MLB Trade Rumors: Breaking Down Best Destinations for Top 5 Available Pitchers

Christopher Benvie@CSBenvie81Correspondent IINovember 28, 2012

MLB Trade Rumors: Breaking Down Best Destinations for Top 5 Available Pitchers

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    In terms of market strength, this winter's free agent class of pitchers is not considered to be one of the stronger ones in recent memory.

    Prior to signing their respective extensions, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain would have added a bit more drama and intrigue as the cold weather rolls in.

    Clearly that was not in the cards.

    Instead, baseball fans and teams alike are left looking at a crop of starting pitchers that are good, but not great. With Zack Greinke being the only true ace available, players like Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Dempster and Dan Haren all fill the next tier of talent.

    While there has been some movement in terms of pitching (the Yankees re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, the Reds on the cusp of bringing Jonathan Broxton back, etc.), what have been more compelling are the potential trades that could take place this winter.

    While there may be a shortage of free agent arms, there may very well be no shortage in trade bait. Here's a look at five pitchers that are available and a breakdown of where they would be the best fit.

Jon Lester

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    In a report by Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star on November 26, the Kansas City Royals had been engaged in negotiations with the Boston Red Sox to bring Jon Lester to Kansas City in exchange for their top prospect, Wil Myers.

    While at this point, there is no real traction to any deal with Kansas City, it is an interesting destination for Lester to land. However, it may not be the best place in terms of production.

    Coming off of his worst season statistically for the Boston Red Sox, Lester has an all-time low trade value.

    That being said, he should be in line for a bounce back season, one would assume. However, with two-years and over $24 million left on his contract, it may be a hard sell.

    In 2012, Lester posted a 9-14 record with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.383 WHIP — hardly what you would expect out of your ace.

    The Royals, according to Zach Stolof of, have long coveted Lester and could overlook a bad season.

    The question is: would Lester do better or worse in KC? Furthermore, trading Lester to the Royals for a prospect, albeit a top prospect, isn't going to solve any problems for the Red Sox this season.

    There are two other teams that could be significantly better fits for Lester and could offer the Red Sox something back for use this season.

    First, the Cleveland Indians are an obvious choice. While there are no rumors surrounding Lester and Cleveland, the fact that he would be reacquainted with Terry Francona, his manager in Boston for most of his career, could provide a positive boost.

    In a report by CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, the Indians are willing to listen to offers for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. However, they would want front-of-the-line pitching in return.

    It feels like a no-brainer. The Red Sox need an outfielder, if only for a year with Choo, and are still looking for a replacement for Nomar Garciaparra at short.

    Another choice for Lester might be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Dodgers are going to overspend for Zack Greinke, taking the gold medal off of the free agent market.

    The Angels, once wealthy with pitching, have traded away Ervin Santana and allowed Dan Haren to walk, and they're now on the cusp of losing Greinke. 

    In other words, they need some help.

    The Red Sox need a first baseman. The Angels have Kendry Morales just backing up Albert Pujols and playing DH. That would seem like another easy trade to be made.

James Shields

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    In that same Kansas City Star report, Bob Dutton names Tampa Bay Rays ace James Shields as another player the Royals are engaged in talks over with the prize trading chip being the same top-tier prospect, Wil Myers.

    Unlike Jon Lester, James Shields is coming off of another fine season for the Rays.

    In 2012, Shields posted a 15-10 record with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.168 WHIP.

    As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal points out, over the past two seasons, Shields has thrown 477 innings — which ranks him second in the majors only to Justin Verlander — and his 3.15 ERA during that time ranks fifth in the AL among pitchers with 60 or more starts. 

    In addition, Shields is slightly more affordable than Lester, as Shields is owed only $21 million over the next two seasons.

    The Rays are notorious for trading off pitchers when they have reached their peak value. One can look at Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza as recent examples of that.

    With that in mind, Shields would actually be a pretty perfect fit in Kansas City with one exception — he is another right-handed hurler.

    Both Ervin Santana and Jeremy Gutherie are also righties, and would be the second and third pitchers in that rotation, respectively.

    While it may not be a major concern, it is still something to consider.

    To date, no other team outside of the Royals has been publicly linked to Shields, but the Rays are said to be willing to listen to offers on him, as rumored by Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.

