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After the Mariners moved in the fences at Safeco Field and acquired several veteran bats in the offseason, it has to be disheartening for the team and their fans that the M's are again struggling at the plate. The Mariners are near the bottom of the league in most offensive categories, carrying an overall team slash line of .233/.296/.371 heading into Friday's action.
The offensive slump can't be blamed on at least one of those newcomers. Kendrys Morales hit .253/.354/.422 with three homers though his first 96 PA, roughly on pace with the .787 OPS he posted with the Angels in 2012 though this season Morales has hit for less power and reached base more often. He's been one of the bright spots in the Seattle lineup but if the M's can't pull themselves together, Morales could be expendable come the July trade deadline.
Morales was acquired by the Mariners in December in a one-for-one swap with the Angels that sent Jason Vargas to Anaheim. It was a logical move for both teams as the Angels needed space at DH and the Mariners had an excess of starting pitching given the number of young arms in their system. Morales was a short-term investment for the M's since he is only under contract through this season, earning $5.25MM in his last year of arbitration eligibility. That's a very good price for a solid bat, and if Morales is a deadline pickup, a trade suitor would owe the switch-hitter just $1.75MM over the last two months of the season.
Here are some of the teams that could be a trade fit with the Mariners…
* Rockies. While Morales has played some first base since his return from the leg injury that cost him almost the entirety of the 2010-11 seasons, he is best suited for a DH role. An NL team might not want to risk playing Morales in the field every day, but if the surprising Rockies stay in the NL West race, they could acquire Morales and only use him against right-handed starters. Colorado has the right-handed hitting Jordan Pacheco to use against southpaws as Morales only has a career .714 OPS against lefty pitching. Todd Helton (currently on the DL) is also still in the mix at first for the Rockies but the club can't expect much from their former franchise player given his recent injury history.
* Giants. Brandon Belt's struggles have left the Giants thin at first base, but I see Morales as very much a longshot fit for their needs.
* Tigers. If Victor Martinez still hasn't returned to form by midseason, Detroit might look to improve their designated hitter spot. Scott Boras, Morales' agent, could be a factor in such a trade given his good relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.
* Rays. Tampa Bay is another offensively-challenged team that has Wil Myers waiting in the wings for a call-up to play right field and Luke Scott on a minor league rehab assignment. Morales would be an upgrade over Scott at DH and, since Morales' remaining salary would be in the $1.75MM range, he'd fit into the Rays' limited payroll.
* Orioles. Nolan Reimold has been getting the majority of the DH at-bats with Wilson Betemit out until June. The O's could be in the market for an upgrade but it's doubtful given that a healthy Betemit hits right-handers well enough to make Morales redundant.
It could be argued that the Mariners should not only keep Morales but also pursue an extension with him, given that the 29-year-old is one of the team's few productive bats. Scott Boras clients, however, generally go to free agency and you wonder if Morales would want to remain at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field over the long term. Besides, the M's could always deal Morales at the deadline and then pursue him again as a free agent in the offseason. Trading Morales in June or July would net the Mariners a decent prospect or two as they may already be looking to reload for 2014.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports Images
It's been a rough start to the season for the Phillies, whose 9-12 record puts them 6.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Roy Halladay hasn't been himself early (though he's shown signs of life), Ryan Howard hasn't hit much and they were already at a disadvantage with Carlos Ruiz serving a suspension to open the season.
Offseason signee Mike Adams' two-year, $12MM contract was just one among a flurry of moves made by GM Ruben Amaro Jr. The Phillies traded for Michael Young and Ben Revere, signed Adams, John Lannan and Delmon Young as free agents and exercised the option on Ruiz's contract.
While other members of the team have struggled, Adams has done little to suggest that he'll do anything other than what he's done for the past five seasons: dominate. Adams has allowed two runs in nine innings of work to go along with a sizzling 14-to-2 K/BB ratio. That meshes with the 1.98 ERA, 9.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 he's posted in 295 innings since 2008.
Teams are always on the lookout for bullpen help come the trade deadline, and this July figures to be no different. We've already seen Jason Motte hit the shelf with Tommy John surgery looking likely. Joel Hanrahan is on the disabled list. John Axford is out as the Brewers' closer. Relief pitching is volatile, and consistently dominant arms like Adams are tough to come by. If the Phillies are farther out of the race in two months, Amaro will have no shortage of phone calls regarding his ace setup man.
