Off-Season Trade Candidate: Joe Saunders

My first post on the subject of off-season trade candidates, back around mid-season, was much more pure speculation, as there hadn't been a single murmur that Arizona was debating a trade of our everyday center fielder.  However, the subject of this post has been discussed actively on the 'Pit for quite some time, as numerous signs are pointing to left-hander Joe Saunders donning a new uniform in 2012.  So, in this post, I'd like to explore the kind of market that might exist for the southpaw should Arizona GM Kevin Towers feel inclined to shop his veteran lefty.

First, as we did in the CY post, I'd like to begin by going through some sort of valuation for Saunders.  This is tricky, largely because FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference are so torn on Saunders, not just because of his odd propensity to out-perform his FIP, but also because he's out-performing it by a wider margin than usual in 2011.  After having him as exactly replacement-level in 2010, Saunders posted 2.4 bWAR in 2011.  On the other hand, FanGraphs has Saunders as being even worse in 2011 than he was in 2010 - when he posted 1.8 fWAR - with a mere 1.0 fWAR this year.  Where does this leave us?  Well, follow me after the jump to see if we can find a way to make this a bit simpler...

To begin trying to circumvent this tricky fWAR/bWAR split, let's try to concoct an idea of what Saunders' true FIP talent level is, then adjust it as necessary.  Throughout his career, Saunders has always out-performed his FIP, but there's a legitimate debate as to whether or not his 2011 FIP is legit.  On one hand, hitters have posted an 12.4% HR/FB rate off of Saunders in 2011, nearly two percent higher than his career 10.7% HR/FB rate.  Thus, Saunders' 4.38 xFIP is significantly lower than his 4.78 FIP.  Additionally, Saunders' 2011 FIP is higher than his career figure, but his 2011 xFIP is lower than his career total.  In looking at future value, this is a major point in Saunders' favor, since Saunders' low fWAR is calculated based off of straight FIP, while xFIP is meant to be more predictive, so Joe might be expected to have a real value that is significantly higher than his 2011 fWAR.  However, it's hard to know just how much higher that value is, which makes it hard to get even a rough idea of what Saunders' future value is from his 2011 fWAR.

Saunders' bWAR of 2.4 is probably the more accurate assessment of his true value, although it needs to be noted that his 107 ERA+ in 2011 is significantly higher than his career ERA+ of 103.  Adjusting that ERA+ towards his career average mark would destroy Saunders' bWAR total, as he was on pace for a season of approximately 1.8 bWAR through 29 starts, when his ERA+ was 102.  Thus, in order to believe that Saunders can be a 2+ bWAR pitcher, you have to believe that Saunders can maintain an ERA+ figure going forward that is above his career-average mark.  That is a good question, but even if you believe that Saunders can maintain his 2011 ERA+, there is certainly some heavy risk that he could drop off a bit going forward, without much upside risk barring some incredible luck on balls in play.  Thus, Saunders value needs to be downgraded a bit from that 2.4 bWAR figure to some point between that mark and the value of his career mark - conveniently, as shown above, an even 2 fWAR lies in this interval, and makes a good deal of sense to me as a pro forma value.  This provides us a starting point for what we can expect from Saunders going forward.

Now, to dive into this a bit deeper.  One might not expect this to be the case, but Saunders actually has fairly similar career fWAR and bWAR totals.  Over the course of his big-league career - spanning 161 starts - FanGraphs has Saunders worth 9.6 wins, while B-R has him at 10.7 wins.  Color me confused, but somehow, someway, these two systems actually agree on the career value of someone with such a heavy ERA/FIP split.  By bWAR, Saunders' career average wins above replacement per 32 games started is 2.1, compared to 1.9 fWAR per 32 games started - an essentially immaterial difference.

However, I'm not sure Saunders is quite as good as his career norms (for reasons that would require lots of strike percentages, swinging strike percentages, and line drive rates to explain), given that so much of his career value by either system came in 2008.  Over the last three years, Saunders has put up a combined 3.8 fWAR and 4.0 bWAR.  However, including 2008 gives us 6.6 fWAR and 8.7 bWAR in four years.  In other words, using career averages over different sections of Joe's up-and-down career gives us completely different results for just how valuable Joe Saunders actually is.  Even if you don't think that Saunders is the pitcher he has been over the course of his career, how much worse should he be?  Is it even material to his value?  Honestly, I can't say either way, so I don't think it's productive to assume any material difference in value by a made-up figure just for the sake of trying to make his value seem more correct.

Therefore, after all of that statistical manipulation, here are the numbers that I believe provide the most objective view of Saunders' value: career bWAR/32 GS and 2011 bWAR.  With Saunders' penchant for out-performing FIP and his bloated 2011 HR/FB rate, I simply can't find any rationale for using fWAR when it clearly needs to be adjusted in so many ways before providing an accurate measure of his abilities.  Since such calculations would require a lot of time and would still be imprecise given the guesswork needed, I think it's more helpful for us to throw it out than to try to force it into an imprecise estimate.  Yes, that's awfully subjective, but I think it's at least a bit more objective than any random manipulations of fWAR would be.

So, we'll focus on his career bWAR/32 GS number of 2.1 and his 2011 bWAR figure of 2.4.  Thankfully, these totals are extremely similar, which helps give me a bit of comfort that this projection is somewhat reasonable.  This next part might be subjective (fine, it definitely is subjective...), but I'm going to lean towards the career figure on this.  The reasoning in my mind is that of the two seasons in Saunders' career that seem like the largest aberrations - 2008 and 2010 - his 2008 season deviated more significantly in a positive direction from his career bWAR total than his 2010 season deviated in a negative direction.  To state that in less-confusing English, I think Saunders was luckier in 2008 than he was unlucky in 2010, so I'm going to take the slightly lower number of the two significant indicators I'm using.  Thus, let's assume Saunders to have an expected 2012 value of 2.1 wins above replacement.

Whew... that was a chore.

(Note: thanking Cot's in advance for being a gift from the baseball gods.)  Saunders earned $5.5MM by agreeing to a one-year deal with Arizona last off-season that avoided his second year of arb.  That salary represented a $1.8MM raise from his 2009 salary of $3.7MM, which Saunders earned on a one-year deal he and the Angels agreed to in order to avoid his first arbitration year.  However, Joe is going to receive a much more substantial raise for 2012 given how much better his 2011 season was than his 2010 season was.  He earned an increase in pay of $1.8MM after going 9-17 with a 4.47 ERA in 203.1 innings, so imagine the kind of raise he'll receive after going 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA in 212.0 innings.  I think $2MM is very conservative, and $3MM or more wouldn't surprise me.  If it's anything less than $2.5MM, then I officially give up on trying to understand this system.

