During the period leading up to this year's non-waiver Trade Deadline, there have been two deals involving front-line starters who are two-month rentals, with Johnny Cueto going to the Royals on Sunday and David Price heading to the Blue Jays on Thursday.
The two deals are similar in many ways. Both were 3-for-1 swaps, sending young pitching prospects from the buyers to the sellers. And if anyone ever questions what has value on the market, point them to the fact that all six pitchers traded for Cueto and Price are left-handed.
At first glance, it would appear that the Tigers received more for Price than the Royals did for Cueto, although not by much. That's largely because of the inclusion of top prospect Daniel Norris, currently ranked No. 25 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, the lefty is the highest-ranked prospect to change hands leading up to Friday's 4 p.m. ET Deadline. Command remains his one obstacle, but he has the size and stuff to be a front-line starter. Still only 22, there's plenty of time for Norris to reach that ceiling.
While Norris is the best prospect of the two deals, is he enough better than the top arm in the Cueto deal -- Brandon Finnegan -- to offset that Cody Reed and John Lamb appear to be a better combined haul than Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt, the other two lefties in the Price deal?
Some of that might depend on what Finnegan becomes. Finnegan has both started and relieved in the past. A starter during his junior season at TCU, he was moved to the bullpen and became the first pitcher to throw in the College World Series and World Series in the same year. The Royals had hoped to stretch Finnegan back out this year, but a need in the big league bullpen called him back up in a relief role a couple of times. The Reds, however, see him as a starter, and will take their time in getting him stretched back out. At the start of the season, Finnegan was No. 76 on the Top 100, Norris was at No. 17.
In case you're curious, the six southpaws in these two deals would rank in this order:
If Finnegan can stretch out and be a successful starter and Reed continues to make the very encouraging strides he's made, then Cincinnati could make the claim that it did better than Detroit. Boyd is a No. 4 or 5 starter when all is said and done, and Labourt, while having a very strong arm, is still fairly far away from putting it all together. If he end up in the bullpen, that wouldn't be a surprise. Lamb, meanwhile, is finally starting to look more like the prospect he was before he had Tommy John surgery in 2011. He still has the chance to be a back-of-the rotation starter.
Is it too close to call? Maybe it's a matter of Cueto vs. Price that is the best way to evaluate the two trades.
The initial instinct is to value Price over Cueto, and that's not inaccurate. Price does have a higher WAR for his career, and this season. He's the big, strong, competitive former No. 1 overall pick, and he's left-handed to boot. But upon further examination, there's not that much separating Price from Cueto.
As with any trades involving prospects, these can't be evaluated for some time, to see how the return performs at the big league level. We'll get to see right away with Norris, who steps right into the Tigers' rotation. He could single-handedly give Detroit the nod in this "contest" if he develops as hoped into, well, another Price type of starter. Even if that happens, the Reds' return might have a better chance of making a larger contribution as a whole, perhaps making this too close to call.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.