Are we all tired of speculating about trades yet? Not yet! Johnny Cueto is one of the most rumored players to be moved. There are plenty of teams in on him. Cole Hamels has been rumored to be moved for awhile too. The Reds and the Phillies find themselves out of playoff contention; the Phillies are embarking on a rebuild, and the Reds are probably going to re-tool after Cueto leaves. While there are many teams supposedly in on each player, which team could really use him the most in their playoff push this year?
Establishing each player's potential performance for the rest of the season is the place to start. Since I'm worrying only about this year, I won't factor in age or contract status. Only that which will take place before the end of the season is the concern here.
All stats before Monday's games.
So far, Cueto has been worth 2.7 fWAR, and Hamels has been worth 2.3. Their innings pitched are about the same. Hamels has a lower xFIP, but Cueto has the better FIP. In short, aside from a huge difference in BABIP, these two pitchers have been pretty similar so far. Cueto is projected for 1.7 fWAR for the remainder of the season. Hamels is projected for 1.6 fWAR for the remainder of the season. In short, the value each player will provide over the rest of the season is projected to be about the same. Comparable players, in some ways, yes?
Given that each player is projected to provide similar value, I won't make a distinction between which player a team could add for their playoff push. It'll be an either/or thing. It doesn't matter for this exercise which player a team chooses unless there are injuries of which we are unaware.
To figure out which team could use either player the most, the relative position of each team needs to be known. The following visuals show where each team stands in terms of overall odds to make the playoffs according to FanGraphs.
Over in the AL, the Royals, Angels, Yankees, and Astros seem to have a good hold over the top four spots. That leaves a morass of teams fighting for the final spot, a one-game do-or-die road contest. The Tigers, Twins, Orioles, Indians, and Blue Jays seem to be in the sweet spot where an improvement could shove one team ahead of the rest.
However, opportunity cost must be considered. In most cases, the acquired pitcher will not be replacing a replacement-level pitcher. I'll go team-by-team to assess the situation. I'll calculate a potential improvement by subtracting the average projected fWAR (between Steamer and ZiPS) for the player that Cueto or Hamels would replace from the projected RoS value of Hamels or Cueto, which I'll set to be 1.6 fWAR.
This has definitely been a weakness. Right now, the Jays are rolling with Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, Drew Hutchison, and a rotating cast of guys for the fifth spot. Felix Doubront is currently occupying the fifth spot and is the most likely to be replaced by a Cueamels acquisition. Doubront had a decent season (by FIP) in 2013, but he was not good last year (negative value). He's projected for 0.4 fWAR over the rest of this season in only 41 innings. There is definitely room for improvement.
Potential improvement: ~1.2 wins
The Indians are set in their top four with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar. Cody Anderson is the guy who made the most recent fifth start; Anderson is basically projected for replacement level performance. Anderson is a rookie, though, who performed admirably in AA and AAA this year. He's had four good outings. Regardless, if I'm keeping the methods consistent, the gain here is higher.
Potential improvement: ~1.6 wins
Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez are holding onto the top four spots. Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris have most recently made the fifth starts, but it looks like Norris is converting to a relief role. Gausman made a few starts before the All-Star Break and will take over the fifth start after a pair of starts in AAA. He is very talented, and he had a good season last year. The projections see an average of about 0.7 fWAR for the rest of the season split between relief and starting.
Potential improvement: ~0.9 wins
The Twins are rolling with Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Kyle Gibson, and Tommy Milone. It's not immediately clear to an outside observer whom Cueto or Hamels would replace. Milone has the highest FIP and xFIP of not Ervin Santana players, so it's probably him. Milone is projected for about 0.4 fWAR for the rest of the season.
Potential improvement: ~1.2 wins
Hanging on by a quickly fraying thread, the Tigers' rotation this year is not like last year's. David Price is still himself, but Anibal Sanchez and Alfredo Simon haven't done a great job behind him. That's only three pitchers. Justin Verlander is throwing pitches. There are other players throwing pitches. A Cueto or Hamels would be a great help here. At best, the player one of those guys would replace is replacement level.
Potential improvement: ~1.6 wins, maybe more
Now, the NL playoff odds.
Despite a guy named Dallas Beeler making a start for the team recently, the Cubs don't need Cueto or Hamels. Tsuyoshi Wada is likely to return soon. Methods are methods, though. Wada is projected for 0.5 fWAR for the rest of the season.
Potential improvement: ~1.1 wins, I guess
Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston have been solid for the team this year. Tim Lincecum is making starts again, but not recently. Matt Cain, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Vogelsong round out the rotation for the defending champs. Vogelsong is the most likely candidate to be replaced; he is projected for ~0.3 fWAR over the rest of the season.
Potential improvement: ~1.3 wins
The Mets probably have 17 pitchers as good as or better than Cueto or Hamels. Is this necessary? Jon Niese is the fifth starter. He's projected for 0.7 fWAR for the rest of the season. Are we calling their rotation The Avengers yet? That should be a thing if it isn't.
Potential improvement: Math says ~0.9 wins, but I say no improvement. Do you believe me or math?
After this exercise, the largest potential improvements belong to the Tigers and Indians. The NL is not as tightly bunched; the Cubs seem to have a good chance to grab that last Wild Card spot. Given the Indians' current fifth starter status, a younger and promising type of fellow, and the Tigers' status near the lower end of that morass of AL pretending contenders without any viable solution at the backend of the rotation and with an injured Miguel Cabrera, I'll give the edge to the Tigers as the team that needs Cueto or Hamels the most.
Unfortunately, while the Tigers (Mike Ilitch really) have the money and the desire, they probably don't have the prospects for either the Reds or the Phillies to enter the conversation.
Update: The Tigers appear to be sellers at the deadline this year. Apart from the Indians, the Giants have the highest potential improvement in this article's methodology. The current gap in playoff odds between the Giants and the Cubs is larger than the gap between the Blue Jays and the other teams below them. Doubront is probably a better option than Vogelsong at this point. I'll give the edge to the Giants as the team that needs Cueto or Hamels the most now.
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Kevin Ruprecht is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. He regrets if he included any injured players without mentioning injuries. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.