- RHP Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres
I believe this is the third straight year Cashner, 29, has been brought up in trade discussions with the Rangers. On the season he has a 5.05 ERA (4.75 xFIP) in 67.2 IP, owns an average 17.5% strikeout rate, a below-average 8.9% walk rate, and has been homer-prone (15.7% HR/FB rate).
Other than being a TCU grad and maybe some local D-FW sports writers owing his dad a favor, I remain skeptical why his name is continually mentioned in connection to the Rangers. He’ll be a free agent after the season and thus won’t cost very much in terms of prospects or financial commitment, but that’s about as far as the positives go as far as he is concerned. There are better options.
- LHP Rich Hill, Oakland Athletics
Hill has been excellent while he’s been on the mound this year. In only 76 innings pitched he ranks 6th in the American League in FanGraphs WAR for starters (+2.5 fWAR), behind pitchers who’ve accumulated 122 IP, 117 IP, 117.2 IP, 125 IP and 124.1 IP, respectively. From a WAR/IP perspective he has been the most valuable American League starter.
But that’s significant. On Sunday he threw just 5 pitches before exiting the game with a popped blister on his pitching hand, a problem that has plagued him in 2016.
Like Cashner, Hill is only under contract for the remainder of 2016. However, as Buster Olney reported, the A’s originally asked the Boston Red Sox for top prospect Anderson Espinoza, who was recently traded the Padres for LHP Drew Pomeranz — whom the Rangers were also interested in. If that’s the type of prospect Oakland wants in return from the Rangers, then a trade for Hill frankly isn’t going to happen.
- LHP Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
In 2012, Major League Baseball’s top four prospects looked like this according to Baseball America:
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals 2. Matt Moore, Rays 3. Mike Trout, Angels 4. Yu Darvish, Rangers
Harper and Trout are arguably the two-best position players in MLB and Darvish, who checked in at #4, has been an ace while he’s been healthy. That leaves us with Moore who was #2, wedged in between Harper and Trout, and the brief odyssey his career has been up to this point.
Between 2012-2013, Moore performed as a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation starter (MORP). Over 327 IP (about 160 IP/per) he generated +4.6 fWAR — ranking 22nd out of all qualifying AL starters — with a 3.57 ERA (4.34 xFIP).
In 2014 he went down with arm surgery, resurfacing in 2015 with 63 unimpressive innings on the bump. In ’15 his ERA was 5.43 (4.81 xFIP) and his strikeout rate nosedived, which isn’t all that uncommon after Tommy John surgery. It generally takes 12-18 months before a pitcher is back to pre-surgery form.
Well, that’s more or less where we’re at right now. In 2016 Moore has been better, if not merely average, providing a 4.33 ERA (4.73 xFIP) over 116.1 IP. His 19.8% strikeout rate still pales in comparison to the 23.1% and 22.3% K rates he put up pre-surgery, but his walk rate has also greatly improved (6.9% compared to a 9.8% lifetime average).
If the Rangers want a starting pitcher who can significantly upgrade the rotation, Moore may not be the one who is promised. But of all the pitchers on this list, he might be the one to offer the most potential.
Moore is under team control, given his options get picked up, through 2019. Meaning he won’t just be a rental like Cashner or Hill would be. If you believe in his upside as much as I do, this is the type of pitcher you pull the trigger on. For the Rangers front office, who basically lives and breathes for difference-makers, there isn’t another starter on the market who offers the relative floor and #2-starter upside as Matt Moore does.
This would likely cost Lewis Brinson (Texas’s top outfield prospect) or Jurickson Profar (their best infield prospect), if not both. I’m hesitant to believe the Rangers would be willing to give up both for an unknown such as Moore, but, given the strength of the farm system, there is reason to believe such a deal can get done.
My own proposal would include CF Brinson, LHP Yohander Mendez (who is currently pitching in Double-A), SS/2B Josh Morgan (currently at High-A) and IF/COF Ryan Cordell (currently at Double-A).
Moore carries some risk, especially if Brinson and Mendez turn into valuable contributors, but I don’t think the Rangers can do better during this trade deadline season.
- Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays
Like Moore, Odorizzi won’t be a free agent until after the 2019 season, which can’t go understated. In 2016 he’s been lukewarm in the run prevention department (4.47 ERA in 104.2 IP), which is at least partly due to how home run prone he’s been (13.1% HR/FB rate).
Odorizzi is a strikeout specialist of sorts, owner of an above average 22.5% strikeout rate. He also gives up his share of walks (7.8% walk rate).
If you believe that he won’t continue allowing home runs at a similar clip, then this is a clear upgrade in the Rangers rotation, someone you can slot in after Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. If acquired and the season ended today, Odorizzi would be the Game 3 starter in the ALDS.
With less of a pedigree as Moore, he would also figure to cost less in terms of prospects. It’s doubtful the Rangers would ship either Brinson or Profar for Odorizzi, and we’d be dealing with a few of the second-tier prospects. For this reason he would be my second-favorite candidate to come to Arlington, but it’s a distant second compared to Moore.
- Drew Smyly, Tampa Bay Rays
Just as Jake Odorizzi, there is plenty of reason to expect Smyly’s inflated ERA (5.47) to come down in the second half. In 2016 he has an elite strikeout rate (25.2%) to go with a manageable 6.3% walk rate, which have been sabotaged by a striking 15% HR/FB rate.
Looking forward — which is the only thing that matters at this point of the season — you have three questions to ask for any starter: (1) How many guys does he strike out? (2) How many guys does he walk? (3) How many HRs does he allow?
These are the three things a pitcher can control. Smyly does well at two of these three things, the two-most important of the three things.
Casual fans look at his ERA and wouldn’t want the guy. I look at his ERA and say that won’t continue. The Rangers wouldn’t be buying the sub-optimal numbers he’s provided to this point, they would be buying his last 12 or 13 starts.
In the same vein as Odorizzi, they would not have to give up the strong prospect package like Matt Moore would demand. Smyly is a free agent after next year, meaning the Rangers would get him for the rest of 2016 and all of 2017, so that’s something.
Should Texas strikeout on Matt Moore, I view Smyly the same as Odorizzi. He would be an immediate upgrade in the rotation, though I’m less confident he would be part of the playoff rotation.
- For now, all that’s clear is the Rangers need pitching help. At some point between now and the August 1st non-waiver trade deadline, Texas will at a starter and probably an arm for the bullpen — but there are so many cheap options of the latter that it’s unnecessary to list them all here.
Of the names mentioned on this list, I would rank them something like this (with the caveat that Matt Moore is the ultimate prize):
1. Matt Moore 2. Jake Odorizzi 3. Rich Hill 4. Drew Smyly 5. Andrew Cashner
If I had to guess, I’d guess the Rangers are balls-deep in attempting to procure Moore. But that could also have to do with my obvious and understandable biases. Starting pitching is the most valuable, and most difficult to acquire, commodity in market. When you have a chance to get a guy with actual upside — whether it materializes in the second half or at some point over the next three years — you take it.
Understanding the Rangers draft and international signing strategy, where they go after the boom or bust talents, it just makes too much sense why they would be in on Matt Moore. Maybe he’s only an average starter right now, but he has the potential to be more. The potential is what they’re after.
I’d take the odds of Texas trading for any of these five listed starters at somewhere like 65%, with the other 35% belonging to a name that has yet to be mentioned — which is totally reasonable given the caginess of the Rangers front office — or making no trade at all.
I guess we will see.