MLB Star Power Index: Predicting how the starting pitcher market will shake out at the trade deadline
A look at which pitchers will stay or go as we move closer toward baseball's July 31 trade deadline
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our CBS Sports NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept.
All right, so this episode of SPI is devoted to the forthcoming trade deadline, and as such we shall index the star power of four names that have been heavily bandied about leading up Wednesday's line o' dead. In keeping with ancient tradition, half-assed predictions shall be made with the confidence of the surpassing fool. Leading off is sworn enemy of batter exuberance Madison Bumgarner.
So the the thing with MadBum is that he's probably not going to be traded. Not so long ago -- as recently as June 29 -- the Giants were a season-worst 12 games under .500, in last place in the NL West, and 8 1/2 games out of playoff position. At the time, only the Marlins had a worse record among NL squadrons. Leap like a hot toad to the current day, and the Giants are one game above .500, in second place in the NL West, and and eminently workable 3 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. Over that span, Bumgarner has dialed up 1.80 ERA over five starts with 30 strikeouts against three walks.
This surge at both team and individual levels has overlapped with the run-up to the aforementioned trade deadline, and that in turn has complicated matters for first-year president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. It's in the best long-term interests of the club to undertake a rebuild, and that would entail trading Bumgarner by Wednesday. On the other, perhaps larger and more dextrous hand, the Giants are now in contention, and Bumgarner has been central to their return to relevance. Zaidi certainly has the power to trade Bumgarner, but new to the organization, does he have the political cover? The Giants for practically all of Brian Sabean's many years at the switch showed a preternatural aversion toward rebuilding, and those organizational strains surely haven't been entirely scrubbed away. Would fans revolt if Zaidi traded away a franchise icon with playoff position in spitting distance and in what's Bruce Bochy's final season as manager?
The Giants don't project all that well moving forward, and while the bar for that second NL wild-card likely won't be terribly high, it is and likely will remain a crowded fray. Can the Giants distinguish themselves against the superior rosters of the Nationals, Cardinals, Phillies and Diamondbacks? Probably not. But dealing away your ace in the midst of a 16-4 July won't play well coming from an exec with Dodger aromas still emanating from his bespoke menswear.
As for Bumgarner himself, he's in his walk year, and he's enjoying bit of a velocity and command-and-control rebound. That in tandem with his durability (weird traumatic injuries notwithstanding) make him in theory an attractive deadline arm for those on more solid playoff footing than the Giants. It says here that won't happen, though. Zaidi will bow to the pressures before him, keep Bumgarner in the fold for what turns out to be an abortive playoff charge. Then they make him a qualifying offer and let him walk in exchange for an extra draft pick. It says all of that right here.
Regard the implications herein:
When Socrates wrote the Bible, he prominently mentioned the importance of hugs in the workplace. So it was in Toronto on Wednesday night when Marcus Stroman made what's expected to be the last start of his Blue Jays career -- dugout hugs are often harbingers of dealmaking. That's not a particularly deft set of hugs, but hugs at the office are either an expression of pity or envy, thus their awkwardness. The point is that the Blue Jays right now spend the patience of onlookers, but they don't spend money. So Stroman, enjoying a career year and bound headlong for a big raise in arbitration, is bound for a contender willing to invest in the on-field product.
And he'll be quite the fetch. He's just 28, and he comes with another full year of team control before becoming eligible for free agency. He's also, as you peeped above, having one heck of a 2019. Stroman on his sinker-slider-cutter trio, and he also works in a four-seamer and changeup. So that's a deep repertoire. He's also been free of arm problems, and he's on pace for his third 200-inning season in the last four. Stroman's also an unrestrained and vigorously competitive sort whose mere presence could energize a contender. That's to say nothing of, you know, substantially improving the rotation. The Jays should get a nice return for the right-hander who's been a part of the org since being drafted out of Duke back in 2012, and Stroman's new employer will get a starting pitcher worthy of a playoff rotation. There will be hugs or at least clammy handshakes when he gets to that new place.
That new place? The Atlanta Braves will trade for Stroman. If you don't believe me just ask me.
Long about the autumn of 2016, you -- yes, you -- with Solomonic confidence declared declared Zack Greinke to be in a state of inexorable decline and of little value moving forward. It was, I suppose, a defensible stance at the time. He was 33 and coming off a season in which he registered a 4.02 ERA and had missed more than a month with an oblique injury. At the same time he posted his worst strikeout numbers in six years.
Much to your personal humiliation, however -- recall that you're the one who said these things -- Greinke's "decline" turned out to be illusory. Heading into this scheduled Friday night start, Greinke since the end of the 2016 season has pitched to a 3.14 ERA/142with a 5.11 K/BB ratio. He's also on target for his third-straight 200-inning season. May we all suffer such a loss of professional skills.
As for Greinke's current campaign, his age-35 season, he boasts an ERA+ of 152, and he's issued just 15 unintentional walks through 21 starts. Even though the Diamondbacks are within range of playoff position, they appear poised to sell leading up to Thursday. Greinke is perhaps their most alluring piece. With aging pitchers, it's all about skills retention, and Greinke with his exceptional command and exceptionally deep repertoire has survived velocity loss just fine. He's owed the balance of his $34.5 million salary for this season and then a total of $70 million for 2020 and 2021. That level of salary commitment means that he can likely be acquired for not very much in terms of prospects (assuming the D-Backs don't send cash along with him).
In terms of likely performance in 2019, Greinke may be the best name on the market, and despite his age recent performance suggests he's got a shot at being at least useful through the remainder of his contract. The prediction here is that the heavily committed Phillies take the plunge and bring in Greinke for the stretch drive and beyond. That may turn out to be wrong, but it be as wrong as when almost three years ago you said Greinke was done.
Syndergaard hasn't yielded vintage results in his age-26 campaign, but he's still got the big-time velocity and wipeout supporting pitches. Given the wearying dysfunction surrounding the Mets and the fact that Thor is presently backed by one of MLB's worst team defenses, it's not surprising that he'd have some uninspiring results on the run-prevention front.
As for the Astros, they badly need additional rotation depth right about now, and they're looking for exactly that as they aim to return to the World Series. As well, their recent semi-history of "coaching up" high-upsiders like Gerrit Cole (while not faring all that well when it comes to developing their own arms) suggests Thor could benefit from such a pairing. The Astros have a recent history of success when it comes to improving spin rate in arms new to the organization, and Syndergaard right now ranks in just the 23rd percentile in fastball spin rate. As such, there's plenty of space for improvement. Syndergaard also isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season. So in addition to upgrading the Astros' chances for a title in 2019, he'd also provide a hedge against Cole's departure via free agency this coming winter.
So, yes, Syndergaard to the Astros is happening. If this does not come to pass, then feel free to engage with the author on MySpace and or Friendster.
This hasn't been an exhaustive tour of the starting pitcher market headed toward Thursday. Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, for instance, in the even that he's moved. (Since you asked, Boyd will be traded to the Cardinals.) The four names above, however, have been indexed according to industry-wide best practices and chosen for their high marks in ... Star Power.
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