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Free Agent Stock Watch: Shortstops

It’s often dangerous to read too much into a hot streak, as the endpoints of the streak will often be arbitrary, and shrinking the sample size makes the data more susceptible to randomness. Though it’s dangerous to use them as a predictive tool, hot streaks can hold some significance for upcoming free agents — particularly ones that have struggled for much of the season. A well-timed hot streak can take a player’s numbers from good to great or from terrible to passable. A huge second half following a disastrous first half can demonstrate that a player hasn’t suddenly lost all of his skill, giving offseason suitors hope for more consistent production in the season(s) to follow.

The overall numbers on the following players may not quite look appealing, but here are three that could be in the midst of bolstering their offseason earning power after dreadful starts to the year (coincidentally — they’re all shortstops!)…

  • Ian Desmond, Nationals: Perhaps no player looked to be costing himself as much money as Desmond entering the All-Star break. Heading into his contract season, there was a legitimate case to be made for Desmond as the game’s most productive shortstop over the past three seasons, but he slumped to a .211/.255/.334 batting line in the first half and endured an awful error-prone stretch in the field early on. He’s tightened up the errors after those first few weeks, though, and is finally showing signs of life at the plate. Over his past 21 games, Desmond is hitting .312/.376/.636 with seven homers and four steals. The question for him will become whether or not a huge second half can make his first half simply look like an anomaly and convince a team to invest more than $100MM.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera, Rays: Cabrera settled for a one-year deal this winter, and through the first eight to 10 weeks of the season, he looked like a player that didn’t deserve anything more. However, since mid-June, Cabrera’s hitting .357/.393/.579 with four homers, 13 doubles and a triple. It’s easy enough to see that his .418 BABIP in that stretch is inflating his numbers, but there’s been some improvement as well. Cabrera struck out at a 23.1 percent clip through June 18, but since that night he’s at a more palatable 18.4 percent. He’s also hitting the ball with more authority, as evidenced not only by his spike in power but by his decrease in soft contact and increase in medium and hard contact (per Fangraphs). Surprisingly, Cabrera grades out as a plus defender at shortstop in 2015 as well, though it may take more than a few hundred innings to overturn his previous reputation as a poor defender. At the very least, he’s positioning himself to land the multi-year deal that eluded him this past winter.
  • Jimmy Rollins, Dodgers: Suffice it to say, the 2015 season hasn’t gone as the Dodgers or Rollins had hoped. In his first season sans Phillies pinstripes, Rollins has flirted with the Mendoza Line and carried a sub-.600 OPS for much of the year. His current line is about 20 percent worse than the league-average hitter (80 wRC+, 78 OPS+), but a good deal of his struggles have also been BABIP-related, and his fortunes have begun to turn. Dating back to July 1, Rollins is hitting a much-improved .256/.315/.453, including hits in 15 of his past 18 games. Though his steals are well down, he’s already sporting a double-digit home run total. Rollins has not drawn strong ratings on his defense this year, but he does have a lengthy track record of high-quality glove work on which he can fall back. If he can continue his late surge at the plate and continue to make the first half look more like a blip, he should draw plenty of interest from teams looking for a sturdy veteran option up the middle.
  • Alexei Ramirez, White Sox: Not long ago, Ramirez’s $10MM club option looked like a no-brainer to be bought out. Glancing at his overall numbers, that’d still be the case, but like the others on this list, he’s looked like a different player over the past month-plus. Ramirez was hitting .212/.235/.281 on June 30, but he’s hitting .291/.321/.480 with five homers and six steals in 34 games since. He’s not walking much (4.4%), but he’s also not striking out (7.4%), so his solid production comes with a very sustainable .283 BABIP. Ramirez can’t erase his ugly numbers through June 30, but if he sustains this production through season’s end, the White Sox or another team could easily be convinced that a .234 average on balls in play was responsible for his poor first half than a total collapse of his skill set.

Clearly, these four can’t all sustain their recent production (especially in the case of Desmond and Cabrera). However, it’s worth keeping an eye on each player’s production over the final seven weeks of the season, as none of the four looks as lost as he did even six weeks ago. In Desmond’s case in particular, that could mean the difference of tens of millions of dollars.


Free Agent Stock Watch: Wei-Yin Chen

Barring a significant late-season collapse, Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen will enter free agency this winter with some of the market’s best recent run prevention numbers. Of course, as we’ll explore below, there’s more to it than that.

May 11, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Wei-Yin  Chen (16) walks onto the field before the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Baltimore Orioles are wearing Baltimore on their home jersey's in support of the city after the recent unrest.  Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

But bottom-line results do matter, especially as they continue to compile over more and more innings. And since the start of 2014, Chen has put up 315 2/3 frames of 3.45 ERA pitching.

Those figures put him in pretty solid company. The two most comparable pending free agents, perhaps, are Mike Leake and Yovani Gallardo. The three are probably more similar than you realize. It’s at least somewhat notable that Chen has not had the benefit of facing opposing pitchers, as the other two have. And while he’s a bit back in the innings department, much of that can be chalked up to the fact that he’s simply made three less starts than have Leake and Gallardo.

Check out these numbers (since the start of last year):

Leake:       357 1/3 IP, 3.63 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Gallardo:    324 2/3 IP, 3.49 ERA, 6.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Chen:         315 2/3 IP, 3.45 ERA, 6.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9

Those strikeout-to-walk splits look even better when you consider that Chen easily paces the group with a 13.5% K%-BB%, the figure that some believe to be the best overall way to measure those two true pitching outcomes. True, Chen has outperformed his peripherals. But the same is all the more true of Gallardo. And depending upon which elixir you prefer, you might not see all that much daylight between Chen and Leake.

