Chasing the Aces and the Pennants

Jake Peavy delivers a pitch at Petco Park in S...
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It’s officially trade rumor season in the MLB and teams are now just beginning to assess their needs and see what is available on the market. This season marks a special one in the starting pitching department as we have four key names playing for underperforming teams looking to slash payroll and stock their farm system with top young talent. As always, the question must be asked if the team looking to acquire established big league talent is ready to part with younger, untested talent. Here are four teams, in addition to their payroll at the start of the season, who just might be willing to take the plunge and get the ace to anchor their staff through the remainder of the dog days. In addition, we’ll give you the prospects that could be shipped off in return for these aces and what they have done so far this season.

nymets62New York Mets ($135,733,988/2nd highest in baseball)

While the Mets have been streaking lately, their inability to avoid the injury/illness bug has to have the front office worried and we might have seen the last of Oliver Perez in the starting rotation for the Metropolitans this season. The Mets have finished behind the Phillies for the past two seasons and have not advanced out of the National League since the Subway Series back in 2000, (Edgardo Alfonzo anyone?), and the faithful in Queens are beginning to get a little restless.

Johan Santana was a major addition to the club before the start of the 2008 regular season but it came at the cost of some major talent. The decision to not go after Derek Lowe was a questionable one and now it becomes increasingly apparent that the Mets need another starter to make their rotation legitimate. Erik Bedard could be a low cost option for the Mets as they probably do not want to add much more on to their existing payroll. To avoid arbitration, the Mariners signed Bedard to an incentive-laden one-year deal with a base salary of $7.75 mil.

Bedard has posted solid numbers since recovering from his torn labrum last year. As of June 3, he’s 4-2 with a 2.37 ERA and 61 Ks. Seems like he’s playing for a contract. Just a thought there. Since the contract is an expiring one, the Mets would probably have to only deal one major player from their farm system and maybe a pitching prospect or two. A thought that instantly comes to mind is Jonathan Niese since he is one of the Mets’ best pitching prospects and has already made a handful of starts for the big league club between last season and this year. In those starts, which is a total of five, Niese is 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA with 21 Ks and 10 BB in 24.2 IP. But what might get overlooked is that he is just 22 and still needs to develop. At this point, he’s due to only get better with major league experience and the Mariners lack starting pitching depth. Toss in Fernando Martinez to play left for the M’s in place of losing Adam Jones in the deal that brought Bedard to Seattle and the Mets just might have themselves a deal.

chicagocubs03 Chicago Cubs ($135,050,000/3rd highest)

“Wasn’t this starting rotation supposed to be one of the best in the NL already,” you probably have asked yourself after seeing the lovable losers on this list. Unfortunately, the Cubs failed in their much-publicized attempt to snag Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres and if not for Peavy’s full no-trade clause, could have lost him to their AL neighbors on the South Side.

As of June 2, the Cubs were in fourth place and four games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the suddenly competitive NL Central. Starting pitching has been a glaring concern for the Cubbies this season as Rich Harden has not made a start since May 17 and has been sidelined by an ailing back. Carlos Zambrano starts at various points because of injury and is currently serving a six-game suspension for his latest on-field tirade at Wrigley Field back on May 27. Ryan Dempster has been a shell of his 2008 self with an ERA of 4.48 in 11 starts this season.

So no, the Cubs do not have one of the best starting five in the NL because of injuries/suspensions and flat out inconsistency this season. The only starter with reputable numbers has been Ted Lilly, going 6-4 with a 3.50 ERA and an even better WHIP of 1.09. Randy Wells has given the rotation a short-term shot in the arm as well with a 1.69 ERA and a WHIP of .97 in five starts. But with the inconsistency of Dempster and Zambrano and Harden’s ailing back, the Wrigleyville outfit will need to add another piece to the staff.

If fans and management alike are tired of getting burned by both Peavy and the Padres then maybe Roy “Doc” Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays could be a nice addition to their staff. So far this season, Halladay has put himself into position to be an early Cy Young award candidate with a 9-1 record to go along with his 82 Ks and a WHIP of just 1.04.

A few names that could be shipped to north of the border would be Jay Jackson, who is currently pitching for Double-A Tennessee of the Southern League. In nine starts, he has a 3-3 record and an ERA of 3.35. Jackson works because he could help replenish the Jays’ minor league system since Jesse Litsch, Shawn Marcum, and Dustin McGowan, all currently on the disabled list, are now in the Jays rotation. Another name who could be included would be Andrew Cashner, who played his college ball at TCU, and is now playing for the Daytona Cubs of the Class A Advanced Florida State League. In seven starts, Cashner has a 1.99 ERA and 20 Ks.

