July 2, 2015
Painting the Black
#HugWatch2015: The Huggees
Last week we looked at the sellers and who they could place on the market. This week let's examine and rank the top 10 trade targets, as well as guess at where they could be headed.
A few notes: Players perceived as more likely to be traded during the offseason (e.g. Cole Hamels and Troy Tulowitzki) were not included in the process. Randy's predictions were formed using a random number generator and assigning numbers to each team with a greater than 15 percent shot at making the postseason. Its projections are (obviously) void of reason. Lastly, players are discussed in descending order of their expected value.
Observations: Undoubtedly the top hitter available, Upton is a well-rounded offensive dynamo. He maintains a solid average, walks, hits for power, and has succeeded on all 15 of his stolen base attempts while also taking the extra base nearly 50 percent of the time. He even keeps his strikeout rate in check despite swinging and missing a lot. The only thing left to ponder about Upton is whether the Padres will move him at the deadline or keep him, chase their slimming playoff odds, and recoup a draft pick when he walks in the winter. No one ever made a fortune predicting what A.J. Preller would do.
Prediction: Orioles. It's a long shot—Dan Duquette hasn't made a move quite this big and might be better served focusing on pitching—but Upton's market and the Padres' inclinations seem undefined.
Observations: The questions surrounding Cueto don't involve his talent or production—he's a front-of-the-rotation starter with a deep understanding of the craft—but rather his wellness. He recently skipped a start for the sake of additional rest, which is a concerning development this close to the deadline. Neither Cueto nor the Reds showed anxiety about his health in his first start back, as he allowed two runs over six innings while throwing 112 pitches. Of course, other teams will have reservations about giving up top-end talent for a rental who may or may not make his full allotment of starts. As such, any decision to add Cueto could ultimately hinge on the judgment of a doctor rather than a GM.
Prediction: Rangers. They've been tied to Cole Hamels, but Cueto would come cheaper and his pending free agency is a plus if Jon Daniels is unsure about making a long-term commitment.
Observations: A trip to the disabled list earlier in the season ended Zobrist's quest of playing in 140-plus games for a seventh consecutive year. But while durability has been a plus in Zobrist's game, his most marketable attributes were always his positional maneuverability and above-average offensive production. Zobrist has slowed over the last few years (who hasn't?), but he remains a capable hitter. His patient, disciplined approach is intact (he's never walked in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances during a full season), and his power has ticked upward in 2015, making him more well-rounded than in recent campaigns. Zobrist won't offer the same value he used to in the field and on the basepaths, but he'll do enough to serve as an everyday starter at second or in left.
Prediction: Royals. Zobrist would serve two purposes in Kansas City: 1) allowing Ned Yost more lineup options without requiring the Royals to diverge from a three-man bench and/or 2) replacing Omar Infante at second base.
Observations: No longer dependent on a fastball-slider combination, Kazmir features a deeper arsenal than his younger self could have imagined. He is still fastball-centric, of course, but these days he mixes in a cutter, a slow changeup (it comes in about 15 ticks below his heat), and an occasional breaking ball. One relic of days past is a modest innings-per-start rate, which could finish at or above six for the first time since 2007. A team acquiring Kazmir isn't doing so with visions of him pitching deep into ballgames; rather, it is doing so to get the five or six good innings he can provide before bailing. Health concerns about Kazmir will endure for as long as he does, due to his size and history, but he hasn't spent time on the DL since his return. At some point it's safe to remove the red flag.
Prediction: Astros. They were reportedly in on Kazmir during his last tour of the open market, and the fit continues to makes sense. For one, Kazmir gives Houston another veteran starter to rely upon; for another, their bullpen can cover for Kazmir's shorter outings; for a third, bringing in a native son for a playoff push is easy copy. See? Everyone wins.
Observations: Papelbon is outspoken and often bombastic, and is almost certain to finish 21 more games, thereby causing his option to vest. Yet every team with a bullpen need should inquire about his services. That's because he continues to be one of the best relievers in baseball, someone who misses a ton of bats while throwing pitch after pitch in the strike zone. He's so good that he leaves you wondering if his vesting option should be feared. After all, there are worse fates than having a top reliever locked in on a one-year deal worth less than the qualifying offer. For instance: having a bad bullpen.
Prediction: Blue Jays. You can attach Toronto's name to every available reliever. Same with Detroit.
Observations: Ugly ERA aside, there are reasons for optimism with Samardzija that go beyond his track record. For starters, his peripherals remain strong and his quality-start rate is near his career norm (60 percent). Additionally, he's pitched deep into most games despite tossing in front of the worst defense in baseball. Factor in that Samardzija's power stuff remains intact, plus that he's pitched better as of late, and there's enough here to think the best part of his season lies ahead. Whoever acquires Samardzija sure hopes so.
Prediction: Cubs. In addition to a familiar face, Samardzija would give the Chicago rotation a boost.
Observations: Known for his defensive genius, Parra is authoring a surprisingly good season at the plate, and not due only to an inflated batting average on balls in play, either. Rather Parra has increased his power output; his .156 ISO would represent a new single-season career high. One thing Parra hasn't changed is his swing-happy approach. He remains more than willing to expand his strike zone, leading to a suboptimal walk rate and shaky contact. That tendency and his historically poor numbers versus southpaws represent the lows of his offensive game. Still, Parra ought to continue to hit and field enough to serve as a versatile platoon outfielder.
Prediction: Blue Jays. Parra would give John Gibbons a more proven and reliable option than Kevin Pillar and Ezequiel Carrera to insert into his most-days lineup, plus another argument against rushing Dalton Pompey back to the majors. The Giants—now sans Hunter Pence and Nori Aoki—would make sense, too.
Observations: Leake is your traditional back-end starter: safe, reliable, boring. He doesn't miss bats or notch impressive strikeout totals with his deep arsenal, but he does live in the zone and generate north of 50 percent groundballs. What's more is Leake has averaged more than six innings per start in each of his big-league seasons, and has recorded a quality start in more than 60 percent of his attempts dating back through 2014. He might not be the best pitcher on the market—even among available Reds—yet he can slot into most rotations and provide quality innings every fifth day without issue.
Prediction: Pirates. Presuming the Reds would trade Leake within the division, he gives the Pirates another underrated groundballer to plug into their rotation.
Observations: Harang is the safest bet to change teams before the deadline. He is the antithesis of the ideal starting pitcher: he doesn't throw hard, miss bats, or generate tons of groundballs. Harang succeeds by altering speeds and locating with a deep arsenal; he leans heaviest on his fastballs, slider, and changeup. His modest projections, age, and unusual means of success won't excite whichever fan base he calls his own next, but he's a fine addition to the back of any playoff rotation.
Prediction: Dodgers. Expect Farhan Zaidi to shop around for back-of-the-rotation help. Harang fits as well as anyone else.
Observations: The most popular relief workhorse in the game, Clippard and his elastic arm have been tested in a different way by the Athletics. Whereas he recorded more than three outs just four times in his previous three seasons, he's already done so five times in 2015. Such heavy usage—prior to and including this season—is certain to give teams pause, especially given his worsened walk and strikeout rates. Still, there are two pieces of good news to consider. The first is obvious: Grabbing Clippard at the deadline requires no long-term obligation, lessening the odds of a total collapse. The second is he's issued one walk in June, suggesting his control might be on the rebound. Perhaps that's wish-casting, but expect some team to grab Clippard in their hunt for late-inning help.
Prediction: Blue Jays. You can [still] attach Toronto's name to every available reliever. Same [still] with Detroit.