    Yes, the Royals seem like a perfect fit for Shields, however, there is one more club that comes to mind.

    Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Pirates were looking to add a catcher and a starting pitcher this winter.

    Having missed the playoffs once again this season, and being literally just a piece or two away from being serious contenders, the addition of James Shields to that rotation would be downright scary — just look at what pitching in Pittsburgh did for A.J.Burnett!

    Burnett went from a 5.15 ERA in his last season in New York to a cool 3.51 in Pittsburgh, while also dropping his WHIP from 1.434 to 1.241.

    Just imagine what that transition could do for a pitcher at his peak.

Brian Wilson

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    Buster Olney of suggests that the San Francisco Giants will move on from Brian Wilson this winter.

    It seems logical considering how well both Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla filled in for him during this year's World Series run.

    Wilson has racked up 171 saves for the Giants in his seven seasons in San Francisco. While having just undergone Tommy John Surgery, he will be an injury concern for any interested party.

    If the Giants are looking to deal him away, their best bet might be to make some phone calls to larger market teams.

    Both the Yankees and Phillies can almost certainly be ruled out. New York is expected to bring back Mariano Rivera, while Philadelphia has Jonathan Papelbon in place.

    The Red Sox, while seemingly set with any combination of Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon and Daniel Bard, cannot be counted out at suitors either.

    The Wilson case is a bit of a sticky one, however. According to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants appear ready to non-tender Wilson.

    That means, should the team and Wilson not be able to agree on a contract by this Friday, Wilson would, in effect, become a free agent.

    The chances of a trade, or a sign-and-trade before Wilson becomes a free agent, are slim, but not impossible.

Ricky Nolasco

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    It may be hard to believe that there is anybody left in Miami worth trading (other than Giancarlo Stanton, of course) but there is.

    Ricky Nolasco is yet another name that has been floated by the Marlins, according to a Tweet from Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post.

    On the outside, one wonders how the Marlins could actually make any more moves. This one, while not as damaging as the others thus far for the PR of the club, could be made for another piece to rebuild with — if that is what is really going on in Miami.

    Nolasco is just 29 years old and is entering the final year of his contract.

    He owns a lifetime 76-64 record for the Marlins with a 4.49 ERA and a 1.302 WHIP.

    While he won't have a ton of teams kicking down the door for him, a team like the Colorado Rockies would almost certainly be interested in obtaining him.

    As Troy Renck of the Denver Post points out, the Rockies had an interest in Nolasco last winter, and there is no reason to believe they won't be interested now.

    According to Erik Boland of New York Newsday, via Twitter, the New York Yankees also have an interest in Nolasco.

    Since re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees interest may have fallen off, which makes the Rockies a very likely suitor for the young righty.

Justin Masterson

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    According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the Cleveland Indians have been fielding numerous calls for Justin Masterson as well as Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Chris Perez.

    In 2012, the 27-year-old Masterson had a down year, posting an 11-15 record with a 4.93 ERA and a 1.454 WHIP after putting up a solid 2011 campaign that saw him go 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.278 WHIP.

    The Indians will not be too quick to trade Masterson, but as Heyman points out, "many teams would be interested in Masterson, possibly including the Blue Jays, Royals, Twins and perhaps his old Red Sox team."

    Fittingly enough, the Red Sox have in fact called about Masterson (and Choo), according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports.

    Morosi goes on to say that, "Boston’s farm system has strengthened over the past 12 months, partially because of prospects obtained from the Dodgers in the August blockbuster. Thus, the Red Sox can afford to move the necessary minor leaguers to bring back Masterson, Choo, or both."

    It would seem like a perfect fit for Masterson. He could return to Boston where he had success — mostly in a reliever's role — but would not be counted upon as a front of the rotation starter.

    He would also be under the tutelage of Red Sox new manager John Farrell, a man the Sox pitchers revered when he was in town.

    Or he could remain in Cleveland and reunite with his former manager Terry Francona. It was under Francona that Masterson first blossomed in the Majors.

    It would seem that the Red Sox may be a better fit for Masterson. He could get back to an organization that is going to be focused heavily on their pitching with a manager who is known for his work with the pitchers in the organization.