June 25, 2015
Painting the Black
With the trade deadline just five weeks away, it's time to preview the forthcoming dealings. To do so, let's take a look at the plausible sellers—defined here as the nine teams that entered the week with a losing record and less than a 10 percent chance at cracking the postseason—their perceived strategy and which players they could and could not put on the market. (The teams are ordered alphabetically.)
General manager: Dave Stewart
Most notable recent deadline deal: This is Stewart's first deadline as GM.
Likelihood of selling: High. During his brief time in charge, Stewart has made numerous bold, albeit unpopular, moves. As such there's no reason to think he'll shy way from doing something at the deadline. Nonetheless the past week has proved Stewart intends to win sooner than later, so he's unlikely to deal any of his long-term assets.
Most likely to go: Quality late-inning relievers are always in demand, and Brad Ziegler's shiny ERA and affordable $6.5 million club option for 2016 are certain to appeal to most contenders. Oddly, there's also an argument that Stewart ought to trade Ziegler now, one that hinges on his declined strikeout rate, advanced age, and modest value to a noncompetitive team. Presuming Stewart isn't thinking about a 2016 postseason berth—and hey, who knows—Ziegler will probably find himself on the move at the deadline for the second time in his career.
On nobody's wish list: Aaron Hill no longer fits on the Diamondbacks' roster or budget. Unfortunately for Stewart, that's true of Hill's standing these days with most teams. He is due what remains on his $12 million salary this season, as well as an additional $12 million in 2016, a hefty price for a second baseman with a slowed bat and reduced offensive production. Stewart showed in the Bronson Arroyo trade that he's willing to include a prospect if it means dumping a bad contract; a similar deal is the only way Hill gets moved off the books.
Tabled until the winter: The Diamondbacks have numerous starting pitching prospects nearing the majors, meaning parts of their rotation will be available and/or shifted to the bullpen. Barring some aggressive promotions, most of Stewart's pitching-centered talks will occur during the offseason.
August movers: Perhaps more than any other seller, the Diamondbacks figure to be busier after the deadline passes. Both utility infielder Cliff Pennington and left-handed reliever Oliver Perez are impending free agents having poor seasons, yet either or both could draw interest from a contender looking for a cheap fix on the bench or in the bullpen.
General manager: Rick Hahn
Likelihood of selling: Low. Hahn spent the winter assembling what he hoped would be a competitive team, the majority of which is under contract or team control for additional seasons. Obviously Hahn's best-laid plans have gone awry, with the White Sox sitting in last place, but a smaller move or two seems more likely than a total dismantling.
Most likely to go: Jeff Samardzija fits the template of this deadline's available player: He's a pending free agent who won't get the qualifying offer and who hopes to finish the season stronger than he started. Interested teams are those looking at Samardzija's track record and component measures and ascribing his poor ERA in 2015 to a few bad starts, a narrative supported by his near–60 percent quality-start rate, suggesting that when he's been bad he's been bad. Add in how Samardzija shouldn't require an Addison Russell–level prospect in return this time and Hahn ought to have enough plausible suitors to facilitate a trade.
On everyone's wish list: The most desirable White Sox players won't be available, meaning the closest thing to a dreamboat among the players Hahn shops around is ... uh, Adam LaRoche?
Tabled until the winter: Dreams of an all-Chicago World Series.
August movers: The White Sox might not be active in July, but they may make a few smaller deals in August. Geovany Soto would fit as some contender's backup catcher, while utilityman Emilio Bonifacio's speed and defensive maneuverability could be enough for teams to overlook his horrid numbers.
General manager: Walt Jocketty
Likelihood of selling: High. Jocketty showed during the offseason he's not afraid to trade veterans for youth. He figures to do more of the same in the coming weeks. He doesn't have to clear house to make this a successful deadline, either; a few smart trades would go a long way to better positioning the Reds for the future.
Most likely to go: Mike Leake is a safe, dependable back-of-the-rotation starter with enough service time to qualify for free agency at season's end; in other words, he's almost certain to be traded. Because Leake doesn't miss bats, relying instead upon weak contact, his best fits are clubs with good defenses, especially on the infield.
On everyone's wish list: A healthy Johnny Cueto is one of the game's best starters. Alas, Cueto's injury history is long and continues to grow; even now he's having his start skipped in the name of additional rest. The intrigue here is how teams, including the Reds, approach Cueto and his durability. Would Jocketty dare keep him through the remainder of the season and risk him breaking down before he can reject the qualifying offer? Conversely, will other teams offer top value in return, or will the Reds be forced into an unenviable situation? Somehow, this might not be Jocketty's toughest call.
