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2013 MLB Trade Deadline: Starting Pitchers at a Premium

2013 MLB Trade Deadline
2013 MLB Trade Deadline

Jul 19, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco (47) throws during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

July is often a time when playoff contenders stock up on available talent from baseball’s ‘have-nots.’ Position players and relievers are traded with great regularity, but the thing on the minds of most general managers is starting pitching. This year, their job has been made difficult because the trade market is thin and lacks true star power.

Pitchers are, and have been, available. Unfortunately for buyers, though, there isn’t a lot of true quality out there and the costs have been borderline ridiculous – which would explain the few deals for starters that have taken place.

Ricky Nolasco, one of the first starting pitchers dealt (from the Marlins to the Dodgers), was heavily desired mostly due to a dearth of pitchers available.

With an ERA of 3.72 this season, he has been slightly above average in 2013. His track record, however, suggests that he isn’t a player that will dramatically transform a rotation. In his seven major league seasons prior to this year, Nolasco only once had an ERA under 4.00, and that was back in his career year of 2008 at age 25. In the four years that followed, 2009 – 2012, his ERA ballooned to 4.68, and his 49-43 record during that span is the definition of mediocrity. Despite that and the fact that Nolasco is only a short-term rental (he becomes a free agent at the end of this year), he still cost the Dodgers two young relief pitchers in AAA and promising A+ starter, Angel Sanchez.

The biggest name to be dealt thus far has been Matt Garza. Garza is certainly a better pitcher than Nolasco and is having a career season. However, few would consider him an ace as demonstrated by his past history. His 3.83 ERA entering 2013 was good but not great, and while his postseason numbers have been solid (2-1 record with a 3.48 ERA), he’s been far from dominant. Garza is a decent pitcher, but he also cost the Rangers a considerable amount in their trade with the Cubs.

Chicago reeled in two of Texas’ top five prospects according to Baseball America  – pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Grimm struggled in the Rangers’ rotation this season, but is only 24 and still managed to win seven games. Olt’s batting average is down this year splitting time between AA and AAA, but he has 12 home runs in 2013 and crushed 28 last year in AA while batting nearly .300. If that weren’t enough, Chicago also picked up young pitcher C.J. Edwards as part of the deal. At only 21, Edwards has dominated in the minor leagues in his first two seasons. Last year in Rookie League and A-, he struck out 85 batters in only 67 innings as a starter, going 5-3 with a 1.48 ERA. In 2013 at Hickory (A), he’s been just as dominant (8-2, 1.83 ERA, and 122 strikeouts in only 93 1/3 innings).

In addition, consider that like Nolasco, Garza is also only a potential rental as he becomes a free agent after this season. Texas gave up a significant amount of young talent for what could be a very short-term player.

By comparison, the Baltimore Orioles’ acquisition of Scott Feldman from the Cubs looks like a relative bargain. However, he still wasn’t exactly a steal. With a 9-7 record and 3.75 ERA this season, Feldman has been serviceable. Baltimore also secured 27-year old catcher Steve Clevenger (career major league numbers of one home run, 16 RBI, and a .199 batting average) in return but gave up a pair of young pitchers – Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

Once a highly-coveted prospect, Arrieta has struggled in four seasons at the major league level. However, with a 20-25 record and 5.46 ERA in four seasons, he’s shown glimpses that he can reach the modest success that Feldman has. Arrieta is still only 27 and under team control until 2017. Strop has had a rough year in 2013, but had a combined ERA of 2.35 over the past two seasons. He’s also under team control for a while (until 2018) and could even become Chicago’s closer later this year if the team continues making trades, per manager Dale Sveum. For a rental player, the Cubs did reasonably well in that deal.

Other pitchers such as Yovani Gallardo, Jake Peavy, and Bud Norris are all believed to be available as we’ve outlined here, here, and here. But with the price tags on starting pitching so far this season, don’t expect any of them to be cheap.

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