Leake:       3.90 FIP/3.57 xFIP/3.68 SIERA
Gallardo:    3.97 FIP/3.91 xFIP/4.08 SIERA
Chen:         4.12 FIP/3.84 xFIP/3.86 SIERA

In making comparisons, of course, it’s important to considering everything. His earlier-career results weren’t quite as good (4.04 ERA), though Chen jumped straight from Japan to the big leagues and has always at least been a solid starter. He is about seven months older than Gallardo, while Leake is significantly younger than both. But the southpaw only just turned thirty, so he’s not exactly over the hill. And while he’s never been a big velocity pitcher, Chen has held steady in the 91+ mph range on his heater for his entire career.

The point here is not to make fine distinctions, as much will come down to factors such as scouting reports, players’ and teams’ preferences, market timing, and the like. Qualifying offers could weigh in as well: Leake won’t be eligible after being traded mid-year, while both the Rangers and Orioles have given indication that they intend to extend QOs to their eligible hurlers.

Ultimately, though, Chen is likely to earn quite a bit more money than we might have anticipated coming into the 2015 season. His surest path to a major guarantee may be to seek a lesser average annual value over a longer term, in the way that Jason Vargas (four years, $32MM) was able to do two years back. It may be time for an update on that deal in the AAV department, though, with the much older Bronson Arroyo recently landing two years and $23.5MM and Ricky Nolasco scoring $49MM over four campaigns.

Of course, age alone means that Chen won’t best Leake. And then there’s the matter of the qualifying offer. The impact of the QO could be tested as Chen faces a robust mid-tier pitching market that includes a number of different risk/reward profiles (take, for instance, pitchers like Mat Latos, Brett Anderson, and Scott Kazmir) and many hurlers that won’t be weighed down by draft compensation.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


MLBTR Originals

A look back at the original reporting and analysis found on MLBTR the last seven days:


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2016 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings

The non-waiver trade deadline has passed, and many players’ free agent prospects were affected.  So far, the following free agents are among those no longer eligible for a qualifying offer due to a trade: David Price, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Gerardo Parra, and Dan HarenYoenis Cespedes was already ineligible for a QO.

As a reminder, these rankings represent earning power in terms of total contract size, assuming everyone reaches the open market after this season and goes to the highest bidder.  Here’s MLBTR’s full list of 2015-16 free agents.

1.  David Price.  Price landed with the Blue Jays last week in a blockbuster trade, and has ascended to the top spot in these rankings.  His 2.45 ERA ranks fourth in the American League, and agent Bo McKinnis will have a case to exceed Max Scherzer‘s seven-year, $210MM deal from last offseason.  The present-day value of that deal was reported to be under $192MM due to deferred money.  Price represents a true ace at the top of his game, entering his age 30 season.  He might be the only free agent to top $200MM this winter.

2.  Jason Heyward.  Heyward’s last 1500 plate appearances have established that he’s good for about 15 home runs per year.  He adds value in a lot of different ways, though, and a more analytical team might be more inclined to appreciate and pay for that.  While he might not be better than all the players listed below him, keep in mind Heyward turns 26 years old on Sunday.  Because of his age, Heyward is the player on this list with the best shot at an eight-year contract, which could still push him into the $180MM range.

3.  Justin Upton.  Upton is the other free agent outfielder who figures to command a premium partly because of his youth.  Still, he’s hitting .189/.275/.311 since June, and he will require draft pick forfeiture unless the Padres trade him this month.  Upton has been hampered by oblique and thumb injuries since July 19th, and his contract year has not gone as planned.  He still may approach 30 home runs, though, and may be able to get a seven-year deal.

4.  Johnny Cueto.  As expected, Cueto was traded, and now he’ll try to lead the Royals to a championship.  Cueto’s ace-level talent is undeniable, but with a few blips on his health record, can he push into seven-year deal territory?  A seventh year could result in Cueto getting this winter’s second-biggest contract.  A strong finish will go a long way.

5.  Zack GreinkeSince we last checked in on June 25th, Greinke has given up four earned runs.  He leads all of baseball with a 1.41 ERA, and no one else is under 2.00.  Greinke’s timing is fantastic, and even though he turns 32 in October, a six-year deal is looking more and more plausible.  Opting out of the three years and $71MM remaining on his Dodgers contract seems a mere formality.

6.  Yoenis Cespedes.  The Mets made a trade deadline splash by acquiring Cespedes.  He may threaten his career-high of 26 home runs, and he turns 30 in October.  With Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, there is precedent for Cespedes to get a seven-year deal.  Though he’s known for his power, Cespedes’ agent could try to push him as an elite defender as well based on his metrics this year.

7.  Alex Gordon.  Gordon went down on July 8th with a groin injury, but he’s on the road to recovery.  I don’t believe the injury will affect his value much.  However, as a player who turns 32 in February, he seems limited to a six-year deal.  Given his strong on-base percentage and defense, there will be teams with Gordon atop their free agent outfielder rankings.

8.  Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann has been solid, with a 3.54 ERA in 22 starts.  He’s not a big strikeout guy, and for the first time it looks like he’ll allow more than a hit per inning in a full season.  He’ll still be a great addition for a team with a strong defense.  The question is whether a team will commit a sixth year.

9.  Chris Davis.  Davis has bounced back from 2014 and has a reasonable shot at hitting 40 home runs this year.  Davis has 28 home runs now, with Upton, Cespedes, and Marlon Byrd next among free agents at 18.  Davis isn’t showing a platoon split in 2015, and he doesn’t turn 30 until March.  He’s again starting to look like a player who could exceed $100MM.

