The upcoming free agency period will be awful in terms of pitching. You’ve likely heard this by now. If you’re going that route for pitching, you’re praying that Rich Hill’s blister issues are gone for good, that he’ll still be reliable and relatively healthy at age 37, and that you have a decent handle on just how asinine the bidding war for his services is going to be.
For reference, here’s a primer on who will be available. We’re entering a world in which Bartolo Colon and a newly Ray Searage-ified Ivan Nova will be two of the most sought-after men. Jeremy Hellickson will be a seriously hot commodity. It’s that bad. That’s not to say that any of these aforementioned pitchers are bad at what they do (depending on how much you buy into the Pirates version of Nova), but that they’re a far cry from the Johnny Cueto-Zack Greinke-David Price group that headlined this past offseason, or even the Max Scherzer-Jon Lester duo from the year before. It’s far from it.
Any pitcher with a smidgen of talent is going to get paid this winter, and paid well because of how few and far between they’ll be. Any team badly in need of pitching runs the risk of being outbid on one of the few arms worth looking at, which means that they’ll need to turn to the trade market. That description fits just about every team except for the Cubs, and, well, it’s hard to imagine the Cubs saying no to adding yet another quality arm to their rotation should the opportunity arise.
So, who’s available in a trade?
There are some intriguing possibilities. Chris Sale and Chris Archer both had their names in circulation around the trade deadline and presumably could be available for the right price. Ervin Santana is the last good pitcher on a bad Twins team, and Jose Quintana could be moved if Sale is not. There are certainly others who could be had for the right price, but those names represent the most notable options.
Imagine that you’re the GM of the White Sox. It’s late December. Hill and Colon have signed. Your phone is ringing off the hook with GM after GM pleading with you to take a gift basket of prospects in exchange for one of the best pitchers in the game (either Sale or Quintana fits that description). Let’s say that you’ve decided that you don’t like what you see in the cards for 2017, and you’re okay with punting on one of the pitchers.
You’d theoretically have half the league on hold. At least 15 GMs would be trying to outdo each other for one of these pitchers. You’d have your pick of the group. What do you do? You ask for more, of course. The White Sox have all the leverage in the world in this very realistic scenario. The same goes for the Rays and Twins and any other franchise that sees fit to dangle a quality starter over the offseason. It gets even crazier.
Consider that the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Yankees, and Astros are all theoretically going to try to contend to some degree next year. All five franchises are flush with young talent, and aren’t exactly strapped for cash. All five will badly need pitching. All five would almost definitely contact the White Sox if the pitchers could be had in a trade. The Sox would be free to play the offers against each other and try to wring more value out of a deal.
Now imagine being the GM of a team that’s right on the cusp of contention, but needs a pitcher something fierce and doesn’t have an abundance of prospects with which to part. Unless you sell off the whole farm, you’re going to be in trouble, unless you’re comfortable with settling for something like Shelby Miller.
This will be the reality of the pitching market this year. It will be a seller’s market of the highest order, and only a select few buyers will have the resources necessary to make a deal happen. Because I’ve written this, naturally, the Giants will manage to trade for Sale with a hysterically paltry package, and we’ll all laugh about it.
For now, though, it looks bad, and things will only get rougher.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.