Backup Plans for MLB Teams Missing out on the Elite Pitching Market
Fear not, pitching-needy clubs. There are still plenty of hurlers capable of improving a rotation next season available this winter.
Over the next few slides, we'll take a look at a handful of pitchers whom teams should pursue now that some of the bigger fish have left the free-agent ocean. Zack Greinke, David Price, Jordan Zimmermann and Jeff Samardzija may have signed elsewhere, but teams still have an opportunity to improve via free agency or the trade market.
Every organization is different and brings different assets to the table. For some, spending on a free-agent hurler is the best course of action. In that case, Scott Kazmir and Mike Leake are two interesting targets teams should explore.
If teams want higher-quality arms, trading for the likes of Carlos Carrasco, Shelby Miller or Tyson Ross may be the way to go. Each hurler is young, productive and under team control for the next few seasons. In a world where free-agent pitchers are breaking the bank, that trio of arms arguably has more value than any free agent in this class.
Let us know what you think in the comments section below. What is a reasonable price for Leake or Kazmir? What type of package would it require to add the likes of Carrasco, Miller or Ross? Which teams really need to add more pitching?
You can never go wrong having Greinke or Price on the roster, but the players on this list are capable of improving a team in their own right. When the dust settles, they may be better options altogether.
The Cleveland Indians have an embarrassment of riches in terms of controllable starting pitching.
Unfortunately, Cleveland can't score. The Tribe scored 669 runs in 2015, which put them 11th out of 15 American League squads. With Michael Brantley set to miss part of the 2016 season after shoulder surgery, the Indians figure to make at least one move in order to bolster their offense.
Sure enough, that seems to be Cleveland's course of action. But instead of throwing money at a free-agent hitter, an upgrade is more likely to be acquired through trade. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported late last month that the Indians might be willing to part with an MLB-ready hurler to improve their offense, particularly in the outfield:
The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Toronto Blue Jays are among the teams to discuss trade possibilities with the Indians this offseason, according to major-league sources. The general framework of those deals would involve Cleveland trading from its estimable rotation depth to acquire an everyday outfielder.
Of Cleveland's attractive trade candidates, Carlos Carrasco is the likeliest to be on the move. The right-hander posted a 3.63 ERA on the heels of a 2.55 mark in 2014, and his 10.58 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fifth in all of baseball last season.
The 28-year-old doesn't look like he'll see a decline in production, either, as 50 percent of his contact comes on the ground while fanning an additional 30 percent of the hitters he faces.
Adding to Carrasco's value is an extremely team-friendly contract. He's locked into his current deal for five more seasons at $37.5 million. In terms of production and cost efficiency, there may not be a more attractive hurler in all of baseball.
Carrasco won't come cheap. The Indians will demand multiple players back in any deal and would prefer they be fairly MLB-ready. But when considering the entire package, trading for Carrasco may give teams the best way to compete in 2016 while maintaining long-term relevancy.
The Houston Astros traded for Scott Kazmir in order to push the club over the hump in the American League playoff picture.
Although he wasn't great with his new club, the southpaw was an integral part of Houston's run to the American League Division Series. In all, Kazmir finished 2015 with a 3.10 ERA in more than 30 starts. On the heels of a 3.55 ERA in 190.1 innings in 2014, Kazmir's production this past year has positioned him well entering free agency.
But that's where judging Kazmir's value gets tricky. He's in the midst of the best stretch of his career, but he's been susceptible to injuries in the past, and he's about to turn 32. According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle, that's the dilemma Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is dealing with right now:
We traded for Kazmir because we wanted Kamzir for the balance of 2015 and for the playoffs. That's independent of who we see Kazmir as as a free-agent candidate for us going forward. The two aren't linked. I think it would be irresponsible of me to want to sign him more so just to justify a trade that is already over. I mean, that trade is over.
Looking forward, Kazmir has never really pitched with velocity. He's relied more on the command of his two-seamer and changeup to deceive hitters, especially over the last few seasons, where he's ditched his four-seamer altogether. He may be aging, but his usage rates indicate any drop-off in production won't be tied to diminishing velocity.