10.  Mike Leake.  Leake is a new entrant on this list.  Just 28 in November, Leake has a 2.61 ERA since June.  With the trade to the Giants, he’s ineligible for a qualifying offer.  Leake is a durable, young mid-rotation arm, and I’m starting to wonder if he can snag a five-year deal in free agency.  For now, his durability holds off Scott Kazmir in terms of earning power.

Kazmir leads the American League in ERA right now, and won’t be getting a qualifying offer.  The southpaw, 32 in January, could find his way into our top ten if his success continues and his health holds up.  Still, it’s hard to crack the list without an expectation of a five-year deal, and I can’t picture that for Kazmir right now.

Jeff Samardzija, once seen as the list’s most likely trade candidate, has fallen out of our top ten.  His results continue to be middling for the White Sox, and now a qualifying offer seems likely.  Shark remains a durable, quality arm, but he might not be a lock for five years.

Nationals’ shortstop Ian Desmond also drops off the list.  His struggles have continued, and he may prefer to try to rebuild value with a one-year deal.  Those haven’t been en vogue lately, but can you picture any team giving Desmond four-plus years at a decent salary?

Other impending free agents to watch include Matt Wieters, Ben Zobrist, Yovani Gallardo, Gerardo Parra, Denard Span, Wei-Yin Chen, and Mat Latos.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Notable August Trades: 2012-14

The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, but as we explained earlier today, that in no way means that trading is over. Working out trades is now quite a bit more complicated, but if history is any indication, we’ll still see our fair share of notable names exchanged and possibly some under-the-radar swaps that will look like coups with the benefit of hindsight in a few years.

Here’s a look back at some of the more notable deals from the past three Augusts (with a helping hand from MLBTR’s Transaction Tracker)…

2012 (Transaction Tracker link)

  • Dodgers acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and cash considerations from Red Sox in exchange for Allen Webster, James Loney, Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus and Rubby De La Rosa: One of the most significant trades in recent history (August or otherwise), this trade saw the Red Sox shed more than $250MM in future payroll commitments, positioning GM Ben Cherington for an aggressive offseason on the free agent market that netted Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes — each of whom played a role (some more significant than others) in fueling the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run. As for the Dodgers, Gonzalez has returned to elite status, while Crawford has quietly rebounded (to some extent) and Beckett delivered 115 2/3 innings of 2.88 ERA ball in 2014 — his final season.
  • Athletics acquire Jesse Chavez from Blue Jays for cash considerations, and also acquire Pat Neshek from Orioles for cash considerations: Neither of these deals looked to be of much consequence at the time, but Neshek jumped right into the Oakland bullpen and delivered a 1.37 ERA in 19 2/3 innings. That stretch kicked off a career renaissance of sorts for the side-armer, who is now an integral part of the Houston bullpen. As for Chavez, he’s still with Oakland and has turned in a 3.57 ERA in 318 innings from 2013-15. He’s also controllable through 2016.

2013 (Transaction Tracker link)

  • Pirates acquire Marlon Byrd, John Buck from Mets in exchange for Dilson Herrera, Vic Black: Byrd took a minor league deal with the Mets prior to the season, while Buck was viewed as a throw-in in the offseason blockbuster with the Blue Jays, but both put up big numbers with the Mets and netted the team a pair of significant prospects from Pittsburgh. Byrd and Buck helped the Pirates to the playoffs, ending a 21-year playoff drought, and Herrera is now seen as the Mets’ second baseman of the future. Black, too, could play a part on the team for years to come as a setup man if health permits.
  • Rangers acquire Alex Rios from White Sox in exchange for Leury Garcia: Rios was one of the biggest names traded in August 2013 (though Chicago’s acquisition of him from the Blue Jays in 2009 may be the more notable August move), and he batted .280/.315/.457 for Texas down the stretch. He’d go on to struggle in 2014 and take a one-year deal with the Royals. Garcia, meanwhile, could eventually make for a nice utility piece in Chicago, but to this point the Rangers have received more from the deal than they gave up.

2014 (Transaction Tracker link)

  • Athletics acquire Adam Dunn from White Sox for Nolan Sanburn: An Aug. 31 trade sent the Big Donkey to Oakland, where he caught a fleeting glimpse of playoff baseball before retiring this offseason. Dunn memorably homered in his first at-bat with Oakland.
  • Nationals acquire Matt Thornton from Yankees via waiver claim: The Nationals placed a claim on Thornton and, somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees imply elected to pass the remaining tab on his two-year, $7MM contract along to the Nats. No one in D.C. is complaining; Thornton fired 11 1/3 shutout innings for the Nats down the stretch in 2014 and has a 2.19 ERA this sason.
  • Orioles acquire Alejandro De Aza from White Sox for Miguel Chalas and Mark Blackmar: De Aza didn’t hit much for the White Sox in his final year with the team, but he exploded in Baltimore, slashing .293/.341/.537 down the stretch and going 7-for-21 with three doubles in the playoffs. His second year in Baltimore didn’t go as well; the O’s designated him for assignment and flipped him to the Red Sox earlier this year, and Boston has enjoyed nice production from the 31-year-old. De Aza’s hitting .305/.353/.500 with Boston and is once again an August trade candidate.

There were, of course, many more trades made over the past three Augusts (check out the accompanying Transaction Tracker links above for the full lists), and there figure to be many more this season. I doubt we’ll see a nine-player blockbuster in which more than a quarter-billion dollars worth of salary changes hands again, but there are plenty of big names with significant salary owed to them that didn’t move last month. James Shields, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Mike Napoli, Alex Avila, Rajai Davis and many others could find their names floating around on the rumor mill this month.


