Deadline buyer's guide: Top pitchers on market

Which hurlers are likely to move before July 31, and who's shopping?

July 13th, 2017

With going from the White Sox to the Cubs -- in only the second trade between the Chicago franchises this century -- we can comfortably declare the pitching market to be open.

And we shouldn't be surprised that the first blockbuster of Trade Deadline 2017 involved a No. 1 starting pitcher.

As a wise general manager once told me, when stars are involved, it's always easier to move a pitcher than a position player at the Deadline. Why? Every team has room on its roster for multiple All-Star starting pitchers or relievers. By contrast, the Yankees don't need two superstar right fielders. They have one. He is sufficient.

With that in mind, here's an overview of the pitching market leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. As with our position player preview earlier this week, teams on the fringe are considered "sellers" here, to show the full scope of possibilities.

All-Star-caliber starters

Top names:, , , , J.A. Happ, , , Dan Straily,

For a pitcher to make this list, the following question must be answered in the affirmative: Would a division winner be comfortable with this pitcher starting Game 2 of the Division Series?

Perhaps that is a low bar, but the pitchers listed above have the credentials -- historically or this year, in Straily's case -- to bump the No. 2 starter in at least some contending rotations.

The first three -- Cole, Verlander and Gray -- are available now for the right (read: high) offer, according to Major League sources. Uncertainty surrounds the remaining six. The Braves say Teheran isn't available. The Marlins' expected sale complicates Straily's status. Cueto's opt-out clause will be a nonstarter for many clubs.

Happ is an intriguing name to monitor, as the Blue Jays consider how extensive their roster remake should be. He's under contract for 2018, so moving him would signal a concession on more than the current season.

Teams shopping: Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Angels, Braves, Brewers, Rockies

By the raw numbers, we might not expect the Dodgers to be involved in the starting pitching market. Their rotation's 3.24 ERA is the best in the Majors. But they are looking for starters if they meet certain criteria. Los Angeles doesn't need quantity. It has that. The Dodgers' focus is quality, in a way that ensures won't pitch on short rest in the National League Division Series.

We in the Trade Deadline punditry love musing about one acquisition creating a "swing" during a forthcoming postseason series. Could Verlander, Cole or Gray be that piece in an Astros-Dodgers World Series?

The Brewers are a relatively recent entry to this marketplace, given their surprisingly strong first half and injury to top starter Chase Anderson. Milwaukee would be most interested in affordable pitchers under control beyond 2017 -- such as Gray and Happ.

Depth starters

Top names:, , , , , , , , , , , Mike Pelfrey, , , , R.A. Dickey, ,

This is the "I didn't realize that guy was having a solid season" section of our Trade Deadline preview.

Among the facts general managers (and Trade Deadline aficionados) should know: Lynn has a 2.84 ERA in four career starts at Coors Field, according to Matt Filippi of MLB Network Research. Feldman compiled a 1.266 WHIP in 102 2/3 innings for the Reds in the first half. Cahill has a 126 ERA+ in nine starts for the Padres this season, according to Baseball-Reference.com. (Yes, that includes the Petco Park Factor.)

While the Rangers remain in "buy" mode for the time being, they could become major players in this market if they drop from contention quickly in the American League Wild Card race. Ross, Perez and Cashner all have appeal, in addition to Darvish.

Teams shopping: Red Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins, Rangers, Mariners, Nationals, Rockies

There's always the temptation to link the Red Sox to major trade targets, but the fact is that Boston's prospect depth has thinned considerably over the past two years, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has more pressing priorities elsewhere on the roster. Chris Sale, and must pitch like themselves (or close to it) for this team to succeed, but a stable fifth starter would help.

With three AL Central teams on the list, we could see a race to fortify rotations among the contenders in that division -- assuming, of course, the Twins remain one of them. Minnesota has perhaps the greatest need for rotation depth of any team with a winning record at the moment, given its extreme reliance on Santana and .