This would give Saunders a salary of about $8-8.5MM for 2012, with the $8.5MM figure seeming like the more probable target in my mind, and thus will be the figure that I'll use for the purposes of this post.  Depending on how much dollar value you give to a win above replacement player - $4MM or $5MM per WAR - that $8.5MM salary for a 2.1-win player either makes Saunders overpaid by about $100k or worth about $2MM in surplus value.  The market spoke strongly last winter that $5MM is the new target figure, and with baseball inflation as strong as ever, particularly with the ever-high demand for starting pitching.  Therefore, I think it's safe to say that Saunders' free-market surplus value is much closer to that $2MM figure than slightly in the negatives.

Also, while Saunders might technically qualify for a compensation pick through free agency, I think a team would have to be absolutely looney to openly offer him an arbitration raise on a salary of $8.5MM.  Additionally, there is no guarantee that the free agent compensation pick rules will be intact in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, so assuming significant additional value from those picks seems overly-optimistic.  However, it is perfectly acceptable for a club and player to arrange for an offer of arbitration to be rejected before it is formally offered, so the occasional trade suitor (read: Anthopoulos, Alex) might find reason to take particular interest in Saunders.  Still, trying to guess the odds of that compensation system being in place and the value the pick would have would be a massive exercise in arbitrary calculations, so, for the purposes of this post, let's go with that $2MM surplus value figure.

Going by the always-helpful surplus value calculations from Victor Wang, that sets Saunders' value within the spectrum of Grade C pitching prospects.  Basically, that means a low-level young arm with some projectability who could slot in a rotation but has a high flame-out chance, or perhaps a starter who Kevin Towers sees as a possibility to be moved into a successful relief role.  Sure, Arizona could target bats when looking to move Joe, but both in an effort to ease the workload, because I think it's a reasonable guess based on previous history, and because I think it's typically wise to add arms to the system rather than subtract them, I'm going to focus on pitching heading back to Arizona in a trade.  Kevin Towers has an extensive history of building bullpens and proclaiming to the media that he wants to build the D-backs around pitching, so I would be shocked if he dealt a starting pitcher - even an expensive one - for a position player (although it worked out for him once before, albeit with plenty of other pieces involved - some position player possibilities are discussed, though the focus here is definitely pitching).

I think the optimal fit for Arizona is a reliever on a one-year deal to fill the final spot in their bullpen.  Arizona has plenty of quality relief pitching at Double-A and Triple-A - such as Ryan Cook, Evan Marshall, Yonata Ortega, Kevin Munson, and Kam Mickolio - but all of those guys might need another year of polishing their control and command before being ready to be big-league contributors (although, in Mickolio's case, it's hard to see what good another year in the minors will do at this point...).  Regardless of what goes down, I wouldn't be expecting Saunders to fetch too much of a bounty in return, given that similar pitchers can be had on the free agent market for similar average annual salaries.

The real benefit of acquiring Saunders is in the short, one-year commitment that Saunders carries, as teams that either expect help from the minors soon or who strike out with the big names in the free agent market could take on a year of Saunders and re-assess where they stand after 2012 - this will factor in to seeing which teams could jump into the Saunders sweepstakes.  Of course, Saunders' above-average stuff, veteraniness (taken from the official AZSnakePit Dictionary), and left-handedness could intrigue a team's scouts and cause them to overpay for the lefty, but that's not a scenario worth assuming.

 

Now, of course, comes the fun part.  Let's take a look around the majors and see who might have a hole somewhere in their rotation (just a hunch, but I think it'll be a lot of teams...), who might be interested in acquiring one year of Joe Saunders' services, and what those teams might be able to offer Arizona in return for their southpaw.

 

NL West:

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies do make some sense here, particularly if you believe - like I do - that the Ubaldo Jimenez trade was unloading a falling star rather than the beginning of a full rebuilding effort.  The Rockies will finally get to unload Aaron Cook's terrible contract and will begin to build their rotation around Jhoulys Chacin, post-TJ Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, and the two big arms acquired in the Ubaldo trade, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz.  However, in spite of how phenomenal a 1-2-3 of Chacin-Pomeranz-Hammel seems, De La Rosa could take time to return, White is no sure thing, and pitcher injuries are all-too-common in the cold climes of Colorado.

A one-year deal for someone like Saunders could give them some rotation stability until the youngsters arrive.  The issue here, of course, is that it's an in-division trade.  Arizona likely won't deal a full year of a big-league starter without receiving big-league talent in return - after all, it would be a total train-wreck if we acquired a low-level arm for Saunders, only to have the arm not pan out and Saunders turn in a good year for Colorado, facing us several times over the course of the season.

What could the Rockies offer?  Well, Arizona could look to receive an infielder than would fill in for possible impending free agent Aaron Hill, but Colorado doesn't have a fit there.  Ian Stewart would have been an interesting idea had he not utterly collapsed in 2011, as Arizona could shift Ryan Roberts to second base and Stephen Drew to shortstop, giving us a boatload of money to... well.... do nothing with, I guess.  Mark Ellis is going to be a free agent, and Jonathan Herrera is a replacement-level player.  Troy Tulowitzki... yeah.

This means Arizona would have to acquire some sort of pitching, most likely a reliever.  The best fit for Arizona, in my opinion, is Arizona acquiring Rafael Betancourt, who has one year at $4.25MM left on his contract before hitting a mutual option that he almost certainly will reject, given the success he's had in Colorado - he's already posted 1.2 fWAR out of the 'pen in 2011.  Betancourt is up there in age and extremely fly-ball-oriented, but anybody who can post two-and-a-half years of sub-3 FIPs in Colorado is worthy of adoration.

It's also a logical fit in comparison to the $2.1MM value Saunders' final year of arbitration has, as another 1.2 fWAR year from Betancourt would give him about $6MM in total value, or about $1.75MM in excess of his $4.25MM salary - I imagine Arizona would be just fine with the nominal differences there if the return is a relief ace like Betancourt.  If he puts up numbers closer to his 2010 season, in which he recorded 1.9 fWAR, it gets even better for Arizona, but he's also an aging reliever who has worked just 55-60 innings per year over the last three years, so there's some risk involved on Arizona's end.  Still, Betancourt would provide insurance for Arizona with their most fearsome relief quartet in franchise history - yes, I'll take J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, Rafael Betancourt, and Bryan Shaw over the Four Horsemen - while Saunders would prevent Colorado from having to keep throwing Esmil Rogers out there every fifth day.

