This season showed pitching depth rules the day. There’s really no such thing as too much pitching. Even prime offensive juggernauts were undone by a lack of pitching in the playoffs - Houston, Los Angeles and Boston were all teams done in by their overall lack of late season pitching. So let’s take a look at some potentially available MLB pitchers, and what it might take to get them. All hypothetical trades are vetted by baseballtradevalues, and within each category, the pitchers are sorted by least value to most. Those at the top of each category should be easier to grab than the bottom.
Arizona Diamondbacks’ Merill Kelly
Hypothetical trade: OF Austin Meadows and C Eliezer Alfonso for RHP Merrill Kelly.
Arizona may not admit it publicly, but they need to step back. Kelly is a short term asset, and he could bring back some long-term projects with low success rates but huge potential. For Detroit, he adds stability to the back of a young rotation, with a strong groundball rate, a relatively high workload, and solid bottom-line run prevention. There’s probably better value on the free agent market, but if Kelly is a guy they want to work with, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.
San Diego Padres’ Mike Clevinger
Hypothetical trade: RHP Kyle Funkhouser and $2M for RHP Mike Clevinger.
The Padres are somewhat cash strapped and might not want to bet $8M that Clevinger can come out and produce high-quality innings, when they already have Snell, Darvish and Lamet as high-upside, "injury-prone" starting pitchers. Taking him off their hands gives us a potential ace, and all it would cost would be a solid, albeit unspectacular, bullpen arm. I love Funkhouser, but he’s replaceable. It’s another sort of "making a deal to make a deal" trade, but Clevinger at least has ace upside. San Diego probably trades other guys first to clear payroll space, though.
Oakland Athletics’ Sean Manaea, Chris Basstt
Hypothetical trade: INF Isaac Paredes, INF Kody Clemens, and OF Daniel Cabrera for RHP Chris Bassitt/LHP Sean Manaea and OF Steven Piscotty.
Oakland is widely expected to step back this winter, but they always like to remain competitive. Getting some high-minors/MLB ready talent back for short term assets is the Oakland way, and attaching Piscotty clears another $8M+ from the payroll. In total, Oakland sheds almost $20M in payroll, adds some MLB ready talent, and gets a polished, high-floor prospect. Detroit gets a mid-rotation arm and an outfielder who hasn’t done much of anything in a while. So, basically, $20M and some superfluous prospects for a single year of a great pitcher. It’s probably an overpay, but not an outrageous one, and it looks even better if the SP is extended, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Controllable Arms the Home Team Might Want Gone for Cash Relief
Cincinnati Reds’ Sonny Gray
Hypothetical trade: C Dillon Dingler, 3B Andre Lipcius, and SS Cristian Santana for RHP Sonny Gray and OF Shogo Akiyama.
A familiar face reappears on the trade front, as Detroit and Cincinnati have already matched up once. With further cost cutting measures incoming, Gray is a logical piece to move. However, his 2-year contract, durable history, and top-of-rotation stuff makes him a premium talent. Getting out from under Akiyama’s contract certainly helps, but Cincinnati won’t bite without a real prospect in return. Lipcius and Santana are high upside players in the low minors, but Dingler is the real prize. Is Dingler worth two years of a great veteran pitcher? I’d wager he is in a vacuum, but maybe not for a Detroit team overwhelmingly short on impact position player prospects. If he’s the next Sean Murphy or Carson Kelly, we made a big mistake - and after flying through the low minors, there’s no reason to abandon ship now.
New Yank Yankees’ Luis Severino
Hypothetical trade: LHP Joey Wentz, INF Isaac Paredes, and LHP Tyler Alexander for RHP Luis Severino and 1B Luke Voit.
This trade is one of my favorites. It adds Voit, a controllable 1B as insurance for Torkelson who doubles as a trade chip himself. If he bashes 18 dingers by the All-Star Break, we can sell high on a controllable slugger knowing we have Torkelson as a built-in replacement. But more importantly, it adds a top of rotation arm to the mix for 2022, with a reasonable club option for 2023. Severino is a stud, when healthy. That’s a big caveat for a Yankees club closer to payroll constraints that we’ve seen before. In exchange, the Yankees get a fair bit of salary relief, two controllable pitchers, and a cheap infielder to replace Torres or Urshela, who can be dangled for an outfielder or reliever, as needed.
Oakland Athletic’s Frankie Montas
Hypothetical trade: OF Akil Baddoo, C Dillon Dingler, and INF Kody Clemens for RHP Frankie Montas.
Two years of an ace for 5 years of a potential All-Star OF and a solid catching prospect. Wow. It’s crazy how expensive young pitching can get. Considering Montas’ career numbers (3.79 FIP, 26.6 K%) and extra club control, this is a surprisingly appropriate return. Oakland gets controllable, MLB-ready talent and Detroit gets their ace. However, this seems too steep for Detroit to seriously entertain.
Aces who Do Nothing for Bad Teams
Pittsburgh Pirates’ Mitch Keller
Hypothetical trade: 3B Gage Workman and OF Parker Meadows for RHP Mitch Keller.
