Sunday, May 19, 2013
Starting pitching market limited
By Buster Olney
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Since Major League Baseball and the players' association agreed to a new labor deal and MLB followed that up with record-setting television contracts, the clubs -- with money burning a hole in their front-office pockets -- have been aggressive in signing the best talent to long-term deals. Just ask Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander, as well as others who’ve taken less.
One of the ripple effects, however, is that the ranks of the best of the summer trade market have been thinned out. Yes, more starting pitchers will become available as the summer goes along, and some teams will find gems -- remember the Tigers’ aggressive trade for Doug Fister -- but generally, the market for starting pitchers is shaping up to be limited. Here’s how you might rank them as of today:
1. Scott Feldman, Chicago Cubs
Feldman has had many peaks and valleys during his career, but right now he is getting excellent results. Opponents are batting .214 against him this season, and he’s allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive outings -- including his 6 2/3 innings of scoreless ball that he threw against the Mets on Saturday. His use of his curveball has climbed markedly, to complement his sinker and cutter; there is an effective range of velocity of about 14 miles per hour for him these days. From ESPN Stats & Info: how Scott Feldman won Saturday, in allowing no runs in 6 2/3 innings:
A. He had a very good curveball: The pitch retired seven batters (and netted him eight outs, since one batter hit into a double play).
B. Only one baserunner reached against his curveball -- Ruben Tejada on a Starlin Castro error.
From The Elias Sports Bureau: Feldman pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and added a two-run double in the Cubs’ 8–2 win over the Mets at Wrigley Field. Over his past four starts, Feldman is 3–0 with four RBIs. The only other Cubs pitcher in the past 15 seasons to go 3-0 or better and drive in four-plus runs over a four-start span is Carlos Zambrano, who did it in 2003 and again in 2006.
Would any team surrender a package of high-end prospects for Feldman? No. But in the starting pitching market that is beginning to take shape, he might be the best option.
Feldman just keeps rolling, writes Toni Ginnetti.
2. Matt Garza, Cubs
He will throw his first pitch of his 2013 season Tuesday, and what Chicago might get in return for him in trade would depend entirely on how he pitches. If he goes back to being Matt Garza of the Rays days, well, he could ascend to become the most-sought-after pitcher of the summer. He’s eligible for free agency this fall.
3. Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins
His results are not good -- he has a 4.39 ERA -- but other teams may be willing to give him a mulligan on those numbers because of how noncompetitive the Marlins are and focus instead on how Nolasco is throwing. Rival executives will probably focus more on his fastball command and quality of his secondary stuff than they will about his statistics, because pitching for a team so bad means he’s throwing in a lot of meaningless games. Nolasco is making $11.5 million this year, or about $2 million per month for any team acquiring him, and he'll be eligible for free agency in the fall.
4. Bud Norris, Houston Astros
Norris is 4-4 with a 4.32 ERA while making $3 million this year, and as an arbitration-eligible player, he is in line for a healthy raise this winter. Will Norris be around when the Astros begin to climb out of the competitive trench they are in now? Probably not. But Houston’s decision on when to trade Norris is complicated by the reality that it is in danger of becoming one of history’s worst teams. Is he worth more to the Astros -- and to Astros fans -- if they keep him in the hope that he gives them a better chance of winning, say, 50-55 games? Or should they take advantage of his market value this summer -- and the weak market -- while swapping one of the very few recognizable names the franchise has?
5. Lucas Harrell, Astros
Everything written about Norris above applies to Harrell, who is 3-4 with a 5.11 ERA.
6. Jason Marquis, San Diego Padres
He’s signed for $3 million this year and is off to a good start, with a 3.49 ERA -- with some good fortune, given his eight homers and 24 walks allowed in 49 innings. Some rival evaluators view him as an NL-only option, given his age and stuff.
7. Edinson Volquez, Padres
San Diego does have some starting pitching depth in the pipeline as others work their way back from injury, and Volquez is eligible for free agency this fall. He is off to a really rough start, at 3-4 and a 5.55 ERA, with 24 walks in 48 2/3 innings.
8. Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics
The Athletics have other options, and Colon is obviously not part of their long-term plan -- and he is affordable, making $3 million for this season. So far in 2013, Colon has a 4.56 ERA, with just two walks in 47 1/3 innings.
9. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
A total wild card. The Phillies had the opportunity to consider dealing him (and maybe others) before and after the trade deadline last summer. But even after the Dodgers claimed him on waivers, the Phillies backed away from the idea of dealing him -- and in any event, Lee turns 35 in August, at a time when he’s among the most expensive pitchers in the game. He’s making $25 million this year, will make $25 million for 2014 and in 2015, then has a staggering $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, when he turns 38. He’s pitching effectively now, with a 2.83 ERA in nine starts.
Depending on how teams fare in the weeks and months and assess the whole buyer/seller question, other pitchers could become available, like the Jays’ Josh Johnson. But for contenders looking for rotation help, the pickings could be incredibly slim -- which might make it a good time for teams that have increasingly expensive pitching talent with two to four years of service time to move their guys. (Like Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays).
News and notes
• I wrote here the other day about the ripple effects of the David Price injury for the Rays, and Marc Topkin sees it the same way.
The bottom line is that the Rays won’t get the big trade package they’d want for Price, whether it happens this winter or next year or the year after that, until Price shows dominance again.
• Derek Holland will pitch for the Rangers on “Sunday Night Baseball” against Fister. Holland outlined his routine in a conversation with Orel Hershiser and me Saturday, saying that the dominoes of routine start for him the day before his starts:
A late-night dinner of pasta -- chicken carbonara.
A hockey video game.
A breakfast of three eggs over easy, bacon, pancakes.
Another hockey video game.
A nap of about 1½ hours.
Food at the Rangers’ clubhouse, something like Subway.
Pre-warm-up routine, which will culminate between 6:30 and 6:35 Central time tonight, when he hears AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.
• Justin Verlander went back to basics in his bullpen session. He feels that his basic problem is mechanical and fixable. There was some sentiment on the Rangers’ side that Verlander’s arm action in his start on Thursday was something different, something they hadn’t seen before -- observations that support Verlander’s belief that there are fixes to be found in his delivery.
• Max Scherzer really feels like he has locked into something good with his curveball, in how he grips the ball -- a pitch that will complement his fastball, changeup and slider because it’s thrown at significantly less velocity. The pitch really kicked in for him, he says, when he started against Minnesota on April 29.
• By the time the second inning ended Saturday, Anibal Sanchez looked like someone who had done too much work in the Texas heat ... which was precisely his situation. He left in the third inning, and the Rangers won, John Lowe writes. Elvis Andrus had a really big day. Ian Kinsler is still hurting.
• The Diamondbacks won an unusual game.
• From Elias: Gerardo Parra’s first-pitch leadoff home run off Tom Koehler provided the only run in the Diamondbacks’ 1–0 win at Miami. The last time a first-pitch home run in the top of the first inning held up as a contest’s only run was on September 14, 1993, when the Pirates’ Freddy Garcia connected off the Marlins’ Chris Hammond at Joe Robbie Stadium in a game that was called due to rain after six innings. But the last time it happened in a nine-inning game was on Sept. 2, 1963, when rookie Pete Rose went deep off the Mets’ Jay Hook at the Polo Grounds in New York. That was the first of 18 career leadoff homers for Charlie Hustle and the penultimate leadoff home run hit at the ballpark on Coogan’s Bluff. (The Giants’ Felipe Alou would hit the last one 10 days later.)
• As of Sunday, the Marlins have the majors’ worst record at 11-32. The effort from Tom Koehler was wasted.
• Jeffrey Loria went to a game for the first time this season Saturday and nobody noticed, writes Dave Hyde, who says that apathy has set in. The Astros won Saturday with a really strong relief effort.
Dings and dents
1. Two seasons ago, the prime guys in the Atlanta bullpen bore an enormous workload, and whether it’s coincidence or not, two of the three have suffered major injuries. Eric O’Flaherty has a ligament tear, this just a couple of days after Jonny Venters had Tommy John surgery, Mark Bowman writes. Now the Braves’ bullpen -- thought to be the best and deepest in the majors -- is a concern for Atlanta.
