‘Felix Hernandez’ photo (c) 2010, Matt McGee – license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

With the trading deadline just 15 days away, I thought I’d take a few moments to examine the starting pitchers the Red Sox could be looking to acquire for the stretch run.  Let’s jump right in!

Felix Hernandez – Rrrrrr.  LMFAO!  That’s funny.  No, he’s not going to be traded to Boston or New York.  In fact, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik went as far to say this about King Felix:

“He ain’t going anywhere…Who’s going to give me what I’d need to get for him? You’re always going to be looking for him if you don’t have him. We’re going to enjoy Felix Hernandez in a Mariners uniform. We love him. And he loves the Mariners.”

He’s right.  The Red Sox would have to give up…dare I say…a King’s ransom to acquire Hernandez via trade.  We’re talking about a 26-year old ace pitcher who has not only won a Cy Young, but also is under contract through 2014.  He’s going to cost the Red Sox at least Matt Barnes and either Jackie Bradley or Xander Bogaerts plus another prospect or two.  That’s huge.  The three guys I mentioned will likely be in most prospect analysts “Top 50,” barring major developments, by the end of the winter.

Don’t believe me?  Look at what we traded to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres:  two top prospects in Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo and a toosly, high risk/high reward outfielder in Raymond Fuentes.  As tough as it is to find a power hitting first baseman that can anchor a line-up, young ace-quality starting pitchers with reasonable contracts are at a much bigger premium.

Furthermore, let’s put to rest the idea Jon Lester could be a viable member of a package to bring back Felix Hernandez.   Are they comparable pitchers?  Yes and no.  Hernandez has a higher upside, but it’s an awful lot closer than most would like to believe.  In a theoretical trade scenario where the Red Sox acquire Hernandez and trade Lester, it’d be much more advantageous for Ben Cherington to either (1) bring in a third or fourth team into the trade to reduce the cost of acquiring Hernandez, or (2) spin Lester off to a contender in an entirely separate trade.  (Think Phillies with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.)  This would allow the Red Sox to either pick up some prospects to replace the ones they traded to Seattle.

Cole Hamels – The biggest difference between Hamels and King Felix is that the former is due to be a free agent at the end of the season; thus lowering his trade value.   Please don’t take that to mean that Hamels will come cheap.  He most certainly will come at a significant cost.  What kind of cost?  We’re talking about one from the Barnes/Bradley/Bogearts group, plus someone from the second or third tier of prospects and a throw-in.  Who could that second level prospect be?  Garin Cecchini could be a candidate.  As well as he’s playing in Greenville, he’s surplus at this point with Will Middlebrooks slated to be the starting third baseman in Boston through 2018.

Is Hamels a good fit?  That’s a tougher question.  Hamels is a three month rental who seems pretty set on testing the free agent market if he doesn’t re-sign with the Phillies.  Could the Red Sox sign him after the free agency? Maybe, but the club already has a ton of money tied up into long-term contracts.  The last thing they need is another huge contract that limits not only their payroll flexibility, but also their ability to get under the 2014 luxury tax.  All of that said, the cost of trading for Hamels is reasonable only if the Red Sox front office seriously feels they can win a championship with this team in 2012.  If they’re unsure even a little bit, it’s probably best they save their chips for a later date.

Lastly, I do have some concerns about Hamels’s ability to pitch at Fenway.  Historically, left-handed pitcher’s haven’t fared terribly well.  There, of course, have been a few that buck this trend.  Babe Ruth, Bruce Hurst, and Lester come to mind.  Hamels is definitely a huge talent, but I have concerns with his incredibly high HR/FB%.  For his career to date, it sits at 11.6% and has been worse than the league average every season he’s been in the majors.  While one might be quick to blame this on having to pitch in the bandbox known as Citizen’s Bank Park, it should be noted that his HR/FB rates are nearly the same at home (11.8%) as they are on the road (11.4%).

Zack Greinke – A lot of what I said about Hamels could be cut and pasted into the space for Greinke.  Like Hamels, Greinke is due to be a free agent at the end of the season, and seems insistent on testing the market.  Considering their similar ages and contract situations, both pitchers will command nearly identical packages in return should the Red Sox attempt to acquire one of them.

The biggest mark against Greinke that may lower the return Milwaukee can get for him is the fact he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder in 2006.  A lot of writers and fans will try to get you to believe that his social anxiety disorder makes him a poor candidate to pitch in high pressure cities like Boston, New York, or Philadelphia.  “He can’t handle the pressure,” they’ll cry!  Don’t listen to them.  It’s all bullshit.  Greinke was treated for his social anxiety disorder, and by all accounts, he’s in a much better position to handle such situations.