Because he's under control for 2014 with an option for 2015, Adams would have significant trade value — more than the value he had in 2011 when the Rangers gave the Padres their No. 4 prospect (per Baseball America) in Robbie Erlin and their No. 22 prospect in Joe Wieland. That trade looks pretty good for the Padres right now, and the Phillies could benefit even more. Last summer, the Cardinals flipped a 2010 first-round pick in Zack Cox to acquire a year and a half of Edward Mujica — an inferior reliever to Adams. Granted, Cox's stock had dropped since entering the season as BA's No. 88 prospect, but it can serve as a point of reference in talks for Adams. Two and a half years of Adams at a reasonable price should be enough for a team to part with a Top 100 prospect and another respectable piece.
The Phillies haven't made a history of being sellers at the deadline, but they traded Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino last July and will likely be faced with the opportunity to add prospects via trade once again. Adams should draw plenty of interest, though Amaro may also choose to keep him around with the hope that he can contribute to the next Phillies contender.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
29-year-old righty Carlos Villanueva has kicked off his Cubs career with three quality starts. That's been a big part of the team's 3.11 rotation ERA, third-best in the National League. The Cubs, however, have failed in most other aspects of the game and are already six games back in the NL Central with a 5-13 record. Once again, the team's veterans need to be ready for the possibility of a summer trade.
Because of his age and some decent rotation work for the Blue Jays last year, Villanueva was able to find a two-year, $10MM deal with the Cubs in December. The Cubs had already signed Scott Baker and Scott Feldman at that point, and went on to add Edwin Jackson. That's a whopping four free agent starters, but the depth has been necessary so far with Baker and Matt Garza on the shelf. Garza's first minor league rehab start is scheduled for tomorrow, so he's projected to return in May. Baker will be out until at least June, after undergoing Tommy John surgery a year ago. Even with the uncertainty surrounding Baker, the Cubs have assembled significantly more rotation depth than they had last July, when they traded Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster.
So, there's a chance the Cubs move two starting pitchers again this summer. With free agency looming, Garza is a prime candidate. If he stays healthy and reasonably effective, Villanueva is another. Though he has one of the slower fastballs you'll see from a right-handed starter, Villanueva has been effective since joining the Jays' rotation in late June of last year. Since then he's started 19 games, with a 3.90 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and 1.67 HR/9 in 113 innings. Some of his numbers in his brief Cubs career are unsustainable, but if Villanueva's walk and groundball rates stick, he should have continued success. In particular, he shouldn't be quite so homer-prone moving forward.
Perhaps they underestimated Maholm at the time, but the Cubs were still able to acquire a top-90 prospect from the Braves in Arodys Vizcaino last summer. Like Maholm, the Cubs can offer an additional full season of Villanueva's services, making him more than just a rental. The Indians, Angels, and Phillies are a few early potential matches, should those teams remain on the fringe of contention. Should the longball remain an issue for Villanueva, though, it could cause teams with hitters' parks to shy away.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Chris Perez is enjoying a nice comeback season in 2012 and made the All-Star team, but the Indians closer has mostly drawn attention for his statements off the field. Perez criticized Cleveland fans for low attendance and a perceived lack of support last spring, and now the right-hander has spoken out against team management in a recent interview with FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi.
Perez is clearly frustrated in Cleveland, and if his latest comments were the last straw for Indians' management, it might be best for both sides if they parted ways this offseason. The Indians have a deep bullpen that includes the likes of Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith and Tony Sipp, with Pestano the favorite to take over closing duties should Perez get traded.
There was talk, in fact, that Pestano could've taken over as closer in 2012 in the wake of Perez's shaky 2011 campaign. While Perez posted a 3.32 ERA, his advanced metrics (4.65 SIERA, 5.01 xFIP) weren't kind and he had a career-low 5.9 K/9, good for just a 1.5 K/BB ratio. Perez has bounced back nicely this season (3.51 ERA, 2.55 SIERA, 3.18 xFIP, a 10.4 K/9 and a career-low 2.0 BB/9) and the righty now has a career 3.20 ERA and 266 strikeouts in 270 innings over five seasons.
