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The ups and downs of the White Sox and their now long-tenured outfielder Alex Rios, 32, have been well documented. The Sox originally acquired Rios in August of 2009 as a waiver claim from the Blue Jays, not even two years after Toronto signed him to a seven-year, $69.835MM extension that included a club option for 2015 at $13.5MM.
While Rios was just 28 at the time and had already put up three stellar seasons with the Jays, his abysmal 2009 season already had many labeling the contract as one of the worst in baseball. In the midst of a playoff race, though, Chicago decided to roll the dice. At the time, then-White Sox GM Kenny Williams acknowledged that the team went "out on a limb a little bit" by nabbing Rios, but said the team "had targeted him as the guy who would not only help us here in our quest for a division but in future seasons as well." Rios was even worse in Chicago than in Toronto that year, however, and the team ended with a losing record.
After a more promising 2010, Rios imploded in 2011, slashing just .227/.265/.348 in 570 painful plate appearances. He also saw his counting statistics plummet, as he logged just 13 home runs (after 21 in 2010) and 11 stolen bases (against 34 in 2010). Just when Rios seemed a complete bust, though, he rebounded in 2012 with a .304/.334/.516 line to go with 25 long balls and 23 swipes. He has continued that pace this season, slashing .281/.348/.516 over his first 141 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, for the White Sox, a relatively promising 2012 campaign has not carried over to the current season. The club sits in last place in the AL Central, six games back of the Tigers. And there is not much reason for optimism, as the Sox project as one of the worst teams in the American League over the rest of the year. Should the team look to move salary and replenish its lowly farm system (ESPN Insider link), Rios could be an interesting trade chip.
At this point, Rios's contract looks very appealing for a player with his current level of performance. He was worth 4.1 wins above replacement last year according to Fangraphs, and as noted has continued to hit. Meanwhile, he is owed just $12.5MM for 2014. (The deal does include an escalator that would bump that figure to $13MM if he is traded before the start of the 2014 season.) And Rios's 2015 option offers a nice risk-reward proposition: it could be cheap if he keeps performing, but would protect an acquiring team's downside because it comes with a minimal $1MM buyout. While the 2011 disaster will no doubt weigh heavily on the mind of a team looking at Rios, it is worth noting that he posted a .237 BABIP that year that was dramatically worse than his career .308 mark.
Rios could appeal to a relatively wide range of teams, potentially increasing his trade value, although the market could be impacted by his six-team no-trade clause. Indeed, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News exhorted the Mets to take a hard look at Rios in spite of the fact that the team is looking unlikely to make a postseason run. While his play has certainly seen its ups and downs, Rios has demonstrated this year that he is still physically capable of delivering a strong blend of power and speed. And with a contract that offers multi-year control without a major commitment, along with the flexibility and upside of the 2015 option, Rios could appeal to teams that are seeking both future and present value at the trade deadline.
David DeJesus is no stranger to hearing his name come up on the rumor mill. He was one of the more attractive trade chips on the July trade market in 2010 before he injured his hand and ultimately required surgery. That was poor timing for the Royals, who saw one of their best chips lose all its value. DeJesus was ultimately shipped to the A's in the offseason for Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks — hardly the type of package they could've gotten in July when he was hitting .318/.384/.443.
The Cubs will soon find themselves in an uncannily similar situation with DeJesus. The 33-year-old is making $4.25MM this season with a $6.5MM club option for the 2014 season. Those salary figures are almost identical to DeJesus' $4.7MM 2010 salary and the $6MM club option included on that contract.
DeJesus is off to a strong start; he's hitting .274/.342/.500 with four homers and a pair of stolen bases. The power numbers aren't likely to continue to be so impressive, but DeJesus posted a .350 OBP last year and has turned in a .347 OBP or better in all but one season since debuting with the Royals in 2003. He's probably miscast as a center fielder at this stage of his career, but defensive metrics have typically been a fan of his work at a corner spot — particularly left field.
He's not without his warts; DeJesus used to handle left-handed pitching fairly well, but he looks to be a strict platoon player as he enters his mid-30s. He has just one hit and a walk in 12 plate appearances against southpaws this season after hitting just .149/.289/.149 in 115 PAs against same-handed pitching for the Cubs in 2012.
Assuming history doesn't repeat itself with an untimely injury for DeJesus this summer, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer will likely have an attractive trade chip on his hands. DeJesus isn't the type of name you see in blockbuster summer deals, but he's an affordable, veteran on-base machine that could be a nice boost to a contender with a weak outfield alignment. The cheap club option makes him more than a rental, and teams like the Tigers, Rangers, Giants and White Sox could all have interest in DeJesus if their current left field options continue to falter. A reunion with the Royals would actually make loads of sense, as he could platoon with Jeff Francoeur, who is hitting .205/.241/.301 against right-handed pitching but .321/.367/.429 against lefties.
DeJesus isn't an elite bat, but given his history of strong OBP numbers and an affordable club option for 2014, I'd imagine he could net at least one of a trade partner's Top 10 prospects with another respectable piece in the deal as well.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
It's never fun to punt a season, as the Marlins decided to do before the 2013 campaign began. But one silver lining is the ability to offer more opportunity to minor league free agents. 29-year-old righty Kevin Slowey is one such example, and he's rewarded the team with a 1.81 ERA through seven starts after joining the organization on a minor league deal. He was a contributing member of the Twins' rotation as recently as 2010 despite missing time with an elbow and triceps injury, but then things took a turn.
Slowey failed to make the Twins' rotation out of camp in 2011, and then quickly hit the DL with a shoulder strain. After returning from that, he missed time with an abdomen strain, expressed displeasure with working as a reliever, and pitched in the minors before finally rejoining the rotation in August of that year. With a non-tender looming, Slowey was shipped to Colorado during the offseason, and then traded to the Indians shortly thereafter. He was unable to crack the Indians rotation out of camp in 2012, and missed most of the season with a stress fracture in his rib cage. He was removed from the Indians' 40-man roster in October, pitched in the Dominican Winter League, and signed a minor league deal with the Marlins in January of this year. This time Slowey did win a rotation spot out of Spring Training, which was further solidified with injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nate Eovaldi.
After seven starts this year, Slowey ranks sixth in the National League with a 1.81 ERA. His control has always been stellar, leading to a seventh-ranked 4.5 K/BB ratio so far. Though he's never averaged six innings per start in a season, Slowey is at nearly 6.4 this year. Aside from his injury history, the biggest concern with Slowey is his flyball tendency. His 32.3% groundball rate is the fourth-lowest in all of baseball, and he's benefited from one of the least homer-happy ballparks in the game (though he's pitched well in all three starts on the road).
The Marlins are playing .300 baseball, so why shouldn't they move Slowey? One reason is that he'll be arbitration eligible after this season, and therefore under team control for 2014. Given his $750K salary – barely above the league minimum – trading Slowey now would not be a cost-cutting move. It'd simply be a way of cashing in a 29-year-old off to a hot start for at least one credible prospect. Slowey has his flaws, but he'd fit well with teams like the Giants or Pirates come the July trade deadline.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
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.