Welcome to Major League Baseball’s crazy season. With the league’s general managers and other front-office personnel descending upon the unsuspecting folks in Orlando, MLB‘s hot-stove movement is just getting ready to heat up as the weather cools down.

And while the free-agent class leaves something to be desired—it’s deep, but not top-heavy—the trade season will keep the coals burning, if recent rumors are any indication. Actually, now that we’ve witnessed the Pittsburgh Pirates make the playoffs during a campaign the New York Yankees did not, I’m about 95 percent certain we won’t make it to Christmas.

But until the apocalypse rains down, let us pretend the MLB trade season will go off without a hitch. In years where free agency leaves a bit to be desired, contending teams start working the phones harder and earlier than ever. 

It seems the story of 2013 will be that of starting pitching. Beyond Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese righty who may break all kinds of posting records, the starter market is decidedly dry. When guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza—good pitchers but ones with noticeable warts—start throwing around $15 million a season as a starting price, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Luckily, there seems to be no shortage of available stars. Teams looking to move away from contracts or just avoid arbitration have begun quietly shopping their arms, and the talent ranges from Cy Young worthy to mid-rotation stopgap.  

With that in mind, let’s take a look around the rumor mill and highlight the latest rumblings from Orlando.


Scherzer or Porcello on the Outs in Detroit?

Just a little less than two months after winning their third straight AL Central title, the Tigers are in a state of transition. Jim Leyland, the longtime chain-smoking, curse-word-spouting, fun-as-hell manager of the Tigers for whom an entire sports blog can be made, retired after the team’s ALCS ouster. Succeeding Leyland is Brad Ausmus, who has as much MLB managerial experience as I do.

While much of the cast will likely be the same in 2014, management is quietly making it clear the manager won’t be the only thing changing in the Detroit dugout. Specifically, the Tigers are open to uncluttering their pitching rotation—and a Cy Young contender might be on the move.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Monday that both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello could be had for the right price:

Scherzer, of course, is coming off a season in which he won 21 games and was the Tigers’ ace over Justin Verlander during the regular season. The flame-throwing righty, always with talent but never quite with good enough results, struck out 240 batters in 214.1 innings and had a 0.97 WHIP. It would befuddle the masses if Scherzer didn’t walk away with the Cy Young; he’s someone the statheads and traditionalists can agree on.

So, why the trade? In a word: money.

Scherzer is arbitration-eligible this winter, and he’s hitting that stretch at the exact perfect moment. He’s coming off the best season of his career, at a time when pitching comes at a premium and would almost certainly walk away with a nine-figure contract if he were on the open market. Although the Tigers retain Scherzer‘s rights for 2014, he can hit free agency next winter. With the two sides yet to discuss a long-term extension, it only makes sense that Detroit explore Scherzer‘s value and see if a desperate team would cough up a couple of elite prospects.

As for Porcello, he’s probably the Tigers’ next option if the Scherzer waters prove tepid. Still just 24, Porcello doesn’t wow scouts with his velocity, ground-ball/fly-ball rates or even his ability to keep guys off base. But he’s been a three-win pitcher each of the past two seasons by staying merely pretty good, his underlying numbers suggest bad luck and, again, he’s only 24.

Assuming one of the two guys moves, I’d bet on Scherzer landing in a major market that misses out on a top-tier free agent. He’s due for a big deal that the Tigers don’t seem to want to pay, and there are enough teams that need a starter that something should work out.


Brett Anderson’s Fate Tied to Bartolo Colon?

It will never stop amazing me just how much injuries dictate a starting pitcher’s career. Take the case of Brett Anderson. In 2010, he was a wise-beyond-his years lefty who compiled a 2.80 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and was well on his way to being a three- or four-win player. Built in the mold of an evolutionary Mark Mulder, it looked like Anderson would be the latest young stud to develop in Oakland—right until he was a trade chip for the next crop of studs.

You know the rest of the story. An elbow injury ended his 2010 season, Tommy John surgery came the next year, followed by a lengthy recovery and an ankle injury that cost him much of 2013. Anderson has made 24 starts over the past three years.

It’s not exactly the way Billy Beane envisioned tossing his prized pony out on the market. But, as reported by Heyman, Beane is preparing to do that—on one condition. Bartolo Colon, the convicted PED user who anchored the Athletics’ rotation last season, must return on a reasonable deal to fortify the gold and green’s playoff push. Oakland has a brilliant stable of young, highly touted arms, but relying on Tommy Milone to start a playoff game isn’t exactly ideal.

Should Beane look to deal Anderson, it’ll be interesting to see what he gets in return. The lefty is under team control for the next two years, and his $12 million salary for 2015 is a team option. Some enterprising team with an $8 million hole in their pocket and some hope of hitting with a buy-low candidate could give Beane a mid-level prospect and flotsam and probably get him to bite.

But one has to wonder whether Anderson can even be effective anymore. He finished 2013 with a 6.04 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and was literally worth nothing on the WAR scale. His FIP (3.85) and BABIP (.359) are indicative of someone who got patently unlucky last season, but the A’s jettisoned him out of their rotation and it’s questionable where he’d fit in 2014.

It’s possible that Anderson just needed a year to get himself readjusted, but at what point does the cost-benefit cause teams to decline? I’d put the figure right about $8 million per season.


Jeff Samardzija to Draw Interest from Nationals?

The Nationals, a yearly fixture on the hot stove, were supposed to have parlayed their excellent winter last year into a World Series berth. Instead, they finished 86-76 and watched the playoffs like you and I did—shirtless with a bag of crumpled up Fritos and a mini fridge full of beer on their side.

Much like Detroit, Washington is undergoing some managerial changes. Matt Williams will take over for the retired Davey Johnson, and, like Ausmus, has only managed at the major league level while playing MLB: The Show.

But in true Nationals form, the club is looking to make Williams’ transition as smooth as possible by getting him some shiny new stars to build around. Names like David Price and Scherzer have been thrown around, ace-level talents who could give the Nationals the most feared rotation on the planet if everyone stays healthy. (Not likely.) Both would fit in swimmingly, and Washington hasn’t been shy about tossing around nine-figure contracts.

Still, every good front office has a contingency plan. Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post has indicated Nationals brass has already landed on its target: Chicago Cubs righty Jeff Samardzija

The former Notre Dame wideout underwent a slow, somewhat arduous transition to the bigs—one that has finally paid off over the past two seasons. Samardzija has been one of the few bright spots in what feels like end-times for the Cubs, hanging around three-win value as a power arm who could be a perfect No. 3 starter.

Chicago will consider the move for the exact reason one would expect. Samardzija is first-year arbitration eligible this winter, and he probably won’t be as amenable to a short-term stopgap as he was prior to this past season. He’ll either want to get paid via a long-term deal or start the process of getting paid before the years start creeping up.

Washington has a war chest of assets, so this is a match if both sides get to talking. The Nats will probably kick the tires a bit on the bigger fish at first, but don’t be shocked if this rumor heats up again come December or so.


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