Setup relievers

Top names:Pat Neshek, Brad Hand, , , , , , , , Tommy Kahnle, Nick Vincent, , Tony Watson, , , ,

As if we needed further affirmation of setup relievers' place in the game today, the first two pitchers on this list thrived in the international spotlight at Tuesday's All-Star Game. Fittingly, both Neshek and Hand threw a scoreless inning for the NL.

Of the two, Neshek, a free agent after this season, is more likely to be dealt in the coming weeks; he acknowledged that inevitability in an interview with CSNPhilly.com earlier this season. As a bonus, Neshek will arrive to his new team with playoff experience. He has a career 0.581 WHIP over four postseasons with the Twins, A's, Cardinals and Astros.

Hand, 27, isn't on pace to enter free agency until after the 2019 season, so Padres general manager A.J. Preller will set an understandably lofty price tag. Hand's K/9 rate of 11.49 ranks fourth among full-time Major League relievers with at least 40 innings pitched this season, behind only , and .

The A's will be a hub of activity in the setup market, given the strong first halves by Madson (0.804 WHIP) and Doolittle (0.689 WHIP). Both are under contract for 2018, which should draw particular interest from teams -- like the Nationals -- with long-term uncertainty in the eighth inning.

Swarzak has been overlooked by many in the media, but not the executives and scouts who make trade decisions: He maintained a 1.000 WHIP over 41 innings during the first half, with career-best strikeout and home run rates. And as a free agent after this year, the rebuilding White Sox are likely to move Swarzak.

Teams shopping: Nationals, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Astros, Rays, Rockies, Twins, Brewers

Once again, the Dodgers vs. Astros paradigm is relevant: While both teams are settled in the ninth inning, they could benefit from an additional left-hander to help form the bridge.

For the Nationals, the eighth inning has been nearly as concerning as the ninth; the Nats' 5.32 ERA in the eighth was the fourth worst in the Majors over the first half.

Also, the Yankees' bullpen remains a developing story: ' walk rate -- 8.26 per nine innings -- is the worst of any pitcher to throw 20 or more innings in the Majors this season. GM Brian Cashman probably needs to acquire insurance.

Closers

Top names:, , , , , Zach Britton, , AJ Ramos, , , Sam Dyson

In the ninth inning, supply could exceed demand. Among the pitchers listed above, Kintzler and Norris are closing for teams still technically involved in races for playoff spots. But the rest pitch for clear sellers, meaning teams in need of ninth-inning help have numerous options to sift through.

The price tag will be especially high on Iglesias, who pitched to a 1.69 ERA while recording 16 saves in the first half. He is signed through 2020, by which time the Reds hope to be competitive again.

Brach and Britton both are eligible for free agency after 2018; it might be time for the Orioles to concede that they likely can't afford to keep both for the long term, especially if they have any interest in retaining or Manny Machado.

Reed's control is an asset, as teams consider reliability among potential acquisitions. He has the lowest walk rate (1.05 BB/9) among all Major League pitchers with at least 40 innings this season.

Teams shopping: Nationals, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Braves

Perhaps you've heard: The Nationals are looking for a closer. Their 5.20 bullpen ERA is the worst in the Majors as the second half begins.

The staring contest has been going for months, between Washington GM Mike Rizzo and his counterparts. They know he needs a closer. Rizzo knows he needs a closer. If Robertson was going to D.C., it probably would've happened by now -- but then again, Rizzo and White Sox GM Rick Hahn found common ground on the trade at the Winter Meetings.

, 40, was a good story for the Diamondbacks for some stretches of the first half, but it's getting harder to imagine him closing games in October. The meltdown at Dodger Stadium was merely the most notable of his recent struggles. Kintzler is an intriguing option for Arizona, if Minnesota regresses.

The Braves don't have a clear long-term closer, so Iglesias could be a surprising fit with Atlanta, a nominal seller at this year's Deadline.