Early trade talk

 Last week, Jim Bowden of ESPN and the MLB Radio Network published a list of the 30 best players who could be on the move prior to the August 1 non-waiver trading deadline and where he thinks those players fit best.

For some, it’s a tad early to be discussing deals when the deadline is still two months away. Bowden realizes that too and refers to his list as “my first take of the year” on players who could be dealt. Yet, some fans — and writers — find it fun to speculate on deals that may never occur.

For those not familiar with Bowden, he’s served as general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and has a ton of contacts in the baseball industry. For Seattle Mariners fans, he’s the guy who sent Mike Cameron and others to Seattle in exchange for Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

Personally, I think the market is still immature. At this early stage of the season, there a plenty of clubs on the fringe of contention. Therefore, finding a partner willing to “sell” may be difficult to do, unless the club is currently in a rebuilding phase.

Still, there are those dying to discuss deals. To help satisfy the appetite of those hungry for trade talk, I’m going to discuss 14 players Bowden suggested as “best fits” for American League ball clubs. Enjoy.

Julio Teheran , SP, Atlanta Braves                                    Bowden: Boston Red Sox
Bowden points out in his piece that Teheran could be the most coveted pitcher at the deadline. The right-hander is owed a relatively low $25.3 million through the end of the 2019 season with a $12 million club option for 2020, his age-29 season.

Not only is the Braves hurler affordable, he’s performing well. Teheran has gone seven or more innings in six of his first 11 starts, his wins above replacement (WAR) ranks number-15 among major league starters, and his 2.77 earned run average (ERA) puts him in the same neighborhood with such familiar names as Marco Estrada, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez.

The Red Sox certainly would be a good fit for Teheran, but another club to keep an eye on is the Toronto Blue Jays. If Toronto opts to make another postseason push at this year’s deadline, adding another starting pitcher could be in the cards.

The Blue Jays staff has been performing relatively well, but the club has already acknowledged that starter Aaron Sanchez will end up the bullpen due to an innings limit — he’s never pitched over 133 innings as a professional.

Toronto has a new front office in place and they may be more reluctant with parting with prospects, as they did to get David Price last year. Although Teheran is not an elite pitcher like Price, he would be under team control for at least three more seasons, unlike Price who departed as a free agent at the end of last season.

Teheran may be the most sought after starting pitcher as Bowden suggests, but the Braves will have the upper hand in negotiations. With so much time remaining on his contract, Atlanta doesn’t have to rush to deal their star pitcher. They could opt to deal him in the offseason — when more suitors may be interested — or retain him to anchor their rotation.

Rich Hill, SP, Oakland Athletics                                          Bowden: Kansas City Royals
Seattle fans are very familiar with 36-year-old. Hill held the Mariners to just one run in 14 innings while striking out 16 and walking just one batter. It’s not just the Mariners. He’s held all opposing hitters to a .207 batting average.

If the Athletics don’t climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll likely trade several players — including Hill. Any contender looking to boost their rotation will have interest in the 12-year-veteran.

Unlike Teheran, Hill is a “rental player,” who’ll be a free agent at season’s end. For that reason, the southpaw who’s making $6 million this season won’t be as costly to acquire as the Braves’ top starter.

If Teheran isn’t available or too expensive for contenders, Hill instantly becomes the most attractive starter in the trade market. With that kind of negotiating advantage, it’s hard to believe that the Athletics would retain the pending free agent past August 1, if they continue to have a losing record.

As with Teheran, Hill could fill the void in Toronto’s rotation once Sanchez moves to the bullpen.

Another interested party could be the Red Sox. Hill has already had two tours of duty with Boston, including last year when he resurrected his big league career after starting the season pitching for Class-AAA Syracuse and the Independent League Long Island Ducks.

It’s worth noting that Hill suffered a “real mild groin strain,” according to manager Bob Melvin, during yesterday’s contest against the Detroit Tigers. Assuming this injury causes no setbacks; his trade value should remain unchanged.