Halladay will be owed $30 million over the final two years of his contract but as he’s proving this season, he’s certainly worth the investment and be a great addition to a pitching staff that is loaded when healthy and hitting their stride.

chicagowhitesox91Chicago White Sox ($96,068,500/12th highest)

Alright, so we get the point. Jake Peavy wants no part of the city of Chicago. White Sox GM Kenny Williams will have to get over that sooner much rather than later if he still wants to add an ace to his staff to put pressure on the AL Central leading Detroit Tigers. Southpaws Mark Buehrle and John Danks have won a combined 10 games for the Southsiders but are looking for Gavin Floyd to continue making strides as he has done over his past three starts. In those starts, he is 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA 24 Ks. Talk about a revival.

With a payroll of just over $115 million, it is unlikely that the Tigers will make any additions to their payroll and are more likely to hope and wish for Dontrelle Willis to be the fourth reliable starter in that rotation in addition to Edwin Jackson, the young Rick Porcello, and the dominant Justin Verlander. If the White Sox want to avoid a one-game playoff like they had to endure last October, then they will need a fourth starter of their own to give them a solid staff.

“Calling Mr. Roy Oswalt to the office, please. Mr. Oswalt, your presence is needed please. Thank you.” It would be ridiculously unwise for Houston to deal Oswalt within their division to the folks in Wrigleyville so just ship him a few miles south. On the year, Oswalt’s ERA has been a bit inflated at 4.28 and that is thanks to a high amount of hits allowed, (74 in 69.1 IP), in addition to 12 home runs allowed. The Astros currently sit in the cellar of the NL Central, seven games in back of the Brewers but chances are slim that the ‘Stros will make any movement in the division this year.

Oswalt’s contract runs through 2011 with a club option for $16 million or a $2 million buyout in 2012. In order for the deal to be successful, the White Sox know that they would again have to include both Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard. Poreda takes the bump currently for Double-A Birmingham of the Southern League and has a 2.62 ERA in 10 starts this season. His 62 Ks and .214 BAA are remarkable even for the Double-A level. If allowed to progress he could make a difference in the Astros rotation in the near future. Richard is already starting games for the White Sox and through four starts is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Well, the only person to whom it matters if it makes sense or not is Williams himself.

phillies– Philadelphia Phillies ($113,004,048/7th highest)

Sometimes, it pays to have a little pitching to help carry you to a championship and the Phillies were beneficiaries of clutch starting pitching from Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and most importantly “California Cool” Cole Hamels. But this year is different as Moyer is beginning to show his age with an ERA of 6.75 and 14 HR allowed in 10 starts. Myers will go under the knife to repair a torn labrum in his hip and might not return to the Phillies until late August. Hamels has been highly inconsistent in his first nine starts and has instilled a worry in fans that there might be something wrong with that fragile left elbow of his. He is just 3-2 with an ERA of 5.21 and was torched for eight hits and six earned runs in last start May 30 against the Washington Nationals.

All of this has led to the Phillies having the worst starting staff ERA, near 6.0, in the majors. Even still the Phillies are the current leaders of the NL East thanks to a stingy bullpen and an offense that can score at-will in hitters one through eight in the order. There are several young pitchers who have stepped in such as southpaws J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo to fill in while GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. figures out what do to fix his starting rotation problem. The perfect ace to make his arrival in the City of Philadelphia would be none other than Peavy himself.

That might sound a little odd at first considering the Phillies have long been known as a penny-pinching franchise. But since the opening of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies brass have been shedding their miserly habits and are finally spending the money accumulated from great attendance and benefitting from having one of the more popular fan bases in all of baseball. That is why Peavy makes the most sense for the Phillies. Without a doubt he is an expensive option, but also the best option on the market. Peavy will want to go to a contender and the Phillies certainly have to be in the contending conversation.

Peavy currently sits at 5-6 with a 4.10 ERA this season but has one of the worst offensive teams in the majors playing behind him in the Padres. They have the worst batting average in the NL at .239 and have the second least amount of runs scored in the league with a total of 208. It is clear that they are in rebuilding mode and dealing Peavy will help get them on their way with young talent to replace him. At 28, Peavy is an attractive option based on his youth and skill alone. He will also not need a renegotiated contract because he is currently signed through 2012 and a club option worth $22 million for 2013.

The Phillies would probably have to give up a combination of either shortstop Jason Donald, slugging outfield prospect Michael Taylor, and projected future ace Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco’s stock has dipped slightly since encountering a stumbling block at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In his ten International League starts, Carrasco has surrendered 63 hits in only 55 IP and his ERA is at 5.40. He dealt with a blister issue on the inside of his right thumb and was battling a sore elbow as well. Besides the injuries, his upside is huge and will benefit whoever he starts for when he makes it to the majors. Many have projected Michael Taylor to become the next Ryan Howard and if he blossoms into a major leaguer with the current crop of Phillies the amount of damage that lineup can do is beyond anyone’s imagination. In 168 ABs for Double-A Reading of the Eastern League, Howard, er Taylor, is slugging at a .613 clip with 10 homers, 10 doubles and a .339 average. It takes talent to get talent but this deal could help both teams achieve their aspirations for 2009 and beyond.

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