Tabled until the winter: Rather, that title goes to the Aroldis Chapman situation. Jocketty won't feel the same urgency to trade Chapman, a free agent after 2016, that he will with Cueto or Leake, but that doesn't mean he can ignore the possibility of doing so. Just how much value does a closer—albeit arguably the best in the game—have to a team that might not compete until after he reaches free agency? Jocketty might wait until the winter to provide an answer.
August movers: When hearty and hale, Manny Parra has showed he can be a useful reliever. He's a free agent in a few months, so he could be on the move unless the Reds want him back for a fourth season. Marlon Byrd's vesting option complicates matters, or else he could be moved to a contender.
General manager: Jeff Bridich
Most notable recent deadline deal: This is Bridich's first deadline as GM.
Likelihood of selling: Indeterminable. The Rockies have seldom operated as expected the past few years, passing on a mass rebuild despite four consecutive losing seasons. Bridich is believed to be a more progressive thinker than his predecessors, yet it's possible ownership is behind the organization's indirection and disallows him from approaching the deadline with a seller's mindset.
Most likely to go: If the Rockies do sell, then closer John Axford should garner interest. Axford's personal trauma and sparse appearances have obscured his heretofore successful return to the ninth inning. He is throwing more strikes than in 2014 and has generated a would-be career-best groundball percentage thanks to a renewed emphasis on pitching down in the zone, a development that has helped him survive in Coors Field. Here's the tricky part: One aspect about Axford that makes him appealing to buyers, his team control lasting through the 2016 season, could tempt the Rockies to keep him around until next deadline.
On everyone's wish list: Troy Tulowitzki is owed at least $98 million through the 2020 season and has a shaky medical history. Add in how the Rockies are certain to ask for a lot in return, and there are legitimate reasons to believe a trade isn't happening in-season, if at all. Still, suitors are guaranteed any time a player with a claim to the title of “best shortstop in baseball" is made available; as such, expect more rumors and speculation until something (or nothing) happens.
Tabled until the winter: Carlos Gonzalez has played better recently, but since 2013 has compiled nearly 500 plate appearances of well-below-average production. While Gonzalez's youth and track record suggest he'll be okay heading forward, the concern here is whether the Rockies could get fair market value in return for him at present—especially since he's owed $37 million over the next two seasons. Bridich's best play might be holding onto Gonzalez until the offseason, thereby allowing his talented outfielder another half-season to prove he's fine.
August movers: In addition to the big names, the Rockies could deal a few role-player types during the waiver trade period. Outfielder Drew Stubbs is a slam-dunk nontender candidate whose defense may appeal to a contender. Wilin Rosario's future with the Rockies is unclear, though his past success, relative youth, and ability to hit left-handed pitching might interest teams in need of a bench bat.
Likelihood of selling: Low. The Marlins, like the White Sox, spent the offseason piecing together a team that could compete for the Wild Card. Instead everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, leaving the Fish far from their desired water. It's possible ownership mandates a payroll trim, but barring that, another Miami fire sale seems unlikely at this time.
Most likely to go: One of those offseason additions, Mat Latos, is likely to change addresses again in the coming weeks. Teams contemplating Latos will focus on his component measures—his FIP, bat-missing ability, and so on—that hint improvement could come soon. Of course, it's worth noting that Latos has a substandard DRA and is averaging just five innings per start. The lesson? Teams can and will rationalize anything if the price is right.
On everyone's wish list: Dan Haren is having one of his typical seasons—good strikeout-to-walk rate, tons of home runs allowed, etc.—but it's unclear whether he'll be made available. Recall that Haren (or someone around him) suggested during the winter he would retire if the Marlins didn't trade him to a California-based team. Though Haren didn't go through on the threat, you wonder if the Marlins will reward his cooperation by trading him only to the Angels or Dodgers.
Tabled until the winter: A decision on whether Jennings will return for another season as manager.
August movers: Jeff Baker is a few months from free agency, but could help a contender as a bench or platoon bat. You'd like to see Ichiro experience another playoff race, yet his performance and the second year on his contract will prevent that. The Marlins have a few intriguing relievers who could get moved too, depending on what the asking price is for Mike Dunn and Steve Cishek.
General manager: Doug Melvin
Likelihood of selling: High. In a sense, Melvin started the selling process in the spring when he traded Yovani Gallardo. He has plenty of veterans nearing the end of their contracts, so some movement is to be expected from the Brewers before the deadline passes.
