Player Acquisition Cost: LHP Rich Hill
With the trade deadline about three weeks away, rumors are really starting to heat up. In our last few articles, we’ve profiled the Cubs need for quality left handed relief. We turn our attention this time to starting pitching which for the month of July has an unsightly 9.35 ERA. Reports have had the Cubs scouting a familiar name to fans in Rich Hill. Let’s take a closer look at the former Wrigleyville hurler.
Hill has been one of those feel good stories over the last couple of years, a well-traveled veteran who at 36 has finally showed the promise he had at the beginning of his career.
He was drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2002 draft. His bread and butter then and now has always been his 12-6 curveball that when kept down in the zone is nearly unhittable. That curve helped him rack up huge strikeout numbers in the minors and he made his Major League debut with the team in 2005. It wasn’t until the following two years that Hill really hit his stride with the Cubs. He went 17-15, with a 4.01 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 273 strikeouts in 294.1 innings. At the end of 2007, he looked like a potential long-term starter, but unfortunately lost his magic the following season in Spring Training and wasn’t able to regain it, so he was sent to the Baltimore Orioles.
In 2010, after failing in Baltimore, Hill signed with the Red Sox and he started to show flashes in the minors with them. However, as he started to gain some momentum, he underwent Tommy John surgery the following year. It wasn’t until he returned in 2012 and switched to the bullpen that he started to get his mojo back. As a lefty specialist, Hill pitched well in 25 games, winning one and pitching to a 1.83 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. After that season, Hill bounced around to three different teams with varying levels of success. It wasn’t until 2015 that Hill returned to the mound as a starter when he returned to the Red Sox after playing independent baseball in a last ditch attempt to save his career. In four starts at the end of the season, he was nearly unhittable going 2-1 with a complete game shutout, 1.55 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 29 innings.
That solid stretch earned him a one-year, $6 million deal with the Oakland Athletics last off-season and he’s picked up where he left off. In 13 starts, Hill is 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 90 strikeouts in 76 IP. He did miss about three weeks with a groin strain, but it hasn’t appeared to limit him at all since returning.
So what kind of market will Rich Hill have? Of the potential starting arms available, he’s probably pitching the best and his low salary number will make him even more attractive. The only real potential negative is whether teams will want to pony up for a 36-year old starter who has a track record of losing a handle on his stuff at any given moment. Even with that hanging over Hill, the A’s will likely have a high asking price and with at least six teams interested, they can bide their time for the right return. The three below deals illustrate that pitching is currently at a premium and although the below names aren’t pitching up to Hill’s level, even mid-rotation arms are getting solid returns.
That return could be similar to what Oakland received for a similar pitcher at the deadline last year, LHP Scott Kazmir. Like Hill, Kazmir had shown flashes of dominance, but went through a similar fall from grace before resurrecting his career with the Cleveland Indians. Kazmir was shipped to the Astros and netted them RHP Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham.
Both players were considered top 20 prospects in a top-rated Astros system. Mengden, a former fourth round pick is still pretty raw, but has four pitches that could be above average. He’s ascended up through the A’s system quickly since being acquired and is currently a member of their rotation. Nottingham is a strong hitting catcher with great power potential. There are some major questions about his defense though which is probably why Oakland didn’t hesitate to send him to the Brewers in the offseason for slugger Khris Davis.
Another deal from last deadline that could be similar was the trade that sent RHP Mike Leake from the Cincinnati Reds to the San Francisco Giants for RHP Keury Mella and OF/INF Adam Duvall. Leake and Hill are different pitchers and Hill is certainly outpitching Leake’s numbers from last year, but nonetheless the Reds got a nice haul for a mid-rotation starter. Mella was considered by many to be within the Giants top two prospects. Mella averages 93-95 mph on his fastball and touches 97 on occasion. His other three pitches could grade out as average or better and his sinking fastball saps opponents’ power. Duvall was among the Giants top 25 prospects thanks to his awesome power. Duvall has smacked 23 home runs as the Reds left fielder this season, but with pretty much zero plate discipline.
While Kazmir and Leake were set to be free agents when they were traded, the last deal we will analyze is a little different. At the trade deadline two years ago, the St Louis Cardinals acquired now Cubs starter RHP John Lackey, LHP Corey Littrell and cash from the Boston Red Sox for RHP Joe Kelly and OF/1B Allen Craig. At the time of this deal, Lackey had a league minimum deal for the following season available on his contract due to undergoing Tommy John surgery, so he had an additional year of control. However, like Hill this season, Lackey was 35 at the time of the deal and pitching better than he had in a long time. The Red Sox also gave up Littrell who was not among their top 30 prospects, but a recent draft pick that caught the Cardinals eye to sweeten the deal. In return, they netted Kelly with four years of control who could be used as a starter or reliever thanks to a fastball that averages 95 mph. Craig was essentially a salary dump, but the Red Sox were rebuilding at the time and Craig wasn’t that far removed from relevance and worth a shot.
So with these deals in mind, who are some potential prospects who could find themselves with new organizations should the Cubs front office pull the trigger on Rich Hill? With a lot of other suitors, the Cubs may opt to send out some surprising names if they feel their rotation needs a boost. Don’t be surprised if 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Pierce Johnson, OF Eloy Jimenez, OF Eddy Julio Martinez, RHP Duane Underwood Jr., OF Mark Zagunis, 1B Dan Vogelbach and LHP Bryan Hudson could be included.
With the All-Star break and the second half of the season set to begin Friday, a pitcher like Rich Hill could help rejuvenate a starting rotation that is really struggling. The move would likely bump Jason Hammel out of the rotation, but he hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning in any of his last four starts. If moved to the bullpen, he could be a nice multi-inning pitcher and give some relief to a group that is also struggling like the starters. Hill would be a good rental for a team with World Series dreams and a nice return home with the team that he started with.
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