The good news is that the Braves will get additional pitching depth in the weeks ahead when Brandon Beachy comes back. The bad news is that there figure to be extraordinarily few good options on the trade market this summer.
2. Alexi Ogando hid his arm pain from the Rangers, manager Ron Washington said.
3. Chris Young is back for Oakland, writes Susan Slusser.
4. Adam Dunn, who has just started to hit, is out with back spasms, Daryl van Schouwen writes.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Jake Odorizzi is going to replace David Price in the Rays’ rotation while the left-hander is out.
2. Jose Altuve rejoined the Astros.
3. Josh Hamilton was benched again.
4. Ned Yost says he will remain patient with Mike Moustakas and others.
5. Tony Cingrani is going back to Triple-A.
6. The Yankees acquired Reid Brignac.
1. Tim Lincecum had a rough night. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Lincecum lost:
A. This was his fourth start this season allowing five or more earned runs.
B. He couldn’t get righties out: Six of his seven hits allowed (including the home run he allowed) were against righties. That’s his highest total of hits allowed to righties this season.
C. He couldn’t get batters to miss: Five swing-and-misses were his fewest this season and tied for his fourth-fewest since 2009.
D. He couldn’t get ahead: His 10 first-pitch strikes were tied for his lowest total this season.
2. The legend of Evan Gattis grows.
3. You cannot stop the Diamondbacks; you can only hope to contain them. They’re in first place.
4. Tyler Chatwood excelled for the Rockies.
5. The Dodgers’ bullpen faltered, writes Steve Dilbeck.
6. Eric Stults was "the man" for the Padres.
7. The Indians giveth, and they taketh away, Paul Hoynes writes.
8. The Pirates’ bullpen faltered.
The Orioles held a 6-4 lead after seven innings Saturday but lost 10-6. From Elias: The loss snaps a streak of 109 wins when leading after seven innings. It was the second-longest streak in expansion era (since 1961), trailing the 1998-99 Yankees (116).
The education of Matt Moorecontinues, writes Martin Fennelly.
After all these years, David Ortiz still torments the Twins, writes Tom Powers.
The Blue Jays keep losing to the Yankees.
Hal Steinbrenner should show Robinson Canothe money, writes John Harper.
The Royals should inspire as much hope as cynicism, writes Sam Mellinger.
Oswaldo Arcia is at home but so far away.
Tommy Milone absolutely battled Saturday.
Mark Trumbo is on a pace for 87 extra-base hits after Saturday.
Jeremy Hefner is still winless.
A new regimen has worked for Chase Utley.
Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have been really good, Hal McCoy writes.
From Elias: Votto went 4-for-4 with two walks and a home run in the Reds’ 10–0 win at Citizens Bank Park. In the past 55 years, only three other Cincinnati players have reached base safely at least six times and homered in a nine-inning game: Frank Robinson against the Dodgers at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1961, Pete Rose against the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium in 1969 and Sean Casey versus the Rockies at Coors Field in 1999.
A second baseman has impressed the Brewers at every level.
Troy Tulowitzki is playing it safe by sitting out some games, writes Troy Renck.
The Giants’ starting pitching continues to be a problem.
Bruce Bochy held a team meeting.
Yasmani Grandal is back, playing in the minors.
The Mariners may have reason for optimism after their slow start, writes Larry Stone.
Totally agree with this.
Folks who know Reid Ryan say he is the perfect choice to be Astros president because he is personable and a perfect olive branch to reach out to a community unhappy with what’s happened with the franchise over the past year. He was hired to run the business side of the sport.
But it’s worth noting that Ryan joins the Astros with extraordinary practical power, because hiring a Ryan in Texas is like hiring a Ripken in Baltimore. Now that he is under the big tent, if he recommends change -- in whatever form -- it’ll be very difficult for anyone in the organization to say no to him because he holds the biggest card in the deck: The Astros cannot afford to have him walk away, unhappy, ever. Friends of Reid Ryan say he is not an cutthroat front-office politician, but he is certainly has the tools to wield deep, deep influence.
You’ll notice that Peter Angelos has never hired Cal Ripken to run the Orioles ... and there probably are reasons for that, reasons of control.
A cool story about how the Millersville University baseball team helped out a little boy in distress.
And today will be better than yesterday.