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Once the final out of the World Series nestles into some fortunate player’s mitt – and then back pocket – the Hot Stove Season is officially ushered in. For the purposes of many in sports media, it should also be referred to as Speculation Season.
This week, rumors floated by agents and front office executives have floated through social media with a good majority focusing on available starting pitching.
Jon Morosi of MLB.com suggested the Miami Marlins could be active in the trade market this offseason. With three starters in their first year of arbitration and numerous young starters knocking on the door for the organization, dealing from an area of strength seems an obvious solution.
There have also been rumblings about the Oakland Athletics willing to deal any and all of their top three rotational arms – Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas – with two years or less of club control before free agency.
Following Nick Castellanos’ decision to opt out of the final two years of his deal, the Cincinnati Reds appear ready to clean house even further after GM Nick Krall said the club is ready to “align our payroll to our resources.”
It began with the trade of veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart and his $7.5 million contract to the Detroit Tigers and continued when they waived Wade Miley and the $10 million remaining on his deal. The Reds are expected to continue and starters Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo will be atop the list of many teams looking to improve this offseason.
Colorado has interest in increasing payroll and improving a roster that went 74-87 last season. Uncertain if Jon Gray will return to the club and with a group of pitchers consisting of unproven options for the final spot in the rotation, the Rockies may have interest in making an addition to the rotation.
The acquisition of Bassitt and Manaea would be for just 2022 while Montas, Gray and Castillo would be through the 2023 season. The safest play would be for Colorado to target players with at least three years of club control, something they were able to accomplish with the acquisition of Austin Gomber.
That narrows the list of eight potential trade targets to the trio from Miami: Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López and Elieser Hernández. In order for such a transaction to transpire, the Rockies will be required to give in order to get, similar to how each man ended up in South Beach.
Hernández has the least trade value of the three and would probably be the one that could not help Colorado immediately. As a Rule 5 Draft pick in 2017 originally out of the Houston Astros organization, the 26-year-old has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons. He missed time this year with a right quad strain, spending significant time on the IL before returning in mid-August.
Between Miami and Triple-A in 2019, he threw 130.1 innings, his most as a professional since signing as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela. In 17 starts over the past two seasons, Hernández had a 3.84 ERA with a 113 ERA+, much of which came over 25.2 innings in 2020.
Miami’s no. 4 starter is projected to make the lowest amount ($1.4 million) of his teammate in his first time through arbitration. One attractive note about this is that his salary will be more limited the second and third time through the process in 2022 and 2023, so long as the current arbitration process continues in the next collective bargaining agreement.
Alcantara, 26, has the highest profile of the three Marlins starters. As a key piece in the Marcell Ozuna trade to the St. Louis Cardinals ahead of the 2018 season, he delivered on that promise by becoming an All-Star in 2019. Only 15 starting pitchers in baseball have two seasons of 3.0 bWAR or greater since 2019 and Alcantara is the youngest.
During the second half of that All-Star campaign, Alcantara threw seven innings at Coors Field and surrendered two runs on just three hits and four walks, striking out two. Colorado would score 18 runs over the next two games in that series.
This past season, Alcantara was not as sharp at 20th and Blake Street. He was knocked out of the game in the fourth-inning after giving up 10 earned runs thanks in part to a pair of home runs by C.J. Cron.
With a burgeoning career highlighted ERA+ of 121 and 8.4 wins-above-replacement, according to Baseball Reference, the bounty for Alcantara will be high. His salary the first time through arbitration is projected at $4.5 million. All of which means he could become quite expensive both in trade compensation and in arbitration salary when the third year rolls around.
That leaves the man that follows the Goldilocks principle. Of neither extremes, Pablo López represents the best option of available pitchers.
The youngest of the group at 25, López is settled perfectly between Hernández and Alcantara for career innings pitched (330), bWAR (5.4), ERA+ (105) and Win Probability Added (1.8).
Yet, some peripheral numbers suggest he’s actually been the best of the bunch. His 3.54 strikeouts-to-walk ratio over his career increased in 2021 as did his ERA+ in each of the last two seasons, recently hitting 136 over 102.2 innings pitched in 2021.
He did have a rotator cuff strain that cost him a month on the injured list this summer and spent two trips on the IL with right shoulder strains in 2018 and 2019, vital information to bring to the table if GM Bill Schmidt opts to negotiate with Marlins’ GM Kim Ng.
The first offseason for the Schmidt regime will tell us a lot about the next few years. The handling of the Gray situation has been less than stellar so far. And if he does sign elsewhere, the Rockies front office may need to book an American Airlines flight to Miami and ameliorate the situation with its rotation.