Nothing like a return to action to get the trade scuttlebutt going again in baseball.
The mid-summer classic is in the books and for the bottom feeders in major league baseball, it’s time to re-assess what they have and just who may be expendable to hungry contenders.
In 2016, playoff teams loaded up on big and small deals to enhance their chances. Aroldis Chapman went to the Cubs, who eventually won. His teammate with the Yankees, Andrew Miller, went to the Indians and lost. Otherwise, a flurry of deals saw the Blue Jays and Dodgers buttress their teams, only to suffer defeat in their league championship series.
This year should be no different, for there are about nine teams in the American League either virtually guaranteed a division title (Houston) or are definitely in line for a wild card/division title. Over in the NL, the Dodgers and Nationals should easily win their division titles and Arizona and Colorado having death grips on wild card berths.
Therefore, action up to and including deadline day should heat up soon. Here are 25 impactful players, from 15 different teams, who could see a change of address by the end of the month.
15. Oakland A’s – Yonder Alonso, Sonny Gray And Jed Lowrie
No team in the AL West has a chance to catch the Houston Astros, unless they go on an epic, unforeseen losing streak. Of the four also-rans, only Seattle and Texas have an outside shot at even a wild card berth and would need to play some sound baseball. Oakland, last in the division at 42-50 will most likely be in sell mode. The frugal Athletics, who have the third lowest payroll in the major leagues already, could cut another $14 million from their $89.5 million total allotment with the movement of 1B Alonso, utility man Lowrie and starting pitcher Gray. Alonso is a power-hitting first baseman (21 HR, 44 RBI) on the last year of a $4 million deal and might look good in a Yankees uniform (Chris Carter isn’t getting the job done there). Gray is the plum of the trio and is mentioned in all kinds of rumors. He is 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 14 starts. Lowrie, who has toiled a second this season, is the highest paid player on the team at $6.5 million. He is a versatile infielder who will command interest the way Ben Zobrist (Cubs) did last season.
14. Los Angeles Angels – Bud Norris
There aren’t that many trade-able assets on an Angels team going nowhere. However, veteran reliever Bud Norris is having a quietly good year out of the bullpen for a middling franchise and could fetch a prospect arm or two. He has been traded three times in the last four seasons and won’t be owed much on his one year, $1.75 million expiring contract later this month. After two very mediocre seasons as a starter/long reliever for Baltimore, San Diego, Atlanta and the Dodgers, the righthander has settled in nicely as the closer in Anaheim. In 39 games he has 14 saves (just two blown), along with a 1-2 record, 2.35 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 38.1 innings pitched. He also has some post-season experience, having hurled for Baltimore in the 2014 ALDS and ALCS (1-0, 3.38 ERA, 9K in 10.2 IP). The Yankees sure could use a bonafide stopper.
13. Texas Rangers – Yu Darvish
The Rangers aren’t out of the playoff picture, nor are they really in it. So, depending on how things go in the next couple of weeks, they may be sellers. Darvish, who was an all-star this year, is on the last year of a six-year, $60 million pact that has paid him $11 million this season. That makes him expendable, though most likely a rental for a contending team. He has been pretty good for an up-and-down Rangers team that sits at an unimpressive 45-46. They are 16.5 games behind division leading Houston, but just 2.5 games out of the last wild card spot. But, there are many teams in that lot, so they might do well, given their circumstances in two weeks, to send Darvish elsewhere for prospects. He is 6-8 this season with a 3.45 ERA in 20 starts, along with 131 strikeouts in 125.1 innings.
12. Chicago White Sox – Todd Frazier And David Robertson
As of Tuesday, the White Sox are the worst team in the American League at 38-52. With the fifth lowest payroll in baseball, many will point to the team’s frugality for that deplorable record. Yet, they will probably doff at least two of their tree top-salaried players in a bid to become even cheaper, and younger. Two targets of opportunity for contending clubs are 3B Todd Frazier (making $12 million this season) and closer David Robertson. Frazier will be prized by teams needing a better third base option (hello Boston!) and a booming bat at the hot corner. He has 16 homers and 44 RBI this year but is hitting just .207 (though his OBP is .328). Robertson, a former Yankee, has pitched well out of the Sox bullpen, locking down 13 games while blowing just one save. He is also making $12 million this season and is under control at $13 million for 2018. Bronx, here we come?
