Each year fan bases get excited about the prospects they will get back in deals, they pour over top prospect lists dreaming about the potential returns. The truth is much more stark, there haven’t been franchise players moved, and when they have they have been far away from the majors. It is extremely rare that an established player brings back a surplus of value, even when they do, that value is years away from helping. This is no more evident than in starting pitching. With casual fans clamoring for the Phillies to trade Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and A.J. Burnett it is worth looking at the actual returns.
Here are the trades of good starting pitchers since 2008. All rankings are taken from Baseball America at the time of the deal, all salaries include post-trade extensions, and numbers are for the current season (if midseason trade) or previous season (offseason trade).
Dan Haren (Age – 27, 3.07 ERA 2.2 BB/9 7.8 K/9, 1 year 4.05 million + 2 arb years) for Brett Anderson (ARI #3 OA #36), Chris Carter (ARI #8), Aaron Cunningham (ARI #7), Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez (ARI #1 OA #22), Greg Smith (ARI #13)
The best player of this group for the team that acquired them is Michael Brantley. LaPorta was a bust in Cleveland, the Twins flipped Gomez for JJ Hardy, and the A’s flipped CarGo for a Matt Holliday rental (which turned into Brett Wallace which turned into Michael Taylor). Sabathia and Haren were fairly young, but with much different contract situations, Santana was possibly the best pitcher in baseball at the time and was dominant for the Mets after the trade.
Cliff Lee (Age – 30, 3.14 ERA 2.0 BB/9 6.0 K/9, 2 yrs 15 million) and Ben Francisco for Carlos Carrasco (PHI #2 OA #52), Jason Knapp (PHI #10), Jason Donald (PHI #4 OA #69), and Lou Marson (PHI #3 OA #66)
Peavy was hurt at the time of this trade, with Lee deal the Phillies gave up three top prospects that were losing some shine, and a lottery ticket that fell to pieces.
Once again the Phillies dominate the trading market, but the Lee to Seattle deal is a bit glaring when you look at where those prospects were ranked. The Dan Haren trade turned out to be a steal for Arizona (until they gave Skaggs back to the Angels for Trumbo), but Haren gave the Angels a spectacular year and a half. Once again a college first baseman flames out after being top ranked, Smoak is doing better than LaPorta, but most hitters are doing better than LaPorta. Even the vaunted trio sent to Toronto for Halladay have really struggled.
Zack Greinke (Age 26, 4.17 ERA 2.3 BB/9 7.4 K/9, 2yrs 27 million) traded for Lorenzo Cain (2010 MIL #8), Alcides Escobar (2010 MIL #1 OA #12), Jeremy Jeffress (MIL #3 OA #100), Jake Odorizzi (MIL #1 OA #69)
The Greinke trade worked out for both teams as the Royals have rebuilt around Escobar and Cain and Milwaukee got good years from Zack. The Marcum trade looks bad now, as do all trades with teams pushing all in in desperation, which brings us to the Jimenez trade where the most valuable piece might be the comp round pick the Indians got this year when he left.
The Gonzalez trade is another win win now that Derek Norris has turned into a beast behind the plate, but Gio has been great for the Nats and his extremely reasonably priced for the next few years. Another young pitcher swap gave the Padres a bunch of spare parts for their young ace, especially since Grandal has never been the same since getting busted for PEDs. The Sanchez trade and contract continue to be great wins for Detroit, especially since Turner’s star had greatly faded from his preseason rankings. Lee has yet to make the majors, but Archer has provided good value for Garza.
James Shields (Age – 30, 3.52 ERA 2.3 BB/9 8.8 K/9, 2 yrs 22.5 million) and Wade Davis traded for Wil Myers (TB #1 OA #4), Patrick Leonard (TBR #26), Mike Montgomery (TBR #15), Jake Odorizzi (TBR #5 OA #92)
Myers is the top prospect moved in any deal, and Shields has one of the most team friendly deals on this list. Otherwise the best player moved his Syndergaard before he took off, but d’Arnaud really hasn’t gone anywhere. The Cubs acquired a bunch of interesting things with stock up and down, and while Edwards was a darling last year, his shoulder his hurt this year making his future as a starter greatly in doubt.
The Fister trade continues to puzzle, though it sets a dangerous precedent for a collapsing pitcher trade market.
For the most part the market as slowly dwindled as the pitchers moved have declined in abilities and the top players have moved less. The big key to a good haul as always is a young pitcher or a pitcher with a good contract. The Phillies assets all are the opposite of those. They are old (Lee and Burnett) or locked up to long contracts (Hamels). On top of all of this, look down this list at all the busts on it. Even if you do get a highly rated prospect, they come without any guarantees. It is one thing to move a pitcher you will lose to FA, it is another thing entirely to move a pitcher just to move a pitcher. There will be a lot of talk about who will be traded, but bet on the young guys with good contracts to get the big prizes.