MLB Waiver Trade Deadline 2014: Breaking Down the 8 Best Arms
MLB teams can never have enough pitching. Although the trade deadline has faded deep out of sight, clubs may still make moves through the waiver system to obtain a helping arm before the playoffs begin.
Once a player is placed on revocable trade waivers, all the other 29 teams have a 48-hour window to make a bid. The squad with the highest priority (based on reverse standings) receives the exclusive rights to negotiate with a team, unless the other party pulls its player off waivers.
If every other organization is too distracted by The Simpsons marathon and he clears waivers, the player can be shopped freely throughout the league. It's a teasing process, as many big names clear waivers, only for nothing to materialize.
Last week, I took a look at the best hitters who escaped waivers unclaimed. Since any players acquired after August 31 are ineligible to partake in the postseason for their new club, let's now shift our attention to the mound.
Be warned, these are the pitchers who were confirmed to get placed on waivers. It's possible other names are clandestinely floating between the cracks without our knowledge.
8. Brad Ziegler, RP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Considering all the relievers the Arizona Diamondbacks placed on waivers, it may shock readers to see 34-year-old sidearmer Brad Ziegler highlighted. Per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Arizona placed a wide array of players on revocable waivers. It's still unknown which ones cleared.
Also on revocable waivers: #DBacks’ Cahill, Perez, Pennington, Reed, Ziegler. Probably means little. Almost every reliever getting claimed.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 24, 2014
Addison Reed is the young, hot-shot closer with a 5.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This season, Oliver Perez is actually the most effective of the bunch with a 1.95 ERA. So why is Ziegler's picture shown above?
For all the strikeouts he tallies with above-average command, Reed should be a lot better. Yet he has a career 4.04 ERA, never once delving below 3.68 through four seasons. While Perez has enjoyed a renaissance in the bullpen, his past wildness makes him nothing more than an intriguing short-term rental.
Reed's polar opposite, Ziegler wields a 2.57 ERA over the past four seasons with a humdrum 6.2 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio. While it's easy to say he's getting lucky while Reed suffers the misfortune, their drastically different ground-ball rates explain the discrepancy.
On one hand, Ziegler generates grounders at an elite rate, placing near the top of all relievers with a 64.4 percentage. Meanwhile, Reed's 28.1 percent ground-ball rate is third-worst from the bullpen. No ground balls mean no easy outs on balls in play, which has proven problematic for the 25-year-old closer.
7. Scott Feldman, SP, Houston Astros
On Sunday, Rosenthal declared that the Houston Astros placed Scott Feldman on waivers. The starting pitcher cleared on Monday night, meaning they could ship out their most expensive player during his first year with the squad.
In order to appease critics not fond of Houston's frugal financial practices, the Astros signed a few veteran free agents last offseason. The most pricey purchase from their penny-pinching spending spree, Feldman netted $30 million in a three-year contract with a decreasing annual salary. After earning $12 million this season, he'll command $10 million next season and $8 million in two years.
Out of all the available players to grab, Houston picked one of the least interesting veterans around. Feldman can round out a rotation, but few fans will marvel over his 4.34 ERA and 5.22 K/9 ratio. He's unexciting, but that's the perfect recipe for a waiver deal.
Take Kevin Correia, whom the Minnesota Twins recently jettisoned to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He won't factor into their postseason plans, but the Dodgers needed someone to eat some innings with Hyun-Jin Ryu sidelined. Although Feldman's longer contract creates an added wrinkle, a similar starter won't come any cheaper during the offseason.
6. Trevor Cahill, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Although Arizona’s waived relievers will likely get claimed, Trevor Cahill is a probable candidate to clear. He’ll earn $12 million on an extremely back-loaded contract next season, and his 5.19 ERA and 4.15 walks per nine innings aren’t exactly making a strong sales pitch.
Now the positive stuff. Cahill is just 26 years old, and his 8.10 K/9 rate through 86.2 innings denotes a career best. He also carries a stellar 55.0 percent ground-ball rate over his career, with his current decreased 51.2 percent clip still demonstrating a strength. When his .345 BABIP normalizes closer to his career .283 average, he can shrink his ERA near the vicinity of his 3.72 FIP.
Back to the negatives. It might not be that simple considering his 24.4 percent line-drive rate, a vast rise from a pitcher who had never previously exceeded 20 percent. Opponents are hitting him harder, and it shows.
OK, now the optimistic outlook again. Since rejoining the rotation in mid-July, he has settled into a groove with a 3.43 ERA. He can thank a new-found command, as he has issued 12 walks through those 42 innings. In the previous 41.1 frames, he allowed 25 free passes.
Wait, sorry, that was before the Los Angeles Dodgers shellacked him for eight runs on Tuesday night. Now he holds a 4.84 ERA after getting a second chance, and he doled out 10 walks in his last three starts. Kids, be careful when playing with small sample sizes.
He’s hardly an ace, but Cahill is decent enough that the Diamondbacks won’t trade him during August’s final week.
5. Jon Niese, SP, New York Mets
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the New York Mets placed Jon Niese on waivers, and the left-handed starting pitcher passed by without a fuss. He's not first among Mets pitchers who could get dealt this week, but a club littered with young arms should explore his trade value.
The 27-year-old started 2014 off in style, entering the All-Star break with a 2.96 ERA. Since then, however, he's fallen off the map with a 4.63 ERA. Opponents are clobbering him with a .296/.359/.483 slash line.
It shouldn't come as a major surprise considering his 3.64 FIP over the first half. He was pitching over his head with the aid of a .283 BABIP, which reverted to the other side of the extreme at .331 through his past 44.2 innings.