At age 27, Perez is in his prime and arguably has more upside than any of the free agent closing options on the market this winter. He will be arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter after agreeing on a $4.5MM contract for 2012, so you can guess Perez is looking at a raise to around $6MM in 2013. The escalating cost might've made Perez a trade candidate anyway for the cost-conscious Indians though other teams around baseball may also hesitate to take Perez given that he's on pace to earn even more in 2014 after his final arb year. Still, $6MM for a proven closer is not a bad price to pay.
Here are a few teams who may be looking for a new closer this offseason….
- Mets. Frank Francisco is set to earn $6.5MM next season and the Mets may not have much payroll space to work with this winter. Still, the Mets are known to be looking for bullpen help and could be looking for a longer-term option than Francisco, who has pitched better (3.55 SIERA, 10.07 K/9) than his 5.49 ERA would indicate.
- Dodgers. A very borderline candidate, as L.A. would only be looking for closing help if Kenley Jensen's heart problems proved to be career-threatening.
- Astros. Wilton Lopez was recently named closer and the rebuilding Astros will likely look for young arms and low-cost veterans in their bullpen rather than pursue a bigger name this offseason.
- Red Sox. It's probably unlikely that the Sox would pursue another closer but Perez would provide depth given Andrew Bailey's injury history.
- Tigers. Jose Valverde is a free agent this winter and the Tigers could look for a younger upgrade to finish games. It's doubtful the Indians would deal Perez to a divisional rival, especially in this case since Perez singled out the Tigers for praise as a team who spends despite their medium market size.
- Yankees. If Rafael Soriano leaves for free agency, the Yankees could want a proven closer on hand should Mariano Rivera have a setback in his recovery from a torn ACL.
In a trade market that’s expected to feature some effective but expensive left-handed starters, Jason Vargas could have considerable value. His $4.85MM salary is less than half of Wandy Rodriguez’s salary, and less than one third of Cole Hamels’ salary.
Vargas’ back of the baseball card numbers are remarkably similar to those of Rodriguez, as demonstrated below. But interested teams will note that Vargas is younger, faces designated hitters instead of pitchers, and will be more affordable in the short and long-term.
Vargas could slot comfortably into the rotation of many contending teams. He’s not an ace and probably never will be, but he successfully limits the opposition with a repertoire based on his changeup and modest 88 mph fastball. The combination typically results in an ERA around 4.00, twice as many strikeouts as walks and lots of fly balls in 200 innings or so. So far this year, Vargas has a 3.95 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 40.1% ground ball rate in 98 innings.
However, Vargas has been more homer-prone than usual this year and he’s generating fewer swings and misses than he ordinarily does. Just five qualified starters are inducing swings and misses less frequently than Vargas, whose 5.8% swinging strike rate is his lowest since joining the Mariners three and a half years ago.
Potential suitors wouldn't be looking at a three-month rental. The 29-year-old CAA client is under team control through 2013 when he’ll be arbitration eligible for the final time. He’s on track for a substantial raise next year — possibly a salary of $7MM-plus.
The last-place Mariners, now 30-40, will presumably acknowledge that this isn’t their year within a month or so and start listening to trade offers. General manager Jack Zduriencik has dealt from starting pitching depth twice in the past year, yet the Mariners still have many young arms. The rotation of the Jackson Generals, Seattle’s Double-A affiliate, includes top prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker.
The Mariners probably won’t be able to trade Vargas for an elite hitting prospect like Jesus Montero. But Zduriencik acquired Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells for Doug Fister and David Pauley a year ago. Perhaps they’ll see similarly intriguing offers for Vargas this summer, when some contenders will be willing to part with controllable players for experienced starting pitching help.
Look up any recently-published list of baseball's worst contracts and you won't have to read for long before encountering Alfonso Soriano's name. The eight-year, $136MM deal Soriano signed following the 2006 season remains a regrettable one for the Cubs, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that Soriano remains a modest offensive threat. In a trade market that doesn't yet feature impact hitters, Soriano figures to draw interest this summer.
Presumably, the Cubs will be paying most of his salary in any trade. Soriano will earn $18MM per season through 2014, which means $47MM or so remains on his contract. The Cubs, who already seem willing to sell, are reportedly willing to pick up most of Soriano’s salary to facilitate a trade. It'd be a surprise if they absorb less than $35MM of Soriano’s contract.
