All right – we’ve heard that Atlanta wants an “Ace”-type pitcher to head its staff, which mostly looks like a bunch of #2’s and 3’s right now. Last week, we focused on David Price as the (likely) Most Available ace out there. But what of the rest of the crop? Who might actually be obtainable via trade? Even better: who are these “aces” anyway?
Definitions of Terms
For the purposes of this exercise, an Ace is an undisputed #1 – but he’s more than that: a stopper – someone who can be counted on to deliver a quality start probably
80% of the time [EDIT: at least half the time; agreeing with comments below]. By this, I do not mean to employ the watered-down Quality Start definition that’s in vogue (at least six innings; no more than 3 earned runs). I’m thinking at least 7 innings with 2 ER or fewer. That’s the kind of pitcher that the opposition fears. In terms of overall performance, I am going with 4+ years of an ERA+ at 130 or better… with some wiggle room for special cases. This is my own greatly simplified definition, your mileage may vary.
When these guys go on a roll, nobody hits them. When playoffs come, you hand them the ball and say “Go get ‘em”. When facing these guys, you look at the upcoming schedule and think things like:
- We’ll really have to play well to beat this guy
- I hope we can hang with them until we can get the bullpen into the game
- At least this is only one game
There are “#1″ pitchers who are not aces. Aces strike fear into the opponents. #1’s can have really good days – certainly – but you feel like there’s still a decent shot for your club to win when you face them. Aces have been there and done that for quite a while – they are not ‘flashes in the pan’ or ‘one season wonders’. They are the best of the best. There are guys you can project to eventually achieve Ace-dom, but until they’ve actually earned the distinction – they aren’t allowed into this club.
Comparison to past pitchers/career ERA+
- Tom Glavine: 118 (below 100 before 1991; after 2002, never exceeded 119)
- Greg Maddux: 132
- John Smoltz: 125 (was ace-level from 1995-2008)
- Randy Johnson: 135
- Roger Clemens: 143
- Bert Blyleven: 118 (several excellent years from 1972-1977; 1984-85)
- Jack Morris: 105 (peak was 133)
Who Ya Got?
I have compiled a long list, which definitely contains names of pitchers not at that ‘ace’ level. But I opted to expand the list in the interests of completeness and argument avoidance (though I’ll still probably miss somebody). In addition, there will clearly be a lot of competition among teams wanting to add pitching this off-season, and the odds of Atlanta being able to land its first choice have to be thought of as remote. Thus, we need to evaluate all possibilities.
The criteria for getting onto this list in the first place: high pitching fWAR or low ERA – accumulated either over the past four seasons or this past season. I left off pitchers already on the Braves’ roster (Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, et al) and those announcing retirement (Andy Pettitte) or who should (Roy Oswalt). Now I recognize that this criteria violates one of my rules for defining the Ace – the longevity test. Again, though, I’m looking for any players Atlanta might be able to land. It is pretty clear that while this team seeks an ace; they may not find one or get one.
As a result, this is lengthy… buckle up.
I’ll use ERA+ from baseball-reference.com to establish a more-or-less level field for comparisons (I know – it’s an imperfect science) and their contractual data.
Bronson Arroyo. Not an ace. $16.4m in 2013. That’s a lot for a non-ace. Agents: Clifton, Bross. Free agent right now. One great year in 2006; since then he’s been only 5-10% above average. 9 straight years of 200 innings or better (okay, 199 in 2011), so that holds excellent value… but not $16.4m value (think Derek Lowe). He is 36 and won’t see those kind of numbers again. Cincy will likely offer the Qualfying Offer contract of $14.1m… and he should take it. Verdict: Available; not desirable.
- Homer Bailey. Not an ace. $5.35m contract in 2013 via second arbitration year (agent: Hendricks Sports). 27 years old, free agent in 2015. 200+ innings in 2012-2013. ERA+ of 111 last 2 years. A solid contributor, Bailey should get another big contract boost in 2014. The Reds net opening day payroll in 2013 was $106.8 million. They already have to deal with Bronson Arroyo‘s pending free agency ($16.4m in ’13) and the likely loss of Shin-Soo Choo. Bailey is the 2nd highest-paid pitcher at the moment. So they have the funds, and I believe there would be no motivation to move him, given other needs… and this second base situation that’s now the 800-lbs. gorilla in the clubhouse. Verdict: not available.