It would be foolish to offer Kazmir a long-term deal, but a short-term, high-dollar contract makes sense for teams ready to contend over the next few seasons. There's plenty of risk involved with Kazmir, but he's an attractive option for teams that couldn't afford the premier free-agent arms.
No fanbase will jump for joy for the acquisition of Mike Leake, but the right-hander is capable of being the missing link for a team hoping to get over the hump.
Leake isn't spectacular, but he's an extremely dependable arm to have on a roster. Since 2012, the 28-year-old has made 30 starts in every season. Over the last three years, he's posted a sub-4.00 ERA without strikeout stuff in the bandbox that is Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Last season, Leake made strides that indicate he's ready to make the next step. He suffered through a terrible May where he posted a 6.75 ERA, but he bounced back to record a 3.14 ERA in the second half. That includes a 1.25 mark in July.
Leake is a strike-thrower who keeps the ball down in order to induce ground-ball contact. He's never going to blow hitters away, but in the right ballpark, he can be a valuable piece to the puzzle.
Teams still in need of starting pitching are aware of Leake's potential value and are pursuing him accordingly. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants have expressed interest in the right-hander.
For teams that have missed out on adding an elite arm, Leake is an intriguing fallback option. He's not flashy and won't top the league in jersey sales, but he's reliable and will bring value to any rotation he joins.
Shelby Miller is another productive, controllable hurler who's seen his name rumored in trade talks over the last few weeks.
The Atlanta Braves right-hander is at the forefront of the organization's rededication to building through young pitching. Seeing as Miller is the most talented, ready-to-contribute hurler in the organization, it's not difficult to understand why teams are overwhelmingly interested in his services.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, "Half the teams in the majors have called the Braves, and the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants are particularly interested." There may not be a shortage in interested teams, but Mark Bowman of MLB.com reported that the Braves "will not alter their significant demands" for Miller.
Nor should they. Miller is coming off career-best marks in ERA, starts, innings pitched, ground-ball rate and WAR. By throwing his two-seam fastball at a career-high rate when he needs contact, the 25-year-old's four-seamer and cut fastball resulted in strikeouts over 24 percent of the time in 2015.
Like Carrasco and Tyson Ross, Miller is also a bargain in today's market. He'll see a significant raise over the next few seasons through arbitration, but he's under team control through the 2018 season. With the way free-agent hurlers are being paid this offseason, Miller's affordable contract only enhances his value.
At 25 and with an effective new approach, there's plenty of reason to believe Miller is just scratching the surface of his potential. Interested teams and the Braves themselves are aware of Miller's development, which is why he's been one of the most discussed trade targets this winter.
NOTE: As of this writing, the Braves are reportedly progressing in talks to trade Miller. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that a Miller trade could happen as early as Tuesday. Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs were "close to [a] deal" for Miller, and Javier Baez and Jorge Soler have been included in those conversations.
For three years running, Tyson Ross has been one of the top hurlers in the National League.
The right-hander first made a name for himself in 2013 when he posted a 3.17 ERA between the starting rotation and bullpen. That performance earned him a permanent role in the San Diego rotation in 2014, and Ross improved his ERA to a 2.81 mark in 31 starts.
There was no drop-off in production this past season. Ross posted a 3.26 ERA and made over 30 starts for the second straight season, all while improving his strikeout percentage to 25.8 percent. He also generated ground-ball contact 61 percent of the time, which ranked third in MLB.
Based off numbers alone, Ross has tremendous value. He's also under team control for two more seasons, which is why the Padres aren't keen to move him if they don't have to.
"While the Padres continue to draw trade interest in right-hander Tyson Ross, they only will consider moving him for a monster package, sources say," said Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
"The Padres value Ross, who is under club control for two more seasons, and might try to extend him," he continued. "Ross, who will pitch next season at 29, is projected to earn $10 million in arbitration in ’16."
As with Carrasco and Miller, Ross won't come cheap. He's a budding ace, and the Padres will demand an overwhelming package in order to part ways with him.
But if San Diego doesn't think Ross will play ball when it comes to an extension, a trade could become a possibility. Regardless, any team that does acquire the 28-year-old will immediately improve its rotation with one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.