I devoted a fair amount of pixels to an explanation of why the Nationals should attempt to pry James Shields (or another talented pitcher) loose from Tampa Bay in order to strengthen their rotation for 2013. But the Rays are not the only team that has surplus pitching. Counting current commitments and ready or soon-to-be-ready prospects, there are three other teams with an abundance of arms: Atlanta, Texas, and Seattle. Atlanta we can obviously toss out because of the extreme unlikelihood that two contenders in the same division would conduct a trade, however mutually beneficial it might be.* No, if the Nats are not going to, for instance, sign Zack Greinke or cross their fingers and hope for a bounce-back year from Dan Haren, their best options for upgrading the rotation will be a team with pitchers to spare, and Tampa, Texas, and Seattle are the three teams that fit the bill.
*Notice how I said "contenders" there. Miami is clearly a loose cannon that won't even necessarily demand top dollar in prospects for their current players. I know he's a year away from arbitration and therefore cost-controlled, but you need to at least kick the tires on Giancarlo Stanton, right? Dude has 93 career home runs in 373 games (that averages out to 40 over 162 games), and he just turned 23. The Marlins have to listen; there's no way that he will be interested in signing with them long-term, he will cost a ton in arbitration (I bet he gets $10 million or more in 2014), and his trade value for Florida will never be higher than what it is now. Given what he's done in his brief career on road trips to Colorado, the Rockies must have dreams about making him the centerpiece of a new Blake Street Bombers outfit.
Since we have covered Tampa already, let's examine the other two teams and what might work with them, starting with Texas. Their rotation in 2012 consisted of Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Matt Holland, Scott Feldman (now a free agent), and a combination of Colby Lewis and Ryan Dempster (also a free agent). Alexi Ogando, relegated to the bullpen in 2012, started 29 games in 2011 and was quite effective, with a 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 126 punchouts in 169 innings. 21-year-old Martin Perez struggled in his first big league season but still has plenty of promise. And Neftali Feliz will be due back from Tommy John surgery sometime in 2013, although the Rangers will likely start him out as a reliever (a la Kris Medlen) in order to speed his return and lessen the impact on his arm. So the Rangers have seven arms to find slots for. What do they need? They have three needs in the field: an outfielder to (likely) replace Josh Hamilton; regular playing time for super-prospect Jurickson Profar in the middle infield; and a first baseman who can actually hit. The first two problems can be solved in one move; second baseman Ian Kinsler has stated a willingness to move to the outfield for the good of the team. Conceivably, Kinsler could join Craig Gentry and David Murphy in the outfield, moving Nelson Cruz to DH where he might stay healthier. That leaves first base, where the current options (in the best hitters' park in the American League) are an uninspiring Mitch Moreland (.275/.321/.468 with 15 home runs) or the decomposing Michael Young, who despite a banjo-hitting line of .277/.312/.370 only sat out six games, providing negative value with his bat and worse when he put on a glove. Particularly if they're losing a hitter of Hamilton's caliber, the Rangers will find it much more difficult to contend in what is all of a sudden a very tough division if they're running out bad hitters at a premium offensive position. How about a challenge trade?
Washington trades OF/1B Michael Morse to Texas for RHP Alexi Ogando
Boom! This trade makes perfect sense for both teams. Morse can adequately handle first base defensively, which with an infield of Profar, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre would be all that he would need to do anyway, and in a hitters' paradise like Arlington he might conceivably hit 40 home runs, replacing 95% of Hamilton's power at something like 25% of the cost. Additionally, he would allow Texas to push Young to the bench before they can put him out to pasture when his contract expires at the end of next season. The main concern is that Morse would make the Rangers very right-handed, with only Murphy and the switch-hitting Profar providing any balance. As for the Nationals, they would be getting a 29-year-old righty who misses bats (7.5 career K/9) and doesn't walk a ton of guys (1.10 career WHIP). As a bonus, he's cheap, since he's not eligible for arbitration until next winter. Ordinarily the salary and service time differences might preclude a trade of this nature, but there are two mitigating factors; Ogando's age (he is what he is at this point) and the fact that he is the most likely guy to get squeezed by the return of Feliz. If Ogando gets pushed deeper in the bullpen, the Rangers would be unlikely to get more than a bench bat in return. So this trade is conceivable. If Texas decides to keep Ogando, they might be willing to move Holland, although this is less likely given that Holland is just 26 and already locked up for $26 million over the next four years, with two team options after that. Given the nature of that contract and the way that Ogando has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and rotation, I think we can assume that he can be had for the right price.
