about teams trading players within their division, though, that doesn't make sense when you really think about it. Who cares where the team plays if they are making you the best offer?
The Tigers and Indians have engaged in trades before, with the most recent notable deal sending Jhonny Peralta from Cleveland to Detroit. It's not like they are strangers in this avenue before.
The Indians would get something they desperately need, a quality young pitcher with upside and control. They don't have a deep minor league system. More specifically, most of their best players are so young and are at least three or four years away that teams aren't going to trade established big leaguers for them.
That presents a huge problem for the Indians trying to trade for someone like Porcello, though, he would make them a much more formidable team in an AL Central where Detroit loves to spend money and Kansas City is getting much better.
To say nothing of Minnesota's loaded farm system that will start to yield results later in 2014 and early 2015. Even the White Sox, who neglected their farm system for years, are starting to build something intriguing.
Justin Masterson is a free agent at the end of 2014, though, he's reportedly gone to the Indians front office with a reasonably priced three- or four-year deal that the team has yet to respond to. What they are waiting for is beyond me. If you can sign your best pitcher for a well-below-market deal, will you ever spend on pitching?
Corey Kluber had a solid 2013 season that was cutoff by a finger injury. He had a solid 3.85 ERA and stellar 4.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But that was the first time he had ever shown any substance as an MLB starting pitcher.
Danny Salazar has all the potential in the world with a fastball that touches 100 mph and excellent split-finger fastball, but he had Tommy John surgery in August 2010 and could end up being a reliever in the long run.
After Masterson, Kluber and Salazar, the Indians are banking on some combination of Carlos Carrasco, Zach McAllister and Trevor Bauer to fill out their rotation this year. Cody Armstrong is coming through the system, but isn't more than a No. 3- or No. 4-type starter.
This team needs to find more quality in the middle of the rotation. Armstrong has that potential. Bauer has that upside, though, no one knows if he will ever throw enough strikes to reach it. Porcello might be a little pricey at $8.5 million, but given the market for starting pitchers, he's still a bargain for Cleveland.
Note: All stats and contract info courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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