By: Chris Larson
Every year at the July 31st Trade Deadline, there are always plenty of teams looking for pitching help, especially starting rotation help, to not only give them depth for down the stretch but to allow them to have additional options to turn to once the calendar turns to October. Over the past couple of years, there have been some big names that have been traded among starting pitchers, prior to the July 31st Trade Deadline, including: Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels, Chris Archer, and Lance Lynn to name a few.
This year, will likely be no exception as there are going to be plenty of teams, calling those teams with starting pitching depth to deal from. For any contending team, there should be plenty of various options available throughout the marketplace, but here are the 8 biggest names to monitor between now and July 31st.
1. Madison Bumgarner (San Francisco Giants) - Of all of the names on this list, Madison Bumgarner is the one that is the most likely to be traded and has the biggest brand recognition. Bumgarner certainly isn't the ace that he once was and is likely a number 3 or 4 starter on most teams pitching staff, but he does have a terrific pedigree come the postseason and has shown that he can handle pitching on the biggest stage of them all, the World Series. So far this season over 96.2 innings of work, Bumgarner has a 4.28 ERA with 46 earned runs and 93 strikeouts. While the ERA is higher than league average, the strikeouts-per-9 rate (8.66) is higher than it was all of last season (7.57) and his average velocity has increased on all four of his pitches in his pitch repertoire. In fact, his fastball, which is the pitch that he relies on the most, has gone from 90.9 MPH last season to an average of 91.8 MPH this year.
2. Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians) - It's still not entirely convincing that the Cleveland Indians are going to be in full blown sell mode between now and July 31st because they are legitimately in the AL Wild Card race, but Trevor Bauer is a guy that would likely get the Indians quite a haul to help restock the farm system and potentially add additional talent to their 25-man roster. Bauer, a guy that has seemingly embraced analytics from the time they were first introduced to the world of baseball, continues to fine tune his craft and has the makings of being a true ace. Sure, Bauer struggled tremendously during the month of May posting a 5.50 ERA over 36 innings of work, but has a 3.45 ERA so far this month with a (85.7%) left on-base percentage along with 26 strikeouts. One really intriguing part of Bauer's game this season has been his splits between lefties and righties. Against lefties, Bauer has a batting line of: .249/.356/.474 over 44.2 innings pitched, but against righties that batting line is: .180/.262/.335 over 67.2 innings of work.
3. Robbie Ray (Arizona Diamondbacks) - The Arizona Diamondbacks have been identified on here, as being one of the most intriguing teams to watch leading up to July 31st, but based on recent play, Arizona might end up electing to sell off some pieces when all is said and done. While the attention is focused around Zack Greinke and hitters like David Peralta and Adam Jones, Robbie Ray is going to be in the conversation and could be the second biggest lefty available on the trade market behind Madison Bumgarner. In fact, last offseason, both the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies had significant interest in Ray, but neither were able to meet the steep asking price by the Diamondbacks front office brass. Still, both of those teams would make plenty of sense and Ray would be a terrific addition to either starting rotation. Among qualified starting pitchers this season, Ray ranks fourth with a strikeouts-per-9 rate of (11.72) and has an overall Opponent Batting Average Against of (.226).
4. Matt Boyd (Detroit Tigers) - According to recent reports, the Detroit Tigers are placing a very high asking price on Matt Boyd and rightfully so. In his age 28 season, Boyd has put up a 3.61 ERA over 94.2 innings of work and has an average walks-per-9 rate of (1.81) so far this year. Furthermore, he is under control through the 2022 season meaning that the asking price needs to be high and needs to include at least two top prospects or one top prospect along with two middle-to-lower level prospects for the Tigers to blink. One of the more interesting aspects of Matt Boyd's game plan this season has been his overall pitch usage. From last season to this year, Matt Boyd has thrown his fastball more often (48.8% last year compared to 53.4% so far this season) and his slider more (31.1% in 2018 vs. 35.8% this year). However, he has dramatically decreased his reliance on both his curveball and changeup. For his curveball, he is throwing it (5.0%) of the time this season vs. (12.3%) of the time last season and for his changeup, he relied on it (7.7%) of the time last season vs. (5.8%) this year.
5. Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) - If a contending team is looking for a groundball extraordinaire, then they need to look no further than Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays. Among qualified starting pitchers this year, Marcus Stroman ranks second, behind only Dakota Hudson of the St. Louis Cardinals, in groundball rate (58.0% over 94.2 innings pitched) and has an overall BABIP of (.288). In addition, the Toronto Blue Jays have learned that because of Stroman's craft and his groundball percentage, they don't necessarily have to use the shift when he's on the mound or deploy it that frequently. So far this season, the Blue Jays have only employed the shift during 6.1 innings when Stroman is on the mound. Over the other 54 innings where there wasn't a shift employed, Stroman has an opponent batting line of: .281/.280/.341 with a Weighted On-Base Average of (.265). The Atlanta Braves seem like a fascinating fit because of Marcus Stroman's connection to Alex Anthopoulos, but it would be even more fascinating to see what the Houston Astros could do with him with their advanced analytical models.
6. Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins) - Caleb Smith is a guy that the Miami Marlins don't necessarily have to trade because he is only 27 years-old and is scheduled to hit free agency come 2024. However, the Marlins also have to realize that they are ripe with pitching prospects, but don't have the same type of quantity of offensive prospects coming up through the pipeline meaning that if they could trade one of their starting pitchers, such as Caleb Smith, they could potentially receive two or three offensive pieces in return. During his third season in the big leagues, Smith has the highest strikeouts-per-9 rate (11.18), lowest walks-per-9 rate (2.73), and highest left on-base percentage (86.4%) of his career. In addition, Caleb Smith has done well during the first and second times through an opposing teams lineup, but has really shined during the third time through. Over 11 innings pitched where it was the third time through the opposing team's lineup, Smith has a batting line of: .200/.289/.300 with 9 strikeouts and a Weighted On-Base Average of (.263).
7. Dylan Bundy (Baltimore Orioles) - The Baltimore Orioles don't really have many tradeable assets between now and July 31st, but if you had to identify one guy on their pitching staff that could be traded, it would be right-hander, Dylan Bundy. Bundy is owed around $1.4 million dollars over the remainder of this season, is arbitration eligible next year, and isn't scheduled to hit free agency until 2022. During the past five seasons, Bundy has a cumulative ERA of 4.63 over 533 innings of work and this year is no different (4.59 ERA over 80.1 innings pitched with 41 earned runs and 86 strikeouts). With that being said, there might be a contending team out there that feels as though they can help him find a part of his game plan that he might be struggling with and improve his overall mechanics using various analytical models. For example, Bundy used to rely on his cutter when he first made his major league debut in 2012, but has since eliminated that from his pitch repertoire. Maybe a contending team could promote him to throw that more often again to see if it potentially changes his results on the field.
8. Mike Minor (Texas Rangers) - Of the names on this list, Mike Minor is probably the least likely to move and that's because of where the Texas Rangers currently are in the standings, as well as the idea of their competitive window opening up just in time for next season, when they move into their new ballpark. To this point, Minor has posted the best ERA (2.52 over 103.2 innings of work) of his big league career and has the lowest home runs/fastball ratio (10.7%) of his major league career as well. So far this season, Mike Minor has thrived in a variety of different situations, but he has really found his groove during situations where there are runners in scoring position. In this situations, which account for 23 innings of work, Minor has a opposing team batting line of: .174/.247/.246 with 16 strikeouts and has an overall left on-base percentage of (90.5%) against lefties. Mike Minor has definitely turned into someone that the Rangers could cash in for a big return, but it still seems unlikely that it's going to happen when all is said and done.