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Royals GM Dayton Moore Talks Zobrist Trade

Dayton Moore pulled off a major acquisition when he landed ace Johnny Cueto from the Reds on Sunday, but he didn’t rest on his laurels after that trade.  Today, he finalized another major deal when he acquired versatile veteran Ben Zobrist from the A’s.  Earlier today, I asked the Royals GM if he was under a mandate from ownership to go for broke this summer and make major moves.

We always have a mandate to put the best team on the field,” Moore told reporters on the conference call.  “Certainly the play of our team and how our players have responded gives us more motivation to make moves, but we’ve always tried to do whatever could at the deadline to make our team better for the second half, even when we weren’t competing.”

While Cueto came to K.C. before Zobrist, the GM explained that talks with Oakland actually started before the discussions with Cincinnati. There are still a few days to go until the trade deadline but Moore doesn’t expect to make another blockbuster deal between now and Friday.  Like a responsible Christmas shopper, it appears that Moore has avoided the rush to get the top shelf prizes.  Interestingly, however, he says the timing of it all was happenstance.

You’ll have to speak with [Reds GM] Walt [Jocketty] and [A’s GM] Billy [Beane], but for me, they were just satisfied with the package that was offered,” said Moore.  “I don’t think anybody is gonna execute a deal unless they’re as satisfied as they can be.  When we enter into these types of discussions for a player we want we are very aggressive.  We have a good idea of what we want and what we want to provide as far as the package goes and what they desire…No sense in stringing things out and creating unnecessary tension.  If you know at the end of the day that you’re going to get to a certain place, you might as well get there.”

Zobrist is expected to join his new teammates “in a day or two,” and when he gets in the mix, he’ll be slotted in left field rather than second base, where he’ll be filling in for the currently injured Alex Gordon.  There’s plenty of work ahead for Zobrist, Cueto, and the Royals, but it sounds like their GM is done with the heavy lifting for the week.


Trade Market For Starting Pitchers

“You can never have enough starting pitching.” It’s a refrain we hear often this time of year, and it leads to a lot of deadline deals — even for clubs that don’t strictly “need” to add a starter. We’ve already seen the Royals (acquiring Johnny Cueto) and Astros (acquiring Scott Kazmir) strike deals for highly-rated arms, and they’ll likely be joined by teams such as the Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays among others. Making things even more interesting, we’ve heard a variety of rumors involving more controllable pitching — which could re-frame clubs that have fallen back in the standings (such as the Red Sox, Rangers, and Diamondbacks) as future-oriented buyers.

Cueto and Kazmir are taken, but there’s plenty left to choose from:

Aces

David Price (Tigers), Cole Hamels (Phillies)

  • If Price is made available — and reports on whether or not that will happen have been conflicting — he’s the prize of the rental market. With all due respect to the excellent Cueto, Price hasn’t had any health scares this year, and he’s simply outperformed all of the other rentals, as one would expect. Price is on nearly any fan or evaluator’s short list of the five to 10 best pitchers in baseball. His latest eight-inning gem dropped his ERA to 2.31 to go along with 8.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. He’s earning an enormous (relative to other arbitration prices, that is) $19.8MM in 2015, of which about $8MM or so remains. That’s a big amount to add midway through a season, so if traded, Price will likely go to a team with both the financial wherewithal to take on a sizable sum and a deep farm system or cache of MLB-ready talent to entice Detroit to part ways with its ace.
  • Hamels answered skeptics who questioned his abilities following a pair of ugly starts by turning the best start of his career on Saturday — a 13-strikeout no-hitter against the Cubs. It’d be a storybook ending for one of the greatest pitchers in Phillies history… if he’s moved. Some have questioned whether the Phillies will move him now or move him at the Winter Meetings, once president-to-be Andy MacPhail is running the show and is more acclimated to his new organization. That’d be a risky play, as the winter market could be saturated with arms, though the $73.5MM he’s guaranteed from 2016-18 would be below market value for an arm of Hamels’ caliber at that point.

The Second Tier

Jeff Samardzija (White Sox), James Shields (Padres), Andrew Cashner (Padres), Tyson Ross (Padres), Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners), Mat Latos (Marlins)

  • Samardzija hasn’t been as good with the White Sox as he was in 2014 with the Cubs and A’s, but some of that can be pinned on a brutal defense playing behind him. He’s been very good as of late, posting a 2.55 ERA and a 45-to-11 K/BB ratio in 60 innings over his past eight starts. A free agent at season’s end, Samardzija has turned in somewhat of a mixed skill set. His 6.9 K/9 rate is the lowest of his career as a starter, and his ground-ball rate is down nearly 10 percent from its 2014 levels. However, he’s also walking fewer batters than he ever has (1.7 BB/9) and is still averaging better than 94 mph on his fastball.
  • The Padres are apparently pushing hard to move Shields and his backloaded contract just five months after signing him to a four-year, $75MM contract. That’s probably a tall order, considering Shields is owed $64MM from 2016-18 and has the power to opt out of his deal following the 2016 season. In other words, if a team pays any kind of premium in terms of talent, they may be sacrificing that talent for just a year and a half of production. But, if Shields declines, they’ve assumed the risk of that weighty contract and could be stuck with an overpriced asset. Recently, though, Shields looks excellent.
  • Cashner and Ross are perhaps more desirable than Shields due to their youth, although each is having somewhat of a down season. Cashner’s been more homer-prone than usual and is stranding fewer runners, though in terms of strikeout rate, control and ground-ball rate, he’s largely the same pitcher he was in 2014. He’s a free agent following the 2016 season. Ross is controlled through 2017, and his strikeout and ground-ball rates are both way up in 2015. However, his old control woes look to have resurfaced to some extent (4.2 BB/9).
  • Iwakuma’s spent a good chunk of the year on the DL and is a pure rental, but he’s been great over his past three starts and is distancing himself from the bizarre and uncharacteristic homer problems that plagued him upon his return. Iwakuma has a 4.50 ERA, but both xFIP and SIERA feel his skills are more indicative of a 3.50ish ERA. He’s earning $7MM this season, making him very affordable.
  • As I noted in profiling Latos earlier this month, he’s been a different pitcher since coming off the DL with a nagging knee injury that likely ties back to the surgery he had in 2014. Latos’ fastball velocity is up more than two miles per hour since coming off the DL, and he’s striking people out in bunches. Since I last examined his stock, he’s allowed four runs in 20 innings with a 19-to-3 K/BB ratio. Overall, he has a 2.96 ERA with 8.5 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a 45.2 percent ground-ball rate in 45 2/3 innings since getting healthy. The Mat Latos of old is back, and he might be the most underrated rental on the market.

