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July 30, 2014

The Lineup Card

Nine Last-Minute Trades

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Reds acquire Adam Dunn from White Sox for Brayan Pena and a prospect
Joey Votto’s potential to return this year is a giant pitch-taking question mark, and Cincinnati sorely needs an offensive jolt if they've got a playoff push left in them. Heaven love Brayan Peña, but he can't bandage the position forever. So how about this: Should they know Votto is done for 2014, Dunn's tumultuous time in Chicago could end with a simple transaction that returns him to his initial team for, I don't know, Peña and a prospect? I'm not sure what the White Sox would demand in exchange for two months of salary-dumping Adam Dunn, but perhaps not much since it would mean they enjoy two months without Adam Dunn. —Matt Sussman

2. Padres acquire Ryan Howard from Phillies
Last week, there was news fluttering around that the Philadelphia Phillies were looking to trade Ryan Howard. Follow-up stories suggested that the reason was that the Phillies could potentially release the 2006 NL MVP (GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. denied these), thereby eating most of the $68 million or so still owed to him. Howard, who is scheduled to make $25 million in both 2015 and 2016 (and has a 2017 team option for $23 million... anyone? anyone?... or a $10 million buy-out) is 34, is a designated first baseman, has well-documented struggles against lefties, and while he still has some power left, he doesn't provide much other value. Basically, he's Lyle Overbay with an endorsement deal for Subway.

If Ryan Howard were a free agent, he would still draw some interest. Overbay himself nabbed a one year, $1.5 million deal last winter with the Brewers. Suppose that the Phillies were sincere about trading Ryan Howard or releasing him if they aren't able to trade him and the asking price was just some pleasant, but hopeless-case org guy who grew up near Philadelphia and who always wanted to say he was in the Phillies organization. The Phillies could essentially run a free-agent bidding war for Howard mid-season with a contract term capped at two-and-a-half years. For example, a team who was interested in Howard for the stretch run might say that on the open-market, they might sign Howard to a 1.5-year deal for $3 million. The Phillies would then eat (fresh!) the remaining portion of Howard's already extant contract. The Phillies, if they are acting rationally, would take the offer that saved them the most money. Fans would cry foul, because fans do not often understand the phrase "sunk cost."

But then I went looking for a landing place for Ryan Howard. Most of the contenders out there already have a good first baseman (or at least one who brings more value than Howard). Milwaukee could probably use a good left-handed platoon partner for regular first baseman Mark Reynolds, but... well, they already have Lyle Overbay. The Mariners are eternally waiting on Justin Smoak (who is back in Triple-A) and have installed Logan Morrison at first, but they also just traded for Kendrys Morales. Maybe a landing spot like San Diego would work, where Howard would represent an upgrade(!!!) over Yonder Alonso and could be a low-cost way for the Padres brass to convince their fans that they are doing something (look at the RBIs!) about the offense. If it doesn't work out, the financial commitment could be low enough that management doesn't feel bad about releasing him when it is convenient. —Russell A. Carleton

3. Braves acquire Wesley Wright from Cubs for a marginal prospect
Although Jonny Venters is working his way back to health, the only lefty in the Braves bullpen these days is Chasen Shreve. As a result, Frank Wren figures to add a veteran southpaw between now and the deadline. Wright, who changed teams last season as well, figures to come cheaper than teammate James Russell, and would provide the Braves with a historically strong lefty-on-lefty weapon. As for the prospect, odds are it wouldn't be someone the Braves would miss. —R.J. Anderson

4. Blue Jays acquire Asdrubal Cabrera from Indians for prospects
This trade might seem weird superficially, because the Jays and Indians are contending for one postseason spot. Neither club is likely to chase down the second-place finisher in the American League West, and while the Jays currently hold the second wild-card berth, four teams—including the Tribe, as of this writing—are within four games of bumping them out.

Nonetheless, if the return is right, it might not be a bad idea for Indians general manager Chris Antonetti to help his counterpart in Toronto upgrade at second base. You might point out that the Jays just scored 14 runs with Munenori Kawasaki hitting sixth and Ryan Goins manning the keystone, and that Brett Lawrie is expected to come off the disabled list soon, but that's just extra incentive for Alex Anthopoulos to patch a glaring hole as his club gets healthy for the stretch run.