Ace is a bit of a loose term here, but he’s clearly their best pitcher. And given the vast quantity of pitchers who improve after leaving the Pittsburgh "coaching staff", he’s a name I’d be willing to bet on. He has all the tools to be a successful pitcher - prospect pedigree, a blazing fastball, a low-spin, tumbling changeup- but hasn’t put it together yet. Most noticeably, his 60-grade control has evaporated in the bigs, culminating in a poor 10.4 BB% this season. 4 years with Fetter could certainly be a solution, and it wouldn’t really cost that much. He hasn’t had a strong MLB career, after all.
Baltimore Orioles’ John Means
Hypothetical trade: RHP Jackson Jobe, C Dillon Dingler, OF Parker Meadows, SS Cristian Santana for LHP John Means.
Man, that’s a big package. But Means is really, really good, and Baltimore won’t just give him away for nothing. He threw a no hitter last year, after all, and if that doesn’t put you on the map, I don’t know what does. How much does a 2nd-half plummet drop his value? Hard to say. But if Baltimore trades him, this is the type of deal they’d need. Another one that’s too prospect-pricey for Detroit.
Miami Marlins’ Pablo Lopez
Hypothetical trade: SP Matt Manning, OF Akil Baddoo, INF Adinso Reyes for RHP Pablo Lopez.
For starters, don’t worry - it’s not happening. Just thought I’d throw in a wild one to think about for a minute. 3 arb years of a proven front-line SP is very, very valuable. If all of Mize, Manning, Skubal and Wentz show up, this could be us in just a few years. It arguably will have to be what we do then, if we want to stay competitive for a while.
Controllable Targets that Make Sense if you Squint
Milwaukee Brewers’ Adrian Houser
Hypothetical trade: OF Victor Reyes, OF Daz Cameron, and RHP Zach Hess for SP Adrian Houser and OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
The outfield trio of Yelich, Bradley Jr., and Cain is grossly overpaid, and the Brewers have a limited budget. They also have a starting rotation so strong that Houser didn’t crack it in the playoffs. Seriously, his 3.22 ERA and 59% groundball rate didn’t make a single start in the playoffs, because they already have Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta as their three headed monster and Eric Laur as an enviable "last resort". Houser will get a big arb raise off of his strong year, but he probably isn’t a top-30 MLB pitcher moving forward, as he was by ERA in 2021. The Brewers get to sell high on an unneeded asset and get two cheap MLB outfielders to add to the mix in 2022, with a hard throwing RP prospect as a throw-in. They also shed almost $20M in salary to spend on a real 3B or LF It helps them a lot, and gives us a controllable, backend (or better) starter while clearing out fringe-OF, but upsidey, depth. Cameron was traded for JV, after all.
Cleveland Guardians’ Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Cal Quantrill
Hypothetical trade: OF Robbie Grossman, INF Isaac Paredes, RHP Tyler Madden, and INF Adinso Reyes for RHP Zach Plesac/Aaron Civale/Cal Quantrill.
It’s similar logic to the Brewers trade. That Cleveland team has starting pitching in spades, but maybe 3 qualified hitters in the entire lineup. Grossman and Paredes fill major holes in the outfield and at 2B. Any of the three Cleveland starters has upside, but none has quite established himself enough to cost an arm, a leg, and Matt Manning. This trade makes a surprising amount of sense for both teams, as it makes both more competitive for the upcoming season and years beyond.
Game-Changing Aces who Really aren’t Prohibitively Expensive
Tampa Bay Rays’ Tyler Glasnow
Hypothetical trade: RHP Jose Cisnero, RHP Jackson Jobe, 3B Gage Workman, RHP Ty Madden and LHP Joey Wentz for RHP Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow is this list’s ultimate wild card. Will Tampa Bay hold a roster spot and $6M for a pitcher who won’t pitch in 2022? Probably not. But it’s Tyler Freakin’ Glasnow, and if you haven’t heard, he’s a really good pitcher. They could stand pat, unquestionably. But he takes up a 40-man spot, is roughly 10% of the payroll, and they got to the playoffs without him last year. He’s probably gone, but at what cost for Detroit? This snatches away their shiny new toy, guts the middle of their farm, and takes a critical relief piece away, all for an arm who won’t impact 2022. But Glasnow’s impact in 2023 could be the difference between a Wild Card berth and an unceremonious 85 wins, and that value cannot be overstated. In reality, though, this is way more than we should pay in prospect capital right now. If Glasnow is moved, it’s probably for a bigger individual player than any of these, and probably not to Detroit.
Cincinnati Reds’ Luis Castillo
Hypothetical trade: OF Riley Greene and C Dillon Dingler for RHP Luis Castillo.
And finally, the best pitcher on the market. Don’t worry, this won’t happen either. But seriously, Castillo is absurdly good. Considering a year and a half of Jose Berrios brought back two top-100 prospects, this might even be an underpay. Let that sink in for a moment. Regardless, the Tigers aren’t moving Greene. Just a little reminder of how this whole trade thing works.