By Adam Brown
As June ends and the calendar ticks away into July, it’s where the Baseball season goes from third gear to fifth, from calm to chaos and from neutral to fast forward/reverse (delete as applicable). Once we get past the circus of the All-Star break, we can press on and get to the fun and frolics that is the trading deadline.
The trading deadline is an oxymoronic state of affairs where we see incredibly intelligent people coax their counterparts into doing not so intelligent things as they joust to try to construct their roster to fit their current focus. One of the more baffling aspects of the deadline is how General Manager’s are so willing to part with future assets that are at their disposal for six major league seasons, yet will offload them from three months of a veteran and his expiring contract. This philosophy saw Oakland deem it necessary to see Addison Russell have a future in Chicago for the privilege of sixteen Jeff Samardzija starts. This portion of the season is responsible for the panic of these GM’s as they try to bolster their current roster to match the urgency of it’s’ fan base and try to bring home a championship. All of this adds up to one of the more exciting stretches of the season, so let’s have a look who could be on the move, and where they would fit best.
Cole Hamels is the crown jewel of the market right now, with his consistent excellence and long-term contract; he is not your typical piece that is floated over the market. Hamels in his career has been in the top 8 of CY Young voting on four occasions, has a career ERA+ of 125 and shows little to no signs of any immediate depreciation in regards to his on-field ability. Although his numbers aren’t up to last seasons gaudy heights, he does currently have his highest K/9 (9.6) since his rookie year in 2006 showing it’s no loss of velocity or command.
In Spring, it was the Red Sox and Cubs most often linked to acquiring the 31-year-old southpaw, however with the Red Sox self implosion and the Cubs perhaps harvesting a reluctance to go for the jugular this early into their ascension opens the door for other contenders/fringe contenders to assert themselves into title contention.
Amongst the teams most likely to attempt to be linked will undoubtedly be the Toronto Blue Jays, who at this moment have a gaping hole in their starting rotation. They meet the requirements, being a team that needs a top of the rotation starter that R.A Dickey hasn’t been and having the prospects to make a deal. With young pitchers Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez understandably undergoing rough stints as rookies, and Drew Hutchison being one of the more schizophrenic pitchers in baseball in regards to his home/road splits, Hamels should be the Jays prime target.
Elsewhere, the Jays division foes, the New York Yankees also have a glaring need within their starting rotation, whilst Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda can form a good pairing, the addition of Hamels would give them a playoff rotation to match any team in the American League. It would ease any pressure that remains on C.C Sabathia, as he continues to decline at the same rate as the Greek economy did. The fallback of this plan is that it may force the Yankees into having to part with either Aaron Judge or Luis Severino, their prized prospects, which would deplete an already sparse farm system.
The final team I expect to be bandied about is the St.Louis Cardinals. Sitting at 49-24, the Redbirds it could be argued aren’t in any desperate need of help, as they continue to put up numbers reminiscent of MLB: The Show as oppose to reality, but as the old adage goes, “You can never have too much pitching”. With Adam Wainwright on the treatment table, there’s a clear necessity for a number 1 style pitcher to slide in and form a devastating trio with Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn. Although they have had outstanding performances all round, including Jaime Garcia, who has filled in seamlessly in the absence of Wainwright, Hamels provides them a rotation to match the Dodgers and Nationals in the ultra competitive National League.
Of course Hamels is the ideal option for these teams and many others, there is other players on the market that are more strictly rent-a-player trades. Johnny Cueto, who arguably is the best pitcher available, will command a gigantic contract this winter, will perhaps cause some hesitance with teams and their desire to part with their blue-chip prospects. However his 2.98 ERA and 4.84 K/BB will definitely have ambitious GM’s picking up the phone. Less expensive options for the more conservative GM’s could include opting for Cueto’s Reds teammate Mike Leake or Red Sox enigma Clay Buchholz, both solid pitchers who would make any rotation better, and in the case of Buchholz some valuable championship experience. I would anticipate seeing teams such as the Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals involved in the less expensive options, and on the whole the pitching market will shift dramatically in favour of the sellers as we get close to the deadline.
The relief pitching market will, as always result in almost comical like overpay. Last season saw the Orioles give up Eduardo Rodriguez to their AL East rivals the Boston Red Sox, for just 20 regular season innings of Andrew Miller. For rebuilding teams, trading away relievers is amongst the quickest and efficient ways of regaining prominence. The Braves did this on the eve of opening day when they sent Craig Kimbrel to San Diego for a cluster of prospects. Relief pitchers are the most likely to be on the move due to the volatility in performance and their lack of usage in comparison to other players, means they ‘re expendable quantities for teams who won’t make the playoffs.
