After a rough start to the season with unsightly numbers and a loss of his rotation spot, it’s hard to fathom Carlos Villanueva as a trade candidate. However, due to the alarming number of injuries to young pitching, a lot of contending clubs are hurting for depth and a pitcher like Villanueva who has the ability to start and relieve could end up looking pretty tempting, just ask the Toronto Blue Jays who have been reportedly scouting him. For this reason, we will take a look at both positions and determine the trade possibilities for Carlos Villanueva and his awesome mustache based on whether he would be acquired as a starter or a reliever.
In his career, as a starter Carlos Villanueva is 18-32, with a 4.94 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and has 305 strikeouts in 422.2 innings. Those numbers make him at best a four or five starter, who uses a fastball, slider, curve and changeup to get hitters out with his changeup as his out pitch. Unfortunately, Villanueva has a penchant to be hit hard as a starter and this season has been no different, as in four starts, he’s 1-3 with a 9.68 ERA, 2.09 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. Any way you slice it, he’s just not the kind of starter who can give a team an edge around the deadline. Therefore, he’s not the kind of player that a team is going to be willing to give up something of value in their system to acquire. Supporting that theory are the below deals.
The first we will take a look at sent Joe Saunders of the Diamondbacks for Matt Lindstrom of the Orioles. Saunders like Villanueva is a starter who can eat innings, pitches to contact and has a proclivity for giving up the longball. At the time of the trade, Saunders was his usual self, sporting a 6-10 record, 4.22 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 130 innings. Lindstrom was having a solid season and provided some bullpen depth. Essentially both teams got some salary relief and added some help to their pitching staffs while making an all-around fair trade that filled a hole, but didn’t push either squad over the hump. Another deal to consider is the one that sent Joe Blanton of the Phillies to the Dodgers for a player to be named later. Now this trade was essentially a salary dump for the Phillies as they had signed Blanton to long term deal, but didn’t get the results they wanted. What makes this trade one to look at is the similarity to Blanton and Villanueva’s abilities. Blanton has always been a pitcher with better than average strikeout potential, but he also gets hit hard a lot which leads to an ERA in the mid 4’s. The player to be named later ended up being minor league pitcher Ryan O’Sullivan who is the brother of pitcher Sean O’Sullivan and has pitched mostly in the minors as a bullpen guy with the potential to an effective reliever.
Since his terrible start to the season in the rotation, Villanueva has actually been a very effective reliever pitching to a 2-2 record, 3.12 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 26 innings in 17 appearances while giving up only two earned runs in 14.1 IP in June alone. The same was true for last season where he posted a 4.50 ERA as a starter and a 3.03 ERA as a reliever. In fact, Villanueva is just a better pitcher as a reliever over his career with a 25-16 record, 3.65 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, seven saves and 404 strikeouts in 407 innings. Couple those numbers with the fact that he has the ability to set up or provide long relief, he’s a pretty helpful pitcher to have on a contending team, but because his lack of closing experience, the potential return on his own is unfortunately not that great. For example, Burke Badenhop has been traded three times in his career and like Villanueva struggled as a starter, before making a niche for himself as a reliable middle inning long reliever. In all the trades for Badenhop, he was traded for a young prospect, C Jake Jeffries, OF Raul Mondesi and RHP Luis Ortega. Of the three, Ortega is the only one still playing affiliated baseball.
Another potential deal is one that sent Shawn Kelley of the Mariners for OF Abraham Almonte. Kelley has more strikeout ability than Villanueva, but his career numbers have been fairly similar. In Almonte, the Mariners acquired a young cost controlled player who projects as a helpful fourth outfielder, with some speed, pop and the ability to get on base, a helpful depth guy to a young improving team. Another possibility for Villanueva in a trade is like that of James Russell and Wesley Wright we discussed in our last article, as a throw-in to increase the value of a trade. In the offseason, the Cardinals sent 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas to the Angels for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. In the deal, Freese and Bourjos were essentially swapped for each other as inconsistent players who had shown flashes of brilliance. Salas, a 29-year old reliever with some cost control, added some depth to the Angels bullpen and helped the Cardinals net Grichuk a promising outfield prospect with power.
With the emergence of young pitchers like Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop, Villanueva has been relegated to a long relief role on the Cubs and is pretty expendable at this point. Thanks to his resurgent play of late, Villanueva is rebuilding his value and starting to catch the eye of contending teams looking for a pitcher that can fill a lot of roles in their bullpens. Villanueva is not a back end reliever and is unlikely to command a large haul, but he might be able to return a close to majors depth piece or be used to leverage higher quality in a deal for either Jason Hammel or Jeff Samardzija. Either way, based on his current status on the team, it’s safe to say that Carlos Villanueva and his stellar mustache will be wearing another uniform at the end of this season.