Even though they are always just one pitch away from a life-altering procedure, pitchers are still an integral part of the game. Unfortunately, injuries have struck hard so far this year, as a plethora of high-profile names have succumbed to the bug. This has left quite a few teams in a state of dismemberment, as teams like the Braves and Rangers have had to run out names that have no business sniffing a big league rotation, especially that of a playoff contender.
For teams looking to make a move in the coming months, competition could be fierce.
The free agent market for starters isn't nearly as robust as it is for relievers and position players, as without Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, the selection is limited, and unless someone like Barry Zito or Jeff Niemann tickles your fancy, it would probably be best to focus on the trade market, which will surely heat up over the next couple months as more and more teams give up on 2014 playoff aspirations and realize that their best move would be to sell off expendable parts. Last year's deadline saw the likes of Jake Peavy, Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, Ian Kennedy, Bud Norris, and Scott Feldman get dealt, and this year's group has the potential to look much better than last year's.
So, which teams need starters? And who could they target? Here's a preliminary look at the market:
New York Yankees
The Yankees' rotation looks like a major enigma right now. Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda each look solid so far, but CC Sabathia has been disastrous and looks like a shell of his former self, Ivan Nova has imploded, and Michael Pineda is still an extreme injury risk. Granted, it's entirely possible that Sabathia and Nova figure things out, and Pineda remains intact, but odds are at least one of them will prove to be a season long albatross, and the Yankees have little in the way of depth behind their starting five. As far as possible trade bait goes, the Yankees don't have a stellar farm system, but they do have some names, such as Slade Heathcott or Tyler Austin, who are relatively close to the majors and could be appealing to other teams.
Tampa Bay Rays
The health of Rays' starting pitchers had been on an unparalleled streak of well-being up until this year. In the matter of months, they have lost three of their four best starters in Matt Moore (UCL tear), Alex Cobb (strained oblique), and Jeremy Hellickson (elbow), and of those, only Cobb has the potential to be back before June. Fortunately, the Rays declined to trade David Price this winter, and they still have Chris Archer. Tampa Bay ia also lucky enough to have a surplus of arms, though they still have to run out Cesar Ramos every fifth day, and Erik Bedard isn't anyone's idea of an ideal third starter.
The Rays have traditionally refrained from making in-season trades (last year's Jesse Crain deal was an exception that didn't work out too well), but considering the circumstances, it may be in their best interest to explore a deal. I wouldn't expect them to land anyone major, but a half-season rental along the lines of a Jason Hammel or Kyle Kendrick could be a possibility.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays were considered the favorite to land either Jimenez or Santana this offseason, but nothing ever came to fruition, and they ended up starting the season with two pitchers who didn't make a single start in 2013 (Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan), two who are 35 or older (RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle), and another who had a 5.63 ERA in 2013 (Brandon Morrow). This group is actually pretty solid, but it comes with quite a bit of injury risk and flameout potential, and aside from top prospect Marcus Stroman, they aren't exactly flush with desirable pitching options in the upper minors. Toronto was heavily interested in young starters such as Brett Anderson and Jeff Samardzija, so it's possible that they revisit talks for Samardzija and make a run at him or another arm with multiple years of control.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are one rotation injury away from a complete collapse. If one of their starters goes down for an extended period of time, the team would probably prefer to fill the hole outside the organization rather than going with a Matt Shoemaker or Michael Roth.
With Injuries currently afflicting three-fifths of their should-be starting five, the Mariners have been forced to divvy out starts to Erasmo Ramirez, Chris Young, Roenis Elias, and Blake Beavan. That group probably won't get you anywhere near the playoffs, but fortunately, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton are all expected back by mid-May. Adding that trio behind Felix Hernandez could turn out to be really good, especially if Paxton pitches like he did prior to getting hurt last week. If one of the above trio experiences a set-back or the team decides that Ramirez probably isn't a reliable fifth starter option, then Seattle could be active on the trade market.
Another AL West squad, the Rangers have arguably been the team most decimated by injuries so far this season (along with Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Atlanta). The Rangers didn't plan on Tanner Scheppers being their Opening Day starter or Nick Martinez, Robbie Ross, and Colby Lewis starting the year in the major league rotation, but with Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland starting the season on the DL, their hand was forced.
Darvish has since returned, and Harrison is expected back by the end of the month, but Holland will likely be out until mid-summer, and the team is no stranger to making deadline splashes for starters, acquiring Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Cliff Lee in major July deals since 2010.
Without Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, and Gavin Floyd, the Braves have had to give starts to Aaron Harang and David Hale, and while they both have performed exceptionally, I'm sure the Braves would prefer to have them return to depth roles. Beachy and Medlen will miss the entirety of the season, but Minor is expected back next week, and Floyd in three weeks. The returns of Minor and Floyd should lessen the blow, but if another starter makes an extended trip to the DL, they may be best served looking for help outside of the organization.