Okay, time for Seattle. The Mariners have a lot of decisions to make at the moment. They recently announced that they would be moving the fences in at the worst hitters' park in the majors in a move to boost their putrid offense (2012 OPS+ of their ten most regular players ranked by number of plate appearances - 100 is league average: 79, 110, 110, 95, 87, 61, 84, 144, 75, 99). They still owe Chone Figgins (.181/.262/.271 in 40 games last year) another $8 million in 2013. They have several young pitchers on the cusp of the majors, most notably Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. And they are clearly far away from contending in a division with the Rangers, Angels, and A's (although next year they will welcome fellow punching bag Houston with open arms. Their current malaise stems from the decision to go all-in back in 2008, when they were on top of the division after a couple of months despite all sorts of unsustainable metrics. They traded Adam Jones and three other players to Baltimore for Erik "Buyer's Remorse" Bedard, and it has been all downhill from there. Given that Seattle is at least another year or two away from contending, I came up with the following trade. Hold on to your hats...
Seattle trades RHP Felix Hernandez to Washington for OF/1B Michael Morse, RHP Henry Rodriguez, 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Alex Meyer, OF Eury Perez, OF Corey Brown, and LHP Matt Purke
A king's ransom for King Felix! For Seattle, this trade gives them a guy who immediately becomes their best hitter (Morse), an electric arm for their bullpen (Rodriguez), an organizational bat in Brown who gives them spare power, a top hitting prospect at a premium position (Rendon), a speedy outfielder ready for the majors in 2013 (Perez), the Nats' top southpaw prospect (Purke), and their top pitching prospect overall (Meyer). That's quite a haul. In return, the Nationals get one of the very best pitchers in baseball, a guy who is under contract for just under $40 million over the next two years, and who despite debuting in 2005 will turn just 27 in April. King Felix is durable (5 straight seasons of 200+ IP), elite (892 strikeouts over the past 4 seasons and a career 8.3 K/9 ration), and accurate (a shade under four strikeouts for every walk last year). For a guy this young and this good, the Nationals (or any other team) would have to bowl the Mariners over, as their general manager has claimed that Hernandez is not on the block. But King Felix would like to pitch for a winner, and that's not going to be Seattle the next two years (at least). Like with Giancarlo Stanton above, his trade value cannot get any higher than it is right now given the situation around him.
Beyond that, are you already thinking about the Nats' rotation with King Felix? Strasburg, Hernandez, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler. Yikes. By my estimation, such a rotation would give Washington four of the top dozen pitchers in the National League (with Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Kershaw, Dickey, Wainwright, Cain, and Cueto rounding out those twelve) to go in front of a top-shelf lineup and defense. Let's look at those pitchers' 2012 stats. Can you guess which is which?
Pitcher A: 195.2 IP, 2.94 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 153 K, 134 ERA+, 4.4 WAR
Pitcher B: 164.1 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 105 K, 117 ERA+, 1.6 WAR
Pitcher C: 232.0 IP, 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 223 K, 122 ERA+, 4.6 WAR
Pitcher D: 159.1 IP, 3.16 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 197 K, 125 ERA+, 2.7 WAR
Pitcher E: 199.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 207 K, 137 ERA+, 4.5 WAR
If you guessed Zimmermann, Detwiler, Hernandez, Strasburg, Gonzalez, well done! Also, for reference, the age of those pitchers in 2013, in order: 27, 27, 27, 24, 27. Um, yeah. Now obviously this would be a difficult trade to pull off, because of how much talent it would cost to acquire King Felix. But the Nats would essentially be replacing an innings-eater (Edwin Jackson) with a legitimate ace while slotting an available substitute (Tyler Moore) into Morse's vacated lineup spot, thus creating a potential juggernaut for 2013 and 2014. I'm sure that there are many more possibilities out there, so feel free to comment if you have thoughts.