Honestly, this seems like a rare win-win trade to me, and would hold true to GM Kevin Towers' desire to build a strong relief unit.  Shaw/Betancourt/Hernandez/Putz is an unbelievable 6/7/8/9 combo, which would be great to have if Arizona is going to start using prospects from the farm in its big-league rotation in 2012.  They might go through some growing pains, but their short outings could be weathered spectacularly as long as the offense is able to grab a lead.  If Colorado balks at this possibility, Arizona could look to acquire an upper-level relief arm from Colorado's system, likely someone from their Double-A affiliate with a penchant for being able to collect strikeouts.

Still, I think that Arizona could acquire a more highly-regarded piece for Saunders than any of the fringey arms floating around Colorado's system unless the Rockies are already willing to give up Christian Friedrich, who seems to have stagnated in the Texas League but could be useful as a power lefty reliever.  It would require some heavy faith in Friedrich's arm from the scouting staff, but upside and stuff like his doesn't grow on trees.  Given how hard it's been for Arizona to find relief lefties over the last few years, if Towers could unearth a pair of gems in Joe Paterson and Friedrich in the span of two off-seasons, that would be impressive work.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are a) broke until further notice (i.e. until McCourt sells the club), b) awful, and c) already have Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billinglsey, Ted Lilly, and Nate Eovaldi under control for 2012.  They won't be rushing to acquire a one-year rental starter with a significant financial obligation.

San Diego Padres: The Padres would be an interesting fit for the pitch-to-contact specialist in Saunders, but there are some problems here.  First, the Padres aren't going to contend in 2012.  Second, why would the Padres trade young talent and pay Joe $8.5MM when they can give an aging, falling-apart vet like Aaron Harang a couple million bucks to put up a 4 ERA in that ballpark?  Third, with the absurd bounty they recovered from the Rangers in the Mike Adams deal, they might not be needing free agent pitching for much longer.  As much as I wish Saunders could be used as a piece in, perhaps, a Chase Headley trade, it just doesn't make sense from the Padres' side of things.

San Francisco Giants: Seven reasons the Giants won't touch Saunders with a fifty-foot pole: Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Sanchez, Bumgarner, $19MM-Man Barry Zito, and a bloated payroll.

 

NL Central:

Chicago Cubs: Chicago has a pair of serviceable starting pitchers in Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, although Dempster is slated to come off the books and hit free agency after 2012.  Really, anything would be a massive upgrade on the likes of Carlos Zambrano, Doug Davis, and Rodrigo Lopez.  However, the sad truth is that the Cubs are terrible, so they might not be so inclined to give up any real minor-league talent for a one-year rental of Saunders.  It would be really interesting to see if Chicago's new GM would be willing to part with Hayden Simpson already - Arizona would need more than just Simpson, though, given how horrible he was in 2011 - and Arizona could at least ask about Jeffry Antigua and Dae-Eun Rhee from the lower parts of the Cubs' system, who could perhaps form some sort of low-minors pitching package to head to the D-backs system.

As for big-league talent, well, there isn't much to love as far as middle infielders go.  Starlin Castro is undoubtedly not on the table, and Blake DeWitt is a non-tender candidate.  Darwin Barney is a possibility, I guess, but... well, Darwin Barney is pretty terrible.  As for relief pitching, there's zero chance Arizona could get Sean Marshall, while Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija are way overpaid (though Samardzija is a reluctant possibility) and most of the Cubs' 'pen isn't particularly strong.  All in all, I don't see Chicago giving up a controlled piece on its big-league roster or a highly-regarded prospect in the lower part of its farm system for a one-year rental in a year they're going to be horrible in.  With a new GM in town who will have some leeway to absorb some poor seasons and rebuild the club, there's little incentive for the Cubs to be buying anywhere on the diamond unless they give up a piece that is no longer a part of their future.

I think the best candidate for this distinction is minor-league starter Jay Jackson, who underwhelmed for the second straight full-season at Triple-A after rocketing through the minors in 2009.  If Chicago has given up on him, he could be a worthwhile gamble to take as a reliever, given that he's still just 23 years old.  He was rated fourth overall in John Sickels' pre-season Cubs top-20 list, receiving a straight B grade, but the reports around mid-season weren't encouraging.  A move to short relief could be just the remedy needed for Jackson to regain his diminishing stuff, and Jackson could prove to be a classic Kevin Towers relief find with a big fastball and propensity for strikeouts.  If the Cubs have truly given up on Jackson, getting Saunders would give Chicago an innings-eater without taking a risk on a reclamation project or committing for multiple years to a steady free agent starter of similar caliber to Joe.

Cincinnati Reds: Cincinnati has Johnny Cueto to lead its staff and three cheap starters in Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and Travis Wood, who, despite under-performing in 2011, have a good deal of promise.  They also have Bronson Arroyo - who has suffered from a bloated HR/FB rate in 2011 and should be a serviceable back-end starter going forward - signed through 2013, and have second-year arb control over Edinson Volquez that seems like a safe bet to be tendered despite Volquez's subpar season, as Volquez has also suffered from an enormous HR/FB.  I'm not sure if there is any room in the Reds' rotation for Saunders, particularly if Cincinnati is able to bring back resurgent lefty Dontrelle Willis as well.

However, there is reason for the Reds to want Saunders if they buy him as a sort of stabilizing veteran presence in the rotation, with how unpredictable the rest of the rotation might be, and since the only starter in Cincinnati's staff who posted a higher bWAR in 2011 is Cueto.  Should Cincinnati have a desire to acquire Saunders, I imagine they'll want to try to give Arizona one of their underwhelming starting arms in return, most likely Volquez.  That's a deal Arizona would have to strongly consider, both as a possible change-of-scenery deal for a guy who once put up 4.2 fWAR in a season and as a possible shift to being a power reliever with some moderately-inexpensive arbitration control remaining.

