A few days ago, the 2011 trade season got off to a running start when the Giants have acquired their much-needed bat in Carlos Beltran. The Cardinals have addressed their bullpen needs while also padding their rotation with Edwin Jackson. And the Blue Jays got a bit more interesting in acquiring Colby Rasmus, a potential five WAR center fielder signed until 2014.
As we get closer to Sunday’s deadline, more speculation and rumors will develop as teams scramble, but here are a few questions to ponder as this season’s trade market begins to take shape.
With Beltran traded, who are the best offensive players available?
B.J. Upton seems to be the most likely position player to change teams by this Sunday. He does come with some question marks, but his age, affordability and ability to handle center field make him valuable in this market. The Braves and Nationals look like the favorites to land him, with the Phillies lurking in the weeds.
In light of all the bad contracts given out or inherited in Chicago, I’m sure Carlos Quentin is among the last players the White Sox would like to move. However, with concerns about his health and the growing premium for right-handed bats this trade season, Quentin’s value has rarely been higher. The Phillies seem to be quite aggressive in pursuing Quentin since the rumored asking price will cost only “two prospects” (in contrast to the Astros’ high asking price of three or four high end prospects for Hunter Pence).
Speaking of Pence: If you took the time to follow his rumored trajectory at www.mlbtraderumors.com/, you would see a roller coaster that began on July 14 when GM Ed Wade matter-of-factly announced that no players were “untouchable,” modifying adamant claims that Pence is not available. Speculation took off when Rob Biertempfel reported that the Pirates were looking into the possibility of acquiring Pence.
As you’ll read below, the Astros seem to be torn in terms of valuing Pence, since he is a favorite among fans and soon-to-be-former owner Drayton McLane. Recent reports say the Astros turned down an offer from the Phillies that would have sent two top-tier prospects, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart, along with a mid-tier prospect to Houston. According to the latest reports, Houston is still listening to offers, but the team is prepared to keep Pence and assess his status before next season.
Since his hamstring injury prior to the All-Star break, Jose Reyes’ trade value has rapidly declined. The Angels have shown some recent interest but the rumored swap of Erick Aybar didn’t seem to interest the Mets front office. Unless an emergency trade is needed in August, the Mets are most likely to keep Reyes until he files for free agency after this season.
Josh Willingham is another bat some teams may figure would benefit from a change of scenery. Defensively he can be a liability, which should reduce his value a bit.
Ryan Ludwick has generated a lot of interest among teams looking to add a bat without digging too far into their prospect bag. At 33, Ludwick’s production has rapidly declined since his high point in 2008, but he still has some value as a defensive corner outfielder. He has (roughly) $3 million remaining on his contract and is high on the Braves’ wish-list.
As an interesting side note, here is a park map provided by katron.org that takes Ludwick’s production this season at Petco and shows how it would have translated at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play. As you can see, Ludwick would have benefited greatly from this change of venue.
Michael Cuddyer has been mentioned in a few trade rumors, but the Twins aren’t ready to give up on the season, so expect him to remain in Minnesota.
Rafael Furcal has become a trending topic, especially with how bare the infield market has become. Yesterday, Steven Booth drew up some likely scenarios of where Furcal could land but with a little $6 million being owed him for the remainder of this season, don’t expect the Dodgers to help with the tab. With some teams worried about added payroll, I doubt they would be willing to rent a player with such an extensive injury history and declining offensive and defensive skills.
Who are the best starting pitchers available?
A few weeks ago, things became interesting for teams looking to buy a pitcher when both James Shields and Ubaldo Jimenez became available. The Rays would eventually take Shields off the market, despite his peak value. The Rockies indicate that Jimenez is available, but it will take major haul of top-tier prospects to acquire him. The Yankees, Red Sox and Reds seem to be linked to Jimenez, but the price is sure to remain high and it’s not expected that a deal gets done.
Hiroki Kuroda is very high on a lot of lists, but the major problem is that he isn’t the biggest fan of leaving Los Angeles. If his agent can talk him into packing, I would guess he will be a very popular person from now till Sunday.
Wandy Rodriguez is a bit underrated in my eyes. I understand he had a brief elbow scare in May and diminishing strikeout rates could be a concern (especially for some American League teams), but he still posts excellent numbers against left-handed hitters and carries a low fly ball rate, which averages around 35 percent. As another bonus, the Astros have been one of the worst fielding teams the past few seasons and a change of scenery that involves better defense could improve his overall numbers.
The latest on Erik Bedard is that the Yankees and Red Sox will have a scout present for today’s start. It’s been rumored that the Mariners may try to re-sign him over the offseason.
Rich Harden will get his tires kicked a little bit, but with his past arm troubles I doubt the A’s will be overwhelmed by any offers.
Brett Myers would be a bit more valuable if that vesting option wasn’t in place for 2013. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Myers’ 2013 club option automatically becomes guaranteed based on his 2012 performance. That will add on another $10 million to the $11 million owed in 2012.
How aggressive should the Pirates and Indians be this trade season?
Yesterday, the Indians acquired Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. The Cubs will still pay a significant portion of his remaining 2011 contract and the Indians will part with Abner Abreu, a 21-year-old in High-A who is seen to have the ceiling of a fourth outfielder, and Triple-A reliever Carlton Smith, who made a bit of jump in terms of missing bats but is still plagued with control issues.
The addition of Fukudome could signal the end of Cleveland’s trading, but should the Indians be satisfied with their current team?