- Josh Beckett. Hard to classify; I’d call him a #1. Since being in on the monster trade in 2012 between Boston and the Dodgers, he’s only pitched 86 innings – that thanks to an odd combination of injuries that resulted in the removal of a rib to relieve pressure on nerves impacting his pitching arm. He’s said to be ready to roll for Spring 2014. Beckett is on a 4 year deal that ends after 2014, so he could be trade bait if the Dodgers fail next year, but that’s not real likely. He’s set to make $15.75m next year – a fair deal for a guy who has had close to ‘Ace performance’ when healthy… but below average when not. Verdict: not available… at least until the end of July.
- Chad Billingsley. Not an ace. Due $12m in 2014; team option for $14m in 2015 with a $3m buyout. Free agent in 2015 – or maybe 2014. Has had trouble staying on the field in 2012; lost almost all of 2013 with Tommy John surgery. Won’t be back pitching at full strength until something in Spring (probably later than earlier). Given other pitching available to the Dodgers, he could be considered either as ‘trade bait’ or ‘depth’ for 2014. That said: he’s only been performing at roughly a ‘third starter’ level after excellent years in 2007-2008. Verdict: likely available; coming off injury; does not meet needs.
- Clay Buchholz. Despite two stellar years (2010 and a 108 inning 2013 – 12-1, 1.74 ERA), not an ace…at this point. He’s also not available: Buchholz is on a multi-year deal with Boston that runs – cheaply – through 2015 with two team options in 2016-17. He’s also currently 29. If Buchholz gets to ‘Ace level’ in the next couple of years, the Red Sox would be nuts to trade him. He’ll likely be worth that contract even if he’s just a little better than average. Verdict: not available.
- Madison Bumgarner. Better than average; quite a bit so in 2013, but not an ace. Nonetheless, the Giants locked him up with an extension through 2017 with team options in both 2018/2019. This is looking like a better deal than even Buchholz’s for the team. The Giants have really put an emphasis on keeping their best pitching. Verdict: not available.
A.J. Burnett. Think somewhere between Derek Lowe (from 2006-08) and Tim Hudson. Not an ace, but a solid innings guy. Agent: Darek Braunecker. 2013 was best season (by ERA) since 2002. However, he’s almost 37 and hinted at retirement late in the year. He is nonetheless now a free agent and is free to sign with anybody… including the Braves, who wanted him before they had to settle with Derek Lowe in 2009. Verdict: available, but Tim Hudson would be cheaper and easier to sign… and likely better.
- Matt Cain. Darn close to an ace, though a down year in 2013. Also, see above about “locking up Giants’ pitchers”. Cain is signed through 2017 with a team option (huge buyout) in 2018. He’s still guaranteed $87.5m from San Francisco and has a no-trade clause for the life of the contract. Verdict: not available. Caveat: the 29-year-old is from Dothan, AL; he might be willing to come to Atlanta. However, I seriously doubt that the Giants are interested in moving him
since Lincecum may leaveand the money is a bit rich for Atlanta anyway.
- Chris Carpenter. Has been on the cusp of Ace-level at times. Injury in 2012 has lingered through all of 2013 (pitched 235/237 innings in 2010-2011). Also lost nearly all of 2007-08 with the Cardinals. He is soon to be 39 years old, and could be done. If he returns, I expect it will be only with St. Louis, out of a sense of loyalty given that he has been unable to fulfill his last contract at all. He is a free agent, though, and St. Louis may wish to move on. Verdict: likely not worth the risk unless he comes cheaply; could retire.
- Alex Cobb. Not an ace, though listed here due to break-out season in 2013 (2.76 ERA in the AL East at age 25!). That said, he is utterly unavailable – a proud product of the Rays’ system and not even arbitration eligible yet. He’s a Ray until at least 2016-17. Verdict: not a chance.
- Johnny Cueto. Not an ace, though his ERA looks the part… one more year of that, and we might have to think of him in that way. Injury limited him to ~61 innings in 2013, but he still did very well. Sweet deal for Cincinnati: $10m for 2014, team option for the same in 2015. He’s not going anywhere with that performance and that contract. Verdict: not available.
