Midseason NL Cy Young Award

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This was a difficult call one third of the way through the season, when I went with a top three of Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley and Johnny Cueto, and not a whole lot easier now.

First, here’s the top 10 in ERA.

1. Dan Haren – 2.01 ERA in 130 IP
2. Tim Lincecum – 2.33 ERA in 127 2/3 IP
3. Matt Cain – 2.38 ERA in 117 IP
4. Josh Johnson – 2.74 ERA in 128 IP
5. Jair Jurrjens – 2.91 ERA in 114 1/3 IP
6. Javier Vasquez – 2.95 ERA in 119 IP
7. Wandy Rodriguez – 2.96 ERA in 112 2/3 IP
8. Adam Wainwright – 3.04 ERA in 130 1/3 IP
9. Johan Santana – 3.09 ERA in 116 1/3 IP
10. Clayton Kershaw – 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 IP

Santana and Kershaw are easy cuts from being serious contenders, given
that Santana leads the entire group with nine unearned runs allowed and
Kershaw ranks tied for 38th in the league in innings.

No one further back rates consideration. While Chad Billingsley,
Yovani Gallardo and Ted Lilly have been at least as valuable as Santana
and Kershaw, they’re not in the top five. Jason Marquis leads the
league in wins with 11, but the Coors effect doesn’t counter his 3.65
ERA. 13 starts doesn’t put Chris Carpenter into the mix.

So, let’s move forward with those top eight in ERA. Here they are according to VORP:

Dan Haren – 51.2
Tim Lincecum – 42.2
Matt Cain – 40.2
Josh Johnson – 39.0
Javier Vazquez – 32.3
Adam Wainwright – 31.8
Jair Jurrjens – 28.5
Wandy Rodriguez – 26.0

That’s two measures, both clearly in favor of Haren. Haren is also
far in front in WHIP (0.81) and average against (.189). He’s second in
the NL in innings, one-third of a frame behind Adam Wainwright, who has
made 19 starts to Haren’s 18. Also, he’s doing all of this while
working in a hitter’s park half of the time.

So why is this still a tough call? Let’s go to FIP for a moment. FIP, which stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, tries to remove defensive support from the equation.

Tim Lincecum – 2.06
Javier Vazquez – 2.58
Dan Haren – 2.77
Josh Johnson – 2.92
Wandy Rodriguez – 3.65
Adam Wainwright – 3.68
Matt Cain – 3.84
Jair Jurrjens – 3.87

Even though Haren wins in pretty much every other measure, there’s
still a way to argue that Lincecum has been the NL’s best pitcher this
season. I don’t truly buy it. FIP measures what might have happened,
while ERA, VORP and most of the rest are measuring what actually did
happen. To place Lincecum over Haren, I think you have to make a strong
case that Arizona’s defense is quite a bit better than San Francisco’s,
and most of the defensive numbers would say the opposite is true.

So, I’m going with Haren over Lincecum for now. The third spot comes
down to Cain and Johnson. Cain wins in ERA, while Johnson has him by 11
innings. Both have allowed just two unearned runs, which is an
especially impressive stat for Johnson in that he’s a modest groundball
pitcher in front of an error-prone infield. It’s almost a tossup, but I
put Johnson slightly in front.

Midseason NL Cy Young

1. Haren
2. Lincecum
3. Johnson

Orioles acquire Mark Trumbo from Mariners for Steve Clevenger

Mark Trumbo
AP Photo/Joe Nicholson
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As first reported by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma Tribune and now confirmed by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Mariners have traded first baseman and corner outfielder Mark Trumbo to the Orioles in exchange for catcher and first baseman Steve Clevenger. There is also a second player headed to Baltimore in the deal.

This feels like an admission from the O’s that they’re not going to be able to re-sign Chris Davis, who is said to be looking for more than $150 million in free agency.

Clevenger was out of options and the Orioles have both Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph coming back at the catcher position. Wieters was due to become a free agent but accepted a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from Baltimore last month.

Trumbo has always been a low-OBP guy and he rates as a poor defender everywhere he has played, but the 29-year-old has averaged 31 homers and 96 RBI for every 162 games in his six-year major league career. Camden Yards is a much better place than Safeco Field for him to show that power.

Cardinals finished runner-up to Red Sox in David Price sweepstakes

David Price
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

These kind of after-the-ink-has-dried reports have to be taken with a grain of salt for a variety of reasons, but they’re fantastic conversation-starters …

Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Cardinals “finished runner-up” to the Red Sox in the bidding for free agent left-hander David Price, who signed with Boston on Monday for a record seven years and $217 million.

There were reports early on that the Red Sox were going to have to overpay on Price because he wanted to either stay in Toronto or make the move to the more pitcher-friendly National League. And maybe they did go significantly above and beyond the next-best offer to land him.

But the report from Nightengale serves as an indication that the Cardinals are ready and willing to spend big money ahead of next week’s Winter Meetings in Nashville. Does that chunk of change now get directed toward Jason Heyward? Or might the Cardinals pounce one of the falling dominos in this still-loaded starting pitching market? What about both?

St. Louis lost Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery last month and both Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha carry some injury concerns into 2016. There’s money to spend there with a new billion-dollar local television deal about ready to kick in.

Pirates expressing interest in Justin Masterson

Justin Masterson
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has become the king of the reclamation project. And it sounds like he’s about to take on another big one …

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that the Pirates have expressed interest in free agent Justin Masterson. The expectation is that it will be a one-year deal with the goal of rebuilding the right-hander’s value in an environment where many other struggling veteran pitchers have executed significant career turnarounds.

Masterson earned his first (and only) All-Star nod in 2013 when he registered a 3.45 ERA, 195 strikeouts, and three shutouts in 32 appearances with the Indians. But he had a 5.88 ERA in 128 2/3 innings between Cleveland and St. Louis in 2014 and he continued struggling to the tune of a 5.61 ERA with the Red Sox in 2015.

It’s not clear whether the Bucs would try him as a starter or reliever.

Zack Greinke deal “could come soon,” Dodgers and Giants lead the bidding

Zack Greinke
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Jordan Zimmermann signed with the Tigers on Sunday for five years, $110 million. David Price signed with the Red Sox on Tuesday for seven years, $217 million.

Two big dominos have fallen in this loaded free agent market for starting pitchers, and another big one is about to go …

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal says a deal for Zack Greinke “could come soon” and it’s currently “Dodgers vs. Giants” at the top of the bidding ladder.

ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick confirms that both the Dodgers and Giants are looking for an answer from Greinke, adding that the 32-year-old right-hander seeks a five- or six-year deal with a greater average annual value (AAV) than what Price just secured from Boston. That number would be $31 million, so we’re talking something close to $32 million through 2020-2021.

Greinke opted out of the remaining three years and $71 million contract with Los Angeles in October after posting a 1.66 ERA and 0.84 WHIP across 222 2/3 regular-season innings in 2015. He finished second to the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta in the National League Cy Young Award balloting.