Another option is to bundle Saunders in an exercise-and-trade deal involving Brandon Phillips - one of the few players out there who would be a definite upgrade in the D-backs' infield - and the Reds' club option for his 2012 services. Sadly, though, I see Phillips as more of a contract extension candidate in Cincy than a trade candidate - at the very least, Phillips will likely be in Cincinnati until mid-season.  There aren't a ton of relief options that seem to make sense, and before you say it, Aroldis Chapman is not an option.  For starters, he's currently not worth his salary if fWAR is to be believed, he has some health concerns, and with the team now moving him to the rotation, he has far too much upside for the Reds to give up on.

Houston Astros: Given how much it seems like Houston wants to get rid of Wandy Rodriguez and his $10.5MM salary for 2012, I doubt they'll be rushing to add $8MM+ for Saunders.  The Astros have sold off every piece they had under control for fewer than three years - or at least that's what it feels like - and this team is terrible.  They have no reason to give up anything of value for Saunders.

Milwaukee Brewers: Milwaukee's rotation is pretty set for quite a while, with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, a surprisingly-effective Chris Narveson, and an expensive but serviceable back-end starter Randy Wolf.  Should the Brewers need an additional arm in the rotation at some point next year, there's always the possibility that one of Tyler Thornburg or Wily Peralta - perhaps the only noteworthy prospects in the system - is ready to step in.  The Brewers obviously won't deal Rickie Weeks, and Yuniesky Betancourt's club option is a mortal lock to either be turned down or immensely regrettable.  With no need for another highly-paid starter and a rail-thin farm system, Saunders isn't worth acquiring for the Brew Crew.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pittsburgh may have been a nice story earlier this year, but their recent tanking has hi-lighted the fact that this is not a team that is built to contend.  With little help set to come from the upper levels of the minors in 2012, there's little reason to expect the Pirates to contend with the Brewers in 2012.  With a payroll that consistently sits below $50MM, I find it hard to believe that Pittsburgh would dedicate nearly a fifth of its payroll to a rental who would also cost talent.  Should Pittsburgh have interest, though, Arizona could look to acquire Ronny Cedeno, who has a cheap club option for 2012, as an everyday middle infielder.  Such a deal would likely require Arizona to chip in some salary relief for the Pirates, though, and Cedeno doesn't exactly have a long-standing track record of success and is likely to be inferior to Hill.  I'm going to say no fit here, although I suppose it isn't impossible.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals already have a good portion of their rotation figured out, as Chris Carpenter's club option looks to me like a no-brainer despite his age, while Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook are all under contract for 2012 (although bWAR and fWAR are very split on whether Westbrook is useful or replacement-level).  Additionally, Adam Wainwright will be returning from Tommy John surgery, and his club options for 2012 and 2013 - which, if what I've read is correct, much be either both exercised or rejected at the end of this year - are very cheap for a pitcher of his excellent caliber, so I would anticipate he will return to the Cards' rotation.  Edwin Jackson has been good for the Cardinals as a rental filling in Wainwright's slot in the rotation, but will be a free agent at the end of the season and should command an enormous contract with three straight years of over 3 fWAR as a 28-year-old Boras client on the free market.  With St. Louis' focus on Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, I can't imagine Jackson returning.

Still, the Cardinals have a solid sixth option behind the front five of Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, Lohse, and Westbrook, as Lance Lynn has been effective out of the Cardinals' bullpen this year and posted solid peripherals in his two starts in the big leagues.  With five starters lined up, the "worst" two of whom - Lohse and Westbrook - scheduled to make a combined total of over $20MM in 2012, I find it hard to imagine the Cardinals feeling much of a desire to spend $8MM on a league-average lefty for their rotation when that money could be used to re-sign the most dominant all-around hitter we've seen thus far in the 21st Century.  No deal.

 

NL East:

Atlanta Braves: Another team with a dancing plethora of controlled pitching, with Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Brandon Beachy, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Jair Jurrjens, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino all locked up at least through 2012, many for far longer.  The thought of Atlanta trading for Joe Saunders is comical.

Florida Marlins: Despite raising their payroll significantly over the past few years, Florida still doesn't spend much, and the Fish have Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco, and Chris Volstad - a big rebound candidate - under control through next year at cheap prices.  Javier Vasquez is an interesting case, as his fastball has recovered some of the velocity he lost in 2010, and he's returned to being a successful big-league starter after an atrocious first part of the season.  Still, at 35 years old and with one major collapse in the rear-view mirror, I don't think clubs will be lining up to sign him to a big multi-year deal.  If he likes being in Florida, I could very easily see the Marlins being able to keep him on another one-year deal and not needing Saunders.  Florida typically reserves its big financial commitments to high-upside pieces, and Joe Saunders is no high-upside piece.  No deal here in my eyes.

New York Mets: The Mets have begun some minor rebuilding since new GM Sandy Alderson took over, shedding some big-money long-term contracts like the one belonging to Francisco Rodriguez and remaining largely conservative in their long-term spending.  With Jonathan Niese and R.A. Dickey posting solid years, the Mets have two rotation slots looking solid, and the return of Johan Santana should fill a third.  Dillon Gee has been awfully close to replacement level, but it is his first full-season in the big leagues, so there's a chance he'll improve, and he's also slated to earn rookie-minimum salary again in 2012, so he'll likely remain.  That gives the rebuilding Mets four starters, so how will they fill the fifth slot?

Chris Capuano has been good for the Mets in 2011, but is a free agent and will likely try to score a higher-paying one-year deal than the rebuilding Mets will want to offer.  Mike Pelfrey has been the victim of HR/FB regression and a career-low K/9, and has to be considered a strong non-tender candidate going into his second year of arbitration after earning nearly $4MM in his first arb year.  Considering that D.J. Carrasco has started games for New York, though, there isn't much depth behind the mediocre Pelfrey, which means that Saunders makes sense on the surface.  He makes even more sense when one considers the fact that Jenrry Mejia had Tommy John at the start of this season, so he should be ready to contribute at some point in 2012, but probably not at the start of the season.  Acquiring Saunders to fill up innings early on and flip at the deadline if Santana, Niese, Dickey, Gee, and Mejia are firing on all cylinders is not a bad idea at all.

What could Arizona look to acquire?  Well, Ruben Tejada's on-base skills would be wonderful to have, but Alderson won't give them up for Saunders.  Bobby Parnell's power arm would be coveted by Kevin Towers, but his four years of remaining control would again be too valuable to give up from New York's end.  If the Mets aren't confident in Gee, he could be a piece New York would be willing to move, but Arizona already has plenty of back-end starting arms like (or better than) him, such as prospects Charles Brewer and Pat Corbin.  The rest of the big-league roster either looks overpaid, way too valuable, or not nearly valuable enough.

