The will-he-or-won’t-he saga of Mark Buehrle being traded appears about ready to end. The White Sox refusal to give him a no-trade clause in return for signing a vastly below market contract has reportedly killed the chances of Buehrle re-signing with Chicago. The impasse makes it likely that GM Kenny Williams will move Buehrle at some point after tonight’s game, and probably very soon. He likes to make deals quickly, and he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade if he’s offered the players in return he is looking for.
Buehrle won’t come cheaply. The White Sox reportedly want 22-year-old outfielder Matt Kemp in any deal with the Dodgers, and to put that in Mariner terms, Kemp is essentially Adam Jones with less defensive value, or a somewhat better version of Wladimir Balentien. Balentien’s performance in the PCL this year matches that of Kemp’s, but he doesn’t have the same track record of success or raw athletic skills.
So, if the Mariners were to get into the Mark Buehrle sweepstakes while not trading Adam Jones (the White Sox would almost certainly make that one-for-one trade immediately, but the M’s are pretty much dead set against trading Jones), they’re looking at giving up a multi-prospect package that certainly include Balentien. Depending on who else the White Sox were interested in, you’re probably looking at having to include one or two of Jeff Clement, Ryan Feierabend, Justin Thomas, Chris Tillman, Rob Johnson, or Greg Halman as well.
So, my guess is that the cost for Mark Buehrle would be something like one of the following packages:
Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement
Wladimir Balentien, Ryan Feierabend, and Rob Johnson
Wladimir Balentien, Chris Tillman, and Greg Halman
The specific names aren’t going to be right, as I’m speculating on what the offers are, and haven’t heard any specific rumors of a Mariner package going to Chicago. The point is to try to give you an idea of what the cost would be.
So, now, the big question – is he worth it?
First, let’s do away with the myth that Mark Buerhle isn’t a frontline starting pitcher. He clearly is. His command is impeccable, and he throws strikes with average to above average stuff. He’s not a guy who is just throwing hittable pitches over the plate and hoping that batters get themselves out. His stuff is legitimate, major league quality. He doesn’t strikeout as many guys as the typical Cy Young winners, but he’s not Horacio Ramirez. Command and movement are valuable weapons, and Buehrle has both in spades.
After a poor season last year, he’s bounced back quite well, posting numbers right in line with his usual performance from his career marks. He’s not quite as good as his current ERA would have you believe, but his 4.16 xFIP is still well above average, and a full run better than the xFIPs being posted by Miguel Batista (5.03), Jarrod Washburn (5.07), Jeff Weaver (5.13), or Ryan Feierabend (5.59).
Mark Buehrle would become an instant significant upgrade in the rotation. His skillset is perfectly matched for Safeco Field’s dimensions, as he’s an LHP with a slight home run problem. He’s extremely durable and is among the lowest risk tier of pitcher you can possibly find. A potential rotation of Buehrle-Felix-Washburn-Batista, when combined with the Mariners bullpen, is good enough to give the team a legitimate chance of winning a playoff series.
The main sticking point for most people is the contract. He’s a free agent at years-end, and numerous reports have him stating a strong desire to pitch in St. Louis, where he grew up. Odds are pretty good that Mark Buehrle would simply be a three month rental, bolting for another team this winter. You know what? Not only am I okay with that, but I actually prefer that. As I showed a few weeks ago, the rate of return from players taken with compensatory draft picks is essentially equal to that of players traded in rent-a-player deals, while the rate of return of pitchers given long term contracts is disastrously horrible.
The Mariners wouldn’t be trading a package of prospects for three months of Mark Buehrle. The Mariners would be trading a package of prospects for three months of Mark Buehrle and another package of prospects. Yes, you push the timetable for the return back a year or two, as no one the Mariners would draft next summer will be major league ready as quickly as a guy like Balentien or Feierabend. But you cannot ignore the significant value returned by the compensation picks. Deals like this are not mortgaging the future – it’s more like a home equity line of credit. You’re borrowing from the future, but you’re paying the debt off very quickly.
Mark Buehrle makes the Mariners better in a hurry. Good enough to catch Detroit for the wild card? I don’t know. Detroit’s an awfully good team. But Buerhle gives the Mariners a real shot. He makes the Mariners legitimate contenders. Mark Buehrle makes the second half of the season a playoff race.
The team has won 8 in a row. They essentially eliminated the Blue Jays from playoff contention this weekend, and now they head to Kansas City and Oakland with a chance to head into the all-star break on a significant high. The team has earned the right to fight for a playoff spot. Let’s hope the Mariners are able to make a move for the only pitcher available this summer who resembles anything like reinforcements.