Given the Rays need for offense and the seemingly endless pitching depth, it is fairly apparent as to why the Rays would feature prominently in virtually any article about a team in need of a starting pitcher. Add in the increasing salaries of David Price and James Shields, coupled to a team with stringent payroll guidelines, the speculation almost seems to write itself.
Yet, despite the track records of success and reputations, neither Shields nor Price have drawn the most interest in the hypothetical trade market. That distinction belongs to none other than Jeremy Hellickson, who has pitched well and has improved over his first two full seasons in the majors. However, he is, at least not at this point, certainly not at the level of either Price or Shields. So, why the seemingly overwhelming interest in Hellickson?
First and foremost, Hellickson is cheap. Only 25, he has already won 27 games with an ERA of 3.06 over his career. His strikeout rate increased from 5.6 K/9 to 6.3 K/9 over the past season, while his walk rate dropped from 3.4 BB/9 to 3.0 BB/9. He has pocketed a Rookie of the Year Award, and was a co-winner of the American League Gold Glove Award for pitchers. Meanwhile, he is not eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season, and the possibility exists that he could be signed to reasonably cap friendly contract. However, his payroll friendly salary is a potential reason why the Rays may not trade him.
Second, Hellickson has potential. Even though he has already put together a solid track record over his first two years in the league, he has yet to hit his theoretical prime. As good as Shields and Price have been, they are mostly known quantities at this point in their careers. Hellickson, although he may not reach the same levels that the aforementioned duo have, is still a potentially unknown at this stage of his career.
And it is seemingly that latter quality which makes Hellickson a more tantalizing target on the trade market. The idea that, should Hellickson develop a consistent strikeout pitch to put hitters away, he could develop into a possible top of the rotation pitcher has apparently made him a more interesting target than two pitchers who are already that type of starter. Yet, even if he does develop that type of pitch, Hellickson still may not reach the status of Price and Shields.
For some reason, the potential of a player almost always seems to be regarded higher than a known quantity. In this case, that potential may be driving Jeremy Hellickson’s trade value.