11. Detroit Tigers – J.D. Martinez And Justin Wilson
The Tigers have the fourth highest payroll in major league baseball ($211 million) and the results, sadly, don’t back that outlay up. They have a slim chance of garnering a wild card spot, but with a logjam of teams ahead of them, highly unlikely. Rightfielder J.D. Martinez’s name has come up in all kinds of trade chatter and with his production will draw interest from plenty of teams. In just 57 games he has a .305 average, 16 homers and 39 RBI — or about the same as Toronto’s Jose Bautista in 35 less games (16 HR, 42 RBI). Lefty reliever Justin Wilson, another ex-Yankee like David Robertson in Chicago, has assumed closing duties after a career spent as a long reliever. He could help a slew of teams in need of a southpaw set-up man. Martinez would strictly be a rental, since he is on the last year of a two-year, $18.5 million contract. Wilson is also a free agent at the end of the season, but is making just $2.7 million.
10. Kansas City Royals – Eric Hosmer
Hosmer is an interesting case, in that he will be a free agent at the end of the season and will most likely be looking for a multi-year deal on the open market. However, he is a big part of the core of the Royals offence that includes Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. He is one of the most expensive on baseball’s 14th highest payroll ($12.25 million) and could be on the move come July 31. Hosmer has been steady and reliable bat for K.C. during his seven seasons and has the third highest batting average in baseball at .312, along with 13 home runs and 43 RBI. His post-season experience makes him doubly attractive, with an eye-popping 29 RBI in just 31 total playoff games. Hosmer would be an instant upgrade at first base for many contenders, including Minnesota (if they are willing to trade in the division) and Boston.
9. Toronto Blue Jays – J.A. Happ And Marco Estrada
For myriad reasons, the Blue Jays have been on a rollercoaster this season, looking like contenders one minute, but then pretenders for prolonged stretches. A lousy April and mediocre June have led to a 43-49 record and at best an outside shot of making the playoffs for the third year in a row. Thus, the next couple of weeks will determine whether they are buyers or sellers at the deadline. If they underachieve, expect the team with the fifth highest payroll ($200 million) to jettison expensive hurlers Happ and Estrada. Happ has had injury problems this season and made just 11 starts a year after going 20-4. He missed half of April and nearly all of May and hasn’t gotten fully untracked. Yet, he is 3-6 with a 3.54 ERA and has shown some flashes of dominance. Estrada has scuffled after resurrecting his career in Toronto, going 4-6 with a 5.33 ERA. His post-season numbers, though, are solid with a 3-3 record, 2.64 ERA and 43 Ks in 47.2 innings.
8. Baltimore Orioles – Darren O’Day
There are seven teams reliever Darren O’Day would be willing to go to with his limited no-trade clause. At this point, he is one of the most trade-able assets on the Orioles, who use Zach Britton in the set-up role for Brad Brach that O’Day used to occupy. The O’s are in a similar situation to Toronto, with the same record (43-49) and the same slim hope of grabbing a wild card spot. O’Day is under control until the 2019 season at $9 million the next two campaigns, making him reasonably affordable for teams looking to enhance middle relief. The sidearm specialist has seen his ERA balloon from 1.52 in 68 games during his All-Star 2015 season to 4.22 in 34 contests this year. His strength lies in strikeouts per nine innings, which has been around 11 for the last three years.
7. Miami Marlins – A.J. Ramos, Martin Prado And David Phelps
The state of Marlins ownership is still in flux (putting it mildly), so we see current owner Jeffrey Loria clearing the decks for whoever runs the team when it sells. With a good young core including Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the Marlins will contend down the road, just not now with their 42-49 record. Older and expensive assets in 3B Martin Prado ($11.5 million), RP A.J. Ramos ($6.5 million) and RP David Phelps ($4.6 million) may be attractive to contenders needing experience. Prado, 33, has seen limited action (37 games) but is a career .291 hitter and decent third sacker who had a career year in 2016 and might do well to get out of the circus that is Miami. Ramos, 30, has been reasonably reliable in the closer role, saving 17 with just two blown saves. He is also a strikeout master, with 11.5 Ks per nine innings. Phelps, also 30, has been very good in middle relief, with a 3.45 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 47 innings.
