Trade Candidate Rumors
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.
The Phillies aren't accustomed to losing more than they win, but if their early-season struggles continue and they're out of contention by the July 31st trade deadline, they could become sellers. Teams are already asking about Cole Hamels and the inquiries will become more frequent if the Phillies don't re-enter the NL East race within the next two months.
Hamels has been the 12th-most valuable pitcher in baseball since he first broke in to the Major Leagues in 2006, according to FanGraphs' version of the wins above replacement metric. He's off to another tremendous start, with a 2.28 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 41.3% ground ball rate through 47 1/3 innings in 2012. He'll be the best pitcher available if the Phillies decide they're serious about selling.
Yet two factors will limit Hamels' value for potentially interested teams. He’ll be a free agent in a few months and there's no indication he's willing to sign an extension at a discount, especially this close to the open market. Secondly, any team that acquires him can’t get a compensatory pick if he signs elsewhere. Under baseball's new collective bargaining agreement teams don't obtain future draft picks for losing players they acquired midseason. Interested teams would be looking at a two or three-month rental.
Recent midseason deals involving elite left-handed pitchers haven’t worked out particularly well for the teams obtaining prospects. Hamels’ teammate Cliff Lee was traded for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson in 2009 then dealt for Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak the following season. The Brewers acquired C.C. Sabathia for Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson in 2008.
The Indians and Mariners haven’t obtained the elite performers they were hoping for, but Knapp, Carrasco, Smoak and LaPorta were considered top prospects when they were dealt. There’s no reason for the Phillies to expect less than an elite prospect plus secondary pieces for Hamels. They may even aim to obtain multiple top prospects for the left-hander. If no team meets their asking price, they can hold onto Hamels, tender him a one-year contract this offseason and obtain draft pick compensation assuming he declines the offer and signs elsewhere.
Though Hamels' contract expires after the season, he has the potential to become the primary attraction of this summer's trade market. The Blue Jays have reportedly checked in on him and it's easy to envision teams such as the Red Sox, Tigers and Dodgers expressing interest if Hamels does become available. Other clubs will surely lose starting pitchers to the disabled list in the coming ten weeks, so new interest will emerge.
Ruben Amaro Jr. has successfully navigated the midseason trade deadline as a buyer, trading for front-of-the-rotation starters Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt. The GM could face a new challenge this summer if the last-place Phillies don't improve on their 16-19 record. Amaro would have leverage, since Hamels would generate considerable interest and the Phillies could always keep him and obtain draft pick compensation in 2013 if interested teams propose one-sided trades.
Photo courtesy of US Presswire.
When I described Bryan LaHair as having "quality sleeper potential" in a column for Roto Authority back in January, I certainly didn't expect this. Heading into Thursday's play, LaHair was hitting an absurd .381/.459/.794 in 74 plate appearances as the Cubs' regular first baseman and establishing himself as one of the best stories of this young 2012 campaign. A 29-year-old with just 219 Major League PAs to his name entering the season, LaHair was expected to do little more than keep first base warm for Anthony Rizzo, but LaHair's success has in all likelihood required a shift in the Cubs' short-term plans.
Or has it? LaHair is obviously not going to keep up his Ruthian numbers for the entire season, though his solid power numbers in the minors would hint that he's not going to fall completely off the map. If LaHair regresses even to around an .850 OPS by June, that's still a very solid output, and if he tops that number, even better. If LaHair is still swinging a hot bat by midseason, it would behoove the Cubs to at least test the market to see what they could get for the first baseman.
The obvious question is, why wouldn't the Cubs just hang onto LaHair and move him to a corner outfield spot once Rizzo is called up? Rizzo and his Triple-A slash line of .372/.422/.638 certainly look on pace to be in Chicago by midseason at the latest, and if he can translate even some of that quality to the Majors, then the Cubs would have a nice pair of bats to hit behind Starlin Castro.
The problem could be that the Cubs' preferred trade candidate, David DeJesus, is playing poorly. Teams aren't going to be be willing to acquire a 32-year-old who has a .687 OPS in 2011-12, is owed approximately $9.15MM through the end of the 2013 season and whose traditionally strong corner OF glove also seems to be failing him. Chicago's other corner outfielder, Alfonso Soriano, is set to earn approximately $51MM through 2014. Between Soriano's untradeable contract and DeJesus' lack of form, LaHair is a much more valuable trade commodity than either player and could become the trade chip that the Cubs hoped DeJesus could become.
The Tigers, Dodgers, Phillies and Brewers are just a few of the contenders and would-be contenders that could use a slugging left-handed bat at first, left, right or DH. Suitors wouldn't pay a king's ransom for LaHair since they would also have an eye on his middling career history, but power is an increasingly rare commodity, so teams would definitely give the Cubs some value if LaHair continues to smash right-handed pitching. LaHair would also be under team control through 2018 though since he's already 29, controllability is not a major factor in this case.
Cubs fans will no doubt be upset over the club dealing away the feel-good story in the midst of another sub-.500 year, but Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have stated on many occasions that they're rebuilding the Cubs from the ground up and that 2012 is intended as a rebuilding year. If Chicago can turn a 29-year-old career minor leaguer into a quality prospect or two, that's a better long-term move for the organization than hoping LaHair is a late-blooming superstar like Jose Bautista and can stay an elite hitter until the Cubs are ready to contend again.
Put it this way --- if you asked a Cubs fan even one month ago if they'd be willing to see LaHair dealt for two of another team's top 15 prospects, even the most staunch Wrigleyville dweller would've jumped at that deal. One red-hot outlier of a month (or even a few hot months) shouldn't be enough to alter the Cubs' rebuilding plan.