With the deadline just nine days away the trade frenzy has not yet hit. The Oakland A’s are the only team to make a big move so far this season when they acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier this month. Now it seems that other teams are waiting for the first big domino to fall, whether that is a trade involving David Price, Cliff Lee, Giancarlo Stanton (not likely) or Matt Kemp.
Despite the lack of activity in the market, the rumor mill continues to churn along. One interesting development in the pitching market is the teams that are perusing certain pitchers. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and three teams are feeling that in 2014. The Tigers, Orioles and Pirates have all been linked to pitchers that appeared for them just last year, according to Jon Heyman, Jayson Stark and Jon Morosi respectively.
Last season the Tigers didn’t realize what a good thing they has in the back end of their bullpen. With 24 saves in 26 chances, an ERA of 2.01 and a 1.03 WHIP, Benoit was one of the best relievers in the league. Although they pursued Benoit in free agency they lost out the the Padres who offered him a two-year $15.5 million contract. The Tigers put Joe Nathan ahead of Benoit on their off-season to-do list, but the signing of Nathan has seriously backfired. He has the highest ERA of any closer in 2014, has allowed the most hits and has the highest WHIP.
Now, after 40 appearances with the Padres, the Tigers want Benoit back yet again, according to trade rumors. His impressive numbers have come in a setup role, but he could easily be inserted as the closer in Detroit if they want to. He has a 1.99 ERA, a 0.83 WHIP and 47 strikeouts. Benoit is going to cost the Tigers a prospect or two now that he has played half a season with the Padres. If they had put him at the top of their free agent shopping list they could have avoided this problem.
The Pirates had a similar situation with Burnett. Burnett was one of the most consistent performers in the Pirates rotation in 2013. Despite posting a losing record, Burnett had a 3.30 ERA and 9.8 K/9 rate in 191 innings. He was the game-one starter for the first playoff series in the franchise since the 1990s. The game did not go well — four walks, six hits, one homerun and seven earned runs — but the Pirates still wanted him back in 2014. They were unsure if he was going to retire, but they offered him a contract anyway. Burnett ended up signing with the Philies, and the Pirates have been missing him all year.
The Pirates have replaced Burnett with Edinson Volquez and hoped they could get through the season, but the plan hasn’t really worked. Volquez has been good but Francisco Liriano has taken a step back. Liriano is 1-7 with a 4.43 ERA and 45 walks in 81 innings. Without Liriano acting as their ace the Pirates are in the middle of the pack in starters ERA (3.92) and are 18th in starters innings pitched. This could leave their bullpen overworked and exposed.
Burnett simply denied the Pirates offer in the off-season, so there is not much they could have done. But, the fact that they are rumored to want Burnett back despite his 4.08 ERA says something about their rotation.
Johnson is the most curious and the least likely to happen. As Stark said, the Orioles have put the brakes on this deal, but the A’s are still looking for a trade partner for the former closer. In his time with the Orioles, Johnson became the most effective pitch-to-contact closer in the league. Despite averaging just 6.3 K/9 over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Johnson recorded 101 saves.
Furthering the curiosity of this rumored non-move is the success of Zach Britton in the closer role for the Orioles. Britton has 17 saves in 20 chances and a 1.88 ERA and a higher 7.2 K/9 rate.
All of this adds up to the Orioles being extremely unlikely to revisit these trade talks with Oakland. This rumor was only brought to light after the Orioles decided to move on, but it means even they had some second thoughts about moving on from their closer of the past two years.