Prior to the Washington Nationals signing him to a seven-year, $175 million deal yesterday, Stephen Strasburg was in line to be the big pitching free agent this summer. Not "one of" the big free agent pitchers, the free agent pitcher. Strasburg being off the market leaves just the likes of James Shields, Clay Buchholz, CC Sabathia, and Mat Latos as the "big name" pitchers. Probably nothing worth building your franchise around.
So, with the free agent market dramatically slimmed down without Strasburg, that leaves teams looking to add a new starting pitcher at the mercy of teams willing to deal their own pitchers -- one of which could be the Cleveland Indians.
If rumors are to be believed, several teams were trying to pry away Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar last offseason. The Arizona Diamondbacks, in particular, were rumored to be asking about Salazar but settled on Shelby Miller when Chris Antonetti and the Tribe front office turned them away. The desire for someone like Salazar or Carrasco could be even greater this season.
The biggest money spenders, such as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, were thought to be in on the Strasburg sweepstakes if it were to happen. Behind David Price -- whom the Red Sox signed to a huge deal last offseason -- Boston does not have a lot of pitching depth. Steven Wright is a surprisingly effective veteran knuckleballer so far in 2016, but he does not exactly have the track record to keep up a 1.52 ERA. Similarly, Rick Porcello has been a trainwreck in recent seasons. The Red Sox's other starter, Clay Buchholz, is one of those hitting the free agent market this season.
The Yankees have an equally bad, if not worse, starting rotation outside of Masahiro Tanaka, who leads the team with a 2.29 ERA and a 2.56 FIP in the early goings of 2016.
No matter who wants to trade for a starting pitcher -- be it the Red Sox, Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, or someone else -- the Indians hold all the leverage going into any talks. For one, they are not (and do need to be) motivated to trade a pitcher. Chris Antonetti was adamant last offseason that the Indians were not going to trade a starting pitcher, and the front office held to that statement. Now, with the injury to Carlos Carrasco and Cody Anderson falling off a cliff, pitching depth is more important than ever.
However, depending on how far Danny Salazar continues to ascend -- right now he looks like one of the best pitchers in baseball, how well Carlos Carrasco recovers, and how well some young prospects perform, it might make sense to deal someone this offseason. It's a bit too early to make solid predictions about the offseason, but I also do not think the Indians will trade anything at the deadline. That would have to be so amazingly out of the race by the All-Star break that every shred of hope is gone for them to trade any kind of major starting pitcher n July. Even if the team has not looked spectacular in the first month, they have kept up with the pace of the American League enough to warrant holding on to every pitcher.
For some perspective on just how valuable the trio of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar is: All three of them are under contract for less than the deal that Strasburg just signed. The Indians' trio will never make more than $22-$24 million in any given season, depending on how much Salazar gets in salary arbitration court and if the Indians opt to not take any of Kluber or Carrasco's options. Starting in 2017, Strasburg will earn a cool $25 million flat for the next seven years, assuming he does not opt out in 2019 or 2020.
Whether or not the Indians do trade any pitchers before next season, they will be in the driver's seat for most all of the discussions. I am not sure we will ever see a trade as lopsided as the Shelby Miller deal between the Braves and Diamondbacks last offseason, but if the Indians find themselves in such a situation like that they can thank Scott Boras, Stephen Strasburg, and the Washington Nationals.