People who follow the Indians believe the team was expecting to be fully competitive in 2012 and that getting caught up in the 2011 race could damage Cleveland’s long-term plans. As of this morning, the Indians are one and a half games behind the first place Tigers and nine games behind in the Wild Card. After acquiring Fukudome, the team is focused on trading for a mid-rotation starter, but not at the expense of its top pitching prospects, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.
The Pirates’ attendance is up at PNC Park and it would be advantageous to ride this wave into next season. The Pirates weren’t expected to be competitive until 2013; how creative can they be without damaging their future?
To answer those questions about the Pirates and Indians, it’s instructive to look at their competition.
In the AL Central, the Twins and White Sox both rate above-average in terms of revenue health but injuries to some key Twins and some bloated contracts in Chicago could hurt them in the short term. To combat this, Minnesota will have a lot of money coming off the books this offseason and can afford to spend some cash at key positions until some of their lower level prospects develop. The White Sox, on the other hand, will always have a good source of revenue but their depleted farm system and albatross contracts could tie an anchor to their finances and keep them frozen in mediocrity for the next few seasons.
The Detroit Tigers should see some financial freedom in 2012 as contracts will expire on overpriced veterans like Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Jose Valverde. The Tigers are also fast-tracking two of their top pitching prospects and could be poised to have the best rotation in the AL Central for the next few seasons.
That leaves us with the Indians and the Kansas City Royals. Both teams sit near the bottom of the revenue scale but their farm systems and ability to scout players here and abroad have projected them to be legitimate contenders over the next few years. Still, our love for prospects can be fickle.
In the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs seem to be in the same situation as their cousins on the South Side, with a good stream of steady revenue but a handful of long and expensive contracts inhibiting their ability to improve. The Cincinnati Reds are also expected to be competitive over the next few seasons as key prospects are expected to replace contracts set to expire (Zack Cozart replaces Edgar Renteria, Devin Mesoraco replaces Ramon Hernandez, Nick Masset replaces Logan Ondrusek and Sam LeCure replaces Francisco Cordero).
The Brewers are expected to regress a bit after their all-in 2011 season but this team’s core players are young enough to sustain a down season until a few key players can be acquired or developed.
The Pirates, much like the Indians, are banking on prospects to turn their franchises around, but nothing is guaranteed for either team, especially the Pirates, many of whose high-end prospects are years away. It may just benefit both teams to make a few smart gambles at key positions.
Which general managers may be on the hot seat, depending on the next few days?
Much has been reported on the Astros’ transfer of ownership next month and the possibility that GM Ed Wade will have to prove his worth over the next few days. Last week, it was reported that new Astros owner Jim Crane ordered that payroll be reduced to $60 million at the start of the 2012 season. Currently the Astros hover around $77 million. The team does have some interesting pieces in Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, Myers, Michael Bourn and Clint Barmes.
Everyone except for Barmes is under contract for 2012; dealing all of them would represent a little over $40 million from next season’s payroll, but many executives feel that the Astros are over-valuing their trade chips.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry is under contract through 2012, but the team may go a different direction unless major changes are made. With some very expensive contracts, the team seems almost content to just move players out while paying a large portion of the remaining contract.
Fukudome was a recent example of this strategy. The team has reportedly begged the Yankees to take Carlos Zambrano off their hands and even offered a significant portion of the $24 million he is owed. The Cubs also have some interesting pieces but some, notably Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood, have no-trade clauses they would be willing to exercise it to remain in Chicago.
Another GM whose contract hasn’t been renewed for next season is Jack Zduriencik of the Mariners. One could argue that the team has run into some bad luck with Bedard’s recent knee injury and since his value has taken such a hit, it may be best for the team to sign him to another one-year performance based contract in hopes of flipping him at the next deadline. Closer Brandon League drew interest from a few teams and would be a valuable addition to most rosters, but the Mariners have closed up shop and could remain relatively quiet through the deadline.
Is the trade market for relievers oversaturated?
Even with the Cardinals acquiring relief help in Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski as well as moving Kyle McClellan to the ‘pen, the team is still reported to be in talks with the Padres for Heath Bell.
Among available relievers, Bell is considered the top prize. His strikeouts-per-nine have fallen from 11.06 in 2010 to 6.75 this season. Bell’s velocity has also taken a slight hit, based on this chart. He still has a good shutdown to meltdown ratio of 25 to five and would be only a half-season rental, but teams are balking at the Padres’ high demands.
The Yankees, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers and Braves are the teams reported to be the most interested in relief help. However, the Diamondbacks and Braves are looking only for cheap set-up options and the Yankees are zeroed in on left-handed help, which leaves only the Rangers and Phillies in the market for a top shelf closer.
Other reliever options who could be available are Mike Adams (Padres), Grant Balfour (A’s), Craig Breslow (A’s), Tyler Clippard (Nationals), Kyle Farnsworth (Rays), Brian Fuentes (A’s), Mike Gonzalez (Orioles), Jason Isringhausen (Mets), Jim Johnson (Orioles), Sean Marshall (Cubs), Leo Nunez (Marlins), Joakim Soria (Royals), Drew Storen (Nationals), Matt Thornton (White Sox), Koji Uehara (Orioles) and Wood (Cubs).
This isn’t a complete list and a few of the names, such as Adams and Soria, will be tough to deal for, since their teams have stated that they prefer not to trade them. Thornton will be tough to deal despite his status as the rare left hander, since he is owed $11 million over the next two seasons and his 10 shutdowns to 11 meltdowns could be a sticking point if he is expected to handle further high leverage situations.
Farnsworth’s value is very high at the moment and he could be offered at a slightly lower price to offset the high demands for Leo Nunez and Heath Bell.