- Yu Darvish. Sure looked like an ace this year, though his 2.83 ERA was tempered with a 13-9 record. He’ll have to match that for another year+ to be an ace, but it’s looking good for him. Meanwhile: signed through 2017 at an affordable $10m-11m per year… but then there’s that $50m posting fee that the Rangers are still getting their money’s worth on. Verdict: he isn’t going anywhere.
- Jose Fernandez. Crazy-good season for a rookie. ERA+ of 176. Not an ace, but… dang… hard to imagine seeing him 4-5 times a year for the next 5 years. Agent: Scott Boras. Now it’s precisely because of Boras that you have to pause here for a moment. Also because it’s the Marlins that are involved. I have to therefore expect that sometime before he becomes a free agent (2019), the Marlins will cut him loose. But it’s not going to happen this year… and shouldn’t until at least 2017. Even Jeffrey Loria isn’t that stupid. Verdict: not available.
- Doug Fister. Flashes of brilliance, but not an ace. Just completed his first arbitration year with a 115 ERA+ (123 in 2012). Agent: PSI Sports Management. Free agent in 2016, so he’s got 2 years of control remaining (30 years old in Feb). Detroit has a few needs, though I believe they’d much rather part with Rick Porcello rather than Fister. Of course, teams would rather have Fister. But it is because his trade value is rather high that I would think he’d be an excellent trade chip to use if they cannot otherwise fill those holes. Fister’s price is likely ‘David Price high’, though, due to the size of his contract ($4m in 2013). Verdict: probably not available unless Detroit is overwhelmed.
Matt Garza. Not an ace. Decent performer, better than many, but no. Also has had a little trouble staying on the field recently: 104 innings in 2012, 155 in 2013). Did not pitch as well at Texas (you gotta feel for the Rangers: everything went wrong for them this year). Free agent. Agents: CAA Sports. 2013 contract: $10.25m (a Super-2 deal). Verdict: available, but our staff already has better pitchers.
- Gio Gonzalez. Not an ace yet. Very good at times, but more like a high #2; low #1. Under contract through 2016 with Nationals with team and vesting options through 2018… at reasonable $12m rates for the last 3 years. Age 28. Even if he throws at the level he averaged in 2010-2013, he will definitely earn his money and the Nats will be happy to keep him on those terms; besides, they also have Strasburg. Would be happy to have him, but: Verdict: not available.
- Zack Greinke. I honestly have to say ‘not an ace’ simply because of the “duration” rule I imposed above. He had an incredible year in 2009 (ERA+ 205, Cy Young Award), but has failed to repeat that, though 2013 was easily his best year since 2009. Regardless, if the Braves had wanted him, then 2012 was the opportunity – and they let him go to LA… to both LA teams, actually. He’s a perfect sidekick for Kershaw now and on a very big deal (6 years/$159m) through 2018… though he has an opt out – for some reason – after 2015. Verdict: not a chance.
- Roy Halladay. Was an ace. Was slowed in 2012, and had to have his shoulder repaired in 2013. Tried to come back late in the year… clearly wasn’t ready, despite his best efforts. I’ll give him credit: he’s got game. His contract with Philadelphia is done, as the option clause did not vest. He will be 37 years old next Spring. Agent: CAA Sports. Last deal was for $20m at the end. His injury will no doubt reduce his next opportunity – and he’ll get one – to something in the $10-12m range, based on reputation alone. The Braves have often looked for bargains, and if other opportunities fall through, this could actually be one of them – if the medicals are good; if a workout proves he’s back into form sometime this winter; if he’s willing. I would have to believe that more than a few teams will kick his tires before Spring Training. Philadelphia might as well. Verdict: definitely available; very useful if fully healthy.
- Cole Hamels. Was looking ace-like using 2013. But whether that season was a hiccup or not, he’s on a big – huge – deal with Philly through 2018 (at least). Let’s move on. Verdict: not available.
- Dan Haren. Looked ace-like in 2007-2009, again in 2010. Below average in 2012-13. Washington overpaid to get him in 2013 in the hopes he’d regain form – didn’t happen. $13m deal in 2013; Agent: CAA Sports. Will have to be cheaper in 2014, so somebody could buy themselves a bargain. Turned 33 last month. Verdict: available; could be the best on the list not named ‘Price’.
- Matt Harvey. 2 years, and he was looking like a future ace. Alas: Tommy John surgery will halt that progress until 2015. Wasn’t available anyway. Verdict: unavailable… and injured.
