While Zack Greinke's run of consecutive starts for the Milwaukee Brewers ended ingloriously over the weekend at three games, and on Sunday Cole Hamels took the ball in Colorado, and Chad Billingsley came clean on a sore elbow in L.A., and Ben Sheets threw six shutout innings in Atlanta, and Ryan Dempster sunned in the aftermath of his still-alive 33-inning scoreless run in Chicago, the pitching market inched again toward the trading deadline.
There is hardly a contending team that couldn't use Hamels or Greinke or Dempster, and who wouldn't risk prospects for a few good months of one of them, but of course it's more complicated than that.
For one, the suddenly woeful Philadelphia Phillies would like to sign Hamels to a contract extension, presumably something at least in the Cliff Lee ballpark (five years, $120 million), and well before the deadline. The Brewers have the same idea with Greinke, though presumably not quite to Hamels' numbers.
The extension process is difficult enough by itself. Introduce the variable of maybe a dozen teams calling Ruben Amaro Jr. in Philly, or Doug Melvin in Milwaukee, and now the general managers are juggling contract negotiations with trade negotiations, along with the fact both players seem to like where they play, but wouldn't seem to mind leaving for the sake of a playoff race somewhere. Also, there's the chance either club begins to play well and then finds itself wishing it had some pitching back.
The Phillies and Brewers have a little more than two weeks to sort through all of that, while league-wide desperation for starting pitching runs thick and hot.
"With Zack, it's not so much just this year," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said at the All-Star break. "If we can get back in it, obviously we need Zack. So, yes, I'm concerned right now, but I'm also concerned with next year and the year after."
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Greinke's an interesting cat, so there's no telling what he might do in free agency, or what teams – particularly in the larger media markets – might think of him in free agency. He probably could pitch effectively anywhere, but $100 million or so is a lot to bet on Greinke's long-term happiness.
"I've gotten to know Zack pretty well," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. "I know that he truly enjoys Milwaukee. Even if he goes to free agency that doesn't necessarily mean he wouldn't come back.
"I know that he seriously likes Milwaukee. And his wife does, too, which is probably just as important."
That's very nice. But if you're Melvin and there's a chance to get something for Greinke, who 18 months ago cost you four players in a trade with the Kansas City Royals, that's not a lot to hold onto.
(Update: Greinke, who started three games in seven days around the All-Star break, has been scratched from his regular start Wednesday against St. Louis. Roenicke is expected to address the decision prior to Monday's series opener.)
The Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels could do with upgrades to their starting rotations, some more than others.
There have been some recent developments.
Billingsley didn't make his regular start Sunday because of elbow pain. Already hunting for a starting pitcher, the Dodgers just found further motivation. They've engaged the Cubs on Dempster and Matt Garza, along with the Phillies on Hamels.
While their rotation had been pretty stable, the Mets will be without Dillon Gee for the remainder of the season. He had surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder. Additionally, R.A. Dickey has allowed five runs in three of his past four starts and Johan Santana has allowed a combined 13 runs in his past two starts. Miguel Batista is scheduled to take Gee's turn, but prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler appear to be part of the conversation moving forward.
Down Brandon Beachy, their best pitcher before his elbow went, the Braves got those six terrific innings by Sheets on Sunday afternoon, and who saw that coming? Sheets hadn't pitched in the big leagues for two years, in part because of Tommy John surgery and in part because of other arm ailments. It's difficult to say how reliable Sheets can be going forward, but the news couldn't have been much better Sunday. He is scheduled to start again Saturday in Washington.
Already straining to maintain their early momentum, the Orioles lost Jason Hammel for about a month because of knee surgery. Rookie Wei-Yen Chen is the last standing of Baltimore's season-opening rotation, and the club is showing that wear and tear. Zach Britton is scheduled to start Tuesday in Minnesota, and Tommy Hunter could be worked in somewhere as well. Here's a stat: Hammel and Chen are a combined 15-11 with a 3.67 ERA. All the other starters (six of them) are 13-24 with a 5.56 ERA.
Without help, the Orioles' second half is leaning hard on the likes of Chris Tillman, Britton, Hunter and Miguel Gonzalez. That is, unless they want to go big for Hamels, Greinke or Dempster.
But, you know, it gets complicated.
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- Zack Greinke
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