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June 30, 2014

Painting the Black

The Trade Deadline Preview

by R.J. Anderson


The Sellers

The buyers far outnumber those interested in moving the present for the future. These four teams seem like the most likely to make moves.

Arizona Diamondbacks
General manager: Kevin Towers
Record: 35-48
Playoff probability: 0.2%
GM's best deadline deal (as a seller): Jason Middlebrook and Steve Reed for Josh Reynolds, Jason Bay, and Bobby Jones (2002)

No one can say whether Towers or Tony La Russa will make the decisions for the D'backs. As such, Arizona is the biggest wild card among the sellers. You should anticipate whomever is in charge to field calls on impending free agents Brandon McCarthy and Joe Thatcher. Should Towers and/or La Russa get creative, they could also test the waters on infielders Aaron Hill and Martin Prado; those two have multi-year deals, however, which could cause more complications for the D'Backs.

Chicago Cubs
General manager: Jed Hoyer
Record: 34-46
Playoff probability: 0.3%
GM's best deadline deal (as a seller): Matt Garza for Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez (2013)

While the Cubs roster continues to turn over, Hoyer has authored a predictable trend: he's traded multiple starting pitchers in each of his first two seasons in charge. Bet on that streak continuing, with both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel finding new homes before the deadline passes. Beyond those two, expect Hoyer to peddle Nate Schierholtz, Emilio Bonifaco, and Darwin Barney; the first two of whom are on expiring contracts.

San Diego Padres
General managers: A.J. Hinch, Omar Minaya, and Fred Uhlman Jr.
Record: 34-47
Playoff probability: 0.1%
GM's best deadline deal (as a seller): None—this is the trio's first deadline in charge.

The Padres looked like sellers before Josh Byrnes was fired, and there's no telling whether the change at GM will cause them to be more or less aggressive in stripping down. Huston Street and Joaquin Benoit appear to be the top relief arms available, while soon-to-be free agents Chase Headley, Seth Smith, and Chris Denorfia ought to draw interest. If the trio get super-aggressive, the Padres could move Ian Kennedy and Carlos Quentin as well.

Tampa Bay Rays
General manager: Andrew Friedman
Record: 34-49
Playoff probability: 2.2%
GM's best deadline deal (as a seller): Seth McClung for Grant Balfour (2007)

The deadline's most surprising seller, Tampa Bay entered 2014 favored by many to win the World Series. Injuries and underperformance have instead relegated the Rays to the cellar, where they haven't spent much time since 2007. Andrew Friedman appears ready to move David Price, the market's top player, but his willingness to shed Ben Zobrist (or others) is unclear. Because the Rays are neither rebuilding nor tanking, Friedman could hold onto the rest of his roster and try again in 2015. One aspect to consider: Juan Carlos Oviedo is the only Rays player scheduled to become a free agent.

The Buyers

More than half the league is in the playoff race in some form or another, so limiting the scope to four teams isn't going to cover every team likely to add parts. Still, these four seem like the most likely to do something.

New York Yankees
General manager: Brian Cashman
Record: 41-38
Playoff probability: 41.5%
GM's best deadline deal (as a buyer): Acquired Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle for C.J. Henry, Matt Smith, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monastrios (2006)

The Yankees are guaranteed a place in trade rumors whenever they're in the playoff hunt. Realistically, though, Cashman's problems will be solved with better internal play—particularly from offseason additions like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter isn't getting benched or replaced, so the two spots in the lineup where the Yankees could shop for external upgrades are second base and right field. Cashman figures to troll the starting pitcher market as well.

San Francisco Giants
General manager: Brian Sabean
Record: 46-35
Playoff probability: 79.4%
GM's best deadline deal (as a buyer): Acquired Jason Schmidt and John Vanderwal for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios (2001)

Sabean has never been a stranger to making a bold move, and the Giants' slight lead over the Dodgers is as good of a reason as any to go for it. The Giants have Marco Scutaro on the way back, so they might pass on second-base solutions. Sabean seems more likely to pursue an upgrade in the rotation. It's not clear that the Giants have the prospect ammunition to net the big dogs, however.

Seattle Mariners
General manager: Jack Zduriencik
Record: 43-38
Playoff probability: 37%
GM's best deadline deal (as a buyer): Acquired Ian Snell and Jack Wilson for Nathan Adcock, Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Brett Lorin, and Aaron Pribanic (2009)

The expectation is the Mariners, who might or might not have chased David Price during the winter, will look for help in the lineup and rotation. Zduriencik should have his sights set on an outfielder, at minimum, given the M's lackluster production. Nick Franklin's name is going to come up, though there's no telling anymore what his value is around the league or within the Seattle front office.