Soriano has a .266/.315/.480 batting line so far this year. All 12 of his home runs have come since May 15th, so he's still capable of impressive bursts of power. He has a career .276/.345/.519 line against left-handed pitching, which will make him appealing to teams that struggle against southpaws, or teams in search of power.
Yet Soriano’s an exceptionally aggressive hitter (only 12 qualified hitters swing at a higher percentage of pitches) who doesn't walk or get on base much relative to the rest of the league. His value on offense is closely tied to his power and, now that he's 36, it's unclear how much longer he'll continue producing at this level.
A number of contending teams could have interest in Soriano. The Indians rank 29th in MLB with a .630 OPS against left-handed pitching, and they have a potential opening in left field. The Pirates rank 22nd with a .678 OPS against lefties and could create at bats for Soriano. The Tigers haven't enjoyed much production from their DH spot or from right field, and they’d like to add a right-handed bat. The Nationals lead the NL East, yet their left fielders are last in the game in OPS.
Soriano has a full no-trade clause, but he has said he’s willing to accept a deal if the Cubs propose to move him to a contender. Non-contenders probably wouldn’t have interest in Soriano given his age and salary, so the no-trade clause may not be a major obstacle.
Back in 2004, Soriano was traded for 28-year-old Alex Rodriguez. Eight years later, his trade value is nowhere near that high. It's hard to imagine any general manager agreeing to part with an elite prospect for Soriano, regardless of how much salary the Cubs take on. Even so, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer could be motivated to move Soriano if the Cubs can obtain an intriguing young player for him and shed some salary in the process.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
The Cubs, now 21-41, aren't going to win anything this year, and they’re reportedly willing to listen to trade offers on a variety of players. The Cubs’ front office members would consider a new contract for Ryan Dempster, but there’s no denying the obvious: the 35-year-old right-hander could just as easily be traded.
Teams will have interest in Dempster this summer. He has a 2.31 ERA, and while his peripheral stats suggest the ERA is not quite sustainable, he's been highly effective by most measures. He's striking hitters out (7.7 K/9) and owns a career-best walk rate (2.4 BB/9). Though his average fastball velocity has dropped below 90 mph, he continues to generate swings and misses (9.8% swinging strike rate).
This year isn’t an anomaly, either. Only 16 pitchers have been more valuable in the past five years, according to FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement. For context, the metric ranks Dempster alongside pitchers such as James Shields, Josh Beckett and Mark Buehrle for 2008-12.
Dempster’s contract status could complicate trade talks. He'll earn $14MM this season before hitting free agency, so his salary could deter some low-revenue suitors. If a trade is completed, the acquiring team won't be eligible to obtain draft pick compensation in 2013, so other interested teams may be reluctant to meet the Cubs' asking price. And Dempster has earned ten and five rights, so he can block any trade or demand compensation for being traded. All told, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, Dempster, and the pitcher’s representatives at LSW Baseball face an unusual situation.
The Dodgers are known to be interested in Dempster and others clubs are presumably eyeing him as well. The Braves, Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers are among the contenders that might seek rotation help between now and the end of July.
If Dempster agrees to waive his no-trade protection — and it sounds as though he’s open to the possibility — the Cubs will be positioned to demand valuable prospects or controllable young players in return. The trade market could include Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum seven weeks from now, but at the moment Dempster might be the top starter available and it’s an advantage the Cubs could look to exploit.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
If Carlos Quentin keeps hitting and the 17-35 Padres continue struggling, contending teams figure to call about the left fielder this summer. In a trade market that seemingly features little power, Quentin’s right-handed bat will have considerable value.
The 29-year-old recently returned to the Padres’ lineup after missing nearly two months to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery. So far, the results have been remarkable. He has seven hits, including three home runs, in 12 trips to the plate. It’s a small sample, of course, but in more than 2400 career plate appearances the two-time All-Star has a .254/.347/.496 batting line. In other words, Quentin offers an attractive combination of on-base skills and power as a hitter. On defense, he’s sure-handed and has decent range with a below-average throwing arm, according to The Fielding Bible Volume III.
Quentin will earn $7.03MM this season before hitting free agency. Similar players — think Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel and Luke Scott — are worth $6-8MM on the free agent market, which means a qualifying offer in the $12-3MM range seems highly unlikely. The Padres won’t be getting draft picks for Quentin, so a trade appears to be the only way for the team to obtain a long-term asset for the left fielder.
