What Starting Pitchers Should The Cardinals Pursue By The Trade Deadline?
It’s becoming painfully obvious that the Cardinals need to acquire at least one starting pitcher and one lefty reliever by the trade deadline. Chris Carpenter suffered a setback in his “nerve weakness” injury following a throwing session to live batters. Meanwhile, Jaime Garcia isn’t coming back for any significant amount of time this season after tearing the cartilage in his left shoulder.
Our best case scenario would’ve been acquiring a starter and moving Lance Lynn (who seems to be showing signs of fatigue) into the bullpen. However, that possibility has passed with Garcia’s likely season-ending injury. We now need to patch holes rather than enhance.
When seeking a mid-season trade, you’re really looking for one of two things: (1) a rental, like Edwin Jackson last year, or (2) a legitimate, long-term part of the team. In terms of pitching, the Cardinals could be looking at both. Kyle Lohse ($12MM) will be gone after this year, and Jake Westbrook ($8MM option next year) might be gone as well. Shelby Miller doesn’t appear to be ready for the majors yet. Adam Wainwright is headed for an expensive free agent contract somewhere. So the holes exist for long-term help. However, I do believe that John Mozeliak is looking for short-term help first.
So who can the Cardinals target to fill this need? Here are some ideas:
FRANCISCO LIRIANO: It’s shocking that Francisco Liriano is just 28 years old; it seems like the left-hander been around forever already. Liriano currently sits on a .500 career record (49-49) with a series of non-competitive Minnesota Twins teams. However, he has declined noticeably from his superb rookie season in 2006 (12-3, ERA of 2.16). His ERA hasn’t been below 5.00 in two years. While Liriano has always walked too many batters, he has averaged over five walks per nine innings for the last two years. In his career, he’s averaged almost four walks a game, which is Eduardo Sanchez territory.
Liriano becomes a free agent after this season, so we’re likely looking at a situation like Edwin Jackson last year, a rental player who can help us win. Liriano currently makes $5.5MM a year, and is likely targeting a big raise in his first year of free agency. For comparison, a .500 pitcher like Jackson received $11MM last year from the Nationals following a World Series win.
Does Liriano make sense? He doesn’t have a history of injury, which is a positive. He also gives us another left-handed arm that could compliment Garcia if, by some miracle, Garcia’s shoulder rehabilitates without the use of Paletta’s rusty scalpel. Liriano would also probably be quite motivated to have a strong second half with a team seeking a second World Championship.
However, I’m less confident in the Cardinals’ ability to rehabilitate the careers of troubled starters now that Dave Duncan is no longer around. I also have concerns about Liriano’s game-to-game durability; he’s averaged just six innings per start in his career, and has exactly one complete game.
All things considered, Liriano would be an excellent pick-up as long as he isn’t going to cost us major (like top five) prospect pieces. Maybe a huge-but-blocked prospect (Zack Cox?) and two others (Jordan Swagerty?) for Liriano?
JEREMY GUTHRIE: Jeremy Guthrie: Right-handed Jeremy Guthrie hasn’t been too impressive in his late-blooming career (debuted at 25), but he closely resembles Jake Westbrook in that he doesn’t give up many fly balls. When Guthrie gives up a fly ball, it’s probably a home run (average of 1-2 home runs per nine innings). He has a career ERA of 4.33 (6.34 this season) and a career record 50-71 while playing for awful teams like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Colorado. One of his best assets is his durability; he’s pitched more than 175 innings every year since 2007.
Colorado is probably looking to dump Guthrie for cheap parts given that Guthrie becomes a free agent at the end of the year. He might be useful for plugging a hole, although nothing besides his ground ball rate convinces me that he’d be better than internal options.
MATT GARZA: The Cubs are in dumping mode as they fall through the floor in the NL Central. They have a couple of intriguing pieces, including 28 year-old Matt Garza. He has a career ERA under 4.00 while playing half of his games inside the seagull shitbox known as Wrigley Field. His WHIP is respectable (1.285), and he’s averaged almost nine strikeouts per nine innings. He also has a ground ball rate of 45.3% this season, which is good.