It seems that the Mets would have to move a piece on their farm for Joe, but the pickings aren't great.  The Double-A pitching staff looks to have very few fits, with names like Matt Harvey far too valuable, while others like Bradley Holt and Tobi Stoner looking too unable to miss bats.  The two possible fits in my view are Collin McHugh or Jeurys Familia.  McHugh is a classic back-end strike thrower without a true wipe-out offering, while Familia is famously big-armed but lacking in all of the pitchability departments that make McHugh valuable.  Considering the plethora of arms like McHugh in Arizona's system, I think the D-backs would consider targeting Familia from the Mets as a hard-throwing relief arm, but Familia does have rotation upside that the Mets probably wouldn't give up on for a year of Joe Saunders on a non-contending team.  The Mets might want Saunders to chew some innings, but it doesn't seem like they'll be able to get him without giving up a piece that they would likely value more than Joe.

Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Oswalt may have a $12MM mutual option for next year that may not get exercised, but if he wants to pitch in 2012, I see little reason to expect him to be anywhere other than Philadelphia.  If he doesn't pitch in 2012, Philadelphia can expect Joe Blanton - an underrated (though perhaps overpaid), quality back-end guy IMO - back and healthy to fill the last spot in the rotation behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley.  Should an injury strike that uber-durable quintet, there's always Kyle Kendrick!

Washington Nationals: With a fearsome rotation of Strasburg, Strasburg, Strasburg, Zimmerman, and Strasburg, the Nationals have no need for any so-called starting pitchers!!!!!  Okay, fine, Strasburg is no Old Hoss Radbourn... he'll line up in front of Jordan Zimmerman to form a formidable 1-2 punch atop the Nationals' rotation, and I would bet that Livan Hernandez - who is the heavy favorite to become the next pitcher to die on the mound... of natural causes - returns to the Nationals in 2012 on another bargain contract.  John Lannan is a quality mid-to-back-end guy who will be entering just his second year of arbitration, so that leaves just one open slot.

The question that remains, then, is whether or not the Nationals want to go with one of Brad Peacock or Tom Milone for that final rotation opening, or if they choose to go outside the organization?  Normally, I would say that the Nats are likely to stick with where they are, but GM Miko Rizzo has been making win-now moves in spite of heavy financial repercussions for what seems like the last seventeen years.  Because of this, I wouldn't exactly rule out the possibility of Washington going after Saunders, but between the two aforementioned prospects and Yunesky Maya - the Cuban defector who has gone back and forth between the majors and minors over the last two years, but is owed $2MM in each of the next two seasons - I think the Nationals aren't a fit.

 

AL West:

Los Angeles Angels: The Angels have three absolute studs at the top of their rotation in Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana, but the last two slots in their rotation are, for the most part, open.  Joel Pineiro has been a big disappointment since signing a two-year, $16MM contract, but his deal is up after the end of the year and the Angels are almost certain to let him walk.  Tyler Chatwood has proven serviceable in his 25 starts with the Angels, posting an unsightly 4.89 FIP but providing above-replacement-level value (0.5 fWAR) and bulk innings at minimum salary.  Still, Chatwood seems more like a sixth starter to stash at Triple-A than someone to count on for an Opening Day rotation slot, so unless Jerome Williams is going to be counted on for 180 innings in 2012, the Angels will need a pair of starters.

Taking a look at MLBTR's projected free agents list for this coming off-season, it's not out of the question that the Angels could get multiple starting arms.  With Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, and C.J. Wilson hitting free agency, the Angels could find arms worth spending significant money on, and the possibilities increase if C.C. Sabathia, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, and Roy Oswalt hit the market.  With a new GM in town and an ownership group that has money to spend and wants to win, I don't think a reunion with Joe Saunders is going to be a priority for the Angels.

Oakland Athletics: The Athletics have a bunch of money coming off of their books, with David DeJesus' $6MM expiring, Mark Ellis' $6MM packaged to Colorado, Josh Willingham's $6MM expiring, Coco Crisp's $5.75MM expiring, Kevin Kouzmanoff's $4.75MM DFA'd, Hideki Matsui's $4.25MM expiring, and Conor Jackson's $3.2MM expiring - a grand total of $35.95MM.  With only about $17.5MM in obligations for 2012 (before the A's scheduled 10 Arbitration cases, of course), there's certainly financial room to fit Joe Saunders into Oakland's budget.  The question, of course, is whether or not the A's and Billy Beane will want to do so.

I can't imagine Brandon McCarthy leaving Oakland, given that the A's gave him the opportunity to revive his career and Oakland will almost assuredly want him and his 4+ fWAR back, while Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill are both above-average starters.  The remaining two slots, however, are full of question marks.  Can Guillermo Moscoso continue to survive on deception, or will his numbers climb towards his 5.02 xFIP and send him to relief or the minors?  Failing that, could any of Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Tyson Ross, or Josh Outman manage to stay healthy long enough to be reliable?  All four of those pitchers are undeniably talented, but they combined for just 31 starts in 2011 - that's the kind of workload you expect from one pitcher, not four.

There is rotation help on the way from the farm, as first-round draft pick Sonny Gray figures to have an outside shot of debuting with the A's sometime in 2012.  However, aside from Gray, who has played all of a half of a season of pro ball, the A's upper-level pitching depth is pretty thin - heck, the second-best starting arm in the upper levels might be Graham Godfrey.  If the A's want to give Gray a full year of development and find the free-agent market too pricey, Saunders would be an interesting acquisition for the A's with their spacious ballpark, which would certainly benefit the contact-loving Colonel.

The A's have quite a few relief arms that could interest Arizona in an exchange.  The most obvious option is Grant Balfour, the hard-throwing right-hander locked in for $4MM in 2012.  Balfour was worth just 0.4 fWAR in 2011 (his production tapered off dramatically towards the end of the year), so that may seem like a small return on Saunders, but a) Balfour posted 4.5 fWAR three-plus years with the Rays, so there is clearly upside, and b) a move to the NL would likely boost Balfour's numbers a bit.  Chase Field wouldn't help with keeping his many fly balls in the park, but Arizona's impressive outfield defense could certainly ease a lot of the worry of Balfour's fly-ball tendencies.  Heck, David Hernandez has done just fine at Chase Field this year, hasn't he?  This is perhaps the best one-for-one trade match for Saunders I've found, and it makes sense in a lot of ways for both clubs.  Don't be surprised if this swap starts popping up in off-season rumors.