James Shields, SP, San Diego Padres                              Bowden: Detroit Tigers
“Big Game James” is an intriguing trade candidate. He’s no longer a number-one starter, although he’s having a solid year with the Padres. But, his contract limits his trade value.

The right-hander is making $21 million this season and makes the same amount during the next two seasons. There’s also a $16 million option for 2019 — his age-37 season– with a $2 million buyout. In total, Shields stands to make at least $44 million between now and 2019, unless he opts out of his contract after this season.

That’s the second challenge with Shields’ contract — enticing a team to trade for a player who could potentially walk after this season. Considering that he had to wait so long to find a team during his last free agency — he didn’t sign until February 11, 2015 with the Padres — he may not want to test the market again. On the other hand, this year’s free agent market is very thin for starting pitching.

Clubs can find workarounds to challenges like Shields’ opt out, but it requires two amenable partners and a player willing to go along. That usually means the player has to get something in return for passing on his opt out.

As mentioned by Bowden, the Tigers make sense. So do the Red Sox. Both clubs have previously demonstrated a willingness to spend and could use a durable middle-of-the-rotation type — like Shields.

Another team to watch will be the Chicago White Sox. Jon Heyman of MLB Network has reported that the Chicago White Sox have shown interest in the right-hander.

As I alluded to at the onset, Shields’ contract will be an issue — even for ball clubs with deep pockets. To move the veteran starter, the Padres may have to include money to help offset his steep salary or expect to receive very little in return.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Milwaukee Brewers                       Bowden: Tampa Bay Rays
The seven-year veteran turns 30 next month and the Brewers hold a relatively cheap $5.25 million club option on Lucroy for the 2017 season. So, any club acquiring the services of the right-handed hitter for about a year and a half.

Obviously, Milwaukee will be looking for prospects as they continue to rebuild. However, I’m not sure that the cash-strapped Rays would be willing to part ways with top prospects for an 18-month addition, who could be the team’s third highest player in 2017.

The Tigers, on the other hand, are more aggressive when it comes to making “win-now” deals and they aren’t getting much production from the catcher position. Once again, Boston makes sense too.

Derek Norris, C, Padres                                                        Bowden: Rays/Houston Astros
Coming into today’s action, Shield’s battery mate had a .182/.238/.338 triple-slash — significantly below his career norms, although it’s important to note that offense from the catcher position is secondary. The major league batting average for catchers stands at .234.

It’s worth noting that Norris has experience at first base and a career .286/.359/.479 triple-slash against southpaws.

The 27-year-old is making $2.9 million this year and is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons, which may scare off clubs on a tight budget, unless they’re looking for a starting backstop. Once again, it’s hard for me to fathom the Rays being interested in adding payroll and parting with prospects to get a catcher who doesn’t necessarily represent a significant upgrade at the position.

The Astros are already experimenting with Evan Gattis at the catcher spot. Whether Houston would be amenable to acquiring Norris at the deadline would come down to their long-term plans for Gattis and their position in the standings.

If the Astros’ record improves and opt to move Gattis out of the catcher spot, they might be more inclined to go after Lucroy than Norris. After all, Milwaukee and Houston have a history as trade partners. Last July, the Astros picked up Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in exchange for prospects.

Other trade possibilities could become reality, if a contender suffers an injury at the catcher spot. Norris would be a good addition for a contender who needs an injury fill-in or wants to add more depth to the position.

Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Blue Jays                           Bowden: Chicago White Sox
Another potential rental player is Encarnacion, who’s making $10 million this season. The 33-year-old is off to a sluggish start, as is his team. Bowden also suggested teammate Jose Bautista as a best fit with the Chicago Cubs.

It’s too early to tell whether Toronto will buy or sell — they have a 26-26 win-loss record entering today. However, Encarnacion to the White Sox makes sense, assuming his numbers improve. Otherwise, the “South-Siders” would be better to look for other options or stick with current designated hitter Avisail Garcia, who’s posted better slash numbers than Encarnacion.

If I was forced to place a wager, I’d bet that both Encarnacion and Bautista won’t be traded by the deadline. Both players are popular with fans and it’s unlikely that the Blue Jays will completely fall out of the postseason race by August 1.

