Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/8/14

With the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies 6.0 and 10.0 games out, respectively, of the second wild-card spot in the National League, it’s probable that one or both teams will trade their front-line, free-agent-to-be starters — i.e. Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels — before the July 31st trade deadline.

“What might either be worth in terms of a trade?” is a question that a reasonable person might ask — perhaps has asked as recently as the second paragraph of this post. Ultimately, the market will dictate the answer to that question. In the meantime, however, we can consider what comparable pitchers have fetched in terms of return packages in the not-very-distant past.

Below are (arguably) the most high-profile starting pitchers to have been traded over each of the last four seasons. For each pitcher, I’ve included the prospects received in exchange for him. I’ve also included the grades given to those prospects by very respected prospect analyst John Sickels in his preseason rankings (which appear at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball).

Note: under the new CBA, it’s the case that, while Milwaukee and Philadelphia would receive compensatory picks in the 2013 draft for losing Greinke and Hamels, respectively, it’s also the case that a team, receiving either of those pitchers in a trade, would not be granted those compensatory picks. That provision might, ultimately, affect the trade value of Greinke and Hamels.

2011

Colorado Gives Up
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP

Cleveland Gives Up
Drew Pomeranz, LHP, B+
Alex White, RHP, B+
Joe Gardner, RHP, B
Matt Mcbride, OF, N/A

Notes
At the time of this trade, Jimenez had failed to match his per-inning numbers from previous seasons. While that might have affected his value negatively, it’s also notable that Jiminez was (and still is) signed through 2014, at a relatively affordable $17.95 million.

2010

Seattle Gives Up
Cliff Lee, LHP
Mark Lowe, RHP
$2.25 Million

Texas Gives Up
Justin Smoak, 1B, A-
Blake Beavan, RHP, C+
Matt Lawson, 2B, N/A
Josh Lueke, RHP, N/A

Notes
Cliff Lee was excellent with Seattle over the first half of the season, posting a 72 xFIP- and 3.9 WAR through 103.2 innings. Justin Smoak had a terrific, if brief, run at Triple-A, slashing .300/.470/.540 in 66 plate appearances, before getting promoted to the majors. Whether that bumped him up to a straight A isn’t something that I know, although Smoak certainly would have been a strong A- at the time of the trade.

2009

Cleveland Gives Up
Cliff Lee, LHP
Ben Francisco, OF

Philadelphia Gives Up
Carlos Carrasco, RHP, B
Jason Donald, SS, B-
Jason Knapp, RHP, B-
Lou Marson, C , C

Notes
Of note: Cliff Lee arrived in Philadelphia signed through 2010 for $8 million — likely a deal, even when considering 2009′s dollar-per-win value. (In fact, Philadelphia would proceed to trade Lee to Seattle in the offseason.)

2008

Cleveland Give Up
CC Sabathia, LHP

Milwaukee Gives Up
Matt LaPorta, 1B/3B, B+
Michael Brantley, OF, C+
Rob Bryson, RHP, C+
Zach Jackson, LHP, C

Notes
LaPorta was hitting a robust .288/.402/.576 (.300 BABIP) through 366 plate appearances at Double-A Huntsville, which suggests that he might’ve been more an A- than B+ by the time of this trade.

Concluding Conclusions

Quantity and Quality: A Consideration
Inspecting the four deals above, it appears as though, of late, top-end starters have been more likely to yield a number (four exactly, in fact, every time) of B- and C-type prospects — as opposed to just one or two high-end type. Indeed, the Jimenez deal — with two B+ prospects, in Pomeranz and White — appears to have been the biggest return of those considered here.

For Reference: A vs. B vs. C
For reference, Sickels’ prospect ratings produced 10 total A prospects and 13 more A- prospects — for a total of 23 prospects in the A-ish range. Among prospects in the B range, there were 133 each of pitchers and hitters. Just under 300 prospects received a C+ grade.

For Reference: Texas Rangers Prospects
Texas third-base prospect Mike Olt (currently hitting .294/.404/.578, .344 BABIP, in 344 PA at Double-A Frisco) is a name frequently invoked in discussions of potential trade-deadline deals. Sickels gave Olt a B rating this past offseason — although Olt has probably climbed up to B+ territory, given his place on Sickels’ midseason top-120 prospect list. In either case, the inclusion of an Olt-level prospect is consistent with what we’ve seen from previous trade packages for other elite starters at the trade deadline.


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