The Indians have a luxury that the Jays don't: A good middle infielder near the top of the minor league chain. Francisco Lindor has long been ready with the glove, and he's hitting .370 since a recent promotion to Triple-A Columbus. The defensive upgrade alone should hide any downtick at the plate for Cleveland, and while Cabrera isn't lighting the world on fire with a .249 True Average, he would still represent an improvement for Toronto. The Indians are in no rush to bring Lindor to The Show, as Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote wrote on Sunday, but a trade exporting Cabrera could put him on the cusp of a promotion, with only Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez in his way. —Daniel Rathman

5. Tigers acquire Stephen Drew and Andrew Miller from the Red Sox
The Detroit Tigers are currently 57-45 with a five-game lead over the Royals for the AL Central crown. They have a 90.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to our own odds, and they have the type of balanced lineup and star power on the mound to make a deep run once they get there.

But while the Tigers do a lot of things well, they do not have a very good bullpen. In fact, their 4.33 bullpen ERA is the fifth-worst in baseball, and it’s four-10ths of a run worse than that of the next-worst team, the Phillies. Joba Chamberlain has been quite good, Al Alburquerque has been ok and the team recently traded for Joakim Soria, so there’s some reason for optimism. But Joe Nathan’s performance can best be summed up by this visual approximation, and the only southpaw options in Detroit’s bullpen are Phil Coke, Ian Krol, and Blaine Hardy.

Adding Miller, a former Tiger, back into the fray would give the Tigers a pretty ferocious three-headed monster at the back of their bullpen, and would allow Detroit to neutralize left-handed power hitters come October. Lefties are hitting just .153/.210/.224 against Miller this year, and he has been dominant against right-handers, too.

Drew, meanwhile, gives the Tigers a plus defensive shortstop who’s still probably an above-average hitter (when you adjust for position) against right-handers. He can platoon with Eugenio Suarez, or may eventually come to supplant him if Detroit values his postseason experience.

Acquiring a left-handed setup man and a platoon middle infielder may not be flashy, but it’s the type of peripheral move that could pay massive dividends once the Tigers reach the postseason. —Ben Carsley

6. Cardinals acquire Dan Haren from Dodgers for a marginal prospect
Over nine-and-a-half years ago, the Cardinals traded away a potential rotation stalwart with 118 2/3 major league innings to his name along with future hitting stud and on-base machine Daric Barton (don't laugh that's true) for Mark Mulder, who was coming off two straight All-Star nods and 19.0 bWAR in his first four full major league seasons. Well, this trade didn't work out so well for the Cardinals, as Mulder was below replacement level during the remainder of his time with the Cardinals--which ended prematurely due a shoulder injury that led to two separate surgeries. Meanwhile, Dan Haren turned into frontline starter for the Athletics and eventually the Diamondbacks. Well, the Cardinals may have the opportunity to bring the player they drafted way back in 2001 back into the organization to fill a growing need in the rotation.

We all know at this point that the Dodgers are rumored to be getting a high-end starting pitcher at the deadline, and the two names most closely associated with them are Jon Lester and Cole Hamels. What do they both have in common, besides being left-handed? They're both significantly better than Dan Haren (and his 4.49 ERA) right now. Unfortunately, the Cardinals don't have this problem. With Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia both sidelined indefinitely, the Cardinals are running with a four-man rotation at the moment, as Carlos Martinez has been sent back to the bullpen. Haren could be a nice alternative to using Tyler Lyons or Marco Gonzales down the stretch, if they can't make a deal for one of the big starters themselves. Plus, he'd be a reliable (but not great) option to start the hump game in a seven-game series during the playoffs. What the Cardinals don't have in available cash, they do have in farm system depth--and when your trading partner is the Dodgers, we know that money is of no object. The payroll flexibility would have a significant effect on the quality of prospect involved here, but either way the talent portion of a trade like this wouldn't be prohibitive. Plus, aesthetically, it's always nice to see a player go back to the organization that drafted and developed him. —Bret Sayre

7. Dodgers acquire Koji Uehara from the Red Sox
It's just a hypothesis, but I posit that the worst way to lose, from a PR perspective, is with a bad bullpen. Loss by bullpen is spectacularly dispiriting, and once it becomes pattern it starts to suck the joy out of the first six innings of every game, too. Bullpens are so easy to put together; every dumb GM seems capable of putting together a killer one on the cheap, and every year about half of them do. So if you've got a $200 million payroll and your bullpen is one of the three worst in the league, people don't look at you as the victim of the reliever roulette wheel; they look at you look like a guy who spent all his money on a mansion but can't bother to mow his lawn.