Carlos Gonzalez, RF/LF, Colorado Rockies                   Bowden: Red Sox
When considering the production of Colorado players, the “Coors Field affect” has to enter the conversation. Gonzalez’s slash numbers are considerably lower when playing on the road, plus he’s making $17 million this season and due to make $20 million in 2017.

Moving “CarGo” this season would be a wise move for the rebuilding Rockies. Bowden suggested catcher Blake Swihart as a possible trade target from the Red Sox. However, getting arms would be a wise move for a club that’s struggled to entice elite free agent pitchers to come to Denver.

Gonzalez is a good player, not a superstar. Nevertheless, he’d be a considerable grade in left field for the Red Sox. Another destination that would make sense — from a baseball perspective — would be the Washington Nationals, who are getting very little production from a 37-year-old left fielder Jayson Werth.

From a business perspective, making the deal might be difficult. Werth will make $21 million next year, while Gonzalez will be earning $20 million. Werth, like CarGo will be a free agent after next season. But, I have an idea.

Perhaps, both teams could swap their high-paid players and the Nationals could throw in a few top-shelf pitching prospects to make the deal worthwhile for Colorado. That’s probably the wackiest trade proposal I’ve ever concocted. However, both teams would get something they need.

The Nationals get instantaneous help in their lineup for this year and next without disrupting their budget, while the Rockies get a few top prospects along with Werth, who makes approximately the same salary as CarGo.

Colorado did something similar last year when they traded Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for highly paid shortstop Jose Reyes, reliever Miguel Castro, top-100 pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman and fellow minor leaguer Jesus Tinoco.

There’s probably no chance that this happens, but it was fun hatching that hair-brained that scheme. Okay, back to reality.

Josh Reddick, RF, Athletics                                                  Bowden: Royals
The A’s right fielder was off to a great start before fracturing his left thumb, while sliding into second base. Fortunately, for Reddick and Oakland, he’s projected to return by the end of June.

Like Hill, the eight-year veteran is a free agent at the end of the season and a likely trade chip, assuming Oakland can’t climb back into the postseason race.

Bowden projected that the Athletics would trade Reddick back to where he began his career — Boston. With that said, he’d be a nice fit with the Seattle Mariners from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The 29-year-old is a solid defender with one of the best arms in the game.

I don’t know if executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst would be willing to make a deal with a division rival during the season, but Reddick would be a nice addition for the Mariners.

It’s important to note that a hand injury can slow a hitter’s return to productiveness. I have no insight into the extent of Reddick’s injury, but his effectiveness at the plate bears watching after he returns. Certainly, possible suitors will be doing just that.

Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers                              Bowden: Royals/Athletics
Just 25-years-old, Puig has already produced an extensive highlight reel during four-year career. At other times though, he’s looked disinterested leading him to run afoul of managers and teammates. To top it off, his production numbers have declined in each of the last three seasons.

Despite the Dodger’s apparent frustration with Puig’s distinctive personality, the team could be reluctant to part ways with their mercurial outfielder. Trading him now would require the club to sell low with a player who has tremendous upside and is owed a relatively low $17.5 million for the next two seasons.

Perhaps, the change of scenery suggested by Bowden would be best. However, the Dodgers’ outfield production has been below league-average, which leads me to believe that they’d have to be blown away to part with their potentially best outfielder during a season when they’re trying to contend.

If the situation in Los Angeles has truly become untenable, the same actors — White Sox, Red Sox, and Tigers — may be willing to take a chance on Puig.

Melvin Upton Jr, LF/RF, Padres                                        Bowden: White Sox
The older brother of Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton has experienced a nice bounce back after several down seasons with both the Padres and Braves. Bowden suggests that the 31-year-old would be an upgrade over current White Sox center fielder Austin Jackson, although I don’t necessarily agree.

Upton’s current triple-slash of .258/.323/.416 is slightly better than Jackson’s slash, but that’s a small sample size. Over the past three seasons, Jackson’s production has been better. Trading for a player on the wrong side of 30, who is two years older than the incumbent is, and set to make $16.5 million next year doesn’t add up.

