10 starting pitcher trade candidates, ranked

June 14th, 2021

The Trade Deadline cometh, seven weeks from now. And as is an annual reality, good starting pitching will be both in demand and hard to land.

That old, familiar phrase “starting five” has been outdated for a while now. But never more than in a 2021 season in which injuries have -- perhaps predictably (following a 60-game sprint) -- sprouted up all over the place. Depth is being tested on every club, contenders included, and they can never have enough quality starters in their stash.

So here are 10 names to track in the coming weeks. This is not an exhaustive list. And the pitchers presented here are ranked not in the order of likelihood that they get dealt (some of them, true to the theme of the season, are currently injured themselves) but rather, in order of intrigue.

1. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals
Nats GM Mike Rizzo: “Max, we love you. We’ll always love you. But our odds of reaching the postseason are slimmer than we’d like, and you would be the one, proven difference-maker in the starting pitching trade market. We are going to send you to a World Series-caliber team, and your arrival will instantly raise both the excitement and the ambition of every man in that clubhouse. Go win another championship, Max, and then we will happily make every effort to bring you right back here to Washington next season after you hit free agency, on a team that is fundamentally better-positioned because of this trade and this very temporary separation. We won’t even take down your awesomely creepy sign hanging in Nationals Park, promise.”

Scherzer: “OK, let’s do it. But first, I’ve got to get my work in.

OK, this invented scenario might not happen. But it should.

2. Kyle Gibson, RHP, Rangers
Aside from Gibson currently nursing a groin injury, it’s all lined up pretty perfectly here. Gibson is in the middle of a fantastic season for a not-so-fantastic Rangers team largely built around the concept of flipping Major League assets for pieces that can help them down the road.

After a difficult 2020, Gibson has a 2.13 ERA, 203 ERA+ and 52% ground-ball rate in 71 2/3 innings through 12 starts. And because he’s locked in for '22 at $7.7 million (plus bonuses), his trade value is as good as it’s going to get.

3. Germán Márquez, RHP, Rockies
Teammate -- and pending free agent -- Jon Gray is the more obvious rotation trade candidate, even though he’s currently out with elbow soreness. And yeah, there’s going to be a lot of talk about shortstop Trevor Story, too, obviously.

But Márquez is absolutely a guy the going-nowhere Rockies need to be marketing this summer. He’s locked in at very reasonable rates through his age-29 season in 2024, and, frankly, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Colorado is staring down the National League West’s superpowers by then. Márquez has a career 3.67 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .701 opponents’ OPS away from Coors Field.

4. Sonny Gray, RHP, Reds
Trade talks involving Gray last winter netted nothing, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see his name spring up again should the Reds fall out of the crowded NL Central race between now and July 31.

Gray is currently out with a right groin strain and had his start to the season delayed by a back issue. But in between injuries, he had a 3.42 ERA and 135 ERA+ in 10 starts, and he recently finished a streak of 48 consecutive starts with six or fewer hits allowed. He’ll make $10.2 million in 2022 and his contract has a $12 million team option for '23.

5. John Means, LHP, Orioles
The Orioles might not be as far away from contention as some assume, so we don’t include Means here flippantly. And the shoulder strain that landed him on the shelf this week might drown out this discussion altogether (which is why Means isn’t ranked higher). But a lot can happen in seven weeks. And with a 2.28 ERA and American League-best 0.83 WHIP, Means has simply been one of the best pitchers in the Majors this year. That, combined with contractual control through 2024, makes him a major, major trade chip if -- and only if -- the shoulder issue proves not to be serious.

How do you trade a guy so soon after he authored one of the greatest performances in recent franchise history? Basically by taking an honest account of the volatility of pitcher value. The 28-year-old Means does present an opportunity to augment a burgeoning system even further. But that would definitely be a difficult pill to swallow.

6. Danny Duffy, LHP, Royals
The Royals’ hot start didn’t last, and, unless they get hot again, general manager Dayton Moore will have a big decision to make with Duffy, who famously once tweeted “Bury me a Royal,” but is now mere months from free agency.

The Duffy trade conversation is dependent on his health, as the lefty hasn’t made a start since May 12 because of a flexor strain. But with Duffy recently increasing his activity, he could be back in time to be a viable trade chip again. His 1.94 ERA and 230 ERA+ in seven starts this season make him especially enticing.

7. Matthew Boyd, LHP, Tigers
Another year, another round of Boyd trade speculation. We’ve been talking about him for a while, but the Tigers didn’t sell Boyd at the perceived peak of his value mid-2019, and his struggles in the second half that year and in '20 complicated matters.

Boyd has bounced back nicely (3.56 ERA, 121 ERA+ through 12 starts) with the help of a revised changeup and he has actually been more effective against right-handers (.644 OPS against) than lefties (.721) this year. More important, he’s under contractual control through 2022, so this is not a rental situation. Rotation mates José Ureña and Spencer Turnbull should draw interest, too.

8. Michael Pineda, RHP, Twins
To put it lightly, this season has not gone the way the Twins anticipated. And while they can still hold out hope for a Minnesota miracle, the math insists that the front office take a good, hard look at a roster with a handful of pending free agents and do what must be done.

With a 3.46 ERA, 116 ERA+ and 1.10 WHIP, the 32-year-old Pineda is the most valuable of the bunch, though he has dealt with forearm tightness in recent days.

9. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, D-backs
We’d rank Bumgarner higher if this were 2019. But aside from a kinda/sorta/not-really no-hitter, his Arizona tenure has been bumpier than a rodeo ride. He’s currently out with shoulder inflammation, but that’s not considered serious at the moment. What is serious is the amount of money owed to him -- $19 million this year, plus another $60 million total between 2022-24. The name value and trade value simply do not align, so this would be more of a salary-dump situation for the last-place D-backs.

But with his fastball velocity and whiff rates having risen this year, perhaps there would be a contender interested in a creative deal for a pitcher with a pristine postseason pedigree.

10. Tyler Anderson, LHP, Pirates
Anderson was pounded by the Braves on May 21, and that outing has helped inflate his ERA to a not-so-exciting 4.52.

But it’s a 3.59 mark in his other starts, and Anderson ranks in the 74th percentile in walk rate and 78th percentile in chase rate. He’s been a nice, under-the-radar addition for the Pirates on a one-year contract worth $2.5 million and is exactly the sort of commodity that the rebuilding Buccos could flip at the Deadline.