If the Balfour swap doesn't go down for some reason, there are alternatives.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Arizona pull off a two-for-one swap with Saunders heading to Oakland and a pair of lesser, more controllable relievers heading to the desert.  Among the candidates to head to Arizona are Bruce Billings, Craig Breslow, and Joey Devine.  Billings, the right-hander acquired from the Rockies in the Mark Ellis trade, would offer the most years of control, while Breslow and Devine would provide more predictable value, with Breslow working as a second lefty in the 'pen alongside Joe Paterson and Devine sporting the kind of big fastball and swing-and-miss ability from the right side that Kevin Towers is known to be a fan of.  None of these relievers is enough on his own to snag Saunders, but a combination of two of them might be enough.

Seattle Mariners: I'm sure that Saunders, like most pitchers, would love to pitch at Safeco for half of his outings every season, but there seem to be a lot of reasons why this deal won't happen.  For starters, the Mariners have Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda firmly locked at the head of their rotation.  Second, the Mariners have the same luxury as the Padres where they can turn a soft-tossing control artist like Jason Vargas or Doug Fister (before his strikeout rate went bananas and walk rate went Cliff Lee-ian when he was dealt to Detroit) into an innings-eater who can give you between a 3.5 and 4.5 ERA for 200 innings.  With Vargas likely to cost less than $4MM next year, there's little reason to dump him from the rotation, and Charlie Furbush is also likely to get an extended trial in the rotation since the Mariners gave up Fister for him.

That does still leave one spot open for Saunders (so long as they can't simply re-sign Erik Bedard from Boston for pennies on his value), but this brings us to our final point: the Mariners aren't good, and their payroll isn't exactly small.  Milton Bradley's money is finally coming off the books, but with huge-dollar amounts committed to mediocre players like Chone Figgins, Franklin Gutierrez, and Ichiro Suzuki - who, let's face it, may or may not bounce back from his atrocious 2011 season - for the next year or two, not to mention the hefty (although reasonable) contract given to Hernandez, the Mariners aren't going to be building a winner for the next couple of years.  Why would they want to give Saunders $8MM to leave after the 2012 season when they can simply give Blake Beavan a full year's worth of starts to see if he's capable of improving his K-Rate?  No deal here, folks.

Texas Rangers: This is another instant non-deal.  C.J. Wilson will make a bunch of money in free agency this off-season and it may or may not be with the Rangers, but even if they lose their #1 starter, they'll have plenty of depth.  Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have been solid contributors behind Wilson this year, and are under control for a very long time, while Alexi Ogando continues to provide value in the rotation despite everyone expecting him to fall apart after seeing his workload jump so heavily in 2011.  Colby Lewis is at least a solid back-end guy, and could be much more if his HR/FB drops back down to normal levels and his strikeout rate returns to 2010 form.  So that's four rotation slots that are absolutely locked down, even if Wilson departs.

Then, of course, there's the fact that the Rangers had one of the deepest supplies of minor-league pitching in the game before dealing Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland to the Padres for Mike Adams (note: regardless of how good Adams is and how long he's under control, Texas got fleeced IMO).  Still, the cupboard is far from dry, beginning with Martin Perez, widely-considered one of the top-20 prospects in the game.  The 20-year-old left-handed phenom dominated the Texas League with his top-of-the-rotation caliber arsenal before scuffling in the PCL (like basically everyone), and still looks like a strong candidate to fill a rotation void for Texas in 2012.  After Perez, the Rangers still have left-hander Robbie Ross on the farm, who dominated at both Hi-A and Double-A this year, posting a combined 2.34 ERA and 134:33 K:BB ratio in 161.1 innings of work.  He probably won't be ready right out of the gate, but he could chew up innings around mid-season if the Rangers find themselves in need of a starter.

Then, finally, the Rangers have the deep pockets of their new ownership group to play with on the free agent market, and they've demonstrated a willingness to make a big splash when they signed Adrian Beltre last off-season.  In other words, it simply seems like the Rangers have too many options both within the organization and on the open market to consider acquiring a starter who is, at best, a #5 for them and a poor fit in their shallow ballpark.

 

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox: The White Sox are baseball's most entertaining soap opera, but that doesn't mean that they can be discounted for a move.  With such an old roster that seems to be collectively signed to a four-year, $400MM contract, it would be nearly impossible for the White Sox to try to mound a rebuilding effort, as the albatross contracts of Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, and Alex Rios aren't going anywhere.  So, frankly, they might as well try to add some useful veterans on short-term deals and hope that the guys already locked in for big bucks turn around their collective misfortunes and injury ailments.  This makes Saunders a fit on the surface, but does he fit on their roster?

Well, the White Sox have six starting pitchers with more than 2.5 fWAR this year (which makes their team struggles all the more stunning), and four of them - Peavy, Gavin Floyd, Philip Humber, and John Danks - are under control through 2012.  One of the remaining pitchers, Edwin Jackson, has already been dealt and is likely to get an enormous contract on the market that the White Sox would be wise to avoid.  However, Mark Buehrle seems very likely to be retained, given that he's currently on pace to record his 10th season of 3+ fWAR for the White Sox in just 11 full seasons with the club.  He simply strikes me as a one-team-in-his-career guy, although I have little objective basis for this claim.  That, in my mind, locks down five starters in the White Sox rotation for 2012, so unless they find a way to unload Peavy's contract, I don't see Saunders headed there.

Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez will head the Indians' rotation in 2012, with Josh Tomlin and Carlos Carrasco filling out the back-end at the rookie minimum.  The only real question mark here is Fausto Carmona, who has his first of three club options in his contract up for exercising this off-season.  Despite disappointing in 2011, I think Carmona will be retained by Cleveland for at least one more year on the strength of his 2010 and 2007 seasons.  Even if he only musters another win-and-a-half season, that's not horrible value for a $7MM option.  Looks like no deal here.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister will undoubtedly fill slots 1-4, and I anticipate that the Tigers will put Phil Coke back in the rotation at the start of next year as they continue to build up his innings.  If Coke flops, there's always Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver down on the farm.  Not a match.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals have stated that they're willing to trade prospects for big-league pitching, but they were mostly referring to top-of-the-rotation starters, which Saunders certainly will not be mistaken for.  Yes, many of their minor-league arms have had major setbacks in 2011, but there's little reason to try to patch over the holes with a pricey year of Saunders when this team is 24 games below .500.  Kansas City would be wise to continue the approach it showed last year: pick up a few cheap injury-prone starters looking to re-establish value on one-year deals, and hope that the kids develop.

