The Washington Nationals are a clear 2015 playoff contender. The Detroit Tigers are a clear 2015 playoff contender.
So why are they trying to get rid of their pitching?
Yesterday, Bob Nightengale reported something we believed to be true for a while already: the Nationals are considering offers for ace Jordan Zimmermann, a free agent after 2015. Nightengale says they’ll also listen on Doug Fister, another post-2015 free agent.
And now Buster Olney reports that the Tigers are making Rick Porcello, yet another post-2015 free agent, available in trade. Although this phenomenon is not limited to the Nationals and Tigers (the Reds are reportedly listening on some of their one-year guys, the A’s are reportedly listening on Jeff Samardzija, etc.), it seems most curious when you’re talking about clear contenders. And I think it is actually tied to free agency.
At least with respect to the Nationals and Tigers, what I suspect we’re seeing is this thinking: we can trade one year of these guys to get some prospects or fill some other holes, and then sign a free agent to the kind of long-term deal we’d have to offer to extend these in-house guys anyway.
If that kind of approach is successful, it’s a great strategy. In exchange for a little more money and maybe an extra decline year or two, the teams might get a pitcher that is as good or better than the guy they have, and then also get some prospects/other players on top of it.
In other words, I think we’ve got to consider the Nationals and Tigers as strong possibilities in the high-end starting pitching market this offseason. That may not mean Jon Lester, since his market seems to be relatively public at this point (though, hey, you never know), but it could definitely mean Max Scherzer and James Shields. Sure, for the Tigers, trading Porcello and re-signing Scherzer isn’t technically a “replacement,” but that’s kind of semantics. As of the day he became a free agent, Scherzer was gone.
Obviously, the availability of these pitchers in trade also affects the trade market for a guy like Cole Hamels, especially if the Phillies continue to seek a significant prospect return for Hamels with no meaningful salary relief.
The long and the short here: if one of these guys gets traded, you can expect there to be a swift impact in the free agent market by the team trading away the pitcher. And, the mere fact that these pitchers are being made available suggests that the markets for the high-end free agent starters could be larger than otherwise expected.
Porcello, by the way, will make just $8.5 million in 2015, turns 26 in December, and has quietly emerged as an excellent starter. The idea of acquiring and then extending him, if you’re a team like the Cubs, is absolutely an attractive possibility, as it is with Zimmermann. But, just as with Zimmermann, what I question is whether it’s worth it for the Cubs to give up young talent for one year of these guys – a year in which the Cubs could be decent, but definitely aren’t “going for it” – and the chance to extend them to a significant contract.
It’s worth thinking about, and, truly, Zimmermann and Porcello are looking like 1A and 1B options in free agency after this season (that assumes very good, healthy years in 2015), should they reach it.* Maybe targeting them now is the best way to ensure that the Cubs can get them? Then again, with so many other options coming available over the next 15 months, you have to weigh the desire to get these particular guys against the cost of giving up prospects for one year of control and the mere chance at a pricey extension.
*I know: you’re all, hello dude, David Price?!? He’s right there, too, because obviously. But there’s a lot of mileage there (Zimmermann is already post-TJS), and the expected price tag is much larger. Let’s call him 1C.