Ah, the Trade Winds Blow…
June 30, 2014 by Jeff Kallman • Print Story •
Doesn't it seem as though talking trade with David Price as a key conversation piece has become an annual event, at the midseason non-waiver deadline and in the offseason? Whether the Rays could afford to keep him was always a here today/gone tomorrow proposition, anyway, depending upon the team's fortunes, and for 2014 the Rays seem now to have none.
Nobody's willing to predict a trip to this year's postseason. But even if the Rays are preparing to put paid to 2014 and gaze toward 2015 — Price's final season under Rays control before he hits free agency — the Smart Guys think that, this time, they'll listen and move if anything delicious looks to be coming in a deal for the big left-hander.
That could be the X factor. If you take Jayson Stark's word, and his word is about as good as it gets, officials with a pair of contenders who asked not to be named say there isn't all that much for which to trade as 31 July comes into distant view. About the only thing anyone seems willing to predict, including Stark, is that the Rays would sooner replace the cownose ray in the right field tank with a school of piranha than trade Price anywhere else in the American League East.
Speaking of former Cy Young Award winners, Cliff Lee was showing up on a lot of trade watchers' radars until he fell to an elbow injury in mid-May. That injury plus the money still coming to him (the rest of his $25 million salary this season, every penny owned him for 2015, and a $27 million player option for 2016 that vests if Lee makes a certain number of starts, Wall Street Cheat Sheet reminds us), makes for a ticklish scenario involving teams looking for an ace with the Phillies likely not to go very far this season, either.
Cheat Sheet says there may be some teams willing to spend a bit on behalf of gambling on Lee, who's no stranger to returning from adverse conditions, but one notes as Cheat Sheet does: it may depend upon how much the Phillies would be willing to eat. And, considering the Phillies' current and slightly unexpected hot streak, it may also depend on whether a trading partner has the pieces the Phillies might think they need in the event they get to thinking that, maybe, they do have an outside chance in the desiccated National League East.
(How desiccated? Until the infirmary became their near-second home it looked like the Braves would take it no questions asked. But the Nationals are right on their tails, the Marlins are right on the Nationals' tails, and the Phillies' June heat had them just a few feet behind until a current four-game losing streak. and the Mets — the Mets? — were only five and a half out of first at one point mid-month. That's the Mets who might be going into sell mode but wringing their hands trying to figure out just whom among their touchables is actually sellable. Hint: they have pitching to spare that could bring them commodities not often seen in their silks lately — hitters.)
The Cubs would probably prefer to keep Jeff Samardzija dining in Wrigley. But the right-hander spurned a contract extension believed to be for five years at $60 million. Samardzija is pitching in extremely hard luck this season — how else do you describe a fellow with a 1.21 WHIP and a 2.60 ERA, 90 strikeouts, and a measly 29 walks, but a mere 2-9 won-lost record — but he's considered to have an ace's repertoire and a reasonable signing window for any team that deals for him. He could be had, theoretically, for about $18 million a year, assuming his taker is willing to gamble on dealing for a year and a half of him and negotiating long-term with him during that period.
What the Yankees might not necessarily be willing to deal is Dellin Betances. Or might they?
They're talking about Betances in terms once reserved for Mariano Rivera: Betances's job as the Yankee setup man is being spoken of as though it were The Mariano in 1996 all over again, the year before the Hall of Famer in waiting took over the closing job for keeps. The 15.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate is just the opening page. Small wonder Brian Cashman can't keep up with all the calls romancing Betances in a trade, especially since — Masahiro Tanaka aside — the Empire Emeritus needs rotation help desperately.
Samardzija could be one Yankee target. So could Jason Hammel, another Cub, who's having a nice comeback year and looks like a solid number three or number four starter if you don't mind a half-season rental on him. Would the Yankees even think about dangling Betances in a package that brings them Lee? Or would they hold out to get a package that includes a starting pitcher and some infield help?
Which really amounts to whether even the Yankees would be damn fool enough to unload one of the biggest keys to their best feature this season (the bullpen's back end) for a postseason trip. It's not as though such moves are unthinkable in Yankeeworld, but Hal Steinbrenner isn't exactly as hair-trigger as his father was too often.
But Cashman is said to believe they won't succeed this season unless they make an "impact trade" at or around the non-waiver deadline. Several teams — particularly the Angels, who also have a shot at the postseason (they're six games out of first place, behind only the Athletics, in the American League West) — are or will be hunting impact bullpen help, and they have the pieces the injury-riddled Yankees would need for any hope at a 2014 postseason trip.
Put it this way: for all their issues, and we haven't even thought yet of Derek Jeter finally showing his age in his farewell season, this much is true about this year's Yankees — it hasn't kept them from being (at this writing) two games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East. I saw it quoted elsewhere: "It's as if they're congenitally incapable of losing."
Not that the Blue Jays plan to stand pat, seemingly. The skinny as of this writing has them with longing eyes upon the Padres' Chase Headley, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, which cites "multiple baseball sources" affirming that the Jays have talked seriously about the third baseman ... and sent scouts (as did several other unnamed-as-yet teams) to watch Headley as he returned from a herniated disk problem. Headley is seen as prime for a change-of-scenery with Rogers Centre a better park in which to hit than pitcher-particular Petco Park.
For the Jays, Headley may make perfect sense, with third baseman Brett Lawrie on the disabled list for about six weeks, possibly. The drawback for the Padres: Headley's struggles this season, with and without the injury factor, may not deliver top-of-the-line prospects, even if moving him will remove the rest of his $10.25 million 2014 salary from their books. And the Padres, according to the Union-Tribune, are said to be "open for business" on everyone not named Andrew Cashner now that they've pinked general manager Josh Byrnes and sit 11 games out in the National League West.
