The case for trading Carlos Rodón

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It might come as a surprise to people, given the overwhelming discussion happening in the game right now, but players who aren’t Juan Soto are actually going to get traded before the Aug. 2 Deadline. We know, we’re shocked too. Yet as great as Soto is, he’s just one player, and he’s not a starting pitcher – which is a need just about every contender has right now.

The problem is, this is shaping up to be one of the weakest starting pitching classes available in years.

Sure, there’s Frankie Montas, who’s back after missing time with a shoulder injury, and Luis Castillo, who’s back after missing time with a shoulder injury, and after that it’s maybe Tyler Mahle, who has a 4.48 ERA and is now back after missing time with a shoulder injury. It probably won’t include Cubs veterans Kyle Hendricks or Wade Miley, who are on the shelf with – wait for it – shoulder injuries. Maybe you’d like Zach Davies? Maybe wait until he’s back from a shoulder injury.

You get the idea. The starting pitching market is thin. Demand far outweighs supply. Now, let’s say you’re a team with an ace-caliber starter who can walk in three months. You badly want to stick in the race, but injuries, age and terrible defense have you out of the playoff picture, thanks to an ugly four-game sweep at the hands of your historic rivals. You’re run by a progressive front office who has more than earned the benefit of the doubt should they do something unexpected.

You’re the San Francisco Giants. And you should seriously consider taking advantage of an extreme seller’s market by trading Carlos Rodón by the evening of Aug. 2.

We’ll get back to Rodón and the Giants, but first let’s talk about this year’s starting pitching market.

Every year, starting pitchers are traded at the Deadline. Quite often there’s a big name or two on the move – think Max Scherzer to the Dodgers last year, or Cliff Lee in two consecutive years, or Randy Johnson to the Astros in 1998. But that doesn’t always happen; in 2007, for example, the best starter moved was probably Kyle Lohse, who ended that year with a career 4.82 ERA.

Since this year’s class feels weak, we thought we’d try to put some context to it. To that end, we went back to 1986, the year the Trade Deadline was moved from June 15 to July 31. We looked at every starting pitcher who played for multiple teams, then saw which seasons had the most WAR from those multiple-team players. (Note that this is not limited to just on Deadline day, because we’re looking at the entire market; it’s not like CC Sabathia going to Milwaukee on July 7, 2008, shouldn’t count here. It also might include some non-trade waivers, though almost never anyone of note.)

Throw out 1994 and 2020, each short seasons. Then we selected seven starters who are the most likely to be moved before the Deadline, and used their ZiPS full-season projection to come up with a 2022 expectation. (Those would be: Castillo, Montas, Mahle, Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, José Quintana and Drew Smyly. We assume that Martín Pérez and Chad Kuhl will stay put. Surely more than seven names will move, though it’s not like names such as Mike Minor or Mitch Keller are tipping scales, so most will be replacement-level — unless Miami does something unexpected with Pablo López.)

It’s not the weakest; that would be 1993, when Tim Belcher was the best starter moved, or 2007, which was Lohse, or 1991, when it was knuckleballer Tom Candiotti and the final few weeks of Oil Can Boyd’s career. (The top year was 1998, which had not only Johnson, but Todd Stottlemyre, Carlos Pérez, Juan Guzmán and others. And 2009 featured Lee, Carl Pavano, Jake Peavy, Jarrod Washburn and more.)

But it is, as you can see, near the bottom of the barrel – which is entirely the point.

Now, think about how many contenders who are down a starter. The Blue Jays? Hyun Jin Ryu is lost for the year, and they don’t trust Yusei Kikuchi even when he’s healthy. The Cardinals? Steven Matz just hurt his knee, and Jack Flaherty won’t be back anytime soon. The Twins? It’s a minor miracle they’re atop the AL Central with their rotation. The Braves? The struggles of Ian Anderson raise some questions. The Rays? Finances are less an issue for a rental, and imagine Rodón next to Shane McClanahan in a best-of-three Wild Card round.

With the exception of the Astros and maybe the Padres, you can play this game up and down the sport.

Even the teams that don’t necessarily need a starter to get to October – like the Yankees – would certainly find use in another high-octane arm to reach glory once they’re there. It’s a scenario perfectly situated for a team with a free-agent ace to trade to insert themselves.

It’s clear that Rodón would fetch intense interest should he be made available. All of which leads us back to the most important question: Are the Giants willing to sell?

Last year, San Francisco won 107 games. It was one of the most incredible unexpected success stories in any sport. No one really expected them to repeat exactly that, but continued contention was expected, and for a while, it seemed like they could do it; on April 27, for example, they were 13-6, in first place.

But they’re 35-41 since that high point, and haven’t been higher than third place since the end of April. Over the last month, only three teams have fewer victories. And, as manager Gabe Kapler framed it after being swept by the Dodgers this weekend: “Not good enough. Really frustrating. A level of play that is just not going to be acceptable for us. There’s no other way to classify it. It’s just not good enough.”

A look at their playoff odds shows the situation. They’re projected to win 84 games. They’re definitely not catching the Braves for the first Wild Card spot (or Mets, should Atlanta overtake New York in the East), and they’re well behind San Diego for the second spot. Which means, realistically, they’re in a race with Philadelphia and St. Louis for the third and final Wild Card spot — with the prize being a trip to Atlanta or New York for a best-of-three series and no home games.

Not, of course, that projections are infallible. There’s certainly an argument to just try to get that final Wild Card spot and see what happens, and that might be exactly what they do. But it’s important to remember that despite signing a two-year, $44 million contract with the team in March, Rodón also earned the ability to opt out if he threw 110 innings this year, a mark he reached in his first start after the All-Star break. Assuming health, he almost certainly can do better on the market this winter than one year and $22.5 million, so he’s all but guaranteed to exercise that right.

As a back-to-back All-Star, one who has 242 2/3 innings of 2.63-ERA ball over the last two seasons – and one in possession of a four-seamer so effective we dubbed it “the most dominating pitch in baseball” back in May – Rodón would be right up there with Joe Musgrove in this winter’s free-agent starter marketplace.

As an ace or close to it, in a market where there’s no one out there like him, he’d be the best starter available. It’s got to be enough to make Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris at least consider their options as the next week plays out.