- Felix Hernandez. Ace. Mariner for life… more or less. Verdict: Next…
- Derek Holland. Not an ace. Above average, but no. Now on a multi-year deal with Texas: options in 2017-18, though at reasonable rates, even for his level of performance. Verdict: not available.
- Tim Hudson. Not an ace, but solid #1. 205-111 lifetime; ERA+ averages 124. Will be 39 mid-2014. Agent: Paul Cohen. Finishing a $9m deal x 4 years; projecting a 1 yr. contract $7m-$8m would sign him with Atlanta. Others could offer him $10m. Injury unrelated to arm, so arm and back got to rest for August/September. Should be ready to go by December; January at worst. Verdict: available. Expecting Atlanta to explore alternatives first; would like him back regardless.
- Hisashi Iwakuma. Pretty close… give it another 2-3 years, and you might be able to think ‘ace’ with him, though his age (33 in Spring) may work against that. Iwakuma is on an odd schedule due to his Japanese League origins. Currently under contract through 2014 with cheap team option for 2015 ($7m). According to baseball-reference.com, he’s arbitration-eligible after that; under team control through 2017. If the Mariners made him available, they could ask for the moon. However, if they did, there would be an uproar – and it would hurt their ability to land future Japanese League players. Regardless: you keep guys like this. Verdict: not available.
- Ubaldo Jimenez. Not an ace. Looked the part from 2009-2010, but regained some of that form in 2013.
Cleveland holds an $8m team option on him for 2014. If they fail to exercise it, they’re nuts. Update: MLBTR reports that the team option became voidable when he was traded to Cleveland. He’s been up and down a bit, but may have finally recovered from the shock of leaving Denver and joining the AL. Verdict: available: after his 2013 work, he’ll make himself a free agent.
Josh Johnson. Ace-like tendencies…. when healthy. And that’s been his career… not being able to stay on the field. 7 years of service time; above 180 innings just 3 times. Free agent, having completed a 4 year deal ending at $13.75m. Age: 30 in January. Agent: Matt Sosnick. Verdict: available, though very risky.
- Scott Kazmir. Not an ace. Talk about risky… Kazmir showed that he could pitch again after missing 2012 completely. As long as he seems to have been around, he’ll turn 30 exactly 1 week before Josh Johnson does. Free agent. Agents: Genske, Peters, Parker. Should be affordable, but hard to predict what he will do for you. For Atlanta, you’d have to think ‘rotation filler’ – and that’s not needed by this team. Verdict: available, though risky.
- Clayton Kershaw. Ace. He’s now well-earned that level. And the Dodgers are going to throw money at him to try and make him a Dodger for life. Verdict: not available.
- Hiroki Kuroda. Not an ace. Has been very good – especially with the Yankees. Roughly Tim Hudson performance level lately, though I’ll bump him up a notch given the AL East and New York in general. Free agent. was on a 1-year $15m deal. Agent: Octagon. Before signing with New York (2012), had expressed interest in staying on the West Coast. Nonetheless, he chose New York – and re-upped for 2013. Verdict: technically available, though can’t foresee him signing with Atlanta.
- John Lackey. Not an ace. Just turned 35; had a string of good-to-great years 2005-2009. 2012-13 was not up to that standard. Current contract has him signed through 2014 with an odd vesting option for 2015. Vagueness of that involves missing ‘significant time’ due to elbow injury. I guess missing all of 2012 with a Tommy John surgery would probably invoke that clause. Since he’s signed up for 2014, then, Boston will probably be forced to see what he has in the tank this Spring. If he’s okay, then they keep him. If not, they could seek to dump his salary for sunflower seeds. Verdict: no reason to even ask about him.
- Mat Latos. Not an ace. Almost 26 years old. Under some team control through 2015; on a 2-year deal for 2013-14 that pays $7.25m next year. Has been solid for first 4 full major league seasons… likely still improving overall. But then that also means there’s no reason to move him, either, unless the Reds think they need a total overhaul. That’s not likely, though, and their pitching has actually been a steady mainstay of their team (Arroyo, Bailey, Latos, Cueto and Leake… and Cingrani looks to step in if they lose Arroyo). So if anybody leaves, it shouldn’t be Latos unless a King’s ransom is involved. Verdict: not likely available; would be very highly priced.
