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Five starting pitchers who could be traded by the deadline

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Depending on who is actually traded, the starting pitching market is surprisingly thin or ridiculously stacked.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a little over a month away from the one true trade deadline on July 31. We’ve already seen Edwin Encarnación swap uniforms. The first Jerry Dipoto trade of the season doesn’t necessarily mean that trade season is upon us, but it is coming. The likelihood that we’ll see Madison Bumgarner be traded grows by the day. The size of the market probably doesn’t have that much bearing on what the Giants could get for Bumgarner. Teams generally know what a player is worth and are reluctant to make a deal that they find unfair. Still, it’s worth taking a glimpse at what the market is for starting pitchers. Here are some of the other starting pitchers around the league who could be dealt.

Matthew Boyd

Matthew Boyd is the platonic ideal of a sell-high candidate. Boyd has a career 4.79 ERA, and he’s had below average strikeout rates throughout his career. This year, however, he’s going absolutely bananas. His ERA is down to 3.35, but his strikeout rates have skyrocketed. He’s striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings which ranks him seventh among qualified starters.

Boyd is 28 and doesn’t become a free agent until 2023. It’s hard to predict how good a team will be next year let alone three years from now, but the Tigers probably won’t be good by the 2023 rolls around. Even if Boyd is now a top-10 starter, they might not have need of him by the time he enters free agency. Better to trade him now and get some reinforcements for the Casey Mize generation.

The team that trades for Boyd is going to need some dang good prospects to rassle him down. The Braves, Rays, Astros, and Dodgers all have deep enough farm systems to get a controllable starter and are in contention now. I also wouldn’t rule out the Padres who figure to be good for the next three years.

Marcus Stroman

If Marcus Stroman isn’t traded this year, it will be because society has collapsed much sooner than we anticipated. Stroman is a free agent at the end of the year, and the Blue Jays are fated to finish in fourth place. There isn’t anything they can do to become better than the Red Sox, Rays, or Yankees, nor can they become worse than the Orioles.

What you think of Stroman’s performance this year depends on what run estimator you prefer. If you like good old-fashioned ERA or FIP, he’s having a solid year—arguably his best. If you like xFIP or SIERA, he’s been just about average. If you like DRA, Stroman is broken. Avoid at all costs.

Zack Wheeler

Want to hear something that will make you feel old? Zack Wheeler will reach free agency by the end of the year. Seems like it was just yesterday when the Giants traded him to the Mets for Carlos Beltrán.

Now, you’ll never believe this, but the Mets were supposed to be good this year, and they haven’t. They find themselves in third place with the Nationals nipping at their heels. At 34-37, they have a -19 run differential, and are projected to finish at fourth in the NL East.

Wheeler’s ERA is inflated, but his tools should be enough to entice a team that knows what they’re doing. Maybe the Astros want to turn him around like they did with Gerrit Cole and Ryan Pressly. Maybe—and this is a terrifying thought—the Dodgers want to pick him up as they try for a third consecutive pennant. Please don’t let it be that.

Trevor Bauer

Over the offseason, there were rumors that Cleveland was open to trading either Trevor Bauer or Corey Kluber. The thinking was that they had the Central in the bag, and they didn’t need either of them to get to the postseason. Fast forward to the middle of June and Cleveland has just a 7 percent chance of winning the division and a 41 percent chance of making the playoffs.

This isn’t a team that doesn’t need Trevor Bauer because they’re too good and they need to up the difficulty. This is a team that doesn’t need Trevor Bauer because they are bad actually. Cleveland has had numerous blows to their rotation, but Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger weren’t going to help them score runs. José Ramírez has a 61 wRC+ over his last 100 games. Their entire outfield has been sub-replacement. The entire team ranks 26th in non-pitcher wRC+.

Bauer has one more year of arbitration left, so his value won’t be any higher even if he’s having a down year. Cleveland is more than eager to cut payroll, so depending on how the next month goes, we could see Bauer annoying his teammates in a different uniform by season’s end.

Max Scherzer

I don’t think that Scherzer will be traded, but he’s on here because there are rumors that he might be. That alone could be enough to hold up the trade market. If you’re a contending team, and you could get one of the other guys mentioned or you could get the best starting pitcher in the majors, you see if you can get the best starting pitcher in the majors.

It would take a lot for Scherzer to go anywhere. A Scherzer trade wouldn’t be about which prospects the Nationals could get back necessarily. Could they realistically expect anyone to match the value of Max Scherzer? This is about his salary. He’s still under contract for two more seasons and he’s still owed a deferred $15 million a year until 2028. The Nationals may still want to hang onto him for the next two years, but if they do, they’ll have a harder time moving him. Scherzer’s 10-and-5 rights kick in after 2019 which means that he can veto any trade.

This may be the Nationals’ best chance to dump this salary. A team might stomach paying an extra $105 million minus whatever the Nationals pay down for two and a half years of Max Scherzer, but that becomes less palatable if it’s only for a year. At that point, the Nationals would have to pay down so much for a trade to not be worth it.