The trade deadline is a few weeks away, so the rumor mill is about to heat up. To prep you for the coming trade season, we're providing a primer on who the top available trade targets could be as get closer to July 31st.
Playoff contenders are always looking for more starting pitching to give them a push into the postseason. This season is certainly no exception. Several big names — a couple of whom are No. 1 starters — could be moved before the trade deadline. Those arms could be a crucial difference in division and wild-card races.
But there are also several starters that could help fill out a rotation during a playoff drive. That might not sound as impressive as getting an ace, but having a quality fourth or fifth starter is often what separates the great teams from the good ones.
Probably not available but it couldn't hurt to ask
Cliff Lee – Lee is the grand prize of this year's trade deadline if Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. makes him available. With Roy Halladay's future uncertain and Cole Hamels' struggles this year, dealing away Lee would be a tough sell to a Philadelphia fanbase that's provided the sixth-highest attendance in MLB this season. But for a team that's on the outer fringes of contention and could use an influx of young talent, the Phillies should see what sort of package Lee could yield in a trade. One problem is that four of the clubs that would likely be interested in Lee — the Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees and Orioles — are all listed on Lee's no-trade clause. But that can be worked around.
Jeff Samardzija – With two more seasons of arbitration eligibility, Samardzija is appealing to any team looking for a young pitcher that's under team control for multiple years. The Diamondbacks are one such team, and according to reports, they've asked the Cubs about Samardzija. But the Cubs likely want to keep him for the same reason. Samardzija is exactly the sort of No. 1 pitcher that team president Theo Epstein wants to build around. Trading him for prospects probably doesn't make much sense if the Cubs feel that they're not very far from contending. That is, unless a team makes an offer that can't be refused.
Kyle Lohse – Trading Lohse so soon after signing him as a free agent would seem strange. But the last-place Brewers should be open to any offers for their starting pitchers if they can yield some needed prospects in exchange. Lohse is pretty expensive for a pitcher who doesn't strike out many hitters. He's owed $22 million over the final two years on his contract. But Lohse is pitching effectively for Milwaukee, compiling a 3.43 ERA and walking just 1.5 batters per nine innings. He's not a No. 1 starter, but could be a very good second or third starter for a playoff contender.
Take my (overpaid and/or ineffective) starting pitcher, please!
Ricky Nolasco – Judging from initial reports, Nolasco was supposed to have been traded already. Either the Marlins wanted to ditch his remaining $6 million salary for the season before midseason or hoped to deal their starting pitcher before the marketplace became crowded. Regardless, Nolasco is still available — reportedly because they want a trade partner to take on the rest of his salary. The Dodgers have always been considered the front-runner for Nolasco, but the Giants, Orioles and Rockies have shown strong interest too. As we move closer to July 31, either the Marlins will back off on their demands or another team will cede to them.
Matt Garza – Of the pitchers available before the trade deadline, Garza might have the most appeal to a playoff contender — especially among AL East rivals, since he has previous experience pitching in the division with the Rays. Garza has settled any concerns over how he'd perform after suffering an elbow injury last year and a lat strain earlier this season. In nine starts, he's compiled a 4-1 record and 3.45 ERA while averaging 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The Rangers and Nationals could make the strongest push for Garza, though several other postseason hopefuls will take a shot.
Yovani Gallardo – Gallardo is another starter under club control for multiple years, signed through next season with a club option for 2015. That makes him appealing to a team like the Diamondbacks, who want young, cost-controlled pitching. There should be some concern about Gallardo's declining strikeout rate and a rise in his hits allowed per nine innings. But he could be a strong middle-of-the-rotation starter for several teams, some of whom won't necessarily care about his contract situation. Gallardo has become more of a groundball pitcher, which could make him a nice fit in Texas or Baltimore.
Bud Norris – Perhaps it's because Norris now pitches in the American League as opposed to the National League. But the 28-year-old right-hander isn't helping his trade value with his performance this season. Though Norris' 6-7 record and 3.22 ERA look relatively impressive, considering he pitches for the Astros, his strikeout rate has declined while his hits per nine innings have increased. Yet Norris is also under club control through 2015 with two more years of arbitration eligibility. That will appeal to several teams and should allow Houston to yield a better return in a trade.
Well, at least they have a pulse
Shaun Marcum – The Mets will probably have a difficult time trading Marcum, given his injury history. His latest issue is tightness in his back. Marcum is also dealing with tingling in the fingers of his pitching hand, something he dealt with in spring training. With a 1-9 record and 5.03 ERA, the veteran right-hander isn't presenting a strong résumé to any team seeking starting pitching. Yet a contender desperate for a back-of-the-rotation starter might be willing to take a chance on a two- to three-month rental during a playoff drive. That team would have to be pretty desperate, though.
Lucas Harrell – Harrell isn't as accomplished as pitchers like Yovani Gallardo and Jeff Samardzija, but teams seeking younger arms under club control for several years could be interested in him. At 28 years old, Harrell might have less upside than other pitchers in their second full major league season, but he's not eligible for arbitration until 2015. That means he wouldn't become a free agent until 2018. Harrell isn't pitching as well as he did last year, but an arm that can give a team 32 starts and 200 innings has value to a starting rotation.