Garza reaches arbitration for the last time this offseason before hitting free agency in 2014. He currently makes $9.5MM. He would be a steep salary increase for the Cardinals this season, although Garza would be much more affordable next year with Jake Westbrook (and likely Kyle Lohse) off the books. Garza would certainly help this rotation significantly, and one has to expect that Garza would love to pitch for a contender for the first time in his career.
The bigger question is this: would Theo Epstein trade within the division, and what would he want in return for a pitcher of Garza’s potential? This one could really hurt.
RYAN DEMPSTER: Some sources have named Ryan Dempster as another piece being dangled by Epstein and the Cubs. The 35 year-old is reaching free agency after this year after making $14MM in 2012 (holy crap! for that??)
Dempster is just a rental if the Cardinals trade for him, and he’s probably not worth it. His career has been thoroughly average: a near-.500 won/loss record, an ERA of 4.33, and a WHIP of 1.434. YAWN. I’m not sure it would be worth the trouble to acquire another Westbrook.
UBALDO JIMENEZ: Right-handed Ubaldo Jimenez of the Cleveland Indians is surely trade bait. After this season, Jimenez reaches two options on his contract (one for $5.75MM in 2013, and another for $8MM in 2014). The Indians can either cancel the contract with a $2MM buyout, or trade Jimenez for prospects right now.
However, does Jimenez have anything remaining from his outstanding 2010 season (19-8)? The 28 year-old has been giving up fly balls with greater frequency over the last few seasons, and this season his line drive rate is the highest ever (23%). He’s also averaging fewer than six innings per start this season with an ERA of 4.59. He’s certainly not the same pitcher who vied for the Cy Young Award just two years ago.
However, he presents undeniable possibilities. Jimenez could be prepped for a mid-career resurgence, and playing on a competing team with a good offense might be just what he needs. With the Indians already falling out of the race, they would be interested in prospects in order to dump salary.
JON LESTER: I’m going to throw Jon Lester‘s name out there simply because (a) the Red Sox franchise is in a total state of disarray and are showing signs of a salary-dumping mentality, (b) Lester is having a surprisingly-difficult year, and (c) Lester’s name has surfaced in a couple of trade rumors. Lester is a left-handed ace when he’s right. The 28 year-old has compiled a record of 80-39 with an ERA of 3.62. Essentially, acquiring him would be like adding another Wainwright, instantly creating one of the most formidable rotations in the league.
Lester currently makes Lohse money (can you believe that?) at $11.6MM. He is under contract for 2013 as well for $13MM. I would be shocked if Boston dealt Lester, and I’m afraid to consider what it would cost the Cardinals to get him if Boston was dealing him. The Cardinals would surely have to include Shelby Miller in the package, something they’ve repeatedly said they would not do.
Among teams that are falling out of contention or are struggling, these are some of the best possible trade targets. However, there might be possibilities among contending teams as well.
- Ross Detwiler is a promising 26 year-old lefty with the surprising Washington Nationals. He’s coming up on his first arbitration year, and he will surely receive a nice raise. The Cardinals would need to surrender more than prospects, though, including a big bat like Allen Craig.
- The under-performing Detroit Tigers are probably looking for a way to boost offense and complement their fine pitching staff. The Cardinals have a surplus of major league (or near ML) outfielders who could outperform someone like Brennan Boesch. While I’m sure Justin Verlander is out of the question (and he makes $20MM, which really stops a conversation), pitchers like Max Scherzer or Doug Fister should be available. Of course, I’m sure the Tigers would want Allen Craig or someone of that caliber.
- The Atlanta Braves would probably be willing to trade 36 year-old Tim Hudson this summer. Hudson has done well so far this year, posting a record of 6-3 with a 3.58 ERA. Hudson is in the final full year of his contract, with an $11MM option for next year. He’d probably be a decent fit here, but he’s clearly a rental. It actually sounds like the kind of deal the Cardinals like, too. Atlanta needs a shortstop or a third baseman, and could use a boost at catcher. I’m not sure how we help them in those areas.
It’s a difficult call. The Cardinals are in-between the team they were and the team they will become when the prospects start arriving. Filling holes to contend is never an easy task. There are some arms out there that will help this team contend right now, but much depends on the Cardinals’ game plan down the road. Just one month left until the trade deadline! The rumors are heating up!