Your favorite contender just might nab one of these starters

May 31st, 2022

We seem to have settled into a pattern in which an established Cy Young pitcher is moved during an in-season trade every other year. In 2015, it was David Price from the Tigers to the Blue Jays. In 2017, it was Justin Verlander from the Tigers to the Astros. In 2019, it was Zack Greinke from the D-backs to the Astros. And last year, it was Max Scherzer from the Nationals to the Dodgers.

That pattern… um… doesn’t bode well for a truly blockbuster starter swap ahead of the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline in this even year of 2022. And with the postseason format expanded, it stands to reason that few teams will have mathematical incentive to sell.

But fear not! The cupboard isn’t completely barren. Even with the Deadline more than two months away, we can still piece together an acceptable rotation -- a “swapping five,” if you will -- out of guys who currently rate as likely to be available for the right price.

(All stats updated through Sunday night.)

1. Frankie Montas, RHP, A’s

If you just didn’t have enough Frankie Montas Rumor Mill in your life over the offseason, have we got good news for you! Oakland still has every incentive to take advantage of Montas’ trade value with a season and a half of club control attached to him. Montas, 29, has held up his end of the bargain with a strong 2022 season in which he’s put up a 3.28 ERA in 10 starts, with an expected ERA (2.83), strikeout rate (28.9) and walk rate (6.6%) all comfortably better than league average and a chase rate (35.7%) that’s among the very best in the league. Montas has used his splitter more frequently this year, to great effect (.108 average, .162 slugging percentage against).

2. Luis Castillo, RHP, Reds

The Reds opted not to move the 29-year-old Castillo before or immediately after the lockout period. Then he turned up in spring camp with shoulder soreness, delaying his start to the season and potentially impacting how other clubs value him moving forward. He’s made four starts and put up a 4.35 ERA with some concerning underlying metrics -- decreased fastball velocity, an opponent hard-hit rate that puts him only in the 36th percentile, a strikeout rate in the 44th percentile and a whiff percentage in the 12th percentile. But Castillo is still very much worth including in this group, because he has a changeup that can be one of the best pitches in the sport, and perhaps he’ll settle into a nice groove as he gets further removed from the spring disruption. Castillo has one more season of arbitration eligibility before he reaches free agency.

3. Tyler Mahle, RHP, Reds

The 27-year-old Mahle, who also is not eligible for free agency until after 2023, is an interesting trade chip, because, while his 5.53 ERA this season is unsightly, his expected ERA is more in line with his 2020-21 seasons, when he had a combined 3.72 ERA and 129 ERA+ (29% better than league average). Mahle, who was fantastic in Sunday’s 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants, doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he does get a decent amount of swing-and-miss, and -- when he’s going good -- weak contact. Perhaps he’d benefit from a change of scenery.

4. Martín Pérez, LHP, Rangers

While we can’t rule out the possibility of the Rangers wanting to maintain ties with Pérez after this season, for now he profiles as the classic rental player who provides some lightning in a bottle and gets flipped to a contender in need (and we figure to have no shortage of those this summer). Pérez is in his second go-around with Texas, on his third team in the past four years and has only had one season in his career in which his adjusted ERA+ was at least 10% better than league average (way back in 2013). So it’s fair to be at least a little skeptical of his fantastic start (1.60 ERA), especially given the way he fizzled after a strong start to the 2019 season with the Twins. But the 31-year-old Pérez is getting good results with increased usage and better location of his sinker, and his changeup has been almost unhittable (.125 average against). So he’s one to keep an eye on.

5. José Quintana, LHP, Pirates

At this point, there’s no telling if it will hold up, but the veteran Quintana has been very good for the Buccos on a modest one-year, $2 million deal. He has a 2.15 ERA, 191 ERA+ and 1.17 WHIP in 46 innings over nine starts, thanks in part to increased use of an effective changeup. The pitch has limited batters to a .227 average and .295 slugging percentage. It’s still early, but Quintana is on pace for his best season since he was an All-Star in 2016 with the White Sox. The Pirates will have every reason to see what they can get for him if he keeps this up.


Chad Kuhl, RHP, Rockies: Kuhl, who has a 3.56 ERA and 129 ERA+ in nine starts, would be a candidate for our top five had the Rockies, who signed him to a one-year deal for 2022, not proven to be so unpredictable when it comes to who they’ll trade and who they won’t. Kuhl has some concerning underlying metrics (below-average hard-hit and strikeout percentages, for example) that might make it difficult to continue his strong start, but there’s no ignoring the results so far.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Red Sox: With Boston having turned its season around of late, it would be wrong to include Eovaldi in our swapping five. But should things go south, the pending free agent would make sense as a trade candidate. His home-run rate has been out of control (2.5 per nine), to date, but he’s still an effective veteran with postseason pedigree.

Michael Pineda, RHP, Tigers: After signing a one-year deal, Pineda has good numbers (3.22 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 22 1/3 innings) on what has been a bad Tigers team. But the batted-ball data points to a 6.10 expected ERA, with a 4.93 Fielding Independent Pitching mark.

Jordan Lyles, RHP, Orioles: At one-year, $7 million, Lyles, believe it or not, is the largest free-agent signing by the Orioles during general manager Mike Elias’ tenure. He’s been a bit below league average so far (4.26 ERA, 93 ERA+) but with a handful of quality starts. If he’s pitching well leading up to the Deadline, there’s no reason why the O’s shouldn’t try to flip him.

Wade Miley, LHP, Cubs: Miley just went on the IL with a shoulder strain after already dealing with an elbow issue in Spring Training. So he might not be going anywhere. But when healthy, the 35-year-old is still effective. In three starts this season, he’s put up a 3.38 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 16 innings. Zero of his 48 batted balls allowed have been barreled.