Trade Candidate Rumors
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.
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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.
Few could have foreseen Erik Bedard's relatively disappointing career arc after his brilliant breakout campaign as an Oriole in 2007. The left-hander was worth 5.4 WAR that year, striking out more than a batter per inning, and he finally seemed to have harnessed his nasty raw stuff in a way that would translate to a stretch of dominance.
But the cruel reality of injuries intervened in literally every season since then, reducing Bedard to that frustrating type of player who is effective during his fleeting stretches of relative health. Now with the Pirates after quietly signing a one-year contract with them as a free agent this offseason, Bedard is looking like a strong in-season trade candidate -- with that all too familiar caveat: if he can stay healthy.
Such a trade would not be new territory for Bedard. Last season, the Red Sox acquired the southpaw from the Mariners in an interesting three-way swap that netted Seattle a decent prospect in outfielder Trayvon Robinson. Even within the context of that trade, Bedard showed his best and worse: He turned in several strong second-half outings for the Red Sox, but he also missed roughly three starts due to various injuries during the team's brutal September collapse. So, the upside is there, but so is the risk.
Bedard has gotten off to a decent start this season (he struck out nine in five innings during his start today), and more importantly, he's been healthy. If he can continue to take the hill every fifth day over the next month, Bucs GM Neal Huntington would be wise to start phoning starting-needy contenders, especially considering that Bedard's modest $4.5MM salary shouldn't be a deterrent for most suitors. The Yankees, for one, might fit that bill, depending upon how they handle their beleaguered rotation in the coming weeks.
Even if Bedard were to yield a medium or low probability prospect with a high upside -- a la Robinson -- it might be worth it for the rebuilding Pirates to pull the trigger during another season that surely won't end in a postseason berth.
The Brett Myers trade rumors have been circulating for a while, and there’s no reason to expect them to slow down between now and the July 31st trade deadline. Myers, a capable pitcher nearing free agency on a team not expected to contend, should draw some trade interest this summer.
Myers' name surfaced at the 2011 Winter Meetings and the right-hander still seemed to be available in January, when Jayson Stark reported that the Astros were willing to take on at least $7MM of his 2012 salary in a trade. Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said this month that he’s not presently shopping Myers, and while that’s entirely believable, the team's stance could very well change within the next 95 days.
Myers, 31, probably won’t be on the next contending Astros team. He’s earning $12MM in 2012 and has a club/vesting option valued at $10MM for 2013 ($3MM buyout). Like most players on the Astros’ roster, Myers is a product of the Ed Wade regime. I doubt Luhnow will have reservations about trading Myers when the time is right.
Unfortunately for the Astros, Myers earns a starting pitcher’s salary. Other trade candidates such as Huston Street ($7.5MM) and Grant Balfour ($4MM) will be more appealing to contenders since they earn considerably less than Myers. I expect the Astros will have to take on millions to move Myers.
For the Astros to convince a rival team to take on more than a couple million of Myers’ salary, he’ll have to continue pitching well. So far -- and it’s admittedly quite early -- Myers has pitched five innings with a 4K/1BB ratio and three saves. It’s worth noting that his fastball velocity has climbed by nearly 4 mph this year to 92.2 mph from 88.4 mph (source: FanGraphs). He's just 74 pitches into the season -- not even a full start’s worth -- but the uptick in velocity isn’t surprising given Myers’ new role.
Should the 7-12 Astros fall out of contention early, Luhnow might have the chance to start selling before other trade candidates become available. This could enable him to send more of Myers' salary to a team looking to acquire relief help before the trade market heats up in July. Still, it seems more likely that the Astros will postpone most serious trade talk until after they select first overall in the upcoming June draft. There's also a good chance Myers' salary would clear waivers, so he might be available in August.
Myers should draw interest from contenders, especially if his strong April portends a successful first half. But it seems likely that the Astros will have to take on millions to complete a deal. Depending on Myers' performance, the evolution of the trade market and Luhnow's willingness to absorb salary, the Astros could acquire anything from a marginal minor leaguer to a legitimate prospect for their closer.
