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15 starting pitchers to watch at the MLB trade deadline

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The offensive trade market in 2015 is fairly weak, however there is more than enough starting pitching depth to go around.

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July is now just two days away, and with it, the trade deadline season officially begins. Across MLB, there are at least 18 teams that are within striking distance of a playoff spot, with a few more still holding out hope of a hot streak in the next couple of weeks. With that many front offices working throughout the day trying to best figure out how to approach the deadline, the market for starting pitchers is going to be fierce. There are a lot of options potentially on the block, and below are the top 15.

Player fWAR Team
Chris Sale 3.4 White Sox
David Price 2.8 Tigers
Clay Buchholz 2.4 Red Sox
Jordan Zimmermann 2.0 Nationals
Johnny Cueto 1.9 Reds
Jeff Samardzija 1.7 White Sox
Cole Hamels 1.7 Phillies
Jose Quintana 1.5 White Sox
Scott Kazmir 1.5 Athletics
J.A. Happ 1.4 Mariners
Mike Fiers 1.4 Brewers
Aaron Harang 1.3 Phillies
Bartolo Colon 1.0 Mets
Chase Anderson 0.9 Diamondbacks
Andrew Cashner 0.9 Padres

Some of the players on this list are obviously much harder to move than others, but everyone here can be justified.

Who are the most likely candidates to get traded?

Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija are almost surely going to be moved before the deadline, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy to acquire them. Hamels holds the most value of these two pitchers, as he's already signed long-term, and for below market value. Samardzija on the other hand is a free agent at the end of the year, and will likely test the waters once the season is over. While he's a rental player, Rick Hahn should be able to squeeze at least one impact prospect out of Samardzija in a trade since he'll be one of the most coveted pitchers available.

The Athletics' Scott Kazmir and the Reds' Johnny Cueto also seem likely, but it remains to be seen if their teams are going to become sellers. Both are free agents after the season, so even if Beane is unwilling to give up on the season, Kazmir has probably entered the final month of his career in Oakland. The Astros have been linked to both pitchers, and should be considered a prime candidate for one of them.

The harder, but not impossible group

David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, and Clay Buchholz each fit this description. Price is a free agent at the end of the season, as is Zimmermann, but with their teams marching towards playoff baseball, it will be harder to justify selling them for pieces that might not be ready to help in 2015. The Tigers are fighting for a Wild Card spot, which makes it even harder to imagine Dave Dombrowski parting with his left-hander. Washington on the other hand has the most valuable starting rotation in baseball, according to fWAR, and trading Zimmermann would be easier to absorb.

Buchholz is a slightly different story however, as the Red Sox have two team options on him. It's unclear how Ben Cherington views his club, and if they need a dramatic rebuild or small tinkering. If it's the former, than Buchholz should be dealt immediately while his value is high, however with high priced players like Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and promising prospects in Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, and Blake Swihart, it seems too early to pull the plug.

The ultimate prospect package

If we were ranking the most valuable players due to skill set and future salary obligations, Chris Sale would rank near the top of the list. He signed an extremely team friendly deal that will pay him just under $50 million from 2016-2019, and has been worth 17.9 fWAR since 2012. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs estimates that his next four years would be worth between "$125 to $150 million", on the open market.

For a trade to happen however, a team is going to have to give up a fantastic prospect package, and potentially take on an over priced player from the White Sox. In that same Cameron piece, he mentions the Dodgers' Corey Seager and Julio Urias or even the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Arismendy Alcantara. While a deal with Chicago's cross-town rival seems unlikely, especially given Schwarber's success in a six-game stint, a deal with Los Angeles isn't out of the question. Seager and Urias are undoubtedly two of baseball's most highly rated prospects, but they're still just prospects.

Earlier today, we were reminded that not all prospects pan out, as Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported that Dylan Bundy has been shut down for the rest of the season.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Dylan bundy has been shut down, likely for the year. Buck wouldn&#39;t elaborate on shoulder troubles w Bundy but said no surgery.</p>&mdash; Dan Connolly (@danconnollysun) <a href="https://twitter.com/danconnollysun/status/615619922652217345">June 29, 2015</a></blockquote>

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Just this morning, Mike Bates wrote about how prospects can be overvalued, and how teams should be acutely aware of that as the deadline approaches. The dictionary definition of prospect is "the possibility or likelihood of some future event occurring." There is clearly a strong possibility that Seager and Urias could become the next sensations at their respective positions, but at this time it's just one of many possible outcomes. We already know that Sale is a fantastic pitcher however, and that may be worth more to the Dodgers, or other teams for that matter, than keeping prospects who may one day become great.