- Cliff Lee. Most people would call Cliff Lee an ‘ace’. 200+ innings for six straight years; 2 more before 2007. Average ERA+ actually below Hudson’s at 119, but has not been below that since 2007. Has a Cy Young award (2008). Here’s what I can’t figure: Philly has sort of dangled him out in the trade market for a couple of years while they haven’t been competitive. Yet rather than take the salary relief (he’s still due at least $50m more – maybe $77.5m through 2016), they reportedly asked for top prospects in addition to another team taking his entire contract. No, it makes little sense to me unless the Phillies figure that 2014-15 will be better for them and they need the pitching to go with it. But if 2014 is a downer for them, they might be more serious about trading Lee… this time. Verdict: could be available by July… but that’s too late and too expensive for Atlanta, even if they want to work with the Braves.
- Jon Lester. Not an ace. Once again, we have a pitcher who has walked up to that pedestal… and then walked away. 2008-2011 were very good years for Lester, but 2012-2013 were less kind. In fact, you might think that his team option (2014; $13m) could be in jeopardy… but no, especially given his age, history, Lackey’s situation, Ryan Dempster‘s lackluster year, and the fact that he’s the Game 1 World Series starter tonight. Verdict: the Red Sox will keep him.
Tim Lincecum. Not an ace. After 2011, I would not have said that, but times change. The Freak has not been very good in either 2012 or 2013… though there were signs of a turn-around at the end of 2013. And that makes his current contract situation very interesting: free agent. Agent: Rick Thurman/BHSC. Just finished a 2 year/$40.5m deal. Turned down another 2 year offer from San Francisco – presumably to sign a 1-year deal with a team in so that he can hopefully rebuild his now weaker reputation as a stopper. So is he the starter who posted ERA+ of 112/168/171/114/127 with 2 Cy Young awards? Or is he the guy posting 68/76 over the past 2 years? Here’s another case in which Atlanta could risk a cheap – probably would still require $10-12million 1 year deal to see what he’s still got. If he’s back, it’s well worth it. If not, it’s a total waste. Verdict: given other considerations, that’s a tough pill to swallow… yes, he’s available; no, I don’t think I’d go there. Update: overcome by events. Wow – I guess SF has a bunch of money to spend: 2 years/$35m.
- Francisco Liriano. Not an ace. 2 good years (including 2013), one really good one (2006 – before injury stopped him). Signed through 2014 with Pittsburgh, though it was a $1m deal this year and $6m next year. I don’t see an ‘out’ clause for the Pirates. They had twelve different pitchers start games in 2013 – six logging over a half-years’ worth of starts. That doesn’t include James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez. McDonald (shoulder) was DFA’d and elected free agency, so he’s no longer in the picture, but Rodriguez (forearm arthritis) should be ready for Spring (player contract option for 2014).
All of that to say this: Liriano could be made available by the Pirates since they have many arms available and they have to pay Wandy a pile of money. By fWAR, Liriano was their second-best pitcher, behind Burnett… if you ignore the fact that Gerrit Cole came on like gangbusters. But it would save Pittsburgh up to $6m to move Liriano, and they still have to figure out how to fill a couple of holes. But would I want Liriano? Plus signs: turns 30 years old this Saturday; 1 year affordable deal; just finished best season since 2006; first good season since 2010 (change of scenery helped, perhaps?). Minus signs: only good season since 2010; no actual improvement to the Atlanta rotation; it would be a ‘buying high’ situation. Verdict: you could likely talk trade with Pittsburgh, but would seem to be no advantage in obtaining him.
- Kyle Lohse. Not an ace. Actually didn’t even make the initial cut on this list, but Atlanta’s waiver claim on him in August brought him into the discussion anyway. Last 3 years of ERA+: 117 (2013), 133, 109. Started slow with Milwaukee, finished strong… including a game vs. Atlanta… was their best pitcher. Signed for 2014-15 at $11m per year. Was a late 2013 signee due to a combination of Scott Boras tactics and team restraint since his acquisition meant the loss of a draft pick. Lohse is now 35 and the idea of a 2-year commitment is probably about right for him. He would likely be a decent pickup – will eat innings; solid #1/#2 guy if the Brewers would listen. They have been difficult to work with – trading only a couple of relievers last year, despite their position in the standings. I suppose they believe in the pieces they’ve accumulated, but that didn’t translate into wins last year – Ryan Braun notwithstanding. Verdict: likely not available in 2014; would have to overpay to make a deal.