The Dodgers entered the year with one, two, three... four... five... no, four guys who were closers in 2013; $28 million worth of bullpen, more than half of the Astros' total payroll. That's no guarantee of anything, but it looked like a great bullpen, dominant at the back with strong specialists and a couple upsidery reclamation projects. We gave them a nickname on the podcast: Blue Shield of California. It was a good nickname for a unit that never actually came together. Of the eight relievers who have thrown at least 10 innings, only three have struck out a batter per innings (the Diamondbacks have seven) and only one has struck out even two and a quarter batters per walk (six teams, including three in the division, have seven). It's so bad that Brian Wilson (5.23 ERA, 4.57 FIP) is still pitching eighth innings in high leverage. They suck. They could use Koji Uehara. They could use anybody, but Uehara in particular provides a nice little bit of symmetry:

  • Clayton Kershaw: 11.3 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 1.76 ERA, .81 WHIP
  • Koji Uehara: 11.9 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, 1.55 ERA, .76 WHIP

It'd be awfully fun to see one relieve the other. As unpredictable as the game is, that combination is the closest you can get to two wins in the bank before a series starts. So trade for him, Ned. Trade every single prospect in the system for him. Burn the whole thing down just to get Uehara. Do it. DO IT. Sam Miller

8. Athletics acquire Nick Franklin from Mariners for Josh Reddick, Tommy Milone, and Dillon Overton
I know what you’re thinking: With Jackie Z (alias “Ruben Amaro West”) approaching the trade market like a video game with the “Fair Trades” setting switched off, this deal is unlikely to get done. But with the Mariners stuck somewhere between contending and playing for next year, a swap like this could push them into the thick of the wild card race while also satisfying concerns about the future.

Franklin makes obvious sense at the keystone for the A’s, filling an offensive void that’s plagued them for years. He’s mashing Triple-A pitching to the tune of .300/.395/.465, numbers that look Herculean when compared to those of Eric Sogard and Nick Punto, the A’s current second base platoon. Considering the haul they gave up in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade, the A’s are hell-bent on a 2014 title; this is just the offensive boost they need to put them over the top.

The Mariners are a trickier equation to solve. They need help almost everywhere: first base, the outfield, the rotation, and the ‘pen. They also don’t want that help if it means mortgaging the farm. The combination of Milone, Reddick, and Overton is the perfect median between these two mandates.

Milone bolsters a back of a rotation that has been pedestrian this season, and would otherwise call on promising but unproven rookies Taijuan Walker and James Paxton for reinforcements. He’s also stuck behind a bevy of A’s jockeying for a back-of-the-rotation spot, so Seattle won’t have to twist Billy Beane’s arm on this front.

Reddick is a fan favorite in Oakland, but his actual on-field value has fallen off a cliff in the last few seasons. Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld could conceivably exceed what Reddick would produce over the remainder of the season (although Gentry’s trip to the DL makes that math a bit dicier). Despite his mediocre play, Reddick’s offensive numbers would instantly make him Seattle’s second-best outfielder behind Michael Saunders. (Remember, this is a team that’s let Endy Chavez see the field 45 times this season. Anything helps.)

Overton underwent Tommy John surgery last year and hasn’t pitched yet this season, constituting a big gamble at an already risky position. During last year’s draft, though, he was touted as an eventual middle-of-the-rotation starter with a polished fastball-changeup-slider mix. He also signed a bonus that rates as significantly under his draft slot due to the injury, meaning the Mariners would pick up a future piece for dirt cheap. Oakland might balk at parting ways with their medium-upside steal, but World Series titles don’t come without sacrifices. —Nick Bacarella

9. Yankees acquire Justin Masterson from Indians
There’s a logjam in the AL East that looks like it won’t be sorting itself out anytime soon. The Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays all have legitimate shots at postseason play, and the Rays are teasing at making a run for the playoffs. The common thread between three of those teams (excluding the Rays) is the need for starting pitching. Each team is dealing with issues in the rotation and all three would benefit from whatever boost the struggling Masterson could return. If I were to pick one team that I would love to see make a move for Masterson as a pure rental this season, it would be the Yankees.

Masterson has struggled this year. He’s posting a 5.51 ERA and a 12.4 percent walk rate. He’s currently on the disabled list with a knee injury that may have been nagging him all year. He’s due to come off soon and could start as soon as Friday. The Yankees are unlikely to land an impact starter in the Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, David Price class. They don’t have the equity to make such a move. Masterson can be had at a discount, however as the Indians are both eager to move him and he will be a free agent at years end. There’s pressure on the Yankees to make the playoffs every year, that’s what comes with the territory. Making a trade for Masterson is the type of move that could pay off much like Brandon McCarthy’s acquisition already has for New York. I believe Masterson can still be an impact pitcher, and this would be a solid get for the Yankees. —Mauricio Rubio

Related Content:  Trade Deadline,  MLB Trades

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