Aroldis Chapman could be the biggest name on sale here if the Cincinnati Reds to go ahead and begin a fire sale of its valuable commodities. Chapman is a free agent after next season, so whilst he may become expensive in his latter years of arbitration, he’s amongst the very best at closing games in the majors, as evidenced by his career 1.97 FIP and 15.3 K/9. A team such as the Detroit Tigers, who have been craving relief help for the past few seasons have time and again seen it be their Achilles heel come October. It’s well publicised that the Tigers are in championship or bust mode, trying to bring a title back to the Motor City for aging owner Mike Ilitch. Although sitting at just 2 games above .500, the Tigers still aren’t a certainty to be buyers at the deadline, it seems likely that they would take the gamble given half a chance judging by their recent financial activity (see Martinez, Victor).
The market for relievers follows a very simple trend; teams out of contention will trade almost any bullpen arm to any team in contention. With that basic philosophy in mind, these arms are almost definitely available: John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson, Charlie Furbush, Joe Beimel, Koji Uehara and Alexi Ogando. Just looking at the list, it’s immediately obvious that once again the majority of contenders’ moves will be bolstering their bullpen looking to replicate the Kansas City Royals structure of last year. Teams calling on these players will surely be the likes of the Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants will be leading the pack in acquiring relief arms, but no team in the playoff hunt will shirk away from bolstering its pen.
The hitting market is always a peculiar one, as unlike pitching where there’s just starter or reliever when trying to acquire new talent, there’s a variety of players out there. Whether you have a need that is position specific, or just need a utility player, the difference is the individuality of each position means it’s a smaller market of teams courting just one player.
The premier name on the market will probably be Justin Upton of the San Diego Padres. Upton only recently joined the Padres in a trade with the Atlanta Braves, but seeing how A.J Preller and his Dr. Frankenstein type experiment has failed both miserably and dramatically in equal measure, they begin having to sell off pieces to recuperate the prospects they gave up originally. Upton cost the Padres their top prospect in Max Fried, and the separate Craig Kimbrel deal cost them Matt Wisler, their number 2 prospect.
Upton is having a fine season with the Friars, and his 130 OPS+ illustrates this. Although his defensive ability leaves a lot to be desired, he does offer the versatility of being a corner outfielder or a DH if he were to go across to the American League. With that in mind, his best fit seems to be his brothers’ old stomping ground, with the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s unsure whether they have the financial clout to go ahead with a deal like that, but given It would be rental with no obligation beyond this season, Upton would give the Rays lineup some much-needed power. The other positive of this move would be the ability to hide him defensively by putting him next to Kevin Kiermaier, an elite defensive outfielder.
If the Rays decide against it, it’s not hard to foreshadow the Houston Astros throwing a metaphorical hat into the ring. They’ve shown a trigger happy nature before trading pitching Mike Foltynewicz to Atlanta for Evan Gattis, a move designed to improve their offense. Upton is a potential game-changer this trading season, his ability with the bat would improve most teams, so would expect a cluster of teams to at least explore this option.
Another prized asset could be Ben Zobrist, although the A’s are starting to improve rapidly, it does seem as if a playoff berth seems to be out of the question. Zobrist’s greatest strength is his versatility; he has the ability to play every position bar catcher. He could improve every team in baseball with his excellent plate discipline, evidenced by his career 12.1 BB%, nearly 4% higher than the MLB average. Although this season Zobrist has hit .253, his lowest since 2010, he has been impaired by bad luck; his BABIP sits at .248, down from a career average of .291. This could even be a positive for buyers, getting stock when it’s lower than expected before it surges.
Elsewhere on the market, outfielders such as Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Jay Bruce, Carlos Gomez and Brandon Moss should all be attainable for teams should they desire. On the infield, names such as Mike Napoli, Alexei Ramirez, Martin Prado, Aramis Ramirez and Aaron Hill should all prop up in rumour mills before we flip the calendar to August.
As always there’s copious amounts of talent on the market, across a multitude of positions. With the new format of two wildcards, I wouldn’t anticipate many early moves, unless a team puts their chips in early, like Oakland last season. With teams now clinging on to the fact they can be the fifth best team in their league and sneak in the playoffs, more teams are reluctant to consider themselves ‘sellers’. As always though, as we get ever close to the end of July, it will pick up and silly season will well and truly commence.