WASHINGTON — At approximately the same time that Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg was leaving the mound with another case of “achy” forearm, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was leaving the mound with another bout of back tightness.
And just like that, the trade market for elite starting pitchers was reborn, with a week to go before the non-waiver trade deadline.
That’s not to say that one or either team will be more inclined to make a deal. Kershaw seems likely to head to the 10-day disabled list, with his estimated stint there still unknown.
The Dodgers were already heavily linked to top-flight rotation help, but given Clayton’s, their negotiating leverage just tanked.
The Nationals seem optimistic that Strasburg’s meeting with team doctors back in Washington will yield encouraging results. The feeling is that manager Dusty Baker and the medical staff took the precautionary route on stiffness that would not warm up, but it is yet unclear if that approach worked.
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has shown a willingness to pad positions of strength, signing fellow ace Max Scherzer to a record contract at a time when he already had a healthy Strasburg. But that was in the offseason and not via the trade market.
If Rizzo decides to pursue a frontline starter to alleviate pressure on Strasburg down the stretch, there are two intriguing options to consider:
Yu Darvish: 3.44 ERA, 21 starts, 133.1 innings, 1.118 WHIP
A devastating trip to Baltimore last week seems to have torpedoed the Texas Rangers’ playoff hopes, putting Darvish, a free agent at year’s end, on the market. According to MLB insider Buster Olney, Darvish has been linked to the Cubs, Astros, Dodgers and Yankees, with interest from L.A. picking up even before Sunday’s injury to Kershaw.
Sonny Gray: 3.66 ERA, 15 starts, 91 innings, 1.176 WHIP
Gray is young and controllable through the 2019 season. Better yet, he has been electric since mid-June, greatly resembling an ace that teams covet. The Athletics have stated a desire to move him, but he should get a bidding war and a large return for his services. MLB insider Ken Rosenthal says that the Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, and Atlanta Braves are all in on Gray, with the pieces to spare in a trade. Unless Rizzo pushes all of the Nats’ chips in on this season, a deal for Gray in a crowded market seems unlikely.
J.A. Happ: 3.55 ERA, 12 starts, 66 innings, 1.258 WHIP
Happ is not currently being shopped by the Blue Jays, but he is the type of player who would make a lot of sense for the Nats to consider if the rotation becomes a top priority. Happ has played some of his best baseball since joining Toronto, but has struggled with injuries some this season. If he stays healthy, he is a solid middle rotation starter that likely won’t cost the farm to acquire.