When GM Josh Byrnes acquired Quentin last December, he sent minor league left-hander Pedro Hernandez and right-hander Simon Castro, a former top-100 prospect, to the White Sox. The Padres may be able to acquire better prospects if Quentin’s knee holds up and his bat returns to form. As I mentioned before, there doesn’t seem to be much power on the trade market (Alfonso Soriano could probably be had, but he earns $18MM in 2013 and 2014, which makes things messy). And it could take a while for bats to become available because more teams than ever are within striking distance of a playoff berth.
Once Quentin plays enough to show he is healthy, Byrnes could make him available and wait for other teams to start making offers. The Indians, Orioles and Dodgers are among the teams that might have interest in adding a right-handed hitting outfielder with power in the next eight weeks. If Quentin is healthy the Padres may come out ahead this summer and trade him for better prospects than the ones they surrendered to acquire him.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire. I discussed Quentin and the Padres yesterday on XTRA Sports 1360 in San Diego.
The Twins are off to a 17-32 start, which gives them a projected 0.0% chance of claiming a postseason berth this year, according to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds report. Expect general manager Terry Ryan to field his share of calls this summer, when buyers survey the rosters of second division teams for late-season depth.
Matt Capps figures to draw interest, as contending teams are always looking for relief help. Yet he isn’t your typical closer. Just three MLB relievers with as many innings as Capps (19) have a lower strikeout rate so far this year: Alex Burnett, Rafael Dolis and Jon Rauch. Capps strikes out just 4.7 batters per nine innings and doesn’t induce a noteworthy number of ground balls or swings and misses. It’ll be enough to make some general managers wonder how long he can keep his ERA below 4.00.
But the Twins can point to Capps’ many positives in summer trade talks. The 28-year-old limits walks (1.4 BB/9) and has averaged 68 appearances per year since his first full season in 2006. He throws hard — his average fastball checks in at 92.5 mph — and owns a relatively low ERA (3.79) to go along with lots of saves (10 this year, 124 in the Major Leagues). He’s earning $4.5MM in 2012, which makes him affordable for most buyers.
Capps was a ranked free agent last offseason, meaning the Twins had a chance at obtaining draft pick compensation for losing the right-hander. But under baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams must be prepared to offer players a salary in the $12-13MM range if they expect compensatory picks. There’s no way Capps is worth that kind of money, and his $6MM club option ($250K buyout) is hardly team friendly either. In essence, the Twins must make a trade if they intend to obtain an asset for the future.
When the Twins acquired Capps midway through the 2010 season they gave up a promising young catching prospect who has since become an MLB regular: Wilson Ramos. It’d be a coup for Ryan if he can convert Capps into an equally promising MLB-ready prospect. But Capps’ trade value isn’t as high as it was two summers ago, when he induced more strikeouts and had a year of team control remaining. This time the Twins seem more likely to obtain secondary prospects if they trade the closer.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
There’s a market for left-handed relief pitching every summer, and the 13-20 Royals are once again expected to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline, so Jose Mijares could interest general managers around the league if his rebound season continues in the coming weeks.
The Twins non-tendered Mijares last offseason following a difficult 2011 campaign in which his average fastball velocity dropped and he walked as many batters as he struck out (30). The 27-year-old signed a one-year, $925K contract with the Royals in December and the results have been promising to this point. He has a 2.45 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 in 14 2/3 innings, an indication that last year’s struggles may be behind him.
Mijares has returned to his career norms so far in 2012 and his fastball has regained its zip (90.9 mph on average). Against left-handed hitters he has impressive career rates of 8.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. When lefty hitters face Mijares fewer fly balls become home runs and fewer batted balls become hits or line drives.
But he is a true ‘loogy’ in that his managers need to limit his exposure to right-handed hitters (they hit .271/.357/.434 against him). He’s best used as a specialist, and his managers know it. He has averaged less than one inning per appearance and faced nearly as many left-handers as right-handers in his five MLB seasons.
The Royals aren’t under pressure to move Mijares, who’s affordable and under team control through 2014. But GM Dayton Moore won’t necessarily need Mijares for the next three seasons, as Tim Collins can neutralize tough left-handed hitters and the Royals have other potentially useful left-handed relievers in the minors. If the Royals can obtain a reasonably interesting prospect for Mijares while his value remains high, his tenure in Kansas City may be brief.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.