Toronto Blue Jays
General manager: Alex Anthopoulos
Record: 45-38
Playoff probability: 57.7%
GM's best deadline deal (as a buyer): Acquired Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes for Alex Gonzalez, Tim Collins, and Tyler Pastornicky (2010)

After missing on Ervin Santana (and the rest of the free-agent pitching class) during the offseason, expect Anthopoulos to find an arm at the deadline. Toronto could also look to upgrade at the keystone, where they've dealt with injuries and poor performance. The question then is how Anthopoulos will acquire these upgrades. His farm system's strength is in the lower minors, which means Aaron Sanchez is the club's top trade chit in more than one way.

The Players

The 10 players most likely to pop up in rumors, along with Randy the Random Number Generator's predictions (limited to teams with better than 15 percent playoff odds).

David Price
Position: LHP
Team: Rays
DOB: 8/26/1985 (28)
Contract status: Under team control through 2015
Remaining cost: ~$7 million plus arbitration costs
Observations: Price survived an offseason chock full of rumors, but it would appear his time in St. Petersburg is near its end. His game is, as evidenced by a gaudy strikeout-to-walk ratio, all about command and control. Price attacks hitters with a four-pitch mix, led by a low-to-mid-90s fastball that he'll cut and sink. Despite a stay on the DL last season, his durability has been of little concern in 2014, with his average outing lasting longer than seven innings. Price has had issues with the long ball thus far, which has kept his ERA higher than he would like it to be. Should he shake the home-run bug, then there's no questioning his status as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter. Barring an injury, Price ought to receive the qualifying offer next winter.
Prediction: Dodgers. L.A. has the money to keep Price and the prospects to entice Friedman.
Randy's prediction: Nationals

***

Jeff Samardzija
Position: RHP
Team: Cubs
DOB: 1/23/1985 (29)
Contract status: Under team control through 2015
Remaining cost: ~$2.17 million plus arbitration costs.
Observations: Physical, with a power arsenal and strike-throwing tendencies, Samardzija's best stretches leave no doubt that he is a well-above-average starter. Alas, bouts of inconsistency have caused many to question his reliability. Whatever your take, Samardzija is an intriguing pitcher. Everything in his arsenal works off his mid-90s fastball that he cuts, sinks, and splits; there's also a slider in there. The Cubs have tried to extend him on multiple occasions, with the legitimacy of their latest attempt coming under scrutiny. Look for the Cubs to shop Samardzija as the cheaper (albeit lesser) alternative to Price, and the one who should be available to AL East talks that might otherwise be excluded from the Price talks. He has bad hair.
Prediction: Blue Jays. Samardzija gives Toronto another quality arm for their playoff push.
Randy's prediction: Yankees

***

Ben Zobrist
Position: 2B/OF/SS
Team: Rays
DOB: 5/26/1981 (33)
Contract status: Club option for 2015
Remaining cost: ~$11 million (with the option)
Observations: Although there's no indication that the Rays will go into a serious rebuild, if they do, then expect the league's buyers to line up for a shot at Zobrist. At the plate, Zobrist still walks and puts the bat on the ball. His power production, which declined last season, has yet to return to form, and his average has slipped as well. When Zobrist reaches base, he remains an intelligent, if not necessarily fast baserunner, who excels at taking the extra base. Defensively, he remains capable of defending most positions on the diamond. For those who value that stuff, Zobrist is also known as a true professional.
Prediction: Rays. Unless a team makes a ridiculous offer, it's doubtful Friedman moves Zobrist.
Randy's prediction: Dodgers

***

Seth Smith
Position: OF
Team: Padres
DOB: 9/30/1982 (31)Contract status: Free agent at season's end
Remaining cost: ~$2.25 million
Observations: Smith, acquired in the Luke Gregerson trade, is one of the few Padres to play better than expected. Everything starts with his disciplined approach. From there, he's able to turn his feel for hitting and raw strength into quality averages and slugging percentages. Smith is a smart hitter, who knows when to sell out and when to shorten up, which is part of the reason he's been able to walk and thump so much without striking out a ton. He'll need to be platooned, and those who buy into the protection theory will expect his walk rate to decline in a better lineup, but he can help many lineups.
Prediction: Mariners. Smith helps fix one of the M's weaknesses.
Randy's prediction: Nationals

