Trading in the deep

Alessandro Zilio
11 min readJul 25, 2021

It was a fun time in Colorado: although Shohei didn’t win it all, surrendering to Soto in the HRD, or Pete Alonso’s house if you prefer, and losing the ASG MVP to Vladito, getting the W and stand-alone helping ratings and revenues is fair enough, and all the intrigue and celebrations for such a generational talent were much deserved.

We are back in the Regular Season though and in a blink of an eye it’s a little more than a week from the Trade Deadline, so GMs, get ready to close deals, ship the farm and/or sell off your valuables!

Executives are expecting a frenzy, a late one though involving talks and trades getting through at the buzzer as we are accustomed to, still there’s going to be movement. If you followed rumors and experts, by now you know the hot names floating around: Trevor Story, Max Scherzer (?), Craig Kimbrel and Starling Marte to name a few.

That becomes boring, hearing the same stuff over and over again, and that’s why I’m here for you! In this entry I’ll give you three names, a starter, a reliever and a bat that should be available and are on par with the best prizes to trade for out there. For each I’ll give a reason to buy, one not to and what the price could be according to my incredibly accurate hunch.

Let’s get it going then!

When it comes July, one of the most sought after commodities are starting pitchers who can soak up quality innings: in the “grip it and rip it” max effort era of baseball you’ll rarely see a team employing the same 5 man rotation all year long, due to injuries, performances and inning limits, with a 200 IP barrier that few are allowed to break.

That puts quite the pressure on the depth factor, one that many are not ready to consider: say your n°2 starter falters to a bad elbow, what’s next? Is it a prospect you have to call too soon, a la 2020 Astros? Or a journeyman spot starter/n°5 lurking in AAA?

Even for teams with premium SP ranks like the Dodgers, a flurry of injuries and off-field shenanigans (*coughs in Trevor Bauer*) and you have to call up Josiah Gray when you’d like him to get more experience, ask Tony Gonsolin to carry the load and structure bullpen games, hoping that Kershaw will save the relievers the day after.

That’s why even a good 2/3 is a premium trade chip, not to mention an ace: incumbent FA or not, Scherzer, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios and German Marquez, if available, are bound to bring back significant prospects, but so do minor contributors like Tyler Anderson, Matt Boyd and why not, even an arm on the derelict Arizona Diamondbacks.

That’s right: need lenght? Call Merrill Kelly!

Why buying?

  • He’s both the kitchen and the dining table

At a gaudy 117 IP Kelly is 13th in Innings Pitched, and that’s enough to make him interesting: it’s not premium quality but he’s no Folty nor Lyles, at a 4.46 ERA and 3.88 FIP that’s a consistent 3/4 in a solid rotation, a reliable workhorse that punches the ticket, eats innings and does his job.

How does he do it? In true kitchen sink fashion!

That’s a balanced salad, in Dennis Eckersley terms: Kelly deals it straight, sinks it and cuts it while also presenting a couple of breaking balls, with each of his five different offerings accounting for at least 14% of his total pitches.

Some are interesting, a 4-seamer with good spin and a curveball with strikeout potential, others are better off, particularly a sinker that doesn’t sink much.

Strangely his best pitch is the one he throws less: Kelly’s cutter is one of the best in baseball per FanGraphs’ Value/100, and there’s a good reason why

Is it really a cutter? This one of a kind offering is straighter than his fastball, a dart with almost no hmov, but drops almost 4 inches more than his heater, making it tough for hitters to discern the two.

Kelly is one of those guys who exploits his stuff to the last drop of efficacy: each one of his pitches mirrors the others when coming out of his hand, to then diverge vertically (curve, change) or horizontally (sinker, cutter), a tunneling action that elevates Kelly’s repertoire from basic to Caesars’ salad.

Why not buying?

  • He gets hit a lot and hard

A salad is still a salad though: when Kelly is not on his A-game things unravel fast. He has the 4-th highest Hard% among qualified SP behind the Rangers duo and Garrett Richards, although only a middle of the pack Barrel%.

