The Yankees probably have just enough starting pitching right now to make the postseason. They have 3 starters who should give them reasonably good performance and a few options who could surprise out of the last two slots, which should give them enough to contend for a playoff spot on the strength of their offense and bullpen. That said, I am sure that Brian Cashman will spend much of the year looking to add at least one more starter, as this team likely needs another quality arm to succeed in the postseason. While the market looks barren right now, plenty of decent options are certain to become available as the year progresses, which brings us to the N.L. Central.
The N.L. Central is the perfect storm of good but not great teams, with three clubs likely to vie for the division title (Cardinals, Brewers, Reds) and another two that behave more like contenders than their talent or track record warrant (Cubs, Astros). Furthermore, all except the Cubs are clubs that have shown a willingness to trade away talent at the deadline if they are not in contention and can either save money or improve their franchise. Finally, all of them have starting pitchers that I could see them moving if the right situation presents itself. If those clubs all remain in the playoff mix deep into July, they will not be looking to shed a quality starting pitcher. But if one of the teams runs away from the pack, this division might present a bevy of options to any team looking for a starter during the season. Let’s look at the players each team might make available if they fall out of contention:
St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter is the obvious choice, as he is making plenty of money in 2011 and will be a free agent in 2012 unless someone exercises his 15 million dollar option. Additionally, the Cardinals need to put together an offer for Albert Pujols, and any money they save can help them lock up the best player in baseball. I am sure they will try and move Kyle Lohse as well, but he would have to recover from two consecutive bad seasons for any to consider taking on the remainder of the almost 24 million dollars owed him in 2011-2012.
Bronson Arroyo could become available if the Reds have a very poor year, as they just extended his deal and his contract (35 million over next 3 years) may begin looking a bit hefty if they are not in contention. If Edinson Volquez starts strong, I could see the Reds taking a shot at extracting a good package of prospects for a player who has only once exceeded 65 IP in an MLB season. However, I see both players staying unless the Reds tank in spectacular fashion, so this may be the club Yankees fans should root for to win the division handily.
The Brewers are not a wealthy team, and them falling out of the race early could put some surprising names into the trading mix. I would not be shocked to see them put Zack Greinke or Shaun Marcum on the market, as both become free agents in 2013 and would likely be at their highest value at the 2011 deadline. The Brewers could look to get some high-ceiling prospects for one of them, sign the other, and then build around Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and the pitcher they keep. Randy Wolf is a more obvious choice, as he is signed for 19 million over the next two years and is not that good to begin with. He is about league average and eats innings, which should make him attractive to someone at the deadline.
Other than Matt Garza, who the Cubs just traded a bevy of prospects for and are unlikely to move, I could see any of their starters going in a midseason deal to replenish the farm system, assuming that Jim Hendry finally bites the bullet and begins to rebuild. Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Silva are obviously available but have equally obvious flaws, and would only be taken on by another club in a salary dump deal. Randy Wells is a solid young pitcher and should not be available, but the Cubs are not that high on him and he likely could be pried from them. Ryan Dempster, who is quite underrated and would be a solid #3 starter in the AL East, is in the last year of his deal (14M player option for 2012) and should be on the market come the trade deadline. He makes plenty of sense for the Yankees and I expect Brian Cashman to seriously consider pursuing him.
The Astros frequently view themselves as contenders even when they are clearly not qualified for that title, so it is hard to say what they might do. It looked like they were starting to tear things down with the Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt trades, but then they re-signed Wandy Rodriguez rather than trade him at what was likely to be his peak value. Brett Myers is another guy who they signed to an extension, but there have already been rumblings about his availability and he could become available at some point over the next two seasons. His contract is actually not too bad for a guy with his statistical record as a starter, and he should be able to provide slightly above average performance while eating some innings.
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