6. Philadelphia Phillies – Pat Neshek
The Phillies are a mess this season, owning the worst record in baseball at 30-61 and owning few tradeworthy prospects with which to re-stock the prospect cupboard. The only player we see garnering interest from contenders at this point is reliever Neshek, who has been outstanding in a bad situation. Only two other relievers in the National League have been more effective, Felipe Rivero in Pittsburgh and Kenly Jansen in Los Angeles. Neshek, a submarine style hurler, has appeared in 40 games for the Phillies and owns a superb 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and has struck out 40 batters in 37.1 innings of work. At 36, he is still pitching like someone 10 years younger and his salary for 2017 ($6.5 million) won’t be off-putting. The only problem is he’s a free agent at the end of the year, which may limit the return on a trade.
5. New York Mets – Jay Bruce
After two straight seasons of playoff baseball and a World Series appearance, there is little hope the Mets get into the big dance in 2017. Injuries have kept key veterans David Wright, Neil Walker, Jeurys Familia, Matt Harvey and youngster Noah Syndergaard on the DL for varying periods, leading to a swoon in the standings (41-49). Their biggest asset is soon-to-be free agent Bruce, who has a limited no-trade clause that stipulates no-go on being moved to contenders like Boston, New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 30-year-old RF/1B is having a whale of a season, smashing 24 homers and driving in 62 runs in 85 games. We think he would be a heck of an upgrade on Carlos Gonzalez in Colorado, who is hitting just .214 with six homers and 22 RBI.
4. Cincinnati Reds – Zack Cozart And Scott Feldman
Since making the playoffs three years out of four between 2010 and 2013, the Reds have been on a slippery slope to nowhere. Three straight losing seasons and a dismal 39-53 record this season leave Reds’ player personnel types with more questions than answers. It won’t be surprising, then, when available veterans are moved for prospects. The best option to be dealt is 31-year-old shortstop Zack Cozart. He is a free agent at the end of this campaign and is making a reasonable $5.325 million. An All-Star for the first time this year, the seven-year veteran is hitting .306 with nine home runs and 35 RBI. With Trevor Story underwhelming in Colorado, expect the Rockies to make a pitch. Big lefty Scott Feldman is quietly have a decent year, going 7-7 with a 4.34 ERA. He is earning $2.3 million on a one-year pact and would be a good addition to a team needing a back-of-the-rotation starter.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates – Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole And Josh Harrison
One of baseball’s most frugal teams will still be holding a fire sale come the deadline. They have played better of late, going 8-2 in their last 10, however their 45-48 record leaves them eight games out of the last wild card spot. Cole, 26, has been mentioned in a few rumors and at his age and value as a starter (54-37 lifetime record, 3.42 ERA), could command a healthy return. He is making $3.75 million this year and has two years of salary arbitration before unrestricted free agency in 2020. CF McCutchen, who eats up nearly 13 percent of the entire payroll at just over $14 million, could also fetch a nice return. The 30-year-old, five-time all-star is hitting .294 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI. Several teams would be upgraded significantly in center with McCutchen in the fold. Harrison could be this year’s Ben Zobrist. He is a defensively flexible player (2B, 3B, LF, RF) who hits well. He is under contract until 2018, with two option years after that.
2. San Diego Padres – Trevor Cahill
The Houston Astros, with the second best record in baseball but injury problems in their starting rotation, have options when it comes to would-be available starters. Cahill, who has slotted into San Diego’s starting rotation after a great campaign in middle relief for the Chicago Cubs last year, would be a good fit. In 10 starts this season, Cahill is 4-3 with a 3.14 ERA and a healthy 71 strikeouts in 57.1 innings pitched. He is signed to a penny-pinching $1.75 million deal that runs out in the fall and at that price he is the amazingly the sixth highest priced player on the Padres roster. The journeyman 29-year-old righthander also brings some post-season experience, having appeared in six playoff games for the Cubs in 2015.
1. San Francisco Giants – Brandon Belt
With their payroll and lack of production, we’re calling the Giants the worst team in baseball this season. They are mired in last place in the NL West with a 35-59 record and pay their players a combined $190 million, seventh highest in baseball. The problem is, too many of their high-priced players are untradeable because of clauses (Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford), not much worth on the open market anymore (Matt Cain) or too vaulable (Madison Bumgarner). Therefore, a still fairly young (29) guy like Brandon Belt is one of the only options to deal for prospects to re-stock the Giants system. He’s a good first baseman who can also play left and right field, with decent pop in his bat (39 extra base hits this season, 44 RBI). He’s under control for four more seasons and Yankee pinstripes might look good on him.