Asking a King’s Ransom for Starting Pitchers

Is it just me, or has the market for starting pitchers been especially crazy this off-season? And not just contracts delved out to free agent SP’s, I mean the market for selling starters as well.

It really has been a seller’s market these past few months. If the recent trades are any indication of what it takes to acquire an innings eater, I can fully understand why Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to give up the farm for a starting pitcher.

One name that has been constantly swirling around the Blue Jays blogosphere and Twitterverse has been Felix Hernandez. Sure, he could step in and immediately take the reins as the Blue Jays ace, but at what cost?


If the Nationals gave up their #3, #4 and #9 prospects just to get Gio Gonzalez, you can only imagine what kind of king’s ransom it’s going to take to pry Felix Hernandez away from the Mariners.

And that’s assuming that the Mariners are even considering offers for Felix, because all reports indicate that they’re not shopping him whatsoever. But one wonders how many more 60-something win seasons it’s going to take for the M’s GM Jack Zduriencik to change his tune.

So if it took four elite prospects for Gio Gonzalez, what can we expect in the way of a package deal for Felix Hernandez?

If we’re talking just prospects alone and no players with Major League experience, I think it takes at least five of them and maybe even six. We’re talking all your favourites: Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick and/or Anthony Gose, Daniel Norris, and others.

All of those guys would undoubtedly be high on the Mariners wish list. Conversely, if the Blue Jays included a few Major Leaguers, that would thin out the herd as far as prospects goes, but it would mean parting with someone like Brett Lawrie.

Now you can start to see the high price it would take to get Felix Hernandez. The Blue Jays would be getting one of the best starting pitchers in the game, but they’d have to clear the cupboard bare of their best talent to bring him to Toronto.

Not to mention, Felix is only signed for the next three seasons. So after the Blue Jays ship off their top prospects to Seattle, they could just be back at square one come 2015.

The same scenario can be applied if the Blue Jays wanted Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs. If there’s any shed of truth to the rumours that Toronto is interested in Garza, it would still take a boatload of prospects or major league-ready talent to get him.

Garza is only under team control for two more seasons, and there’s also a danger he could walk away as as a free agent as well if he didn’t sign a contract extension.


To be honest, I’m not even all that crazy about Matt Garza anyway. Sure, he made a living as a Blue Jay killer there for a few seasons (2.14 ERA and a .236 OPP AVG), but I don’t think that makes him a trade target.

Another thing that doesn’t jive with the plan is neither Felix nor Garza have team-friendly contracts. Felix is set to make $58 million total over the next three seasons. Matt Garza is hitting his final two years of arbitration and his salary could jump to over $10 million a season.

There’s no question that both these starters have all the talent in the world and would slot in nicely to the Blue Jays starting rotation. But they’re the furthest thing from a bargain, and are receiving top-tier free agent money these next few seasons.

Starting pitchers are always a hot commodity, and for whatever reason an even hotter commodity this off-season. I think it’s because every team can always afford to upgrade their pitching and there’s always a need for innings eaters.

It would be great to watch Felix Hernandez take the mound every five games for the Blue Jays. Subsequently, that would mean not being able to see Anthony Gose play every day, or Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate, or even Kyle Drabek on the mound.

To me, that’s way too high a price to pay for one pitcher who would only be around for the next two or three seasons at minimum. Even if only one of the Blue Jays top five prospects pans out, having them under team control long term is worth more than any ace short term.


Ian Hunter

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

8 thoughts on “Asking a King’s Ransom for Starting Pitchers

  • December 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    You are hitting all the right buttons in this well-reasoned post.

    The trade costs are way too high right now. especially for Blue jays' loaded farm. No reason to trade the future when we could buy some reasonable short-term pitching help through FA route (e.g. Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt) unless we can unload left-field logjam and fill another need while leaving farm relatively untouched.

  • December 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I would agree completely except for one fact. We have arguably the best player in the game but he's going to be 32 next year and will likely decline from an 8 WAR player to 3-4 over the next 3-4 years. We also have one of the most valuable prospects in baseball who is "blocked" by one of the best young catchers in the game.

    We also have a number of great sell-high candidates that are redundant in our system, as well as young pitchers in the lower minors who will not be ready for at least 3 years. Anthopolous has said time and time again, timing is crucial. We want to create waves of competitiveness.

    So where do we stand. I believe the structural improvements we already have are worth 8-10 wins over 2010. Lawrie for a full year, Alvarez instead of Jo Jo, Rasmus instead of Patterson/Davis, Santos instead of Francisco/Rauch. KJ instead of a slumping Hill. Throw in some upward revision from Arencibia, Cecil and Lind and you have a 90 Win team.

    IF we can do a sell high package around D'arnaud I would be happy to package him along with Thames, Cooper, Mcguire/Hutchiso and Nicolino/Syndergard for Felix's 5-6 WAR and 3 years of strong playoff contention. For Garza, I'd propose the same package minus D'arnaud and either Thames or Cooper who could be used for bullpen help.

    It doesn't do any good to have 3 top prospects at the same position when we are 1-2 elite pieces from real contention at the big club. Adding 3-5 wins to the rotation and another 1-2 to the bullpen will see the Jays playing meaningfull baseball in September for sure, and possibly October for the next 3 years. The depth of the system recently restocked with 2011 and soon to be 2012 draft and int'l free agents will ensure that 2015 and on, will continue to be winning years.

    C'mon AA- DWB


  • December 31, 2011 at 2:40 am

    Jeez. "Wasting" talent hasn't stopped this team before. It should be noted that "We" wasted elite talents of Roy Halladay from 02 to 09 by fielding mediocre if not crappy (especially the 09) teams.