Mid-Rotation Arms/Innings Eaters/Back-End Starters

Mike Leake (Reds), Dan Haren (Marlins), Yovani Gallardo (Rangers), Ian Kennedy (Padres), Jesse Chavez (Athletics), C.J. Wilson (Angels), Jeremy Hellickson (D-Backs), Colby Lewis (Rangers), Wandy Rodriguez (Rangers), J.A. Happ (Mariners), Kyle Lohse (Brewers), Aaron Harang (Phillies), Jerome Williams (Phillies), Justin Masterson (Red Sox), Mike Pelfrey (Twins), Bud Norris (Orioles), Kyle Kendrick (Rockies), Matt Garza (Brewers), John Danks (White Sox), Jorge De La Rosa (Rockies)

  • Leake, Gallardo, Haren, Kennedy and Happ are the top rentals of this group. No one from that group is overpowering. In fact, Kennedy, who strikes out the most batter os the bunch, is having a down season (like the rest of San Diego’s starters, for the most part). Still, any from this group could conceivably be plugged into the middle of most rotations in the Majors. Leake’s probably the best bet to be moved in the next few days.
  • Chavez and Wilson can both be controlled through 2016, though Wilson’s $20MM salary for 2016 will probably be roughly four times greater than what Chavez will earn in his final trip through arbitration. Both can help a rotation, but Wilson would probably need to be moved along with some cash or in exchange for another player with an expensive salary. Hellickson, too, is controlled through 2016, though the former top prospect and AL Rookie of the Year has regressed quite a bit in recent seasons. He got off to a poor start with the Snake but has been great over his past four starts.
  • Harang probably won’t be moved until August due to an injury, but he joins the likes of Masterson, Pelfrey, Norris, Williams, Kendrick, Lohse, Garza and Danks in the “struggling veteran” category. Pelfrey has decent numbers but he’s been dreadful of late and was never as good as his peripherals indicated this season. All of these arms, with the exception of Danks and Garza, would be rentals. Danks and Garza are both owed sizable commitments beyond 2015.

Controllable Arms With MLB Experience

Carlos Carrasco (Indians), Jon Niese (Mets), Julio Teheran (Braves), Mike Fiers (Brewers), Vance Worley (Pirates), Jeff Locke (Pirates) Tom Koehler (Marlins), David Phelps (Marlins), Dan Straily (Astros)

  • Carrasco is probably the most desirable of this bunch, as the strikeout machine is in the first season of an affordable four-year, $22MM extension that contains a pair of club options valued at $9MM and $9.5MM. As such, Carrasco would require an enormous haul. The Blue Jays have expressed interest, and others figure to do so as well. Jeff Todd and I discussed how the Indians could potentially free themselves of the Michael Bourn and/or Nick Swisher contracts by way of a Carrasco trade.
  • Niese’s name keeps popping up in trade rumors, but the latest say the Mets don’t want to move him. He’s pitched well and can be controlled for another two years beyond 2015.
  • Teheran has surfaced as a surprise trade candidate after struggling with his control in 2015. He’s owed $29.6MM from 2016-19, including a $1MM buyout of a $12MM 2020 option. Struggles aside, it’s difficult to envision the Braves selling too low. They’d likely value him highly due to that control, though plenty of teams would love to get the opportunity to try to turn Teheran around.
  • The Blue Jays like Fiers, but the pre-arbitration 30-year-old isn’t someone the Brewers feel inclined to move. He’d require a relatively notable return, though probably not one on par with Carrasco and Teheran.
  • Worley and Locke have had their ups and downs as members of the Pittsburgh rotation over the past two seasons. They’re fourth starters at best — probably closer to fifth starters — but either could be on the move if the Bucs make a more substantial roation upgrade.
  • Koehler seems unlikely to be moved by Miami, as he’s a usable fourth/fifth starter option that won’t be arb eligible until this offseason. He’s controlled through 2018 and has a career 3.89 ERA with 6.6 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 458 2/3 innings. Phelps is a swingman that has been useful in both the bullpen and rotation for the Yankees and Marlins. His contract status and his overall numbers are similar to Koehler.
  • Straily’s been excellent at Triple-A this year but has bounced from the A’s to the Cubs to the Astros without getting an extended look in a rotation. He might make sense for a rebuilding team with little upper-level pitching depth that could afford to give him a chance (e.g. Phillies, Rockies).