He’s keeping the ball on the ground thanks to his sinker/cutter but still he has given up 15 bombs, he hardly walks anyone but he’s also not getting any Whiffs and below average Chases, he strikeouts few batters and relies on his wide array of smoke and mirrors to lead him through inning by inning.

Predictors are confident though: xERA tabs him even lower at 4.28. his xFIP is less than 4 and his SIERA sets at 4.20, good times!

Trade Value: moderate

Arizona has nothing more to say this season and the “for sale” sign is out the door: expect Escobar, Peralta and Cabrera to say goodbye for better avenues, and Kelly should also pack things up. His contract coming back from Korea is a team friendly 3yr-$9.25M deal with club option for 2022, a bargain that raises his value and could fetch a decent, top 10–15 organizational prospect or a minor one plus a PTBNL/lotto ticket if the DBacks are looking for a long rebuild.

If starters are dime a dozen, so that they don’t come cheap, the resource everyone has yet wants more of is relievers: there’s no such thing has having too good of a bullpen, even less so when your team is in contention.

There are so many flavors to a relief pitcher: premium stuff guys tend to fetch more, Craig Kimbrel will net the Cubs a lot, but strike-throwers with only decent strikeout numbers are the backbone of a great relief corp, so don’t be surprised if Joakim Soria is going to bolster a contender significantly.

My taste in relievers is different though: strikes are good as I hate walks with all my might, but I’m not really a sucker for K’s. What I want from by middle reliever is simple yet incredibly hard: the ability to allow putrid contact.

If I can trust my defense, and as an Astros fan I’m sleeping well at night on that regard, then give me all the Tyler Rogers of the world, funky, deceptive guys who are impossible to Barrel if not hit hard at all, and they’ll carry you to the promised land in October.

That’s why I’d love to have a lefty version of Rogers, not his brother although he’s pretty good on his own, but a junkballer, ground-expert who’s stingy and misses some bats while refusing to walk hitters.

Enter Richard Bleier.

Why buying?

  • He hates baserunners

It may come as a surprise but the Marlins have one of the best bullpens in the NL, a cast of names plucked from other orgs in minor trades: Dylan Floro and Yimi Garcia from the Dodgers are being solid if not great, John Curtiss is finding his old Rays magic and Anthony Bender went from an ERA over 5 in indipendent ball to a 2 ERA shutdown 7th inning guy.

The best reliever of such a ragtag group is Bleier, once a late inning option for the Baltimore Orioles and now a fireman for the Marlins, one that comes in tough spots and lets his defense get easy outs:

Bleier gives up no free passes and a ton of contact on the ground, with one of the lowest allowed avgLA in the negatives and a GB% almost at 70% he’s a certified groundball machine. As a lot of other wormkillers do, he relies heavily on a sinker:

And a true one indeed: Bleier’s sinking “fastball” clocks below 90 mph but drops an absurd amount of inches so that, while he throws it in the zone all the time, a real walk-hater, he’s also not getting hit square. A pitch that moves a lot, is thrown for strikes and is not hit hard at all must be great, right?

Damn straight: Bleier’s sinker, his weapon of choice 61% of times, is one of the best pitches in all of baseball at a -10 Run Value, a disgusting amount considering he’s a reliever. Bleier is also striking out batters at a career high, well below league average, and is getting Chases at a 98th rate on the few pitches he throws out of the zone.

He’s one of the best at exterminating possible baserunners, allowing a sub 1 WHIP to both lefties and righties with no adamant splits, so he’s not even a now-extinct LOOGY.

Why not buying?

  • He’s…old?

Do you even care he’s 34 at this point? His contract is still in arbitration, doesn’t hit a payroll that much and for his run-prevention penchant is a steal.