It’s impossible to tell how any player will psychologically respond to any given situation.  We try to humanize the game by playing armchair psychologist in order to diagnose a player’s ills.  The problem with that is we neither have access to nor intimate details about said player’s psyche in order to make an accurate diagnosis.  Furthermore, most of us aren’t trained therapist or psychiatrists.  Who are we to be making these claims?   Even reporters, who talk to players every day, can miss things.  Hell, they “had no idea” about steroids as it was happening, and completely missed the so-called clubhouse dissention in Boston.  Just remember that next time you hear a baseball writer spew hot garbage about why Greinke can’t handle certain cities.

Matt Garza – Here, we have yet another 28 year old starting pitcher.  Unlike Hamels and Greinke, Garza isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.  That helps his trade value in comparison.  That said, he’s not nearly the same caliber pitcher, so that brings his value back down to earth a bit.

A lot of people are going to overvalue Garza.  He put together an outstanding season in 2011 where he struck out nearly a batter per inning, and produced a sparkling 2.95 FIP.  Unfortunately, he’s failed to reproduce the same success this season.  His 4.32 ERA is nearly identical to his 4.37 FIP, which indicates his ERA is an accurate portrayal of his performance.  Interestingly enough, his strikeout and walk totals are pretty similar to his 2011 season, but his home run rate is more than twice as high.  If regression toward the mean kicks in over the second half, he could bring his performance more inline with his xFIP (3.70) and SIERA (3.68).

I think Garza is capable of being a much better pitcher than he’s shown so far, but I worry my perception of his abilities may be overshadowing his true value.  Other than last season’s 2.95 mark, Garza has registered an FIP between 4.14 and 4.57 every other year.  It’s possible that Garza’s just not as good as we think.  Either way, his age, potential, and contract situation will push his trade value upwards.  With Theo and Jed in place in Chicago, they’re going to try to squeeze out someone of the Barnes/Bradley/Bogaerts variety, but I feel that price is too high unless it’s a straight up deal.  I think it’s more likely we see a couple of second or third-tier prospects traded.

Ryan Dempster – Dempster is the kind of pitcher most teams would love to trade for at the deadline.  He’s a veteran innings eater who has some experience pitching in pennant races and the playoffs.  Currently, he’s riding the wave of a spectacular 33 inning scoreless streak that has dropped his ERA down to a sparkling 1.86.  As amazing as his ERA looks right now, he’s prime for regression during the second half.  (ZiPS has him projected to post a 3.99 ERA over the remainder of the season.)

Dempster is a touch older than the other names I’ve mentioned.  Since he’s eligible for free agency after the season, his age shouldn’t be too much of a factor in determining his trade value.  That said, he’ll most certainly be a cheaper option than his teammate, Matt Garza, even though Dempster’s production has been better.  They should be able to get a second or third-tier prospect for him.

Jeremy Guthrie – After enjoying some moderate success with Baltimore, Guthrie was traded to Colorado, and predictably fell flat on his face.  I’m not trying to take a cheap shot at Guthrie, but his performance has been predictable.  He’s a flyball pitcher hurling half of his starts at the launching pad known as Coors Field.  Add in a suspect defense, and you have a recipe for disaster.  A change of scenery is certainly in order.

Considering Guthrie’s ghastly 6.14 (and nearly matching 6.10 FIP) and underwhelming skill set, the Rockies will probably give him up for a song.  They’re reportedly actively shopping him, and will likely take a fringe prospect in return.

James Shields – Yeah.  He’s on the block, but the Red Sox have absolutely no chance of acquiring him at the deadline.  There’s no way Tampa would ever let that happen–unless they were able to get Cherington to grossly overpay, which won’t happen.  The Rays aren’t sellers yet, but they could be if they start to slide over the next couple of weeks.  Honestly, the Rays probably mistimed the market on Shields by a few months.

Wandy Rodriguez – Rodriguez is one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball.  He’s a solid middle of the rotation starter who does a lot of things well, but nothing spectacular.  His strikeout rate has plummeted from 20.5% to 15.5% since last season (and that’s a concern), but he’s made up for it by seeing a corresponding 5% jump in his ground ball rate and 3% decrease in walk rate.

The problem with Rodriguez is his contract.  He’s signed through 2013 (with an option for 2014), and is owed approximately $20M.  That’s quite a bit of money for a 33 year old middle of the rotation starter.  As a result, Houston will have to eat a portion of his contract.  How much?  That will have to be negotiated.  The more they’re willing to eat, the better the package they’ll get in return.  Regardless, the Red Sox shouldn’t be forced to give up any top prospects in order to acquire him.  If they do, the front office did something seriously wrong.