- Justin Masterson. Not an ace. 29 years old in March. Had 2 or 3 pretty good years, including 2 of the last 3. 2014 will be his last arbitration year; he made $5.69m in 2013. Made the All-Star team. By fWAR, he out-pitched Ubaldo Jimenez; by ERA he was a couple of ticks below. The Indians are similar to Atlanta: several good – not great – pitchers, though Atlanta still gets the nod overall. As such, either Jimenez or Masterson could add to that, but neither would be the significant upgrade the Braves seem to be looking for. Verdict: not available unless Cleveland isn’t competitive – and then only in late July.
- Ricky Nolasco. Not an ace. Carlos Enrique Noalsco will be 31 in December. He has been annoyingly average. Last 3 years of ERA+: 101, 100, 101. But he’s also thrown 206, 191, 199, 199 innings in recent years, too. Look, this is already way too long to waste time discussing an average pitcher: Verdict: moving on – nothing to see here.
- Jake Peavy. Not an ace. 33 next March. On a 5 year deal for $77m with a 2015 player option at $15m. For all of this hoopla over Peavy and the excitment (including from me) about maybe trying to buy him from the White Sox at the trade deadline, I am duty-bound to report his ERA+ numbers for the past three years: 101, 100, 101. No, that is NOT a misread of the same pattern I just wrote for Ricky Nolasco! Yes, Peavy has been better than this: essentially ace-like from 2004 through about 2009. But since joining the White Sox, he’s just not been the same guy. Would I want him on my team? Maybe… as a #1/#2… but not an ace. Verdict: not available until at least the 2014 trade deadline… probably longer.
- Rick Porcello. Not an ace. Strange case, this one. Detroit was dangling Porcello to open the year… he was the human trade rumor for a while. He’s still just 24 – will be 25 at the end of the year – and is in the middle of his arbitration cycle (Super 2 – free agent after 2 more years; Agent: Hendricks Sports). From the Tigers’ perspective (and that of fantasy baseball aficionados), I can see the dilemma: he made $5.1m last year, he has a high WHIP (1.39 average) and mediocre ERA+ (95 average). The fans looking only at W/L numbers might not get it: 14-9 (twice), 10-12 (twice), 13-8 in 2013. That’s usually acceptable. And this year he improved to a 4.32 ERA, which is not horrible in the AL.
I would like to see Porcello in an NL park – I think he’d do well for a middling team like Milwaukee or Pittsburgh. He might even blossom in Atlanta, though I frankly don’t see the upside for the Braves – especially if their aspirations are higher. Besides, we already have a bunch of similar arms, and ours are much cheaper. But I have to believe Detroit will listen – more so in 2014 than they did in 2013, for Porcello is likely to fetch ~$7m in 2014. That will be beyond a Kris Medlen number next season, and is a lot to pay for ‘average’… which he’s yet to achieve since his first year. Verdict: should be available; should not be pursued.
- David Price. By the strict definitions I’ve laid out, Price is darn close to ace-dom, but he needs to repeat his even-numbered seasons to get there. He is 28 years old, 122 career ERA+ (I’d like to see 130+ for an Ace; his 108 in 2011 and 114 in 2013 drag that down). Does have a Cy Young award (2012); does have a 20-win season. Missed 200 innings in 2013 (missed ~6-7 starts). K/BB ratio of 5.59 – excellent control.
Okay, it’s no secret that we here on TomahawkTake.com like Price. He’s The Guy that most of us want the Braves to acquire. We like his upside; we like his performance; we like his age; we like his Leftiness. He’s from Murfreesboro, TN (SE of Nashville), and went to school at Vandy with Mike Minor. We think his best years are still coming, and that he should be the #1 target for Atlanta – almost regardless of the cost.
Price is a Super-2 arbitration player: still under team control for 2 more seasons… albeit with a cost: he was already at $10.1m in 2013, which is exactly why everybody – Price included – believes that Tampa Bay will jettison him for new farm hands this off-season. He’s priced out of the Rays’ budget. New TV money will give them a shot at retention, so this is far from a slam dunk, but there will undoubtedly be high competition for him starting in a couple of weeks. I believe Tampa Bay will likely let him go because (a) the timing is good for them; (b) they don’t need to risk him getting hurt and blowing the value he has; and (c) the money thing. Verdict: very likely available; definitely trade-worthy.