Elsewhere, the trade winds as of this writing seem to blow accordingly:
Diamondbacks — A source of intrigue since Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa was brought in to be, essentially, the organization's baseball czar. Injuries and injurious pitching have left the Snakes fighting to the last breath with the Padres for control of the NL West basement. The early word: Several D'backs veterans may prove attractive to some contenders, including Brandon McCarthy and Joe Thatcher.
Braves — What was cited above about the Yankees could be said about the Braves and then some: Knock them down, step on their faces, and they still can't seem to lose. One thing the Smart Guys seem to agree upon with the Braves: getting the games to Craig Kimbrel is a royal pain, particularly in the seventh inning. They're likeliest at this writing to be smoking out bullpen help.
Orioles — Right in the thick of the AL East. They look to be hunting bullpen bulls, too ... for now.
Red Sox — They're not even close to out of it just yet. Bringing up Mookie Betts should prove considerable for the offense, but the Olde Towne Team needs to shore up the back end of the rotation. The good news: They have the farm talent to make that happen and wouldn't mind parting with some of it for another postseason run.
White Sox — Watch for the sale. Adam Dunn, Scott Downs, Ronald Belisario, and Gordon Beckham are names thrown around when the subject is White Sox selling ... and bringing in returns for a run in 2015 seems to be the big object.
Reds — The likely target for this struggling offense, since their pitching is holding up rather well: possibly a corner outfielder, probably a shortstop. And the Reds have enough minor league pieces to spare to make it happen if they want it.
Indians — Went from the basement to second place in the AL Central with that hot end-of-May/opening-of-June streak and think they have a postseason run in them. The big issue: rotation consistency. The number one name being yielded up as a possibility for bringing them that help: Justin Masterson.
Rockies — Arguably the National League's number one fun-while-it-lasted team. Their best trade chip: probably closer LaTroy Hawkins, especially with a number of clubs looking for short-term solutions in that role, and Hawkins could bring the Rocks quite a yield in prospects.
Tigers — They're still the team to beat in the AL Central even if they've fallen into funk enough to fall back to a mere two games ahead of the pack. They could be looking for a shortstop rental until Jose Iglesias returns in 2015; they should be looking to tighten up the bullpen — but don't have a lot on the farm with which to do it.
Astros — Don't look now, but the Astros have built a solid new foundation. In a year or two they could be back in the races. Meanwhile, they have veterans to think of moving, and if GM Jeff Luhnow can move them without jeopardizing that coming competitiveness, big points for him and an even better near-future for his team. 2014 won't be their year, but what they do by July's end means the world for the next couple.
Royals — Third base and right field need serious repair if the Royals want to stay in the race in earnest. And since they drained the farm to bag James Shields, they can't afford to let their imaginations fall asleep.
Angels — They've swapped change-of-scenery closers, sending talented but inconsistent Ernesto Frieri to the Pirates for veteran Jason Grilli. They need another impact arm in the rotation, but that, too, will take a little imagination considering the Angel farm is rather pale for the time being. Big advisory, according to a lot of the Smart Guys — don't even think of looking for another bat, the Angels' lumber corps is doing rather nicely when all is said and done.
Dodgers — Talent to burn. Cohesiveness playing hide and seek too often. The bullpen needs a little help; it may come down to either Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, or both, becoming the sacrificial lambs to get that help.
Marlins — Surprising one and all, just about, they're in the thick of the NL East chase. Their number one need: a starting pitcher with Jose Fernandez out with an elbow injury and the bullpen being taxed nigh unto death. Their possible other needs: a catcher to hold the fort in case Jarrod Saltalamacchia's concussion proves a harder recovery, maybe a middle infielder.
Brewers — They could be one club that can afford to stand pat. The Smart Guys still think Rickie Weeks could be trade bait, though.
Twins — Another pleasant surprise, though one that has for now a serious need for another starting pitcher and another infielder or two considering the population of infielders in the Twins' infirmary.
Athletics — Right now the winds say moving ousted closer Jim Johnson in an addition-by-subtraction move and fishing for a second baseman not named Nick Punto or Eric Sogard would be the best moves the A's could make.
Pirates — Gerrit Cole's return to the rotation is big. Shoring up that rotation could be bigger. Fixing a bullpen with a little too much bull in it right now would be the biggest. Especially since the Pirates still have a shot at a wild card.
Giants — They need to plug a hole at second base and solve the ninth inning now that Sergio Romo's lost the closing job. They might do both from within, but the speculation is that Chase Utley is on their radar. Not to mention that they're now said to have a few eyes upon Samardzija.
Mariners — How they're holding at .500 despite an offense that seems to swing with Wiffle Ball bats is anybody's guess. The good news: They have the farm pieces to land a couple of bats in the outfield and at first base.
Cardinals — Their shaky season opening actually shouldn't mean they should be thinking about moving pieces just yet. The question becomes whether they become just panicked enough about Michael Wacha's shoulder stress fracture that they troll for rotation help just in case.
Rangers — Blow up the season right now. The infirmary took care of that, and there's no way the Rangers can add anything to the team as it is without turning their system from parched to desert. The Smart Guys are saying they should be thinking about moving any veterans due for free agency this coming winter with an eye on next season.
Nationals — Bryce Harper is on his way back from the thumb injury. Gio Gonzalez is back in the rotation. The NL East is weak enough for the Nats to make a run at it. Especially if they reach for a little infield depth, which is just about all they really need right this moment.
But always remember Andujar's Law. (Named for Joaquin Andujar, pitcher/human time bomb of the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s, who coined it.) "In baseball, there's just one word: you never know."