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Game 65 Open Thread: June 15, 2006

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mulder santos
5-4, 5.20 4-6, 4.50

if you're ~35 or older, you remember the days when june 15 was the trading deadline. in honor of that, i thought i'd riff on trades this morning -- specifically, follow up on a question i asked myself a few days ago, viz.: what has the trade market been in recent years for fading mid- to back-of-rotation starters in their walk years?

i asked because, of course, the cards have four pitchers like that -- ponson, marquis, suppan, and mulder -- and ostensibly would like to trade one for a hitter. it has been ev'yone's presumption since before spring training that the cardinals would eventually deal from their pitching depth to bolster the offense, and that remains the common wisdom. here's joe strauss, writing in last friday's post-dispatch:

Making such an impact move this early in the season might require including one of the team's four pending free-agent starting pitchers. Lefthander Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis, who earn $7.75 million and $5.15 million, respectively, are the most oft-mentioned possibilities should a "rental" swap be arranged with another contending club.
there are definitely contending clubs out there looking for arms; the phillies, red sox, rangers, mets, dbacks, blue jays, indians, athletics, and rockies all leap to mind. noncontenders, of course, wouldn't be interested in a free-agent-to-be, so let's leave them out of the discussion and just focus on the above-named clubs. we can imagine all sorts of things -- the mets: mulder for cliff floyd. the rangers: marquis for kevin mench. the red sox: marquis for trot nixon. the phillies: mulder and throw-ins for abreu. the dbacks: mulder for luis gonzalez. the jays: marquis for frank catalonatto. so i'm not misunderstood, let me be clear: i'm neither advocating any of these acquisitions, nor claiming that they are likely to happen. on the contrary, i'm asking -- how likely is any trade of this sort to happen?

recent history suggests that it's not likely at all. using the transactions pages at retrosheet, i looked over all the midseason trades from the last five years (ie, back to 2001) to find the ones involving pitchers with profiles similar the mulder/marquis/supps' -- viz., veteran pitchers with good track records who are in their free-agent year. i could not find a single instance in which a pitcher of this type was exchanged for a proven hitter -- for prospects, yes, but not for an "impact bat." i did find two cases in which a pitcher one year removed from free agency got traded for a hitter, so let's look at those trades:

ryan dempster -- traded on july 11 2002 from florida to cincinnati for juan encarnacion. of the cards' current pitchers, dempster in 2002 most closely resembled marquis. he was 25 years old and had won 29 games over the previous two seasons, a workhorse with loads of promise. but he was struggling at midseason 2002 -- 5-8 with a 4.79 era -- and couldn't get his walks down; the marlins, already loaded with pitching prospects, dumped him for juan'cion, then in the midst of his best season -- .277, 16 hr, 51 hr at the time of the deal.

woody williams -- traded on august 2, 2001 from san diego to the cardinals for ray lankford. woody circa 2001 was roughly akin to jeff suppan -- 33 years old (supps is 31) and an established mid- to back-rotation innings eater. he was 8-8, 4.97 at the time of this deal; lankford was 34 years old and well on the downside of his career, having lost all his speed and much of his power. still a useful player, though -- the cardinals would do well to get a comparable hitter (luis gonzalez, anyone?).

those are the two most comparable cases -- and they're not all that comparable, since the pitchers involved weren't mere half-season rentals but were under contract for another full season. pitchers who really are comparable usually don't get traded for hitters; they generally get traded for prospects. a few examples:

freddy garcia: traded in late june 2004. the rough equivalent of mark mulder, ie 29 years old, durable, and accomplished -- two-time all-star and former era titlist with three seasons of 15+ wins and a career record (at the time of the trade) of 76-50. he was pitching very well in 2004 -- 3.20 era, top-5 in strikeouts, but with only a 4-7 won-loss record. he got traded for hot prospect jeremy reed (then just starting out at triple a), part-time catcher miguel olivo, and double-a shortstop mike morse.

esteban loiaza: traded on the deadline, 2004. loiaza was 32 years old and fresh off a great 2003 -- 21-9, 2.90 era; he stood 9-5 with a 4.86 era at the time of the trade. the chisox dealt him to the yankees for jose contreras, who had lost his place in the yankee rotation (5.64 era) and become the target of george steinbrenner's frustration.

cory lidle: the jeff suppanish lidle had been a quiet part of oakland's early-decade division-champ rotations, was a well-established #4 starter by 2004, when he got dealt just after the deadline. he was 7-10 with a 5.32 era for the reds at the time of this trade; the return was three prospects, one of whom -- elizardo ramirez -- is now in cincinnati's rotation (he threw 7 shutout innings yesterday, with a walk and 10 k's).

jeff suppan: supps was 10-7 with a 3.57 era for the woeful pirates at the trade deadline. it was easily supps' best season; he had already matched his career high in wins, and his era for the season was a run and a half below his career average. st louis made a run at him, but the red sox got him in exchange for two prospects -- mike gonzalez, the bucs' current closer, and freddy sanchez, who's hitting .346 for the pirates this year.

there's a logical reason why these trades take the shape they do: only contending teams are interested in the type of rent-a-pitchers the cardinals are shopping. and contending teams do not ordinarily give up middle-of-the-order bats, nor any other truly valuable commodity off the big-league roster. they generally want to deal from their minor-league depth, and keep the big-league roster intact for the pennant race / playoffs. contending teams do sometimes do give up a brand-name hitters who are past their peaks -- the red sox dealt nomar two years ago, and this year cliff floyd and luis gonzalez and guys of that ilk may be available. but that caliber of player is prob'y the best the cardinals can hope to get in exchange for one of their rent-a-pitchers. they may be better served by a three-way trade, or by simply trading for a young player (victor diaz has been recently mentioned) who needs an opportunity. brock-broglio, consummated on this very date 42 years ago, was just such a trade -- a well-established 28-year-old pitcher fresh off an 18-win season, in exchange for a 25-year-old outfielder who hadn't ever been placed in a position to excel.

it'd be risky, but it might be the cards' only option for rebalancing their roster before the stretch run and the postseason.