- Hyun-jin Ryu. Not an ace. Just signed on from Korea (age 26) on a 6×6 deal through 2018. The Dodgers like him; he posted a fine 119 ERA+; he’s not going anywhere. Verdict: not available.
- CC Sabathia. Semi-ace. The only reason I use that “semi-” prefix for Carsten Charles Sabathia is because of his 2013 performance – 85 ERA+, which followed a 125 in 2012. He’s still very very good, but showing a decline after a ton of innings in the last decade (2009-2011: 230, 237.2, 237.1). In any case, C.C. belongs to the Yankees as his contract runs through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 ($5m buyout) involving how his left shoulder holds up. They still owe him at least $71 million and there’s a no-trade provision (moot now because of 10-and-5 rights anyway). Verdict: not available; some future performance concerns regardless.
- Chris Sale. Ace. Will be just 25 next Spring. Signed a 5 year/$32m deal last season that will run through 2017 with 2 team options for 2018-19 at $12.5/$13.5m. How else can you classify a guy with ERA+ at 156/140/140 over his first major league seasons? Yes, my definition wants to see this over at least 4 years, sure; but the level of consistency is already really good – better than that of the guys who are concensus Aces. Would I want him with the Braves? Definitely. Could it happen? Not a chance. Even as bad as the White Sox are, Sale is the kind of guy to build around – not sell off… which is why they have already inked him up through at least 2017. The only reason you’d move him is if you would get probably three top 100 prospects… think Wil Myers twice, plus Jose Hernandez. The ChiSox do actually need that kind of infusion into their farm system, but that kind of deal isn’t going to happen. Verdict: not available.
- Anibal Sanchez. Not an ace, but sure looked the part this year (2.57 ERA despite 14-8 record for Detroit). Signed through 2018 (5 yrs/$88m). That seemed like a big overpay at the time… maybe not so much now. Sanchez was second on this loaded pitching staff in fWAR – beating Justin Verlander. So are the Tigers gonna move him? No way. Verdict: not available.
Ervin Santana. Not an ace. Will be 31 in December. Free Agent; agent: Wasserman Media Group; $13m from KC in 2013. Occasional flashes of brilliant seasons (2008, 2013 – matched 127 ERA+ results). Also tends to lay eggs some years (2012, 2009, 2007). Somebody is going to overpay to get him – and lose a draft pick in the process. I expect it will not be Atlanta. Verdict: available; but not reliable enough for the ri$k.
- Max Scherzer. Not an ace. Under team control for another year; $6.73m in 2013… will make a boatload more in 2014 as a mid-season 30-year-old (oh, and Scott Boras is his agent). He will take the Cy Young trophy this year with a 145 ERA+ and 21-3 record and 0.97 WHIP. Do that for another year and he’ll be the big free agent then. Detroit will keep riding him until then; nobody sells Cy Guys… except the Mets (which worked out pretty well for them, huh?). Verdict: not available.
- James Shields. Not an ace. baseball-reference.com has this interesting comparison chart that ranks players. Some of the names most closely around Shields are “Pretzels” Getzien (love that moniker!), Steve Trachsel (the human rain delay – pitching version), Jeff Fassero, and Ben Sheets. Shields is good – and has been very good in 2011/2013 – but he’s not that stopper. The Royals went “All-in” on Big-Game James 1 year ago: burning Wil Myers for him and setting the bar for a coming David Price trade this year. They have a $12m team option (will likely pick it up given the price they paid to get him). Whether the Royals are competitive in 2014 or not, I think Shields stays put – to avoid a PR battle if nothing else. Verdict: not available.
- Stephen Strasburg. One more year of 130 ERA+ and he’s probably an ace. But let’s move on… his 1st arbitration year is coming up, he’s not available until 2017, and Scott Boras is his agent. Oh, and the Nationals hate us. Verdict: not a chance.
- Justin Verlander. Ace. That’s a concensus pick: his ERA+ is 127, but that’s punctuated with 172 and 161 in 2011-12. Still, he’s put together seasons of 121 or better for 5 straight years and 7 out of 8. He’s also signed through 2019 with a 2020 vesting option. He’ll get $28m each of the years from 2015-2019… with a no-trade clause. Verdict: not available.
