Major League Baseball's trade deadline is roughly six weeks away, and there several teams who might be interested in making a deal for a top starting pitcher. The two top candidates appear to be the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels and the Cincinnati Reds' Johnny Cueto.
At the moment, Cueto is the more enticing commodity. He is a free agent at the end of the season, and is making $10 million this season, according to Spotrac. Hamels is owed $67.5 million over the next three seasons. Other pitchers whom might be available include the Phillies' Aaron Harang, the Reds’ Mike Leake, along with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Kyle Lohse and the Miami Marlins’ Dan Haren.
A team that certainly seems to be in a market for a starter is the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy sidelined for the rest of the season, the Dodgers have no experienced starter behind Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson. Entering the season, Anderson had not pitched 100 innings since 2010 and has already pitched 68 innings.
The Reds reportedly want plenty for Cueto, and almost certainly will expect star prospects in return for their ace right-hander.
“I would expect Walt [Jocketty, Reds general manager] to be looking for multiple good prospects and a player ready to play in the big leagues right now,’’ an official with an NL team said, according to the New York Post. Meanwhile, MLB.com offered five potential landing spots for Cueto, and it was no surprise to see the World-Series hopeful Dodgers on the list.
The Dodgers have a stacked farm system, but whether they are "Major-League ready" is another story. Corey Seager is considered a potential star on the left side of the infield. The 21-year-old currently plays shortstop for Triple-A Oklahoma City, and has posted solid but not spectacular statistics this season. Team president Andrew Friedman may consider Seager to be a natural fit to start at third base on opening day in 2016, and perhaps a player who is too important to include in any deal seeking short-term results. Seager also may take on additional importance consider Juan Uribe was recently dealt to the Atlanta Braves and with the possibility that Seager may get called up this season. Meanwhile, there is no clear position for recent Cuban addition Hector Olivera, who appears to be inching closer to a move to Don Mattingly's roster.
Julio Urias has also been tabbed as a possible star. The left-hander is a young phenom, and is enjoying a strong season in Double-A Tulsa. At only 18 years old, and having shown great promise even at age 16, Urias might be the most coveted pitcher in the minors. His fastball reaches 97 miles per hour, and he has a devastating curve. Urias has cut down on his walks this season and is a strikeout specialist.
It would be a stretch for the Dodgers to deal either Seager or Urias for a pitcher like Cueto, who could command a huge salary at the end of the season and turns 30 in February. The Dodgers have other players they can offer the Reds.
Grant Holmes was rated as the No. 74 prospect by Baseball America, and might be great trade bait. The 19-year-old has only pitched 94 innings in the minors, but has a less than stellar earned-run average. Scouts, however, are impressed with Holmes' command, and the right-hander has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 100 mph. Zach Lee, a 23-year-old who the Dodgers spent a franchise-record $5.25 million in a signing bonus, could be another possibility with his strong season in Triple-A. Jose De Leon is another a rising-star pitching prospect who could be a quality front-end starter.
Would a package deal of Holmes, Lee, De Leon and perhaps another player be enough to entice Cincinnati? It's difficult to tell. The Dodgers have one of the better farm systems in baseball among the "buyers" at the deadline. Jocketty may not be able to get Seager and Urias, but the Dodgers might be able to give him a better offer than any other team. Yet, there might be fear that the Reds would look foolish to deal Cueto and not get either Seager or Urias.
As for Hamels, the stumbling block is the left-hander's contract. Even with Guggenheim Partners' deep pockets, the Dodgers probably can't add any more to their league-leading payroll. An interesting trade piece might be outfielder Andre Ethier, who has enjoyed a good season but has a bloated contract. But Phillies' General Manager Ruben Amaro wants elite prospects, and likely wants nothing to do with exchanging Hamels' bad contract with Ethier's, even if highly touted Dodgers minor leaguers are involved.
The Boston Red Sox are expected to make another run at Hamels. The two teams reportedly had talks in November, but Boston shot down the Phillies' offers of top prospects. At the moment, Boston is in last place, but just 7.5 games out of first place in the American League East. Should the Red Sox slide in the coming weeks, the Phillies would lose perhaps the most promising potential buyer for a pitcher who is a drag on the payroll. The Phillies have little chance to make the postseason, and Amaro would have to ask himself how much longer he is willing to keep paying Hamels.