Minnesota Twins: Scott Baker returns on a modest salary in 2012, while the Twins will hope that Carl Pavano can regain his 2010 form given his $8.5MM salary for 2012.  Who knows what Francisco Liriano will be on the mound going forward, but one thing we can be certain of is that the Twins will go retain him through his final year of arbitration.  The question remaining is whether or not the Twins are confident enough that two of Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Nick Blackburn, Scott Diamond, Kevin Slowey, Kyle Gibson, and Liam Hendricks can fill the final two openings in the rotation.  I imagine that with seven candidates available for two slots, the Twins don't feel the urge to spend $8MM+ and prospect talent on Saunders.  Looks like 0-for-the-AL Central.

 

AL East:

Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton will likely headline the Orioles' rotation in 2012, followed by Jeremy Guthrie - retained through his final year of arbitration - and... who knows.  Brian Matusz was supposed to be an ace, but turned in a below-replacement-level year for the Orioles and was kicked out of the rotation in early September.  Jake Arrieta has suffered from a bloated HR/FB, but has a solid xFIP.  Chris Tillman's ERA is awful, FIP is good, and xFIP is so-so, so it's hard to get a read on what he'll be going forward.  Brad Bergeson is useful, but more of a swingman, as is Alfredo Simon.

If President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail is still of mind to try to pick up veteran pieces on short-term deals to surround his young arms - as he did when acquiring Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mike Gonzalez, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Gregg, and Koji Uehara, so there's clearly some precedent here - acquiring Saunders isn't unthinkable.  Joe could eat innings for Baltimore and provide some stability while the Orioles get another year to evaluate their young arms and find out who can be a long-term contributor.  Saunders won't cost Baltimore any of those young big-league pieces, and won't force them to dig into the top tier of their farm system, which includes quality prospects like Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop, Dan Klein, and Bobby Bundy.

Rather, a good fit for the D-backs might be right-hander Wynn Pelzer, who Baltimore originally acquired from San Diego for Miguel Tejada (back when Tejada was still useful).  Pelzer had been developed as a starter for most of his career before arriving in Baltimore, showing good swing-and-miss ability but a lack of control or a third pitch, causing projections to big-league relief work that have persisted for most of his career.  He was finally shifted to full-time relief work after 10 starts at Double-A Bowie this year and has flourished, despite a rough K:BB ratio in a small sample at Triple-A Norfolk.  A Saunders-for-Pelzer swap would undoubtedly draw comparisons to the Mark Reynolds trade (for good reason), with Arizona sending a cost-controlled veteran to Baltimore in exchange for a newly-converted reliever, and could make just as much sense for the D-backs again this off-season.

Boston Red Sox: Josh Beckett and Jon Lester remain fantastic, while Clay Buchholz is on the comeback trail from a back injury and John Lackey is still owed a bajillion dollars until the end of time (okay, it's "just" $47.85MM through 2014).  That locks up four rotation spots for the Red Sox on Opening Day 2012, so the remaining question is whether or not the Red Sox bring back Tim Wakefield (despite his 5.00 FIP in 2011), Erik Bedard, or Andrew Miller as their #5 starter.  Wakefield will probably get a million bucks or so to be their swingman, Miller's control still isn't fully repaired, and Bedard will hit the free market looking for one last payday, so there seems to be an opening here.

Boston will probably look to the free agent market first (as always), but there's always the possibility that they come up empty.  Should that happen, Joe Saunders would give them a solid year of innings before his contract expires (along with the contract of the intentionally-unmentioned Daisuke Matsuzaka), allowing Boston to jump back into the free agent market with their typical boatload of cash.

Unfortunately, the BoSox don't have a ton of fits unless they're willing to part ways with high-upside arm Drake Britton, who was solid in 2010 but had a major setback in his control in 2011.  If Arizona wants a starting pitching prospect, Chris Balcom-Miller has posted tremendous GO/AO ratios throughout his career and posted solid overall peripherals in 2011 despite giving up too many hits and posting a mediocre ERA for Double-A Portland.  Both guys might be a bit too valuable to pry from the Red Sox, but either would be a useful return for a year of Saunders if Kevin Towers could pull it off.

New York Yankees: If New York is resorting to trading for Joe Saunders, something has gone horribly awry in the Bronx.  However, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's impossible given what has happened to New York's rotation in 2011.  C.C. Sabathia has held things together, with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova each providing New York with 2+ fWAR in an excruciatingly-difficult division for pitchers.  However, Sabathia has an opt-out clause he is likely to exercise this off-season, Colon is 38 years old with an extensive medical dossier (although his supposed miracle shoulder surgery could keep him intact for another year), and Garcia is 34.  Nova looks legit, but neither Colon nor Garcia had posted a 2+ fWAR year in any single season from 2007-2010 before their out-of-nowhere resurgences, so counting on them for similar production in 2012 would be rash.

Should C.C. choose to depart (or even if he doesn't, really) and the grandfathers regress as expected, the Yankees would be in a lot of trouble.  Only three other pitchers have started even a single game for the Bronx Bombers in 2011, and none of them have posted an ERA below 5.  A.J. Burnett's $33MM obligation for 2012 and 2013 will likely keep him in the rotation, but Phil Hughes is teetering on the brink of bullpen banishment and Brian Gordon is not anything more than a stopgap.  There is help on the farm, with Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, and David Phelps forming a trio of highly-regarded pitching prospects at Triple-A (although Betances and Banuelos combined to walk 141 batters in 256 innings in the minors this year), while Hector Noesi started at Triple-A before being moved to the big-league bullpen.  However, Betances and Banuelos combined to walk 141 batters in 256 innings in the minors this year, while Phelps' and Noesi's upsides in the AL East are as more of back-end #4/5 guys.

Even if Sabathia sticks around, I think the Yankees would rather not have four-fifths of their rotation consist of post-regression Colon/Garcia, Burnett, Hughes, and/or of a group of five arms who have combined for a whopping total of three major-league starts.  The Yankees don't take years off to rebuild their pitching staff, and they have the financial wherewithal to add talent.  In other words, expect the Yankees to add as many as three starters this off-season before factoring in Sabathia, with at least two new starting pitchers joining the club for 2012.  I imagine New York would first prefer to explore free agent starting possibilities like C.J. Wilson or Hiroki Kuroda, but if the cards don't fall their way, they could explore trade candidates like Saunders.  Given how potent New York's offense is, even a league-average starter would provide a lot of value over a replacement-level arm in the Yankees' rotation.

