Which pitchers could be moved at the MLB trade deadline?
The calendar has flipped to July, which means that the next 30 days will be dominated by trade deadline talk. More than half the teams in the majors -- 16, to be precise -- are currently above .500, within five games of a playoff spot and have at least a 20 percent chance of reaching postseason paydirt, according to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds report, so the remainder of this month may not produce a whole lot more clarity as to which clubs are selling as opposed to buying. Even so, there are sure to be a handful of players on the move from pretenders to contenders. What follows here is a look at five pitchers highly likely to move before the deadline, ranked by my estimate of their chances of being dealt.
With the Rays 13 games under .500 at 36-49, the belle of the July 31 ball is their 28-year-old ace, whose potential to be a difference-maker in a playoff race — think CC Sabathia in Milwaukee, as Cliff Corcoran did — or postseason series is unmatched among this year's crop. Currently making $14 million and with one more year under club control, Price doesn't absolutely have to be dealt this July, but Tampa Bay's return stands to be much lower if it waits until this winter, something it can ill afford given the condition of its farm system.
Performance-wise, Price's current 3.63 ERA is his highest since 2009, but it owes plenty to an uncharacteristically high rates of hits on balls in play (.320 BABIP, compared to .286 career) and home runs per fly ball (13.3 percent, compared to 9.5 percent career). Both may be byproducts of pounding the strike zone so relentlessly; his strikeout and walk rates are career bests (10.5 and 1.0 per nine), and his 10.3 ratio leads the AL. He's actually allowed more homers (17) than walks (14), and he's currently riding a five-start streak of double-digit strikeout performances, a feat unseen since 2004, when Johan Santana did so en route to his first AL Cy Young award.
He's just 2-7 this year thanks to terrible run support (2.3 per game), but Samardzija has shown signs of evolving into a frontline starter, highlighted by his 2.83 ERA. Since becoming a rotation regular in 2012, the 29-year-old righty has proven his ability to miss bats, and while his current rate of strikeouts per nine (8.6) is a shade under where it was the past two years, he's trimmed his walk and homer rates to more acceptable levels (0.6 and 2.6 per nine, respectively) en route to a 3.06 FIP.
Now making $5.35 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility, Samardzija reportedly rejected a five-year extension offer worth upwards of $85 million, and seems bound for free agency no matter who trades for him. If that proves to be an impediment, the Cubs could instead look to deal 31-year-old pending free agent Jason Hammel, whose 2.98 ERA and 3.10 FIP are both career bests.
Last year, Street saved 33 games and posted a 2.70 ERA despite an astronomical 1.8 homers per nine. This year, however, he's allowed just two home runs in 30 innings while trimming his ERA to 0.90 and converting all 22 save opportunities. Even while pitching half his games in Petco Park, he's likely to regress, but with Joaquin Benoit also on the payroll, the basement-dwelling Padres have a ninth-inning replacement at hand, and some other contender is bound to need a proven late-inning arm. Street is making just $7 million this season with an equal club option for 2015 and, despite his injury history -- DL stints in each of the previous four seasons -- he is likely to have plenty of suitors.
Perhaps the number one candidate to benefit from a change of scenery among this group is this soon-to-be-30-year-old righty, who's a far better pitcher than his stat line suggests. After salvaging his injury-plagued career with the A's in 2011 and '12, McCarthy signed a two-year, $15.5 million deal with Arizona, but thanks to a lack of defensive support (.331 BABIP, the majors' fourth-highest), he's been pummeled for a 4.78 ERA since arriving in the desert. This year, he's at 5.11, largely because of a stratospheric 20.3 percent rate of home runs per flyball.
McCarthy does a great job of avoiding walks (1.6 per nine this year, his fourth straight season below 2.0), helping keep his FIPs stable (it's at 3.87 this year). The only question is whether he can stay healthy. Given that he's never made more than 25 starts and that he has yet to hit the DL this year due to his annual bout of shoulder woes, he carries significant risk, though the dismal Diamondbacks are likely to be motivated sellers.
Acquired by the Red Sox in a three-team trade last July 30, Peavy helped Boston win the 2013 World Series, but he's struggled mightily this year. His 4.82 ERA -- due largely to his rising walk and homer rates and falling strikeout rate -- is no fluke, and his 4.86 FIP is his highest since 2003, his first full year in the majors. With the Sox scuffling at 38-45 and with Rubby De La Rosa (a 2.51 ERA before being sent back down) waiting in the wings Peavy's time with the Red Sox may be nearing its end. He's no threat to add another Cy Young award to his collection, but his 12.7 percent HR/FB rate stands a better chance of regressing outside the AL East than within. Boston would probably have to eat a fair bit of Peavy's remaining salary (he's making $14.5 million this year), but he's highly unlikely to have his $15 million player option for 2015 kick in.
If not for the strained flexor tendon that forced him to the disabled list on May 19, Lee would place either first or second on this list thanks to his postseason resume. The 35-year-old lefty won't come cheap -- he's making $25 million a year through 2015 and has a steep $27.5 million option for 2016 with a $12.5 million buyout; the option vests if he pitches 200 innings next year and doesn't end the season on the DL. He may not come easily, either -- he has a limited no-trade clause that prevents him from being dealt to 21 teams, not to mention a general manager in Ruben Amaro Jr. who has been reluctant to admit that his team is sorely in need of rebuilding.
Lee's rehab from his elbow injury has progressed to the simulated game stage, and if he's back in Philadelphia by mid-month, he’s more likely to be dealt. That said, a team might reasonably want to see how he progresses by waiting until the August waiver period — when his remaining salary would also scare most teams away from putting in a claim on him — before committing.