Things have gone pretty dismal for the Diamondbacks so far this year; they've lost their ace for the season, their 7.16 rotation ERA is over 1.5 runs worse than the next closest team, and they've already moved two members of their Opening Day rotation to the bullpen. Moving Trevor Cahill and Randall Delgado to the bullpen for Josh Collmenter (reasonable) and a clearly inferior Michael Bolsinger (not so reasonable) feels short-sighted on management's part and oddly panicky considering how early in the season it is. They do have some reinforcements on the way in Daniel Hudson, who is a bit of a wild card considering he hasn't pitched in the majors since early 2012, and Archie Bradley, whose campaign for freedom is gaining steam. They've also recently added Randy Wolf, but that likely wouldn't stop them from pursuing other options. Right now, their ill-advised offseason dealings of Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg appear even more troubling.
David Price, LHP
The 2012 AL Cy Young award winner probably isn't going anywhere since the Rays really, really need him, however, if Tampa falters, they may be inclined to deal him this summer to maximize their return.
Kyle Kendrick, RHP Phillies
Kendrick isn't a sexy name, but he gets the job done (4.36 career ERA) and eats plenty of innings, having thrown at least 180 twice in the last four years (he spent a significant amount of time as a reliever in the other two). Kendrick, who will be a free agent at season's end, could be a stabilizer at the back of a contender's bullpen were the Phillies to admit they're probably not contenders and deal him
Roberto Hernandez, RHP Phillies
James Shields, RHP Royals/Justin Masterson, RHP indians
Two of the premier free agents expected to be available next offseason, Shields and Masterson currently look like long shots to sign extensions with their respective clubs, and being that they both play in the AL Central and are not on the Tigers, there is a significant chance that their clubs fail to make the postseason, adding incentive to recoup value while they still can. I wouldn't bet on either of these two being moved since the Royals and Indians likely won't be out of the playoff picture by the deadline, but they could net sizable returns were they made available.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP Cubs
Samardzija was the subject of many trade rumors this winter after the Cubs tried and failed to get him to agree to an extension. Since he is still just 29 and can't become a free agent until after the 2015 season, Samardzija could command a premium on the trade market. The Cubs could revisit possible deals with the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, among others with whom they discussed a trade over the winter.
Jason Hammel, RHP Cubs
Hammel seemed like the perfect buy-low signing this offseason when the Cubs nabbed him for just $6 million, and he has already rewarded them with an excellent first two starts. Hammel has a ton of upside, and has shown the potential to be a number three starter or better in the past, but he has had trouble staying healthy, leading to some undesirable results. The next couple months will tell us a lot about what kind of pitcher Hammel is, and if he exhibits any sort of success, Chicago would seem to be best-suited to trade him and add to their prospect cupboard.
Yovani Gallardo, RHP Brewers
A year ago, Gallardo was considered among the brightest young pitchers in the game, but a lackluster 2013 in which he posted a career-worst 4.18 ERA and dropped his strikeout rate by roughly two K's per nine innings, has greatly diminished his stock. Still, Gallardo offers plenty of potential and is capable of pitching near the top of any team's rotation. The Brewers currently look like a true contender, and if that continues, then Gallardo likely won't be going anywhere. However, competition will surely be tough in a division with the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates, and Milwaukee may find themselves in a difficult situation come July. After 2014, Gallardo is under club control for just one more season with a $13 million team option for 2015, but having just turned 28, he's probably worth making a run at if Milwaukee makes him available.
Jorge De La Rosa, LHP Rockies
The Rockies probably won't be contending this year, and De La Rosa will be a free agent following the season, making him an easy candidate to get dealt. A lot will depend on whether he can repeat his 2013 performance (3.49 ERA, 4.3 WAR, 0.59 HR/9), but he could be something along the lines of what Wandy Rodriguez was for the 2012 Pirates for whomever trades for him.
Josh Johnson, RHP Padres
Johnson's recent injury woes and visit to Dr. James Andrews is quite troubling for a pitcher who was considered one of the best pitchers on the planet as recently as a year ago. However, if he does return this season (which now appears unlikely), he could be a valuable piece of trade bait for the Padres, as his one-year deal pretty much negates any long-term risk of injury. And if Johnson does fail to pitch (or make fewer than seven starts), the Padres will still hold a $4 million club option on him for 2015.
Ian Kennedy, RHP Padres
Another San Diego reclamation project, Kennedy was acquired in a trade with Arizona last summer, but posted just an 81 ERA+ down the stretch. Kennedy was last an above-average pitcher in 2012, and he was superb in 2011, so he's not too far removed from success, and should benefit from the friendly confines of Petco Park. He isn't eligible for free agency until following the 2015 season.