Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane has a hot commodity in his hands, and he knows it. Left-handed hurler Gio Gonzalez has teams from the New York Yankees to the Kansas City Royals drooling, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
With the market that swamped with potential buyers, Beane (always a shrewd seller) figures to extract something more akin to a ransom than a fair price from whomever lands Gonzalez.
Luckily for those teams who eventually lose out (or bow out) on Gonzalez, there are other, better values to be had. Some of them are risky, but in general, they're going to cost much less than Gonzalez, and some could be as good an investment.
Here are 10 names to watch if the auction for Gio Gonzalez gets too rich for your favorite team's blood.
He's a whole lot less sexy than Gonzalez, but Trevor Cahill isn't without his merits. He's a ground-ball machine, last season as much as ever. He walked a few more batters in 2011 than in 2010, but elevated his strikeout rate from 15.1 percent of all plate appearances to 16.3 percent.
Not only is that a substantial absolute improvement, but it covers a critical space. Those numbers straddle the line between thinly and solidly viable when it comes to missing bats and having success.
It didn't translate well to his raw numbers in 2011: Cahill saw his ERA inflate from 2.97 to 4.16. But he is essentially the same pitcher, and any team (the Diamondbacks and Rangers would be good candidates) who wants Gonzalez but has a strong defensive infield could as easily turn to Cahill.
Two full years on the job have been insufficient time for Wade Davis to establish himself as the mid-rotation asset the Rays thought he could be. Now the team has a pitching surplus and needs help at at least two positions, so Davis and teammate Jeff Niemann could be on the block.
Davis is still the better choice. He's younger, more durable and more projectable, yet thanks to his relative struggles thus far, the Rays cannot demand the world for him. He has struck out just 15.2 percent of his total big-league batters faced, down from consistent figures around 20 percent in the minors.
That inability to miss bats has been his biggest issue.
What makes that contact-oriented approach untenable for Davis is that he's a fly-ball pitcher. The Rays have a fine outfield defense, but the AL East is packed with hitter-friendly parks. Fly-ball hurlers struggle to stay afloat.
In a less vicious environment, Davis might do very well, and he's certainly worth exploring.
Matt Garza is the headline name that a team could seek from the Chicago Cubs this winter, but Theo Epstein and company have control over Garza for two years yet, and will need to be blown away to deal him.
It's still possible. More on Garza to come.
But Ryan Dempster should be easier to acquire. He's coming off an ostensibly difficult season in which his ERA rose from 3.85 to 4.80. However, his isolated skill numbers didn't suffer at all.
Dempster barely struck out fewer batters, as a percentage of his total number faced, and even ticked his walk rate down very slightly.
Dempster is essentially what he has always been. He is durable and crafty, good for 200-plus league-average innings on an annual basis. That has underrated value. The Cubs may part with him much more easily than with Garza, given that his contract is up at year's end, and he certainly will not cost anything like what Gonzalez would.
Wildly underrated, Jackson has been worth at least 3.6 wins (according to FanGraphs) for each of the past three years. He is a slight ground-ball pitcher, misses bats when he needs to, walks fewer than one in every 10 batters faced and has great raw stuff.
The fastball will get him a job, but Jackson still could be the value signing of the offseason when it comes to pitching. No team needs to give up a draft pick to sign him, let alone top prospects.
Why is this guy getting overlooked?
The market continues to treat Roy Oswalt like an old man, and given the state of his balky back, that's fair enough. At age 34, though, the Texan has something left yet. His walk rate (5.6 percent of all plate appearances) in 2011 exactly matched his career rate.
He isn't the strikeout maven he once was, but he still gets the ball down, piles up innings and has number-two stuff.
Oswalt might get a three-year deal, but he won't make the sort of obscene money the Miami Marlins gave Mark Buehrle.
Only age is working against Kuroda. He's already 37 years old, but wants a short-term deal, according to Buster Olney. That is a real sticking point, and has many teams exploring trades instead.
That's a shame, because Kuroda's skills remain unimpeachable. He's a ground-ball pitcher who will consistently walk fewer than one in 15 opposing batters, and who can strike out easily three times as many batters as he walks.
Some team, likely Arizona, will wise up soon, bow out of the bidding war for the big-name hurlers and simply spend some money to add Kuroda without losing prospects.
Call him Mr. Reliable. Rodriguez's xFIP over the past four years has fluctuated between 3.72 and 3.55, supported by a broad base of skills. He's owed at least $23 million more on his current contract, which makes him less valuable than Gio Gonzalez or a few other possible left-handed targets.
For teams who want to play it safe and part with less talent while upgrading the rotation, Rodriguez makes sense anyway.
He's only a year from free agency, but Danks doesn't figure to break the bank in arbitration this winter, and he continues to provide value as a mid- or front-rotation starter from the left side.
The White Sox are in out-and-out rebuilding mode, and selling off Danks is probably crucial to their offseason plan.
Chicago might not find the right trade fit to give up Danks until the summer, but GM Kenny Williams doesn't drive as hard a bargain on those phones as does Billy Beane. He's aggressive, and some team might be able to take advantage by wringing Danks out of Williams for less than market value.
Basically, Garza will pitch for one of two teams in 2012. One option is for the Chicago Cubs to simply retain him, knowing they have two more years of control over him and that he is an elite starter right now.
The other option is for Garza to land with the Texas Rangers, who can play Gonzalez's availability as a card at the negotiation table with the Cubs.
GM Jed Hoyer would be foolish to deal Garza without getting a package in return that began with Rangers third-base prospect Mike Olt, but the Rangers might have enough leverage to make such a deal happen anyway.
Consider the list of teams still in serious pursuit of starting pitching help:
Those five teams all have money. In fact, they all have lots of money. The Blue Jays and Rangers definitely have the depth to trade for a starter without missing the lost talent much. The Nationals and Yankees have the high-profile prospects to land a big name.
When it comes down to it, though, each club would rather spend money than talent to acquire an elite arm. Enter Yu Darvish.
The numbers are dizzying. Darvish has a 1.99 career ERA in Japan. He's 93-38. Over 10 percent of his career starts have been complete-game shutouts. In 2011, at age 25, Darvish went 18-6 in 28 starts, racking up 232 innings pitched, fanning 276 and walking 36.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was never this good, nor his stuff this nasty, and Darvish's delivery is relatively American. It's very coachable.
Is there risk here? Sure, but Darvish promises a possible reward that would overwhelm a lot of people. He could be a $100 million steal.