Trade value: lower than you may think

Well, if he’s that good he’s bound to be sold for a king’s ransom…or not? We are still talking about a RP with close to no Whiffs so there’s an inherent risk of seeing all those groundballs find the outfield or being run out for infield singles, while there’s no defence for a strikeout. Bleier could also stay put, the Marlins have yet to announce themselves as sellers although Starling Marte is on the block it seems, but he’ll probably go and get back a 15–20 org prospect from a contender’s pool.

Speaking of Marlins, Miami has a lot to offer if the front office decides to sell and replenish an already bountiful farm system with more talent, particularly on the offensive side.

While their rotation has a lot of potential and the bullpen more than up to the task, the lineup still has too many holes: Jazz Chisholm burst into the scene slugging bombs on 100 mph pitches, Isan and Lewin Diaz have premium pop but Brian Anderson is on a scary skid and there are too many issues on the outfield, where toolsy prospects such as Brinson and Harrison are not developing to be ML-worthy.

There are a couple of bats the Marlins could entertain to give up, veterans and incumbent FA that could come in handy for a contender: Miguel Rojas could be the answer at SS for the Reds, Jesus Aguilar has bat, discipline and fun as a reliable middle of the order bat and clubhouse guy.

The real deal though is Adam Duvall.

Why buying?

  • He’s the rare power/speed/defense trifecta

Duvall is one of the toolsiest players you’ve never heard of: sitting at 22 HR he’s a slugger that can also play a damn good RF, or CF(?), and run among the best of them, a combination of above average pop, defensive prowess and speed that is usually reserved to the greats, the 5-tool players you build a franchise around:

There’s not that many bats scarier than Duvall in pure power: he is a dead flyball pull hitter, sitting atop the avgLA leaderboard at more than 22° he’s all about hitting with aerial intent wherever the pitch is thrown at him, and when he connects he destroys baseballs, a 15% Barrel rate that is his career best.

He’s also much more than just competent in the field:

Thanks to his quick reactions and straight line speed he’s able to cover more feet than average and make hard plays look easy: he’s already got a couple of OAA in RF and a ton of outfield assists since 2020 because of the cannon he installed in place of his right arm, an absolute howitzer that nullifies the running game.

He may not steal that many bags, as he’s much more prone to rounding bases on a comfortable HR trot than going station to station, but his legs are fresh, ready to gain 90 feet on a base hit.

Why not buying?

  • He just loves to swing

Why isn’t Duvall a 5-tool player? Easy: he has no plate discipline whatsoever. He likes to get after it, rip his powerful stroke through the zone and swing hard in case he hits hit. His epicurean approach leads to tons of strikeouts, very few walks and an OBP that sporadically reaches .300.

Duvall is another case of Avisail Garcia, a player with unusual tools for his size, athleticism and power that rival with the best but not a single hint of what the strike-zone is, or he simply just doesn’t care about it and swings at everything, that could also be it.

Trade value: more than usual, but it depends

Duvall has a tricky contract: he’s only due $2M until the end of 2021, a bargain of a rental for his production but still a rental, though he also has a mutual option for next year at $7M. Will he void it to go through FA once again? I think he could take it given the uncertainty with the next CBA, and that makes him even more attractive. He could fetch a nice ML-ready prospect or a couple of late ETA guys.

There’s still some time to go and all GMs are working frenetically, doing due-diligencies and calling around to get where everyone stands and what the prices are in a feeble market such as the MLB one.

If Kimbrel, Scherzer and Gallo are too pricey for your team’s pockets, and farm system, the three guys I mentioned could be great fallback options. They may not be superstars be there’s no denying their value, and in the end that’s what makes a trade good.

They’ll come somewhat cheap and boost your ranks, another soldier fighting for your team in the war for the Playoffs. Until July 31st, have fun and may your GM trade for a good one!

All stats and graphs from Baseball Savant, data updated to July 22nd.

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Alessandro Zilio

Italian baseball stathead. I’ll write about MLB, NPB and Korean dramas. A lot of Astros related content and obscure references.