For the Padres to move Upton, they’d likely have to help pay a good chunk of his salary or expect to receive little in return. Otherwise, I can’t see a contender dealing for his league-average production and exorbitant salary.

Andrew Miller, RP, New York Yankees                            Bowden: Seattle Mariners
The big left-hander has been thoroughly dominant. Currently the setup man for closer Aroldis Chapman, Miller would be closing for most teams in the majors.

There’s a big assumption with this suggestion by Bowden — the Yankees will be sellers. Considering the club hasn’t had a losing season since 1992, it’s tough for me to picture general manager Brian Cashman dealing the reliever this season.

If I’m wrong and Cashman opts to move veterans to help the future, snagging the 31-year-old — who’s making $9 million annually through 2018 — will be costly. The Yankees could simply opt to hold onto Miller, deal him in the offseason, or retain him to be their closer — if they opted to trade or not re-sign Chapman instead.

Bowden sees the Mariners as the best fit for Miller. There’s no doubt that the southpaw would significantly improve the back-end of Seattle’s bullpen, but does using so many resources and expending that much payroll to get one player sound like something that general manager Jerry Dipoto would do? His brief history in Seattle leads me to say “no.”

If Seattle is in contention, they’ll need to add more than one arm to the ‘pen, plus another corner outfielder. Using a significant amount of resources to acquire Miller — or any high profile player — would make it difficult for the club to get those additional pieces.

Perhaps, Cashman moves Chapman if he thinks he can grab a few pieces that could help his club this year and in the future. In the end though, I expect that both Miller and Chapman will end their season wearing Yankee pinstripes.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres                                              Bowden: Blue Jays
Seattle fans are probably rolling their eyes right now. After all, during his stay in Seattle, they dubbed Rodney’s relief appearances as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” due to the volatile nature of his outings. During this season in San Diego though, the 39-year-old has done a nice job of resurrecting his career after losing the Mariners closer job last year.

Not only is Rodney performing well, he’s affordable and comes with a low financial risk. He’s making $1.6 million this season and the Padres hold a $2 million team option for 2017, with a $400 thousand buyout.

Picking up the charismatic right-hander would be a good move for any contender looking to reinforce their bullpen depth, including the Seattle Mariners. My ears are already burning after that comment.

Joe Smith, RP, Los Angeles Angels                                    Bowden: Tigers
The side-arming reliever is a free agent after the season and has been filling in as the Angels closer during the absence of Huston Street.

Adding Smith should help bolster the bullpen of any contender, although it’s worth noting that the 32-year-old’s home run and walk rates are up and his strike out rate has decreased during this young season.

As a rental setup man, who’s not performing below career norms, Smith shouldn’t command a high price tag. Assuming that there’s no trade embargo going on between Dipoto and his former club, Smith would be another potential option for the Mariners.

Certainly, Dipoto is familiar with his former pitcher and the general manager has demonstrated an interest in bringing former players from his days in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Then again, he’s familiar with Street too.

Arodys Vizcaino, RP, Braves                                                   Bowden: Blue Jays
Trading a closer from one of the worst clubs in the majors makes sense. However, when he’s having a great season, is only 25-years-old, and under team control through the 2019 season, there’s no rush in moving him.

As with Teheran, the Braves would likely make a deal if they get a great offer. Alternatively, they can just wait until the offseason when there may be more suitors interested in their top reliever.

Final thoughts
While it’s fun and interesting to talk deadline deals on Memorial Day, a lot can change between now and August 1. Perhaps, the White Sox continue their free fall in the standings and the Mariners tank too. Maybe, the Toronto Blue Jays will catch fire as they did last year.

There’s also the possibility of injuries affecting sellers — as with Reddick and Hill — or buyers who lose a key player.

Still, I get it. Trade speculation is entertaining to many baseball fans. As the trade deadline gets closer, Prospect Insider will be providing ongoing analysis of potential and actual deals involving the Mariners and other major league clubs.

It’s going to be a fun summer.

 

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