Need rotation help? Who could you trade for?

August 19th, 2020

This Trade Deadline will not look very familiar. The shortened schedule, the COVID-19 concerns, the expanded postseason format, the limitation of trades to players who are already among teams’ 60-man player pools and even the date -- Aug. 31 instead of July 31 -- all make it feel pretty foreign.

But one way in which this Deadline will be recognizable is that starting pitching, as always, will be in high demand. In fact, impact starting pitching will matter all the more, given that all October teams are subjected to a best-of-three first round.

With so few teams out of the running, that pitching will probably be in low supply. But here are 14 starting pitching possibilities to ponder with the Aug. 31 Deadline less than two weeks away.

Dylan Bundy, RHP, Angels
The move from Baltimore to Anaheim has suited well. He has a 2.48 ERA and 0.80 WHIP for an Angels team that has been … not quite as fantastic while struggling to maintain stability in the rotation. Bundy, 27, is making only about $1.85 million this year and has one more arbitration year before free agency. So even if the Angels don’t achieve traction in the next couple of weeks, they could move forward with him. But because of that extra year of contractual control and the aforementioned environment, Bundy is precisely the kind of piece who could fetch a strong return.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Reds
It will probably take a lot to get the Reds to pull the plug on this season of high hopes. But it’s off to an erratic start, and , a pending free agent, has been one of the best starters in baseball, with a 0.93 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 46.4% strikeout rate. The guy who has said repeatedly that big leaps in spin rate can’t be achieved without the use of sticky substances has seen big leaps in his spin rate. But Bauer’s stuff has always rated strongly, and he’s been at his best in 2020. Rotation mate Anthony DeSclafani is also a pending free agent and attractive starting trade chip if the Reds punt.

Mike Clevinger, RHP, Indians
He broke team protocol. He lied to his teammates about it. and rotation mate Zach Plesac were basically voted off the island (“The Tribe has spoken…”) and are now biding their time at the alternate training site in Eastlake, Ohio. So you’ll hear Clevinger’s name mentioned plenty in this market (and probably Plesac’s, too), and the Indians might be in a similar spot to the one they were in with Bauer a year ago, when they were pretty much fed up with him and dealt him to Cincinnati. But the difficulty, in this environment, of executing a blockbuster for a high-caliber arm with two full seasons of control remaining can’t be overstated.

Alex Cobb, RHP, Orioles
Far be it from us to try to break up the mighty Orioles. But should Baltimore go down the path initially prescribed this season, this might be an opportune time to try to sell high on , who is in the third year of a four-year deal and is owed $15 million in 2021. He has been solid so far this season, with a 3.76 ERA and 120 ERA+, though the Statcast metrics (5.91 expected ERA) indicate he has benefited from some batted-ball luck.

Zack Greinke, RHP, Astros
was the headline acquisition of the 2019 Trade Deadline (acquired literally right at the Deadline). How about a sequel? The Astros have played much better in recent days and are unlikely sellers. But they did have a frustrating start in which their pitching staff was battered by injuries, so we’ll keep this possibility open for now. Greinke has held tough with a 1.84 ERA and an MLB-best 1.93 Fielding Independent Pitching mark, and he’s confident enough to tell opposing batters what’s coming. He’s also super expensive, earning the prorated portion of $35 million in 2020 with another $35 million due in the final year of his deal in 2021. That might not be palatable in these conditions. But Greinke is a definite difference-maker.

Lance Lynn, RHP, and Mike Minor, LHP, Rangers
Sounds familiar, right? These were Texas trade chips a year ago, too, but nothing materialized. A contract extension for , which was discussed, hasn’t materialized, either. So he’s a pending free agent, while is, attractively, under wraps for less than $10 million in 2021.

Minor’s throwing program was disrupted just before Summer Camp, which explains a drop in velocity and effectiveness. He has a 6.94 ERA, but could be due for improvement as his stamina improves. Lynn, meanwhile, has been lights-out, with a 0.74 WHIP and a Major League-best 1.11 ERA in 32 1/3 innings. The Rangers have hung around .500 despite the glancing blow of the Corey Kluber injury, but their staying power is still a question.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Red Sox
paid the price for his heroic work in the 2018 World Series with elbow troubles and surgery in a disappointing ’19. Eovaldi is recovered now, but he has had three good starts and two bad ones (including a horrendous outing against the Yankees over the weekend) for a Boston team going nowhere. He’s owed $17 million apiece in 2021 and ’22 and has his fair share of injury history. But Eovaldi’s proven postseason pedigree could pay dividends. The Red Sox will also probably shop Martin Perez, whose contract includes a $6.25 million option for ’21.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, and Johnny Cueto, RHP, Giants
The Giants aren’t likely to make a surge in the standings and will be looking to move some pitching for long-term help. ’s a pending free agent who profiled much better as a reliever than a starter last year, but a jump in four-seam velocity (from 93.9 to 95.3 mph) and whiff percentage (from 21.8% to 24.3%) could make him attractive.

’s gaudy contract -- he’ll make $21.8 million in the final year of his deal in 2021 – reduces his trade value, but he has limited hard contact this year, as evidenced by his 3.75 expected ERA. Other trade options on the Giants staff include pending free agent Drew Smyly, though he’s nursing a finger injury.

Robbie Ray, LHP, D-backs
Arizona has leapt back into the playoff race with a recent surge, but what’s a trade market without mention of ? By this point, he is accustomed to having his name dragged through the rumor mill. Several teams inquired about him (both as a starter and as a potential reliever) at last year’s Trade Deadline, and again when the D-backs signed Madison Bumgarner this offseason. He remained with the D-backs and had struggled mightily in his free-agent walk year until a strong outing against the Padres on Sunday. With a fastball spin rate in the 92nd percentile (with a whiff and velocity both around the 80th percentile), Ray is still a viable chip.

Marco Gonzales, LHP, Mariners
is a serviceable (106 ERA+, or 6% better than the league average, over the last three seasons), left-handed, 28-year-old arm on a reasonable long-term deal (guaranteed $30 million from 2021-24, with a $15 million team option for ’25) with a team that’s always down to deal. It’s a limited number of innings, obviously, but through four starts in 2020, Gonzales’ walk (3.3%) and hard-hit (28.6%) rates were the best of his career.

Matthew Boyd, LHP, Tigers
With the obvious caveat that the Tigers have played way better than anticipated, the staying power of this team in transition is still in question. And with promising young pitchers Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning in the mix, the Tigers could opt to take advantage of a market in which ’s contractual control (through 2022) is an asset. But while Boyd was terrific in the first half of 2019, he has a disastrous 6.46 ERA in 101 2/3 innings since the ’19 All-Star break. But show me a lefty who has had some success in the bigs, and I’ll show you at least a dozen teams that think they can fix him.

Brett Anderson, LHP, Brewers
Milwaukee is another club that’s improved the tone of its season in recent days, but if things were to go south in the next week and a half, dealing the veteran , who joined them last offseason on a one-year deal, is an option. The 32-year-old has pitched only 11 innings this year because of a blister issue. Last year, he had a typically strong ground-ball rate (54.5%) and low walk rate (6.6%) while posting a 3.89 ERA in 31 starts for the A’s.