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After going 79-83 and finishing 16 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central last season, the White Sox focused their offseason on acquiring younger, cost-controlled players through trades. Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin were dealt away this winter, prompting GM Kenny Williams to use the word "rebuilding" in December. Assuming their 10-7 start to this season isn't a deterrent, another player who could be on the move this summer is Jake Peavy.
Peavy, 31 next month, has been one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball in the early going this season. He threw a complete game shutout against the Athletics two days ago, lowering his season ERA to 1.88 in four starts. Peavy has struck out 26 and walked just four in 28 2/3 innings, allowing just one home run. This level of performance isn't surprising when you're talking about a former Cy Young Award winner, but it is surprising given the last three seasons of Peavy's career.
Injuries have limited the right-hander to no more than 18 starts in each of the last three seasons, and in fact Peavy was on the disabled list with an ankle injury when the White Sox acquired him from the Padres at the 2009 trade deadline. Last season he was sidelined by rotator cuff tendinitis and then a groin strain, though the most significant injury was a detached lat muscle in 2010. The injury was very unique and required surgery, though he's obviously recovered well.
The White Sox owe Peavy $17MM this season and are likely to pay him a $4MM buyout rather than exercise his $22MM club option for 2013. A sub-2.00 ERA probably isn't sustainable, but if Peavy shows that he can remain effective over the next two months, Williams could be in possession of the best available starting pitcher on the trade market at the deadline. Starting pitching is always in demand, and Peavy's limited no-trade clause - he can block trades to eight teams this year - figures to be nothing more than a minor obstacle.
Peavy's recent injury history and the fact that his new team will be unable to collect free agent draft pick compensation after the season (thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement) could limit the asking price, but division races have a way of making the market unpredictable. The injury-prone Erik Bedard fetched a top ten prospect (Trayvon Robinson) and a secondary piece (Chih-Hsien Chiang) at last year's deadline, and that deal could serve as a comparison for a potential Peavy package. If Peavy continues to pitch well into June and July, Williams could decide to cash him in as a trade chip rather than risk another injury or the possibility of him leaving as a free agent after the season.
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The Athletics are playing respectably right now, but if the season unfolds as expected and the Rangers and Angels distance themselves from the A's and Mariners by midsummer, Billy Beane will be fielding many calls from rival GMs interested in acquiring his players. Kurt Suzuki, Coco Crisp and Bartolo Colon should prepare themselves for a summer in the rumor mill, but right-hander Grant Balfour may draw the most interest of all.
Some teams are already short on relief pitching and their need will only intensify by the time the July 31st trade deadline approaches. Balfour will be an appealing commodity since he’s affordable, effective and durable. Affordable, because he'll earn just $4MM in 2012 (his contract includes a $4.5MM club option for 2013 with a $350K buyout). Effective, as demonstrated by his 2.77 ERA, 9.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 since 2008. And durable, since he's made at least 50 appearances per season during that same span.
Teams inquired on Balfour this past offseason, and the 34-year-old native of Australia has done nothing to discourage their interest in the early going of the 2012 season (he has a 0.90 ERA in a league-leading nine appearances). Bullpen issues have already surfaced in places such as Boston, Tampa Bay and Anaheim. Even if those pitching staffs recover, other clubs will have interest in Balfour-like pitchers.
It’s unusual for teams to complete significant trades before the amateur draft takes place in June, but the A’s might part with Balfour relatively early if another team offers enough in return. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney called Balfour “the best reliever you could trade for today,” implying he’s available (Twitter link).
If the A’s listen to offers for Balfour now, expect them to demand a significant return -- perhaps a controllable player capable of making an impact at the Major League level plus supplementary pieces. If teams balk at the asking price, Beane can simply wait until July when he'll have the chance to obtain value from a team in serious need of relief help.
At first glance, the Padres' acquisition of closer Huston Street from the Rockies last offseason didn't make a whole lot of sense. After all, San Diego wasn't expected to contend in 2012, and Street didn't come cheaply -- at a 2012 salary of $7.5MM -- for a team that operates on a modest budget.