For a look around the rest of the trade market, check out MLBTR’s rundowns of the market for catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen, corner outfielders, center fielders and relief pitchers.


Ben Cherington On Shane Victorino, Rusney Castillo

Earlier this evening, the Red Sox and the Angels reached agreement on a deal to send Shane Victorino and cash considerations out west in exchange for infielder Josh Rutledge.  In a conference call with reporters, Red Sox Executive Vice President/GM Ben Cherington explained that the talks started only in the last few days.

The deal kind of came together over the weekend,” Cherington said. “I talked to Shane this afternoon during batting practice about it…He’s been a part of a lot of great moments, not just for the Red Sox, but throughout his career.”

The deal was not an easy one for Cherington to make and it has brought about some mixed emotions for the Flyin’ Hawaiian.  Victorino expressed to Cherington that he’s happy to have an opportunity to join up with a contender and play meaningful games down the stretch.  On the other hand, the veteran feels that his time in Boston marked a very important part of his career and he is sad to leave his Red Sox teammates behind.

Baseball-wise, the deal opens up space on the Red Sox’s roster, allowing them to get a good look at international signee Rusney Castillo.  While Cherington wouldn’t quantify how much that played a role in the Victorino trade, he said that it was “certainly” a consideration.  However, there aren’t any immediate plans to make a similar move to accommodate Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jackie is doing well. There’s merit and consideration in trying to get some opportunities for him too, but today it’s Castillo.  We’ll see where it goes after that,” said the GM.

As for Rutledge, Cherington confessed that he has had interest in the infielder “going back to his Colorado days.”  With Dustin Pedroia on the DL, the 26-year-old figures to see a good amount of playing time the rest of the way.  If he does well, Cherington says he can envision him “being a part of the team going forward.”

Outside of today’s transaction, Cherington kept mum about other possible dealings this week.  When asked about the level of interest he’s received in Mike Napoli, he effectively gave a no comment.  When another reporter inquired on what’s next, Cherington tersely replied, “[There’s] nothing to announce and nothing is particularly close.”


Trade Market For Relievers

There’s never any shortage of teams in need of pen arms. As the Cardinals’ early strike for Steve Cishek shows, even high-performing bullpens can often benefit from depth. Of course, we’ve also seen teams benefit in recent seasons by adding premium arms to their late-inning mix, as the Orioles did last year with Andrew Miller. But as that trade also demonstrates, the price for pen arms (in that case, Eduardo Rodriguez) is never higher than at the deadline.

Closers & Premium Set-Up Men

Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies), Francisco Rodriguez & Will Smith (Brewers), Aroldis Chapman (Reds), Craig Kimbrel & Joaquin Benoit (Padres), Koji Uehara & Junichi Tazawa (Red Sox), Tyler Clippard (Athletics), Joakim Soria (Tigers), Jim Johnson (Braves), Brad Ziegler (Diamondbacks), Brad Boxberger & Jake McGee (Rays)

  • At this point, Papelbon has largely silenced concerns about his ability to dominate with decreased velocity. At 34 years of age, he no longer racks up the double-digit K/9 tallies that he used to, and he’s outperformed his peripherals somewhat, but Papelbon still owns an outstanding 1.87 ERA with 8.7 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 since the start of 2014. He’s playing on a $13MM salary this year and is close to triggering a vesting option for the same amount next season, but that doesn’t seem an outlandish commitment at this point and the Phils are reportedly willing to keep a good piece of the cost. The major limiting factor on Papelbon’s market is his 17-team no-trade list and perhaps his preference to go to a team that will use him in the ninth inning.
  • K-Rod may be the second most obvious closer trade piece. He’s cheaper than Papelbon, but not by as much as you might think (at least in the future). His backloaded deal includes $9.5MM in commitments after this season, including a $2MM buyout of a $6MM club option for 2017. Regardless, that’s a more appealing contract than that of the Phillies closer. And the 33-year-old has been every bit as excellent, with a 1.54 ERA and 10.0 K/9 against 2.3 BB/9 on the year.
  • Next up: the two best relievers in baseball, Chapman and Kimbrel. Both certainly could be had for the right price, but it remains to be seen how motivated their teams are to sell. Chapman has probably overtaken Kimbrel as the most dominant closer in the game, as he continues to compile truly remarkable strikeout numbers (16.0 per nine on the season) while Kimbrel has cooled down (relatively speaking) to the 13-per-nine range. Chapman is only controllable for one more season after the present, after earning just over $8MM this year through arbitration, while Kimbrel is guaranteed $25MM over the next two seasons and has a club option that could bring the total bill for his services to $37MM from 2016-18. You could debate their relative value at this point, but contenders would probably prefer to slot the Cincinnati lefty into their pen down the stretch.
  • Uehara lands in his own category, in large part because it’s unclear how inclined the Red Sox will be to consider moving him. The 40-year-old carries a 2.52 ERA this year, identical to his output last season, and continues to put up double-digit strikeouts while walking well under two batters per nine innings. He’s owed the same reasonable $9MM salary next year that he’s earning in 2015, but that may make Boston inclined to keep him.
  • Clippard and Soria are both working as closers, but look like set-up targets for contenders. Both are well-paid this year ($8.3MM and $7MM, respectively), and are pure rentals. It remains to be seen whether the latter will be marketed, but both would figure to draw fairly strong interest. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up (8.8 K/9 against 4.9 BB/9), causing ERA estimators to shudder, but Clippard still carries only a 2.79 ERA. Likewise, though Soria has shown increased velocity and carries a 2.93 ERA, he has fallen back to 7.7 K/9 (against 2.5 BB/9). Rumor has it that a Clippard trade could come as soon as today.
  • Johnson, too, could be viewed as a setup man, though he has a lengthy track record as a closer, including a pair of season in which he led the AL in saves. He’s back in the ninth inning following the Braves’ trade of Kimbrel and an injury to Jason Grilli. Johnson has a $1.6MM base salary, and his contract can max out at $2.5MM, which makes him one of the better buy-low pickups of the offseason and means that any team could afford his contract.
  • Benoit, Ziegler, and Tazawa all occupy similar positions as long-established late-inning arms on likely sellers who come with an additional season of control. Ziegler is serving as the D’backs closer, and Benoit has closed in the past, but all three profile as potential set-up additions for most teams. The first two are well compensated ($8MM and $5MM annual salaries, respectively), while Tazawa is a bargain at $2.25MM. As for 2016, it’s a similar story, as Benoit comes with a $8MM option, Ziegler’s option will cost $5.5MM, and Tazawa is controllable via arbitration. All three have typically stellar earned run averages, but Tazawa has the best peripherals this year, is by far the youngest of the group, and comes with the most appealing contract situation.
  • Smith and McGee represent two of the best late-inning lefties that could potentially be had at the deadline this year. The Brewers may well hold onto Smith, who is nearly certain to reach arbitration eligibility as a Super Two but will still be relatively cheap for some time given his lack of saves (or even holds). He’s put it all together this season, with a 1.75 ERA and 12.5 K/9 vs. 3.5 BB/9. Meanwhile, McGee has a somewhat lengthier track record and has been even better than Smith: he’s down to a 1.14 earned run average with a remarkable 10.7 K:BB ratio on the year. On the other hand, he already costs $3.55MM and will likely get nice raises each of the next two years in arbitration. That’s not as desirable as Smith’s status, but makes him quite a valuable piece — and one that is expensive by Tampa Bay’s standards.
  • Boxberger is an interesting trade chip for the Rays, who are reportedly considering a move involving one or more of their excellent arms. He has been plenty useful this year, though his run prevention and K:BB tallies are not a match for 2014 (when he posted a 2.37 ERA with 14.5 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9, along with a minuscule but BABIP-aided 4.7 hits per nine). There’s no urgency for Tampa Bay to move Boxberger, as he can be controlled through 2019 and will be eligible for arbitration only three times, but the club could be interested in selling high from an area of some surplus.

