Every July, there are a handful of teams that feel they are just one piece away from changing their playoff pretender status to playoff destiny and promise. Most of the time that one piece ends up being a starting pitcher. Here are four starting pitchers that more than likely will be available at or before the July 31st MLB trade deadline.
Scott Kazmir, Oakland A's
The resurgence of Scott Kazmir is a fantastic story. After missing all of 2012 at 28 years old, Kazmir revived himself and went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts for the Indians in 2013.
He followed up that solid year with a 15-9 record in 2014 with the A's, sporting a 3.55 ERA in 32 starts. In 2015 and now 31, Kazmir has gotten even better: 2-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 7 starts and will surely grab attention from multiple teams.
Where might Kazmir land?
Kazmir is a free agent at the end of the season, so a team would be getting a rental player while not having to take on a big contract pitcher, like Cole Hamels (see below).
Kazmir's name has been floated by ESPN's Buster Olney as a potential trade target for the Royals. The Boston Red Sox have also emerged as a potential destination for Kazmir, and more teams are sure to join the hunt as summer heats up.
Aaron Harang, Philadelphia Phillies
Ah, the second Phillies starting pitcher that could be traded this summer. Harang won't draw the return that Hamels will, but the Phillies will likely sell high on Harang while they can and as they presumably hope to build for the future. At 37, Harang is still pitching well. He won 12 games with the Braves in 2014, making 33 starts with a 3.57 ERA.
Surprisingly, he has pitched even better to start 2015. 3-3, with a 2.38 ERA in 7 starts with the Phillies lineup is something to be applauded. If he's due a bit of negative regression, that makes the Phillies' need to trade him all the more urgent.
Harang is a cheap, reliable back-end rotation pitcher that teams will circle back to as the trade market dries up. That being said, teams are already starting to inquire about the Phillies starter, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
Cueto's name is an interesting one. He's a free agent at the end of the season, he's due $10 million this season, and he's only 29.
Some teams will view him as a short-term answer, only wanting him as a rental. Other teams will want to trade for him and then lock him up for the future. That complicates the market and the asking price for Cueto. The Reds aren't in a position to wait Cueto out and pay him during the winter. 2015 has gotten off to a good start for Cueto, going 3-3 with a 2.98 ERA in seven starts.
While no specific rumors have surfaced on Cueto, any team in the market for a starting pitcher would have to entertain the idea of bringing on Cueto. The Red Sox seem to appear on the list for every supposedly-available big name starting pitcher, Cueto included. The market for Cueto will become more defined as teams figure out their needs and decide what he's worth. Healthy guess: his price is going up, not down.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Last but not least, Cole Hamels. It's somewhat of a surprise that he wasn't already moved in the offseason, when rumors circulating him were at their peak. Alas, Hamels has started the year with the Phillies. The three time All-Star is one of the bright spots of a Phillies team that is struggling.
The biggest prize of the deadline
Hamels is 2-3 with a 3.68 ERA in seven starts. That's not the typical Cole Hamels that many are used to seeing. It could be Hamels not wanting to be in Philly anymore, but it could be the play of the team behind him -- except his 4.92 FIP for 2015 (a career high) calls that into doubt.
In any case, Hamels will be the crown jewel of this year's trade deadline, whoever is willing to pay the price for him.