- Michael Wacha. Not an ace, of course, but sure looked like it in September. Verdict: he’s 22 and a rookie. Of course he’s not available.
- Adam Wainwright. Ace. Too bad that Leo Mazzone couldn’t work with him (that’s the rumor I caught). Wainwright has fought his way back through injury and is performing at a near-ace level again after big seasons in 2006, and 2008-2010. His contract runs through 2018 with a no-trade clause. His is the Cardinals’ ace (since Atlanta gave him up for J.D. Drew) and they will keep him. Of course, just to rub it in further, Derek Lilliquist is the Cardinals pitching coach. Your welcome. Verdict: not available.
Jered Weaver. Not an ace, but closer than I thought: ERA+ 127 with 3 straight 132+ years. 2013 was still good (115). He is signed through 2016 (Scott Boras) with a full no-trade clause at $16m/$18m/$20m for the next 3 years. Weaver just turned 31, and he’s actually from Simi Valley/Northridge, CA. Continue below with C.J. Wilson…
- C.J. Wilson. Not an ace, but closer than I thought: ERA+ 118, with 3 straight 134+ years and 4 of 5. However, he’s had 2 down years of 100, 111. His contract (Bob Garber) ramps up in 2014: adding $5m to $16 million, then $2m more in both 2015 and 2016. He has a limited no-trade clause (may block trades to 8 teams). Wilson will be 33 next month, and he’s also from California (Newport Beach).
Los Angeles must be the place in which bad contracts come home to roost. The Dodgers are creating a mess, but Anaheim is at the epicenter. They are paying Vernon Wells $18.5m next year to play for somebody else. They are paying Josh Hamilton $17m ($32m in 2017!) to hit occasionally. They are paying Albert Pujols $23m-and-up for life (seems like it) starting in 2014 ($30m in 2021). Weaver will get $16m… but might almost be worth it by comparison.
It is for numbers like these that you’d have to think that the Angels might what to listen on almost any player they’ve got – though of course pesky things like no-trade clauses and 10-and-5 rights get in the way. It’s why we mention guys like Howie Kendrick as an option for second base.
Even if you could pry either pitcher away from Anaheim, each would present their own risks: both cost a bunch (money and prospects), and you would hope both could rebound to their former glory… though the National League switchover could help.
Verdict: neither are really available; I’d want Weaver more, though he’d need convincing.
- Travis Wood. Not an ace. 27 in February; first arbitration year is coming up. Under team control through 2016. Excellent 2013 campaign (127 ERA+, though does not have overpowering stuff). Not the ace you’re looking for… even if he was on the market. Verdict: not available; would likely not improve the staff.
- Jordan Zimmermann. Not an ace. 28 in 2014, still arbitration eligible through 2015 ($5.35m in 2013). Very solid, steady work in 2011-2013 – ace-like in 2012; 19-9 record for a ‘down’ Washington Nats team in 2013. Regardless, I can’t see the Braves and Nats getting together on any deal – much less for Zimmermann. Verdict: not available.
That was a big list; I apologize for that, but I wanted to attempt something akin to completeness. So here are the available pitchers – in no particular order (almost all are free agents):
- David Price
- Roy Halladay
- Rick Porcello
- Ervin Santana
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Chad Billingsley
- Bronson Arroyo
- Chris Carpenter
- Matt Garza
- Josh Johnson
- Scott Kazmir
- Dan Haren
- Tim Hudson
- Ervin Santana
- Ubaldo Jimenez
(Updated to add Jimenez: the players now shown in bold are my own guess as to those who might be (a) the most gettable; and (b) the best performance bets over the next couple of years). There is probably an argument to be made that almost any of them could deliver 110-120 or better ERA+ performance.
For Comparisons, here’s how the Braves’ starting staff did with ERA+ in 2013:
- Mike Minor: 120
- Kris Medlen: 124
- Julio Teheran: 121
- Paul Maholm: 88
- Tim Hudson: 97
- Brandon Beachy: 87 (weak start – only 30 innings, so that dragged down his number)
- Alex Wood: 124
- Kameron Low: 65
- Freddy Garcia: 237
- David Hale: 488 (yeah, I know: but it’s fun to put that in this list anyway!)
I’ll stop and let y’all talk amiably amongst yourselves.