How the Blue Jays can find starting help via trade

While general manager Neal Huntington hasn’t sounded particularly inclined to move Gerrit Cole in the past, now is the best possible time (AP)

Going into 2018 the Toronto Blue Jays have four starters firmly in place, but one spot remains. They could address that hole internally, but options led by Joe Biagini are far from ideal. Free agency is a possibility too, but reliable pitching is awfully pricey on the open market these days.

The third option is to find a partner willing to trade a starter. That can be tricky seeing as every team could use a reliable starter, but it’s not impossible. If the Blue Jays turn over some rocks, there is pitching talent to be had.

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Here are a couple of guys they could shake loose via trade:

The Horse: Gerritt Cole

Age: 27
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Two-seam Fastball, Slider, Curveball, Changeup
Fastball Velocity: 96.0 mph
Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018-2019, projected to earn $7.5 million in 2018
2017 stats: 8.69 K/9, 2.44 BB/9, 1.37 HR/9, 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIP in 203 IP

How it works: Cole is coming off arguably the worst season of his career, but that doesn’t mean he’d come cheap. The 27-year-old is someone you can plug and play at the front of your rotation and one of the better power arms around.

The Pirates are looking at a closing window and they may ask themselves what exactly two years of a top-flight starter gets them at this point. What it could get them is a very strong prospect haul. If the Blue Jays are willing to provide that haul they’d be looking at a heck of a rotation.

They need an offensive boost more than they need a guy like Cole, but a pitcher of his calibre makes any contender better and the Blue Jays fancy themselves contenders in 2018. It would be a surprise for a move like this to come together, but it would be hard for Toronto to find a bigger difference maker.

The Absurdly Cheap Option: Clayton Richard

San Diego Padres’ Clayton Richard carries an exceedingly affordable contract. (Darron Cummings/AP)

Age: 34
Throws: Left
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Sinker, Curveball, Changeup
Fastball Velocity: 90.7 mph
Contract Status: Earns $3 million in 2018 and $3 million in 2019
2017 stats: 6.89 K/9, 2.69 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9, 4.79 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 197.1 IP

How it works: As a southpaw who is well over 30 and doesn’t throw particularly hard the laws of baseball commentary dictate that Richard be described as “crafty.” As it happens, that’s not particularly accurate as he’s more of a guy who pounds the zone more with sinkers than a peddler of off-speed slop. Last year his 59.2 percent groundball rate ranked third in the majors among qualified starters.

Richard isn’t a wildly exciting back-of-the-rotation option, but his contract makes him particularly appealing. Since any starter with a pulse seems to grab an eight-figure payday in free agency, a veteran who ate close to 200 innings last year earning just $6 million over the next two years is a heck of a bargain.

If the Blue Jays could snag Richard from the rebuilding San Diego Padres, his jersey wouldn’t fill the Rogers Centre, but he would solidify the back end of the team’s rotation at a price that gives them payroll flexibility to make moves elsewhere.

The Short Start Specialist: Jake Odorizzi

Jake Odorizzi is the type of proven middle-of-the-rotation option the Blue Jays should be pursuing. (Getty Images)

Age: 27
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Cutter, Slider, Curveball, Splitter
Fastball Velocity: 91.6 mph
Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018-2019, projected to earn $6.5 million in 2018
2017 stats: 7.97 K/9, 3.83 BB/9, 1.88 HR/9, 4.14 ERA and 5.43 FIP in 143.1 IP

How it works: In a previous era of baseball, a pitcher like Odorizzi would probably be looked down on. He’s not very efficient with his pitches and rarely goes deep into the game. He’s never pitched a complete game and although he’s started at least 28 games each of the last four seasons his highest inning total is 187.1 back in 2016.

That said, in today’s more bullpen-dominant version of baseball a guy who’s more of a five or six inning starter isn’t a problem. Odorizzi has an interesting mix of pitches and apart from an off-year in 2017, he’s traditionally had strong command and limited hard contact.

As he gets more expensive and his team control runs out, he’s becoming exactly the type of pitcher the spendthrift Tampa Bay Rays could be looking to offload. As a proven mid-rotation commodity he won’t come especially cheap, but he’d definitely be an upgrade over the Blue Jays’ internal options.

The Speculative Investment: Kendall Graveman

Kendall Graveman would be a solid add for the Blue Jays if Oakland is willing to get creative.

Age: 26
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Sinker, Cutter, Curveball, Changeup
Fastball Velocity: 93.4 mph
Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible in 2018-2020, projected to earn $2.6 million in 2018
2017 stats: 5.98 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 1.03 HR/9, 4.19 ERA and 4.33 FIP in 105.1 IP

How it works: Blue Jays fans probably remember Graveman as a prospect who came out of nowhere to excel in 2014 and got shipped off to Oakland in the Josh Donaldson deal. Since then the right-hander has toiled as a mid-rotation groundballer in relative obscurity.

He certainly has his warts in terms of a relative inability to miss bats and a track record that doesn’t scream durability. On the other hand, he generates groundballs, keeps runs off the board, and his velocity has increased for two straight seasons. That improved gas gives him some sneaky upside in the years to come.

Normally, a 26-year-old starter with three years of control isn’t the most obvious trade candidate, but working with the Oakland Athletics is a little different. Billy Beane is always looking to make creative deals as his players enter arbitration and start to get a little more expensive. If he thinks of Graveman as a health risk, or a guy without growth potential he might be interested in shipping him. The Oakland GM is always in the market of acquiring guys with six years of team control, even if he has to move guys like Graveman to do it.

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