The Boston Red Sox fired the first major bullet in the trading season, acquiring starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz from the Padres for 18-year old pitcher Anderson Espinoza. Pomeranz was an All-Star this year, but prior to this season he had bounced around the league, going back-and-forth between the starting rotation and bullpen due to inconsistency, and he has never thrown 150 innings in his professional career. Espinoza is just 18, but is already considered one of the top 15 prospects in all of baseball, according to Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law.
Red Sox General Manager Dave Dombrowski is known for his willingness to deal top prospects to land talent. In Detroit, he famously traded first-round pick Andrew Miller, top prospect Cameron Maybin and a group of other prospects to the Marlins in order to land premiere slugger Miguel Cabrera. So perhaps this deal is a bit of an outlier, a General Manager willing to overpay for a good, but not elite pitcher.
But Dombrowski has set the market. And the market looks VERY costly for starting pitching, in terms of prospects. If you wanted to land Julio Teheran from the Braves, forget it, the Royals don’t have enough to offer. You can probably cross Sonny Gray of the Athletics and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays off as well. Raul Mondesi is a Top 100 prospect and Hunter Dozier has had a terrific season, but they're not nearly the prospect it will take to land these kind of young pitchers with several controllable years left.
Even the price tag for less attractive pitchers like Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore just went up. And that is the problem for teams looking for starting pitching at this year’s trade deadline. The supply is weak and demand is high. Baltimore needs starting pitching. Texas needs starting pitching. Miami needs starting pitching. Pittsburgh needs starting pitching. Boston may not be done looking for starting pitching. Matt Moore has as 4.47 ERA and has one of the higher home run rates in baseball. But when you sift through the pitchers that might be available, he looks like one of the least worst options.
Even short-term rentals like Rich Hill and Andrew Cashner will be certain to have many suitors. If the market is this costly, and considering that the Royals still have a long ride to climb to get into the mix of the pennant race, they may be forced to stop the bleeding in the starting rotation with a short-term, back-of-the rotation acquisition. Jeremy Hellickson won’t sell jerseys or get anyone excited. But he’s better than Chris Young and likely won’t take more than a mediocre prospect to land. We hope.
On the flip side, if the Royals play poorly over the next two weeks, and the market for starting pitching continues to look insanely high - don’t you begin to entertain offers for Edinson Volquez? Sure, his overall numbers aren’t great, but in this market, a serviceable mid-rotation starter with some post-season experience looks fantastic. The Royals don’t have to do a full rebuild, but fortifying the farm system would certainly help soften the landing when much of the team exits in free agency in 2018.
Dayton Moore famously called pitching "the currency of baseball" and its a bull market this summer. Starting pitching is obviously the team’s greatest need, but it may be that they are helpless to do much about it.