But new GM Josh Byrnes probably valued Street more as an asset in future trade talks than as someone who could contribute to a rebuilding team on the field, and considering the Friars merely gave up an underwhelming prospect to acquire the right-hander, it's a sound strategy.
Now, several projected contenders are already dealing with injuries at the back end of their respective bullpens, and it seems even more likely that trade suitors will be checking in with the Padres on Street.
The right-hander, 29 in August, has earned his keep as a high-strikeout control specialist with a knack for producing fly balls, a formula that has produced an excellent 2.91 career SIERA. Those skills should play especially well for Street in his new home ballpark in San Diego's Petco Park, where fly balls go to die. And if he's cruising along with stats that are inflated by his home digs in a couple months, it'll only serve to intensify interest among bullpen-needy contenders.
The catch here is Street's contract. He holds a $9MM player option for 2013, but that can be declined for a digestible $500K buyout -- for which the Rockies are on the hook. In other words, Street can be had as a half-season rental, or he can contribute down the stretch and then come back the following year at a pricey, but not off-the-charts, salary.
Will some team bite? It's hard to say that now, with a couple months' games to play out before trade talks really heat up, but if Byrnes can flip Street for even a decent prospect, he'll have turned a profit considering how little he paid for the closer.
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The Padres won 90 games in 2010, but they fell back into the NL West cellar in 2011. They changed GMs this offseason and traded ace Mat Latos to the Reds for a package of three young players and Edinson Volquez. New GM Josh Byrnes also bought low on Carlos Quentin and Huston Street, but a lot will have to go right for San Diego to return to contention this season.
ESPN.com and Baseball Prospectus agree that the Padres have the best farm system in baseball, and they're going to have a prospect-heavy Triple-A rotation led by three of their ten best minor leaguers: Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin, and Joe Wieland. Kelly came over in the Adrian Gonzalez trade while both Erlin and Wieland came from the Rangers in the Mike Adams deal. With that kind of talent waiting in Triple-A, Byrnes figures to be able to shop a starter or two for more young players at midseason.
The 29-year-old Tim Stauffer (pictured) was San Diego's Opening Day starter last season. He finally made it through his first full season as a big league starter in 2011, eight years after being the fourth overall pick in the draft. He pitched to a 3.73 ERA in 185 2/3 innings spread across 31 starts, relying on ground balls (51.8%) and control (2.57 BB/9) rather than strikeouts (6.20 K/9). Stauffer did appear to hit a bit of wall in mid-August and finished the season on the shelf with arm stiffness, but he's healthy now and ready to go.
Dustin Moseley, 30, was enjoying a bit of a breakout year in 2011 before dislocating his left (non-throwing) shoulder swinging a bat in late-July, which ended his season. Before the injury he'd pitched to a 3.30 ERA in 20 starts (120 IP). Like Stauffer, he's a ground ball (49.5%) and control (2.70 BB/9) guy, not a strikeout guy (4.80 K/9). Also like Stauffer, Moseley is healthy now and will begin the season on time and in the rotation.
Stauffer and Moseley aren't the biggest of names, but they'll have plenty of trade value if they carry their 2011 performance over into 2012. The former will earn $3.2MM this year and the latter just $2.0125MM, plus both guys will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible players in 2013. With expensive hurlers like Joe Blanton ($8.5MM) and John Lannan ($5MM) highlighting the current pitching trade market, Stauffer and Moseley could look very attractive at their salaries come June and July.
The Padres have plenty of young pitching on the way, so they should be able to replace a starter if they make any trades this year. They can always count on Petco Park to help their pitchers perform a little better than they probably should as well. Both Stauffer and Moseley are unspectacular but effective when healthy, and we've seen similar pitchers like Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly fetch nice returns at the deadline in recent years. The San Diego duo is both younger and cheaper, and new ten-team playoff system could mean more clubs will be in contention and looking for rotation help this summer.
Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.
John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang are currently battling for the Nationals' fifth starter job, a competition created by the team's Edwin Jackson signing last month. Since Wang was re-signed as a free agent in November, Lannan seems more likely to be traded this spring.