Right-Handed Middle Relief Targets

John Axford (Rockies), Jason Frasor & David Aardsma (Braves), Jonathan Broxton (Brewers), Kevin Jepsen (Rays), Edward Mujica & Ryan Cook (Athletics), Fernando Rodney, Mark Lowe & Tom Wilhelmsen (Mariners), Shawn Kelley (Padres), Matt Albers (White Sox), Ryan Webb (Indians), Burke Badenhop & Ryan Mattheus (Reds), Jeanmar Gomez (Phillies), Addison Reed (Diamondbacks)

  • Axford is a former closer that signed a fairly meager deal as a free agent over the winter, only to find himself back in the 9th inning due to injuries. He’s put up solid results, but ERA estimators value him more as solid-average than a late-inning stud, and contending teams likely will as well. That being said, his affordable contract and good recent work make him an appealing trade targets.
  • Otherwise, this group includes a wide array of potentially interesting players, ranging from struggling and expensive power arms (Broxton, Rodney, Reed) to affordable middle relievers with good recent numbers (Jepsen, Lowe, Gomez), with a wide variety of options in between.

Left-Handed Middle Relief Targets

Mike Dunn (Marlins), Oliver Perez (Diamondbacks), Marc Rzepczynski (Indians), Zach Duke (White Sox), Fernando Abad & Eric O’Flaherty (Athletics), Neal Cotts (Brewers), Manny Parra (Reds), Joe Beimel (Mariners)

  • Clubs in need of arms capable of registering outs against left-handed hitting will surely look closely at the players on this list, especially if Smith and/or McGee can’t be had at reasonable rates. The first five names on the list were outstanding last season, but they’ve all posted higher earned run averages and worse peripherals. We haven’t heard anything about the White Sox considering a move involving Duke, though it’s hard to imagine many clubs having interest in his big contract. Parra is on the disabled list but could be an August trade candidate.

Trade Market For Corner Outfielders

There’s no shortage of teams with potential interest in the corner outfield market, with the Angels, Mets, Royals, and Orioles all having notable potential needs. Other clubs, too, could see an opportunity to upgrade or add a new bench piece. Note that we’ve already covered some corner outfield possibilities in the center field trade market piece. Contenders certainly may consider moving for players like Gerardo Parra, Will Venable, Ben Revere, or even Carlos Gomez with intentions of using them in a corner role.

Here are some names that could come up in the coming week:

Starters

Jay Bruce & Marlon Byrd (Reds), Justin Upton (Padres), Yoenis Cespedes (Tigers), Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Josh Reddick (Athletics), Brandon Moss (Indians), Mark Trumbo (Mariners), Andre Ethier & Carl Crawford (Dodgers), Melky Cabrera (White Sox)

