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December 7, 2015

Rumor Roundup

You Can Never Have Enough Pitching Rumors

by Daniel Rathman

Starting pitchers were flying off the shelves before the Winter Meetings could even start, so here’s the latest from that segment of the free-agent landscape…

D’backs could be favorites for Mike Leake
The Arizona Diamondbacks have already made a huge splash, shocking the baseball world by snatching Zack Greinke away from the Dodgers and Giants. Now, according to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, they’re poised to grab another starter on San Francisco’s wish list.

Rosenthal heard over the weekend that Leake, who attended Arizona State University and resides in the suburbs of Phoenix, is intrigued by the idea of pitching near his desert home. The 28-year-old is among the most attractive mid-tier starters because of his age, a product of him going straight from college to the majors after joining the Reds as the eighth-overall pick in the 2009 draft. If similar pitchers are demanding four- and five-year contracts, the logic goes, then Leake, who is also regarded as an excellent athlete, could be the safest investment of the group.

D’backs general manager Dave Stewart has already shown a willingness to go the extra year, a daringness that made the difference in securing Greinke on a six-year, $206.5 million deal. And Stewart has a $1.5 billion TV deal, signed by the team in February, padding his wallet, perhaps enough to make another large pitching expenditure feasible.

But as the market begins to thin, Stewart will have plenty of company in pursuit of Leake at the Winter Meetings. The Giants, who acquired the righty from the Reds at the trade deadline, would like to bring him back—and, like the D’backs, they need more rotation depth, even after striking early with a five-year commitment to Jeff Samardzija.

Farther east, the Cardinals are rumored by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman to have Leake in their sights after losing out on David Price and watching John Lackey depart for the Central-rival Cubs. Derrick Goold, who covers the Redbirds for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was the first to report their interest in Leake.

Royals in play for Scott Kazmir
Like Leake, Kazmir was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded, from the A’s to the Astros, in late July. The 31-year-old has pitched for five major-league clubs, all of them in the American League. Now, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, he could join the junior circuit’s two-time defending champs.

Kazmir was outstanding through his first two starts with Houston, toting a 2.10 ERA with two months to go in the season. He faded badly after that, though, serving up 13 homers and 72 total hits in 58 2/3 innings, which produced a 5.22 ERA. It was the second straight year in which the resurgent southpaw has faltered down the stretch: He turned in a 6.05 post-deadline ERA in 2014.

That might give pause to some contenders, but the Royals could field a deep-enough bullpen to limit Kazmir’s innings early in hopes of keeping him fresh late in the year. The Dodgers, a fellow World Series hopeful, also had interest, but it’s unclear whether that’ll remain the case even after they signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal Sunday night.

Red Sox positioned to trade from rotation depth
Finally, Dave Dombrowski could have a spare starter or two, and he’s at least listening on names beyond the obvious. Joe Kelly and Wade Miley are the two most likely hurlers to be shipped out of Boston, but ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick was told that teams are at least checking in on the price tag for Clay Buchholz, who was quietly excellent in 2015.

Many view Kelly, a 27-year-old flamethrower in his second year of arbitration eligibility, as a reliever, but don’t count Dombrowski among them. The new president of baseball operations said in a Q&A with Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, “He can start, and if he can start, there’s usually more value in that than being in the bullpen.” Taking Dombrowski at his word, that means the Red Sox could either market Kelly to other teams that view him as a starter, or consider other pitchers expendable because Kelly’s presence gives them more than the five or six they need.

Miley might be the favorite to be included in a trade. The former Diamondback signed a three-year extension with the Red Sox in February, and while he had an up-and-down first season in Boston, he’s only owed $14.75 million over the next two years. Add a $12 million club option for 2018, and this is a contract that could look quite favorable to teams that are priced out of free agency, even if Miley’s more of a league-average starter (101 cFIP) than a frontline arm.

Those shopping for something grander might turn their attention to Buchholz, a mercurial righty who endeared himself to our advanced metrics while healthy last season. Buchholz turned in a 3.37 ERA and an 82 cFIP in 2015, both 17th among starters who worked at least 100 innings. He’s owed $13 million this year and has a $13.5 million club option for 2017, both well below the market rate for comparable starters—assuming Buchholz can sustain that level of performance and stay healthy.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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