Lannan, a 27-year-old southpaw, posted a 3.70 ERA, 5.2 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9, and 54.1% groundball rate in 184 2/3 innings last year. Though his career ERA sits at an even 4.00, Lannan's recent SIERA figures suggest he's more of a 4.50-type pitcher. He's pitched 182 or more innings in each of the last four seasons, including a minor league stint in 2010. Lannan takes the ball every fifth day, and his groundball rate ranked sixth in the National League in 2011.
With a $5MM salary, Lannan provides a modest amount of surplus value. He's technically under team control through 2013, but if another typical season pushes him to the $7.5MM salary range for that season, he might be non-tendered this December. So, Lannan's trade value lies mostly with the 2012 season.
It's difficult to find a team with a big need for $5MM innings guy right now. The Brewers may have mild concerns over Shaun Marcum's shoulder, but Marco Estrada would be a suitable fill-in. A.J. Burnett's Pirates debut may be delayed until June due to a broken orbital bone beneath his eye, but would the team be inclined to spend an additional $5MM because of that half-season injury? The Giants' Ryan Vogelsong is dealing with back pain, but he'll miss less time than Burnett. The Angels have standard fifth starter uncertainty given Jerome Williams' hamstring injury, but not enough to necessitate an acquisition.
The Orioles' rotation has its share of aches and pains, but plenty of candidates as well. The Red Sox and Blue Jays could use some depth, but their current candidates are more interesting than Lannan, if less reliable. The Indians have four pitchers vying for their fifth starter job.
The Tigers seem a bit more open than most to adding a starting pitcher, though presumably not at the cost of $5MM and/or a useful young player. There's also a case for the Athletics to add someone like Lannan. Overall, though, it's clearly a buyer's market if the Nationals look to trade the lefty. Though GM Mike Rizzo has said he's always open-minded to any deal that positively impacts the club, I don't think it'll happen with Lannan this spring unless another club suffers a major loss in its rotation.
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Braves left-hander Mike Minor made it clear last week that he’d welcome a trade under certain circumstances. While he doesn’t have the power to demand a deal, his comments appear to have irked Braves decision makers. Should Atlanta decide to address other needs by parting with starting pitching depth, Minor could be traded.
At this point, Minor is competing for a rotation spot with prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, so trade talk is purely speculative. Plus, Minor has options remaining, so he can be sent to the minor leagues whether he likes it or not. Let’s look ahead to how he might be valued on the trade market and to which teams could have interest.
First, what kind of pitcher is Minor? He has a 4.74 ERA with 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and a 36.4% ground ball rate in 123 1/3 innings at the Major League level. The 24-year-old's peripheral stats (3.63 FIP, 3.63 SIERA, .359 opponents' BABIP) suggest his ERA is inflated by about a run and can be expected to drop given his skillset.
Teams covet controllable, MLB ready players and Minor fits that description perfectly. Minor, the Braves’ 2009 first round pick, has less than one year of MLB service time (138 days). His relative inexperience means he's not projected to hit free agency until after the 2017 season. He'll be making close to the MLB minimum through 2013, at which point he projects to qualify for arbitration as a super two player.
Minor’s arguably someone who could help a big league team win now by providing steady innings at the back of a rotation. Contenders such as the Red Sox, Tigers and Angels have competition in their rotations entering Spring Training and could have interest. Teams like the Blue Jays, Royals, Athletics, Astros and Pirates aren’t necessarily in win-now mode, but many would figure to have interest in a controllable left-hander who induces swings and misses.
Recent trades involving Michael Pineda, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Mat Latos showed that controllable, young starting pitching is a commodity for which teams are willing to surrender multiple top prospects. Though Minor’s accomplishments don’t compare to those of the pitchers above, he has shown enough as a professional that the Braves could demand one top young player or prospect plus a supplementary piece in a possible trade. There’s no reason to believe GM Frank Wren intends to part with Minor, but if the left-hander does become available, expect him to draw significant interest.