What would Arizona want to get in return?  If possible, snagging someone like Phelps from the New York farm system whose ceiling is a bit low for the Yankees' tastes would be a remarkable haul, perhaps the best value Arizona could reasonably get for Saunders.  You might think that Arizona has enough starting pitching depth in the minors as it is, but in my mind, no team should ever be comfortable with its starting pitching depth - the more, the merrier, I say.  Remember, Ian Kennedy wasn't supposed to have more than back-end upside when the Yankees threw him in to that epic three-team trade as an afterthought.  Arizona has seen a best-case scenario unfold with Kennedy's development, but Phelps could fall far short of Kennedy's talent level and still be a remarkable return.

Another possibility for a return on Joe Saunders is reliever Joba Chamberlain, a name that I often find myself bringing up in trade possibilities with the Yankees.  Joba would be a nice, high-upside acquisition for Kevin Towers' bullpen, with two years of arbitration control remaining that will build on a palatable $1.4MM salary.  The Yankees' bullpen is loaded with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and (for better or for worse) Rafael Soriano locked up for the foreseeable future, so Chamberlain could be expendable if New York is looking to trade for a starter.  If the D-backs can keep him healthy, they would have one of the best 6-7-8-9 groups in baseball with Shaw, Joba, David Hernandez, and J.J. Putz.

If Chamberlain isn't enough of a wild card possibility for you, perhaps this one will be: Andrew Brackman.  The Yankees paid Brackman gobs of money to sign late in the first round of the 2007 draft, but his elite front-line starter stuff hasn't been led to minor-league success due to a, erm, mythical walk problem.  Given that Brackman is already 25 years old and just finished posting a K/BB of exactly 1 in the minors, it seems that the ship has sailed on him as a starting pitcher in the major leagues.  However, his power arsenal, immense downward plane from his 6'10" frame, and history of being able to miss bats (304 K's in 343.1 career minor-league innings) make him the definition of a Kevin Towers relief arm prototype.  With a full six years of control, Brackman could be one of the biggest surplus value returns Towers could fetch for his southpaw... but he could also see his control collapse further and never pitch an inning for the D-backs.

Tampa Bay Rays: If anything, Tampa Bay will be looking to dump starting pitchers, not add them.  David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb - if you can't piece together 162 starts from that group, you have problems that Joe Saunders won't solve.  An obvious non-fit.

Toronto Blue Jays: Every SABR-ite's favorite .500 club does have a few things going for it, but starting pitching isn't one of them.  Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero are a solid 1-2, but there isn't much as far as depth is concerned.  Henderson Alvarez has put together a good seven-start stretch to begin his big-league career, but he's hardly a sure thing going into 2012.  Carlos Villanueva is more of a swingman than a regular big-league starter, Jo-Jo Reyes was let go (and wasn't good), Zach Stewart was traded, Kyle Drabek flopped, and Brett Cecil had to spend a good portion of the year at Triple-A fixing himself.  There is some help on the way, such as Double-A right-hander Deck McGuire, but this still looks like a club that could use Joe Saunders, and Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos loves stockpiling players with any chance at a Type B draft pick.

What could Arizona look to receive in return?  Perhaps the most interesting possibility is Drabek, if for no other reason than the fact that it would be hilarious to read blue bulldog's reaction on the 'Pit about us acquiring his personal prospect whipping boy.  Additionally, Drabek is the kind of broken prospect that often gets thrown into the "change-of-scenery guy" bin, and as we've seen with the Aaron Hill trade, D-backs GM Kevin Towers has no qualms with taking a shot on a change-of-scenery guy (particularly those from the AL East, i.e. Hill, Kam Mickolio, and Juan Miranda).

Even if Drabek doesn't make it as a starter, his well-known power arsenal could make him one of those classic Kevin Towers bullpen finds, making this reminiscent of the Mark Reynolds-for-David Hernandez (and Mickolio) trade.  The question, of course, is whether or not the Jays have given up on Drabek so soon.  This guy was considered one of the best pitching prospects in the game just a year ago, but after posting a 5.62 ERA in 15 appearances in the big-leagues plus a 7.44 ERA in 15 appearances down at Triple-A, it's not altogether unreasonable to think that Drabek's stock has fallen that far.

Outside of Drabek, there aren't a ton of trade chip possibilities on the Jays side, in large part because they downgraded their bullpen so severely when they made their three-way deal to get Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals (not that I imagine Toronto is regretting this at the moment).  Right-hander Chad Jenkins would certainly be nice to snag despite his underwhelming strikeout numbers since being a first-round pick, as a possible back-end innings eater.  Even if Jenkins couldn't cut it as a starter (or if Arizona finds themselves with five guys who are better), his large 6'4" stature and low-90's velocity would make for a prototypical Kevin Towers relief arm, providing heavy downward plane and potential mid-90's velocity in short stints.  Outside of these two possibilities, though, I don't see any other names that are particularly exciting.

 

To wrap things up, here's a list of teams that look like serious trade matches: Colorado (Rafael Betancourt or Christian Friedrich), Chicago [NL] (Jay Jackson), Cincinnati (Edinson Volquez), Oakland (Grant Balfour or two of Billings/Breslow/Devine), Baltimore (Wynn Pelzer), Boston (Drake Britton or Chris Balcom-Miller), New York (David Phelps, Joba Chamberlain, or Andrew Brackman), and Toronto (Kyle Drabek or Chad Jenkins).

As one would expect, the market for starting pitching is always significant, so it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that eight teams appeared to fit at first glance.  Still, considering that Joe looked like a strong 2012 non-tender candidate going into this year, to see him put together a good season and give himself some significant trade value in his final year of arbitration is a dream scenario for the D-backs.  If I had my pick of these possible deals, I would probably lean toward going after Balfour, who I believe would provide the bet bet of giving Arizona 60 superb relief innings in 2012, then could be replaced by compensation draft picks and power arms from the minors in 2013.  If not Balfour, I would love to see Towers take a gamble and chase one of the change-of-scenery minor-leaguers listed above: Friedrich, Jackson, Pelzer, Brackman, or Drabek.

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