Monday, August 4, 2014

Price, Lester, and Non-Waiver Trade Tally

By Jeff Kallman

The Tampa Bay Rays might have snuck back into the American League wild card hunt for a spell, the Boston Red Sox might have seen the writing on the proverbial wall and begun planning for 2015. What both clubs have in common is that they looked at the coming markets for their best pitchers, saw themselves unable (unwilling?) to compete in them (for now), and decided to trade high at the non-waiver trade deadline.

Which is part of why David Price is now a Detroit Tiger, Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes are Oakland Athletics, and all three men find themselves in the thick of races not for wild cards but for divisions.

Price hits free agency after 2015. Lester hits it this winter. Former Cy Young Award winner Price helps to front-load a Tiger rotation that already includes a pair of former Cy Young Award winners (Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander) and turns the American League Central into all but the Tigers' division to lose. Lester brings a veteran vamp to an Oakland rotation laden with young stars and at least once serviceable veteran (Jeff Samardzija; Jason Hammel has struggled since he was traded to the A's) and makes it just slightly higher up than the rival Los Angeles Angels.

The A's paid big enough for Lester, sending the Red Sox Yoenis Cespedes, who stands a terrific chance of finding Fenway Park's hitting environment just too delicious and lends the Red Sox a little (okay, a lot of) extra power. The Red Sox, who probably knew they didn't need to bring in a haul of prospects for Lester given their healthy farm system, didn't kill themselves by bringing instead a proven presence who'll factor big in a 2015 revival.

And if Lester proves not to be susceptible to Red Sox homecoming wooing in the offseason, who's to say the Olde Towne Team won't make one exception to their apparent new philosophy of avoiding big contracts and make a run at Scherzer, who spurned a reported six years and $144 million from the Tigers before this season began?

The Tigers, on the other hand, got Price for a song, maybe even a short medley. Austin Jackson went to the Seattle Mariners in the three-way deal, and while he's useful enough he won't exactly be an impact bat for the Mariners. The Mariners sent the Rays infielder Nick Franklin, and while he has his positives he isn't considered to be a long-term difference-maker, either. The Rays also got starter Drew Smyly from the Tigers, and he isn't much more than a middle of the rotation man, never mind an ace in waiting. Any way you look at it, accepting the inevitable that they wouldn't be able to afford to keep Price means, pretty much, that the Rays are going to have to crank up the player development machinery yet again.

The Red Sox didn't stop with the Lester deal. They unloaded John Lackey in a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Lackey gives the Cardinals a badly-needed rotation bump and a peculiar discount: Lackey in 2015 will be paid a mere $500,000, thanks to a contract clause calling for that option if he should have had Tommy John surgery during the life of this contract (he did, in 2011) and he's said he'll honor the option. To get Lackey, the Cardinals sent first baseman/outfielder Allen Craig and starting pitcher Joe Kelly, both of whom stand to have bounce-backs with the Red Sox, particularly as Craig continues re-adjusting following the foot injury that left him almost useless last October.

Come to think of it, a nice pack of former World Series heroes swapped teams Thursday. Lester beat the Cardinals twice last October; Lackey, who nailed that Series' clinching game, earned his first Series ring nailing the clincher for the 2002 Angels. Craig hit the go-ahead bomb in Game 7 of the 2011 Series and caught the final out while he was at it. Gomes shook off some rough spots by hitting an electrifying, tie-breaking three-run homer in Game Four last October. Kelly started Game Three last October and pitched well enough to win, but got no decision as the Cardinals went on to win surrealistically, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia's throwing error to third allowed a gimpy Craig to score the winning run.

Let's not forget Stephen Drew. He rolled the free agency dice last winter after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Red Sox and had to wait until June before signing a one-year deal. Come Thursday, he was swapped to the Yankees for Kelly Johnson. Drew in Game Six last October helped the Red Sox cause by stepping up to the plate against Michael Wacha to open the fourth inning and hit Wacha's first pitch into the Red Sox bullpen. He'll give the Yankees solid infield performance despite his modest bat, though it's likely the Yankees might plug him into second base. The deal frees the Red Sox to put returning Xander Bogaerts back to his natural position at shortstop.

Elsewhere and otherwise:

* Asdrubal Cabrera — The Indians sent their shortstop to the Washington Nationals for another shortstop, Zach Walters. The Nats (first in the National League East) may figure on moving Cabrera to second base (Cabrera played the position now and then in his first three major league seasons) over Danny Espinosa while Anthony Rendon holds down third base until Ryan Zimmerman returns from a hamstring injury.

* Andrew Miller — The Red Sox fire sale continued when they sent setup man Andrew Miller to the Orioles for minor league pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, considered the number three prospect in the Baltimore system but struggling at AA ball this year. Miller takes 13 holds, a 0.90 WHIP, and a 2.34 ERA with him to Camden Yards. Miller began his career with the Tigers but went to the Marlins in the deal that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.

* Martin Prado — With some calling it a salary dump, the Diamondbacks sent third baseman Martin Prado to the Yankees for catching prospect Peter O'Brien and a player to be named later. Prado $22 million for 2015 and 2016 coming to him on his current contract. O'Brien is a power hitting catcher (33 bombs, 70 ribs) between the Tampa Yankees and Trenton Thunder this season. Prado will step in at third while the Yankees work Drew at second.

* Gerardo Parra — The Snakes also sent Parra to the Brewers for a pair of prospects, Mitch Haniger (outfield) and Anthony Banda (pitcher). Parra looks to become a fourth outfielder with a left-handed bat in Milwaukee; Haniger was the Brewers' first-round draft pick in 2012. Banda was picked in the 33rd round by Arizona in 2011 but didn't sign; the Brewers picked him in the tenth round in 2012.

* Sam Fuld — He started the season in Oakland but was designated for assignment in April only to be claimed by the Twins. Now, the Twins have sent him back to Oakland — for starting pitcher Tommy Milone, 6-3/3.55 ERA thus far this season. Milone is said to have asked for a trade this week, after he was farmed out following the A's acquisitions of Samardzija and Hammel, and the deal to bring Lester to Oakland shoved Milone down even further on the team's depth listings. Fuld was having a pleasant bounce-back with the Twins (.370 OBP) at the time of the deal and offers Oakland a good outfield platoon/substitution option in hand with Gomes.

* Any Philadelphia Phillies — Not even close. Not even Marlon Byrd, for whom the Phillies were said to be asking for far more than the veteran's actually worth in return, and the Phillies badly need an influx of prospects to begin their rebuilding. Never mind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, who just might have brought the Phillies that influx. (And now they can forget about moving Lee, who's probably out for the reason with a recurring elbow injury.) Hop around the Web and you'll see the general consensus to be general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. spending more time buffing up his excuses than doing business.

Sure, he could ride out the season and do something big over the offseason — and Harold Stassen could run for president again from the great beyond. Amaro could have gotten big enough value in a non-waiver trade deadline deal, most likely involving Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Hamels, and Byrd. The word is that Amaro was asking for far more than those men are actually worth, not stopping to think that he could have gotten a haul of prospects without overshooting the market.

Perhaps now the question becomes not whether but if Amaro's days in Philadelphia are numbered.

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