As we hurtle towards Tuesday midnight’s non-waiver trading deadline, the picture of who’s staying and who’s going has gotten a little bit clearer, at least as far as premium starting pitching is concerned. First, let’s talk about the one we know is staying put.
Cole Hamels, the Phillies’ All-Star left-hander and Most Valuable Player of the 2008 National League Championship Series and World Series (a rare double matched only by pitchers Livan Hernandez with the Marlins in 1997 and Orel Hershiser with the Dodgers in 1988 plus Pirates’ Hall of Famer Willie Stargell in 1979) signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension that could turn out to be worth seven years and $162 million, amply demonstrating the premium put on left-handed pitching. Hamels will be 34 or possibly 35 if the seventh year comes through, which likely means he will be eligible for another multi-year (though not of this length) highly lucrative contract if his performance stays at a high level. Most analysts regard Hamels’ physique and style to project to a very gradual decline with age; in other words, barring injury, he could maintain effectiveness to 40 and even beyond.
The other prize soon-to-be free agent pitcher, Zach Grienke, the Brewers’ ace and 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, was dealt for a package of prospects from the Brewers, who acquired him prior to 2011 from the Royals for their push in the post-season to the Angels, in the thick of a heated race with the Rangers and Athletics for the AL West. The Angels parted with shortstop Jean Segura and pitchers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena; a relatively modest price with Segura as the key piece of the equation. The Angels will be well-positioned to attempt to sign Grienke long-term in the off-season. This gives them a formidable rotation that includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
Rumors flew thick and fast about the Cubs’ veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster, also an impending free agent. Dempster is 35 and having his career season, which has increased his value; overall he is 117-122 with a 4.31 ERA, 1.430 WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) and 1.91 ratio of strikeouts to walks (K/BB); this season, despite a modest 5-5 won-loss record he leads the National League with a 2.25 ERA, his WHIP is a sterling 1.038 and his K/BB rate has jumped to 3.07. As Brian Kenny pointed out on MLB Network, his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), compared to the previous five years, is almost 40 points lower…so when hitters are getting the bat on the ball, they are hitting them to fielders. This is considered a “luck” factor. The Cubs and Braves had a deal for the journeyman, but having ten-and-five rights (ten years service team, five with the same team), Ryan had veto power and he told the Cubs he’d rather go to the Dodgers, who also had interest but were offering a lesser package. This one is still stalemated.