These 6 starters could be Plan B options

With top free agents signed, teams could turn to trade market

December 24th, 2019

So what now for the other pitching-needy teams?

For weeks, we’ve heard that the Angels, Dodgers, Brewers and Twins were looking to add to their respective rotations. The three aforementioned pitchers were seemingly Plan B once Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees and Stephen Strasburg returned to the Nationals (or Plan A in the case of the Brewers and Twins, who were never in the mix for either superstar starter).

But all three are off the board, none of them going to that quartet of clubs seeking rotation upgrades.

With all of the reliable free-agent starting pitching options now signed to contracts, the focus for these teams will (or at least should) shift to the trade market, where a number of veteran pitchers with track records are available for the right price.

Here’s a look at some names that could be in play:

The Red Sox are looking to slash payroll this offseason with a stated goal of getting beneath the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. If they’re not going to trade Mookie Betts (which appears to be the preference), then moving Price -- who has three years and $96 million left on his contract -- would be the obvious move.

Boston has had plenty of interest in the left-hander, though it remains to be seen how much of his contract the club would need to pay down to move him. The Red Sox could probably move Price without eating too much salary if they take a below-market return, though it seems more likely they would take a decent-sized contract back -- think Wil Myers in San Diego or Matt Carpenter in St. Louis -- in a deal. The Dodgers could include A.J. Pollock in a trade, but the Angels, Brewers and Twins don’t have a similar contract to move.

The Indians have already traded Corey Kluber this offseason, and as the club contemplates moving the face of the franchise, Francisco Lindor, nearly anybody on the roster would seem to be in play for Cleveland.

Acquiring Clevinger, a 29-year-old right-hander who has gone 38-18 with a 2.96 ERA since the start of 2017 -- would be pricey, as he’s entering the first of three arbitration-eligible seasons. Cleveland might be hesitant to trade Clevinger now, as opposed to next offseason, when he’ll begin to earn bigger money in arbitration. But a highly competitive offer could be tempting to the Indians. In terms of salary cost and team control, he might be the most appealing option on the trade market.

Arizona is likely to trade Ray at some point, having signed Bumgarner to take over the top spot in the rotation. But the D-backs could opt to wait until the summer to see whether they’re in contention before making such a move.

Ray has one season left before becoming a free agent, so the return in July would be less than it would be now, but after missing out on the second NL Wild Card spot by only four games last season, Arizona may very well roll the dice on 2020 in an attempt to get back to the postseason. Ray would also not be a long-term answer for any of these teams, though in some cases, that could be a preferable route to take as opposed to committing three years to a pitcher such as Price.

Boyd doesn’t carry the same track record as Price or even Ray, but he’s entering his age-29 season and carries three years of club control. He’s a first-year arbitration-eligible player, so his salary cost won’t be exorbitant initially. And although he’s never posted an ERA below 4.39 during his four years as a big league starter, he’s thrown 355 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, which should be appealing to potential suitors.

The Tigers aren’t in a position where they need to move the left-hander now, but if a club comes calling with an attractive package of prospects, it would make sense for Detroit to trade him as it continues its rebuilding process.

Archer was traded to the Pirates at the 2018 Trade Deadline, but Pittsburgh has taken a step back and is currently viewed by many to be in a rebuilding phase under new general manager Ben Cherington.

The 31-year-old right-handed Archer is coming off the worst season of his career, having posted a 5.19 ERA in 23 starts while missing the final six weeks of the season with a shoulder injury. There would definitely be some risk involved in acquiring Archer, who will earn $9 million this season and has a 2021 club option for $11 million. But if he’s able to bounce back and regain the form that made him a two-time All-Star in Tampa Bay, the reward could be sizable.

Like the Indians, the Rockies are contemplating the idea of trading their best player in Nolan Arenado. Unlike Lindor, who has only two years of control remaining before he hits free agency, Arenado signed a seven-year, $234 million extension (complete with a full no-trade clause and an opt-out after 2021) last spring, so trading him will be a more challenging process.

But the Rockies appear to be open to a number of things, so why not try to pry Gray from the Colorado rotation? He has posted a sub-4.00 ERA in two of the past three seasons despite pitching in hitter-friendly Colorado, though oddly enough, his numbers have been better at Coors Field than on the road. Cot’s Baseball Contracts estimates that Gray will earn $6 million in 2020, the second of his three arbitration-eligible seasons.