Most likely to go: Parra is almost certain to be on the move for the second consecutive deadline. Although he's always been known for his high-quality defense, this season he's putting forth a better offensive effort than usual. Parra still requires a platoon partner against left-handed pitching, but he should be able to step into a contender's lineup most days en route to hitting the open market this winter.
Not on everyone's wish list: The Brewers figure to shop a few of their veterans on expiring contracts hard in the coming month. Aramis Ramirez is nearing retirement and the Brewers recently claimed Matt Dominguez off waivers, hinting at a plausible trade. Meanwhile Melvin has to hope someone sees Kyle Lohse or Jonathan Broxton as this year's Brandon McCarthy, a pitcher with good peripherals and bad surface statistics (in this case due to home runs) who should come cheap. Whether anyone will make that connection, or believe in its validity, is to be determined.
Tabled until the winter: Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy are sure to intrigue teams, but it's unlikely that enough of a market develops for either to get moved in-season. Obviously, that could always change—it only takes one team to make Melvin a can't-refuse offer—but both seem likely to finish the year in Milwaukee.
August movers: Aside from the aforementioned veterans, the Brewers don't have many other pieces to move, even in August. Left-handed reliever Neal Cotts might be the closest thing to a waiver-trade candidate, and he, like Lohse and Broxton, has struggled with the long ball.
General manager: Billy Beane
Likelihood of selling: High. Unless they're low. The odds are obviously against the A's getting back into the race; their 12–8 start to June has still left them double-digit games back in the division and behind most of the American League in the Wild Card race. However, if the A's do continue to chip away, then their role can and will certainly change. For now, the smart money remains on them selling.
Most likely to go: Ben Zobrist's versatility makes him a fit on every team. Due to a stint on the disabled list earlier in the year, this will be the first time since Zobrist became a regular that he won't appear in 140-plus games. Nonetheless, he has done well to atone for that missed time by hitting for more power than he had in recent seasons. In fact, he's already halfway to his 2014 home run total (10) despite having less than a quarter of the at-bats. The only drawbacks to Zobrist are his age and pending free agency; otherwise, what's not to like?
On everyone's wish list: Everyone needs pitching, right? Well, the A's have two good arms to offer teams: starter Scott Kazmir and reliever/closer Tyler Clippard. For teams on a budget, those two represent the best options in the rotation and bullpen.
August movers: The A's don't have any obvious waiver-trade candidates.
General manager: Ruben Amaro Jr.
Likelihood of selling: High. Say what you will about Amaro's public comments and previous team-building efforts, but he's behaved like a traditional seller the past few deadlines. With the Phillies battling for the no. 1 pick in next June's draft, there's no reason to expect a change in approach now.
Most likely to go: Aaron Harang is the most likely player in all of baseball to be traded before the deadline. He's shown last season was no fluke, cementing his status as a legitimate middle-to-back-end starting option. The Phillies received good value on Roberto Hernandez last season. Expect better from Harang.
On everyone's wish list: Jonathan Papelbon is opinionated and has a vesting option worth $13 million that hinges on the number of games he finishes. Still, any team serious about upgrading its bullpen would be wise to check in on Papelbon, who figures to be the best reliever available.
Tabled until the winter: It's always easier to pull off trades for stars during the offseason, when rosters and budgets can be tweaked on the fly without immediate on-the-field repercussions. Cole Hamels falls into this category. From a talent and expected production standpoint, he's the top pitcher available. Yet Hamels is due more than $66 million over the next three seasons and the Phillies are demanding a legitimate return. That combination means Hamels could be held onto until winter. Again.
General manager: A.J. Preller
Most notable recent deadline deal: This is Preller's first deadline as GM.
Likelihood of selling: Indeterminable. The Padres were the most aggressive buyer during the winter, gaining Preller the reputation of an unpredictable, bold, and creative young GM. What direction will Preller take now that all the winter work has failed to translate into spring results? Only Preller knows, though there are good arguments to be made in favor of selling.
Most likely to go: If the Padres do sell then Ian Kennedy and Joaquin Benoit figure to have the highest odds of leaving town. Both are pending free agents on divergent paths to the open market. Whereas Kennedy is having a poor season, highlighted by allowing two home runs per nine innings, Benoit is having what amounts to his typically solid campaign. You can guess which player should bring back more in return.
On everyone's wish list: Should Justin Upton be placed on the block, he would serve as the best hitter, position player, and player available. If that isn't enough leverage for Preller to get a quality return, he could also get a negotiating boost from knowing Upton would reject a qualifying offer.
Tabled until the winter: Preller traded his table last winter.