    "We" aren't 1 or 2 elite pieces away. More like 3 or 4. The jump from 85 wins to 95 is a lot tougher to make (ie: I'm guessing the relationship between team wins and player WAR isn't linear but more like exponential.)

    I'm saying this talk is premature.

    First of all Lawrie played 2 months. Alvarez made 10 starts. JPA was a rookie. I want these guys to succeed, but we have to be realistic that we might see some regression. So "we" have to wait and see how they and others play out in a full season.

    Second of all, the cost of obtaining a Fielder type is going to affect down the line. If the Jays pay for a Boras type contract at Boras' terms for an aging 25m/year 1B then there might not be any money to resign Romero, Morrow, Lawrie, etc. If Lawrie pans out like everyone things he will I think there will be a near riot if he walks in FA because the Jays can't afford him. As we've seen with teams like the BoSox and even the Yankees, there are limits to big market teams, too.

    Third, the new CBA has pretty much hamstrung smart GMs like AA from accumulating draft picks like he did which means the farm system can not recover easily or cheaply from a farm demolishing trade for Felix or Garza.

    Fourth, the Jays under Ash and JP did similar moves. Trades cost the Jays one Michael Young and nearly Roy Halladay. The Jays had an AS 1B named Carlos Delgado who had a Prince Fielder type salary relative to the era and the team. Those teams were mediocre at best. Had no decent pitching outside of Roy–could have if the prospects panned out here. Traded guys like Shawn Green because they couldn't afford him.

    Finally, it's only been 2 years since AA took over. The Jays have some very nice pieces on the farm.

    I think this talk of "going all in" is way premature. If you want to see what a team looks like when it "goes all in" prematurely hwhiigle delusional? All we have to do is look at the sage of the Baltimore Orioles.

  • December 31, 2011 at 6:01 am

    'All in?' – misses another key point – when an ace like Hernandez has a partial no trade (he has teams he won't go to in a trade) – it takes the cards away from a GM.
    Why would he be okay with a team that's a least 2 years away from contention?
    The Mets went 'All in' – and because of that are probably 6 or 7 years away from recovery…

  • January 1, 2012 at 3:58 am

    With the incredible depth in the Jays system, sell-high prospect packages like those mentioned above are hardly going all in. It's about timing waves of talent to compete. The improvements in the club over the last half of the season were significant. Now Santos and Oliver plug bullpen holes. This is an 88-90 win team on paper based upon those improvements. D'arnaud, Thames, Cooper and probably Gose are likely at their peak trade value and are redundant at the Major League level given Arencibia, Snider, Lind and Rasmus. 3 of those 4 plus 2 pitching prospects for a talent like Felix would not put a serious dent in the system given that redundancy. The next wave was at Dunedin or below in 2011, and will include the huge draft bounties in 2011 and 2012. They project to be MLB ready by 2015/2016 which is when Felix's contract is up and Bautista will likely be in serious decline.

  • January 1, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    I'm sorry but the Jays are NOT an 88-90 win team. Those projections are based on BEST CASE projections. My best guess is that the Jays are now are firmly at 84-87 wins.

    Ever heard of Sophomore Slumps, Injuries, bad luck? The Jays have that happen too.

    We fans went through this during the Ash/Riccardi years. Oh boy, one more pitcher to bring the Jays over the top. What happened? Not much but a lot of grief. A lot of 3rd places and one 2nd place in the AL East (and 8-9 games out of the wild card that year.)

    That trade would be all in. The prospects that a Garza would cost would wipe out the gains of the past 2 seasons. The price of the trade would make sense if Matt Garza picked up a 5 WAR season in the AL East, but it was in the NL Central with no DH.

    However, Jim Hendry overpaid thinking that "one pitcher could put the Cubs over the top" (SOUND FAMILIAR?) and gave up 3 top 10 prospects and a useful OF for Garza.

    The Cubs will ask for 4 top 10 prospects in return including 2 MLB ready SP and their GM is not as foolish as Hendry.

    What's wrong with waiting one more year?

  • January 2, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Vocalmedia, I'm not totally against trades for starting pitchers per sae, but I think that's just way too high a price to pay for a mid-tier SP like Gio or Garza.

    Anon, it definitely is all about timing, and even though it's still five years away, the clock is ticking on Bautista's contract. I think AA said this a few weeks ago on the FAN, but it was something to the effect of creating an assembly line at the positions. With the Arencibia/d'Arnaud dilemma, if it all pans out I think J.P. eventually moves to 1B or DH to give Travis the time behind the plate. There seems to be a bit of a log jam at the CF position, so they might end up having to deal Gose or Marisnick (or move one of them to the corner outfield positions).

    Damaso, I know expectations are even higher for 2012 than they were for 2011, but it will absolutely take a lot of things to go right for them to have a better record this coming season.

    Anon, again it's all about timing. AA has to decide when the time is right to sell high on his players and prospects. The Wallace/Gose trade was a perfect example of this. Not that this trade was a "win" by the Blue Jays, but at the time it was a real head scratcher. Alex decided it was time to jump ship with Wallace, and hopefully it will pay off with Gose in the future.

    Damaso, Theo is a smart guy and won't be asking for anything less than the farm for Garza. That's why I can't justify giving up all those prospects for him. I'd rather give the ball to Henderson Alvarez or Kyle Drabek every five games and not have to worry about giving up all that talent.

  • September 24, 2014 at 9:04 am

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