  • Bruce and Byrd are both appealing trade pieces, in different ways, for a struggling Cincinnati club that is said to be looking to shed salary. The former is controllable and affordable, with two years and $25.5MM left on his deal after this year (the latter season via club option). And after a rough 2014, he’s back on track for a typical .800+ OPS, thirty-homer, ten-steal, solid defensive campaign. The ageless Byrd, meanwhile, is still delivering impressive power, with a .465 slugging percentage and 16 long balls. He makes plenty of sense as a rental for a team in need of that skillset.
  • San Diego is probably out of it, and has a lot of young talent to recoup after its offseason acquisition spree. Upton is slashing a relatively light (for him) .252/.331/.426, though Petco is doing him no favors and he has contributed 15 long balls and 17 stolen bases. He’s probably the best clearly available rental piece.
  • It remains to be seen whether Cespedes will be marketed, as the Tigers make their final assessments, but he’d be in high demand. (One recently-reported twist: if Detroit wants to bring him back, it basically must either extend him or trade and re-sign him.) Cespedes is delivering his best overall season thus far, with well-above-average offensive production and quality defensive ratings.
  • CarGo’s value is down with ongoing injury concerns and a rough early start, but he’s coming on with big numbers in June (.865 OPS) and July (1.016). His contract is no longer the asset it used to be, but the two years and $37MM remaining after this year are a reasonable price and risk for a player with his track record. Gonzalez does face the same questions as most hitters who succeed at Coors Field, but the bigger concern may be his abysmal numbers against left-handed pitching this year (.162/.222/.176 in 82 plate appearances). And the bigger question, as always, is whether the Rockies are really willing to move one of their more marketable players.
  • Reddick may not be available, but the Athletics will surely at least listen with one year of control remaining. He’s put up a strong .283/.337/.456 slash line (considering he plays half his games at the O.Co Coliseum) and has always been a highly-regarded defender, though his metrics are off this year. Given that Reddick will only be building off of a $4.1MM arb salary next year, it’s going to take a legitimate haul to pry him loose.
  • Last we heard, Moss won’t be made available by the Indians. He isn’t putting up the big numbers he had in recent campaigns, but seems to have been a bit unlucky on the hard contact he’s made. Like Reddick, he’s affordable ($6.5MM this year) and controllable for another season, making him an asset to a Cleveland team that hopes to contend next season.
  • Trumbo falls roughly in the same camp as Reddick and Moss, but he’s not as good an overall player. And the 29-year-old has not hit much (.213/.250/.287) since coming over to Seattle. The Mariners are said to be reluctant to sell, despite having fallen well off the pace in the AL West, so Trumbo seems a good bet to stay.
  • The Dodgers aren’t sellers, of course, but Ethier and Crawford are just two of many options for the position-player-rich club. With big dollars remaining on both of their deals, the pair of 33-year-olds will have a limited market. They’ll also have quite different markets, as Ethier has produced at his in-prime level at the plate while Crawford has struggled with injury and performance. That makes the former a much more valuable asset, with the latter factoring more as a salary swap candidate.
  • Speaking of offloading salary, Cabrera’s $29MM in post-2015 obligations are not looking too good at present. The up-and-down performer is in the latter camp at present, though he has picked things up of late. It’s not clear that there’s much of a market or much impetus to deal him, but it can’t be ruled out if the White Sox look to free some future salary space.

Platoon Candidates & Backups

Alejandro De Aza, Shane Victorino & Daniel Nava (Red Sox), Jonny Gomes (Braves), David Murphy & Ryan Raburn (Indians), Alex Guerrero & Scott Van Slyke (Dodgers), Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Domonic Brown & Jeff Francoeur (Phillies)

  • Boston is probably better served by getting an extended look at other options in the outfield — Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo chief among them — and would find at least some interest in its trio of veterans. De Aza has impressed since coming over earlier in the year, and would be a nice fourth outfield piece elsewhere. Victorino, on the other hand, has struggled with injuries and owns a meager .247/.330/.303 slash, so moving him would likely be a matter of saving a bit of cash at the tail end of his deal. And Nava, who himself only just been activated after a long DL stint, has been even worse (.159/.250/.190). Unlike the others, he has control after this year, though he profiles as a non-tender candidate.
  • There are several classic veteran platoon pieces among the next several names on the list that could draw varying levels of interest. Murphy is a veteran righty-masher who’s been successful this year. Gomes and Raburn have good numbers against left-handed pitching and are exactly the type of veteran part-time pieces that contenders often look to add. Francoeur has traditionally done the same, though he’s posted reverse platoon splits this season and was wholly unproductive from 2012-14.
  • The other players noted come with additional control, but don’t really look like pieces that a team would expect to plug into a starting role. Guerrero and Van Slyke are both enjoying solid years and are part of a busy mix in Los Angeles, though the former can become a free agent after the year if traded and the latter may be too cheap and flexible a piece for the Dodgers to move him.
  • As for Ackley and Brown, there are a fair number of similarities. The 27-year-olds once looked like future stars but have fallen shy of expectations. They are each earning $2.6MM this year with two more arb seasons to go. It’s hard to imagine a contender having a ton of interest, and the non-tender specter looms, but either could in theory be change-of-scenery candidates.

Currently in the Minors

Oswaldo Arcia (Twins), Justin Ruggiano, James Jones, & Stefen Romero (Mariners), Robbie Grossman & Alex Presley (Astros), Alfredo Marte & Roger Kieschnick (Angels), Dayan Viciedo & Ryan Roberts (Athletics), Michael Choice (Rangers), Roger Bernadina (Rockies), Chris Heisey (Dodgers)

There are some reasonably interesting names on this list, including some players who could still have some upside remaining in Arcia, Jones, Grossman, and Choice. It remains to be seen how much patience their organizations have, but any could conceivably factor into various trade scenarios. And for contenders seeking depth or final bench piece options, there are some guys with a good bit of big league experience who are playing well at Triple-A, with Ruggiano representing perhaps the most interesting name in that regard.

You can check out the rest of this ongoing series by using the “2015 Trade Market” tag, or by clicking on these links: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops, Third Basemen, Center Fielders.