***

Chase Headley
Position: 3B
Team: Padres
DOB: 5/9/1984 (30)
Contract status: Free agent at season's end
Remaining cost: ~$5.26 million
Observations: A year and a half ago, it would've been inconceivable that the Padres would need to trade Headley in order to guarantee a return. Now, it's unclear that they could give him the qualifying offer without him accepting it on the spot. Headley's overall numbers have suffered this season, but he still does some things well, like commanding the strike zone. A move away from Petco Park would almost certainly help his power production, and you wonder if a team will buy low with that possiblity in mind.
Prediction: Yankees. Headley would allow the Yankees to move Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson to second base.
Randy's prediction: Brewers

***

Daniel Murphy
Position: 2B
Team: Mets
DOB: 4/1/1985 (29)
Contract status: Under team control through 2015
Remaining cost: ~$2.85 million plus arbitration costs
Observations: A nominal second baseman, Murphy's value is gleaned from his bat. He's a quality contact hitter, blessed with a line-drive swing and a knack for doubles. After much offseason chatter, Murphy has improved his walk rate, though his swing and chase rates have remained mostly static. The biggest negative, beyond defense that is, in Murphy's game is that he struggles against left-handed pitching. Nonetheless, there aren't many second baseman available with this kind of bat, so expect him to catch the attention of a few teams eager for more offense.
Prediction: Orioles. Dan Duquette's interest in Murphy dates back through at least last winter.
Randy's prediction: Tigers

***

Huston Street
Position: RHP
Team: Padres
DOB: 8/2/1983 (30)
Contract status: Signed through 2014 with a club option for 2015
Remaining cost: ~$10 million (with the option)
Observations: There figures to be no more proven closer on the market than Street, who has notched at least 15 saves in each season since 2005. Street doesn't look like a closer on the mound or on the display of a radar gun. His fastball tops out in the low-90s, leaving him to rely on his command and secondary pitches. Durability has always been an issue, and there are no guarantees Street won't get hurt again, perhaps after being traded. A team in need will no doubt take that chance if the cost is right.
Prediction: Angels. Assuming the Jason Grilli trade isn't a fix-all, Jerry Dipoto could use a reliable ninth-inning option.
Randy's prediction: Athletics

***

Joaquin Benoit

Position: RHP

Team: Padres

DOB: 7/26/1977 (36)

Contract status: Signed through 2015 with a club/vesting option for 2016

Remaining cost: ~$12.5 million (with buyout) or $19 million (with option)

Observations: Benoit remains the same quantity he was when he signed over the winter. Long story short: though he has the stuff to close—he pairs a mid-90s fastball with a nasty splitter and slider—over the last four years he has carved out a career as one of the league's top set-up men. The deciding factor for whether Benoit gets moved might be whether a team is willing to take on the remaining money in his contract.

Prediction: Brewers. Benoit shores up the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez.

Randy's prediction: Royals

***

Brandon McCarthy
Position: RHP
Team: Diamondbacks
DOB: 7/7/1983 (30)
Contract status: Free agent at season's end
Remaining cost: ~$5.12 million
Observations: As poor as McCarthy's mainstream statistics are, there's still reason to think he's a capable starter. One of those reasons is a new look on the mound. The story has it that McCarthy gained velocity thanks to offseason training. Whereas he used to be a sinker-cutter-curveball pitcher, these days he's traded some of his cutters for four-seam fastballs. McCarthy loves to double up on his curveball, which he uses to steal strikes and change eye levels, and the pitch helps one of the new parts in his game—the high two-strike fastball—play quicker than it is. McCarthy's remaining cost could cause Arizona to eat some money in order to get a sweeter return.
Prediction: Pirates. McCarthy would give the Pirates back-end a boost.
Randy's prediction: Pirates

***

Jason Hammel
Position: RHP
Team: Cubs
DOB: 9/2/1982 (31)
Contract status: Free agent at season's end
Remaining cost: ~$3 million
Observations: Hammel, likely the latest one-year deal for the Cubs to pay dividends at the deadline, entered the season pegged as a no. 4 starter. He's since pitched well beyond expectations, however, and there are some tangible reasons to think he might be better than thought. Hammel has improved his slider and altered his pitch selection, making that pitch a bigger part of his gameplan in exchange for fewer curves and changeups. Interested teams should be concerned about his durability, as he's never topped 180 innings in a season.
Prediction: Mariners. Seattle gets its rotation upgrade without giving up a ton.
Randy's prediction: Reds

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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