Niese is a solid starter, but one who has yet to throw 200 or more innings in a single season. His average velocity and strikeout rates have also trickled down in each of the past three seasons, producing cause for concern going forward.
Yet he features a reasonable price tag of $7 million next year and $9 million in 2016, which makes him a decent bargain if he remains healthy. At 27, he should still have a couple good years left in him.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Philadelphia Phillies
Despite sitting in an ideal situation to sell away before the July 31 deadline, the Philadelphia Phillies stood pat as their veterans decayed and their position in the standings plummeted. There’s still time, however, to do something, and trading Jonathan Papelbon makes the most sense from their standpoint.
While nothing materialized with the claimed Cole Hamels and Marlon Byrd, Rosenthal reported that the 33-year-old closer cleared waivers. Bullpen arms are always highly desired down the closing weeks, and Papelbon touts a premier pedigree as one of baseball’s finest shutdown relievers from the past decade.
He’s still highly effective in his 10th season, posting a 1.60 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 33 saves. Combine those pristine numbers with the desperation of a title hopeful needing late reinforcements, and someone could disregard the warning signs and bite.
Leading the charge on those warning signs is his decomposing velocity. Look at how his average fastball speed has gradually dropped over the years.
The strikeouts have followed, as his current 8.63 K/9 rate is the second-lowest of his career behind last year’s 8.32 mark. Throw in his hefty $13 million paycheck due next season, and the Phillies should scour the market for any takers.
3. Bartolo Colon, SP, New York Mets
The most likely candidate to get moved during the next few days, Bartolo Colon just keeps throwing strikes at age 41. His minuscule 3.2 walk percentage places third among MLB starters behind Hisashi Iwakuma and Phil Hughes, making the veteran a desirable commodity.
He’s not the Cy Young contender who notched a 2.65 ERA in 2013, but the Mets didn’t expect such magnificent production when they awarded him a two-year deal worth $20 million. Although his ERA has risen more than a run to 3.82, he has proven worth the money with a 5.95 K/BB ratio and 3.35 FIP.
According to Rosenthal, the Mets placed the righty on waivers, and he has since cleared. ESPN’s Peter Gammons previously linked the Los Angeles Angels to Colon since they just lost ace Garrett Richards for the season. Although they didn't make a claim, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News quoted an unnamed executive who insisted they, along with two other clubs, are still interested.
There is still active interest in Colon. One American League executive identified that Angels, Dodgers and Royals as teams he expected to be most engaged.
“The Angels will be all over him,” the exec said. “They don't have many prospects, but I believe the Mets want to clear the money.”
He’s not the ace the Angels need to match wits with Felix Hernandez, David Price or Max Scherzer in a potential play-in game, but their depleted rotation needs some depth.
As for the Mets, they hope to not need Colon next year with Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Niese, Dillon Gee, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero fighting for spots in their starting unit. ESPN's Buster Olney quoted an MLB executive who said New York is eager to find a suitor.
Rival exec on whether anyone will claim Bartolo Colon on waivers: "It would be like a lightning bolt from the heavens for the Mets."— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 23, 2014
They have also, however, experienced firsthand the fragility of pitchers. Harvey has sat out the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery, and deGrom recently gave them another scare before fortunately requiring a minimal stay on the disabled list.
2. Gio Gonzalez, SP, Washington Nationals
On the surface, Gio Gonzalez is having the worst season of his career. His 3.86 ERA hasn't strayed so high since 2009, and there's also his measly 6-9 record.
The 28-year-old hasn't notched a victory since July 5, but we know better than to judge a pitcher by his win total. Instead, let's examine that bloated ERA that may have helped him clear waivers, per USA Today's Bob Nightengale.
Since the southpaw has relied on strikeouts throughout his career, one would first guess he's accumulating less whiffs. On the contrary. His 9.36 K/9 rate represents his highest clip since 2009.
Even though he compiled a 3.15 ERA during the previous four years, his FIP sailed above 3.40 three of those seasons. This season, however, his FIP currently stands at a superb 3.24, but his past good fortune has finally caught up to him.
Command has always confounded the top starter, and this season is no different. He has issued 51 walks through 126 innings, giving him a 3.64 BB/9 rate, a poor mark bottomed out by eight qualified starters.
There's no way the Nationals will trade Gonzalez a month before entering the postseason, possibly bestowing the National League's best record. It's a wonder he's come this far given his erratic nature, yet his current struggles aren't overly alarming.
1. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
One would need a microscope to properly decipher the odds of Yu Darvish getting traded this week, yet it’s still surprising to see the Texas Rangers ace clear waivers.
According to Heyman, the injury-riddled Rangers sifted Darvish, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo through waivers. Just don’t count on any of them playing for a new squad come September.
Trading Darvish especially makes the least sense. Since migrating to the U.S. in 2012, the Japanese sensation has become one of MLB’s premier aces. The strikeout artist’s 11.22 K/9 ratio leads all starters during that stretch, and his 14.1 WAR ranks seventh.
The 28-year-old is currently recuperating with an injured elbow that could shut down his season. Before getting sidelined, he recorded a 3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP and 182 strikeouts through 144.1 innings. Virtually unhittable at his best, he allowed one or no earned runs in eight outings this year.
There’s also the matter of his steal of a contract. Texas owes the ace $20 million combined over the next two years, the same agreement Colon reached last offseason. To turn his $11 million salary due to him in 2017 into a player option, Darvish needs to win a Cy Young.
No pitcher is devoid of injury concerns, so Darvish remains one of the game’s most valuable trade pieces. Even if the Rangers seriously considered pawning him, now is not the right time.