The 2011/2012 free agent market for starting pitchers wasn’t deep to begin with. Unless teams were willing to shell out upwards of $15 million a year or more for starting pitching, there just wasn’t much out there. Teams that weren’t in a position to contend in 2012 that have starting pitching depth suddenly find themselves in an extremely advantageous position. Two of those teams are the Oakland A’s and San Diego Padres.
The A’s have dangled LHP Gio Gonzalez and dealt RHP Trevor Cahill. Reports suggest the A’s asking price for Gonzalez is as high as it was for Dan Haren in 2007 when they traded him to Arizona and there are several interested suitors. The bounty they got for Trevor Cahill? Not exactly the “Dan Haren” payload one would expect. The A’s landed RHP Jarrod Parker (no. 33 ranked prospect according to Baseball America), right handed reliever Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill. This seems like a decent enough haul right? Cahill is a quality major league starter but he won’t be challenging Clayton Kershaw for the Cy Young award. Jarrod Parker has #2 starter written all over him if (and that’s a big “if”) he can stay healthy. Cook has the look of a decent yet unspectacular set up reliever and Cowgill is ready to contribute as a 4th outfielder. If this alone were the deal, it would seem relatively even, but the A’s were forced to add in set up man Craig Breslow, who is already among the better relievers in the AL. To some, the move made Oakland look desperate.
The return the Padres just got for Latos makes Oakland look even worse. San Diego was able to bring in 1B Yonder Alonso (ranked no. 73 by Baseball America), outstanding catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, projectable reliever Brad Boxberger and former All-Star starter Edinson Volquez. Alonso projects to be a high average, solid power type of first baseman that’s ready to take over a starting spot. Grandal projects to be a very good everyday catcher, capable of hitting for average, power and getting on base. Boxberger should be able to step into a setup role immediately for the Friars, and could potentially close games in the future. Volquez has had struggles with his command, but his arsenal is still as lethal as ever. It’s possible that a move to the spacious Petco Park and the tutelage of fromer pitching coach/curent manager extraordinaire Bud Black could right the ship for the hard throwing righty. San Diego didn’t need to add in any money or any relievers, just Latos.
There does appear to be some good news for the Oakland A’s through all of this. If the asking price for Gonzalez was high to begin with, it may have just shot through the roof. The A’s don’t appear as willing or desperate to move Gonzalez as they were Cahill. Gio is among the better LHP in baseball. He’s young, inexpensive and under team control for four more years, just as Latos is. Half the teams in baseball have already been linked to \Gonzalez, and he appears very likely to be moved, either this offseason or at the trade deadline. Because of the Latos deal, at minimum the price will be three Top 100 prospects and more.
But the A’s aren’t the only team willing to trade a starting pitcher. The Cubs appear to be motivated to move Matt Garza and Carlos Zambrano. The Braves have fielded offers for righty Jair Jurrjens. The White Sox may have a fire sale, and at the top of the list of most desirable players would be John Danks and Gavin Floyd. New York has begun taking offers for LHP Jon Niese and will trade him if the return is right, though Sandy Alderson’s asking price for any of his players has remained astronomical if not downright comical this offseason. The Rays plethora of young pitching talent means that someone like Wade Davis could be moved. The Astros may be expected to move Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers this offseason, as they are in the same position as the A’s and Padres.
It’s possible the trade market for starting pitchers has reached its peak. Starters like Latos aren’t normally traded and so special circumstances may have caused the price to become abnormally high. It’s possible the market was set low by the Cahill trade and the Latos trade merely stabilized it. If this were the case, the asking price could jump even higher later in the offseason and players could be moved for prospect packages never before seen in Major League Baseball. It’s also possible that the market becomes flooded by teams hoping to strike gold in the same manner the Padres did. When the amount of supply (starting pitchers available) exceeds that of the demand (teams willing to pay a premium for quality pitching), prices (the amount of prospects to be traded) falls until a market settles back toward its norm. This means we may not see a package nearly as large any time soon. Whichever direction the market goes, January may turn out to be the most unexpectedly exciting month of the offseason.