A reader posed a hypothetical question to me on Twitter six weeks ago, I told him I was going to do this in early January, and then one thing after another got in the way of me blocking out some time to write about it. That's dumb, and that's my fault, so let's remedy that today.
The question: what if the Colorado Rockies were to trade starter Jorge De La Rosa, and what kind of prospects might come back? As far as we know, of course, there are no trade talks ongoing about De La Rosa, who has veteran 10-and-5 rights anyways and is arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the Rockies' franchise.
But the ace lefty is also entering the final year of his contract and would make an attractive trade candidate, specifically to a contending team in mid-July that needs to re-tool with pitching help for a playoff push over the final months of 2016. And while the veteran's longevity rights allow him to waive any trade, a compelling case could be made for him to move to a winner once we get to mid-summer and likely find the Rockies again far from the front of the NL West's playoff chase.
I personally think there's a significantly-more-than-50% chance De La Rosa stays in Denver all year—where he's had all of his considerable success in the Major Leagues—but it's fun and interesting to think about what a trade could return, informed by previous trades of veteran pitchers to playoff contenders.
(And, again, I'm an idiot for not doing this over a month ago.)
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For the purposes of this hypothetical trade exercise, let's assume a few things:
1. Jorge De La Rosa waives his no-trade clause. (Otherwise, why are we here?!)
2. The Rockies trade De La Rosa near the July deadline rather than now. Not only does this limit the deal to contenders in need of immediate pitching help and likely raises the price for the lefty, if a real trade happens it's more likely the Rockies do it in July than February.
3. Let's assume De La Rosa's 2016 season will be roughly equivalent to his recent work; that is, his hypothetical trade value in this exercise won't be pegged on an abnormally good or bad 2016 season.
To further examine the hypothetical trade return for a pitcher of De La Rosa's caliber, let's qualify what prior deals ought to inform our analysis: namely, pitchers traded in recent midseasons on expiring contracts, to account for equivalent value as best as possible. They ought to be starting pitchers only; again, to account for that same reason, and pitchers here ought to be past their arbitration years; contract sizes will vary, but it's more fair to compare De La Rosa to previously traded veterans than young pitchers traded before or during arbitration who are valued differently.
From there, it comes down to evaluating the recent history of starting pitchers that have been traded midseason. Of course, every trade — and every trade market — has dozens (hundreds?) of unique factors, but as best we can, let's use four similar and very recent trades as a parallel to gauge how valuable De La Rosa might be at the trade deadline:
|Player, trade year||Age (at trade)||Contract in trade year||Old team||New team||Prospect return (team rank, MLB rank)|
|Mike Leake, 2015||27||$9.775 million (FA 2016)||Cincinnati Reds||San Francisco Giants||RHP Keury Mella (SF #5, 2014), 1B Adam Duvall (NR)|
|Johnny Cueto, 2015||29||$10 million (FA 2016)||Cincinnati Reds||Kansas City Royals||LHP Cody Reed (NR), LHP Brandon Finnegan (KC #6, 2014), LHP John Lamb (KC #20, 2014)|
|Scott Kazmir, 2015||31||$13 million (FA 2016)||Oakland Athletics||Houston Astros||RHP Daniel Mengden (NR), C Jacob Nottingham (NR)|
|David Price, 2015||29||$19.75 million (FA 2016)||Detroit Tigers||Toronto Blue Jays||LHP Jairo Labourt (TOR #16, 2014), LHP Matt Boyd (NR), LHP Daniel Norris (TOR #1, 2014)|
|Jorge De La Rosa, 2016||35||$12.5 million (FA 2017)||Colorado Rockies||——||——|
Some important things to note with that table: first, obviously, De La Rosa is not as valuable as David Price. In fact, he may be more closely comped to somebody like Scott Kazmir. (Even then, De La Rosa is four years older than Kazmir should a trade happen this season). But the four trades above meet the broadest similarities: veterans, expiring contracts, starting pitchers, and midseason trades to contenders.
Another important and quirky note to the table involves the prospect rankings (all taken from MLB Pipeline); all of the prospects on the list were given their rank before the 2014 season, and none of them showed up in their respective club's top prospects prior to the 2015 (the season they'd end up being traded). Even if some of these prospects had been very well thought of earlier in their career, by 2015 they had lost luster in their old organizations prior to the deadline deal (or in Norris' case, reached the Majors).
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Well, the Rockies need pitching. The teams that traded veterans for prospects generally acquired pitching in return (8 of 10 prospects returning to rebuilding organizations in those four trades last summer were pitchers). That seems to bode well for the going rate of veteran pitchers on expiring contracts on the trade market, and even though De La Rosa won't come near to reaping the value of this list, adding young pitching depth to the organization isn't a bad thing.
But De La Rosa, as effective as he has been in Denver, is both a far cry from the talent level of the four significant pitcher trades of last July and also several years older than each one, despite average annual contract numbers being somewhat similar in most cases. The Reds received a relative king's ransom for the combination of Leake and Cueto compared to what De La Rosa would probably fetch on the trade market.
The most comparable profile of the bunch here is Kazmir's trade to Houston; for the oldest veteran of the four to be traded last summer, the Athletics returned two prospects outside of Houston's top 30, including a pitcher (Daniel Mengden) who had hardly reached High-A at the time of the trade and is far from a high-impact addition. Now that may not be the worst thing; Houston's farm system is incredibly deep and prospects just outside their top 30 may find themselves making other lists across baseball. But even then, again, Kazmir is nearly four years younger than De La Rosa with better peripheral numbers and fetched a higher return that Colorado's lefty likely would.
So what's it all mean? Well, to put it simply, the Rockies aren't going to get much for Jorge De La Rosa. It's unlikely they'd trade him anyways, for that reason and others, but it's probably not something the Rockies will find lucrative come July even if they were amenable to the idea. Things could change; a contender could get desperate and hey, who knows. Starting pitching is incredibly valuable, especially for those who believe they have a chance to win a championship with the new wild card format. Barring something unforeseen, though, someone on the level of German Marquez might be the absolute ceiling in return for De La Rosa, and in a certain context, that'd be just fine.
Anyways, I do appreciate the question and post idea — I'm just an idiot who can't manage my time with, ya know, following up on stuff. Sigh. Hey, if you have an idea or comment, tweet me right now! It (probably) won't take me six weeks to write it up...