MLB: AL Wild Card Game-Houston Astros at New York YankeesLast 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.

 …


 

 

This year’s crop of free agents is particularly deep with high-profile names like Zack Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton among the headliners. The first player in this group to sign with a team was Price, who agreed to a reported seven-year/$217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox just two days ago.

Price won’t be the only player who’ll hit the jackpot. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly in hot pursuit of Greinke. The former Dodger may not get a seven-year deal like Price because he’s a few years older. But, his potential contract is expected to have a higher annual average value (AAV) than Boston’s new ace. At least a few others will get longer commitments than Greinke though.

It might take seven years to secure the services of Cueto and Upton and it’s possible that it’ll take to a 10-year commitment to get Heyward, who will be 26-years old next season. Obviously, teams have money to spend, but is committing to a player for nearly a decade a wise strategy?

Unfortunately for teams and their respective fan bases, the majority of these long-term deals won’t help their team win a championship. By year-six, fans are more likely to suffer from buyer’s remorse than a hangover from overindulging at a World Series victory party. Bad long-term deals are almost as inevitable as death and taxes.

Sure, it’s a great day when a team presents their freshly signed player to the media and fans for the first time. He’ll strut out and model his new jersey and ball cap for the cameras and his smiling face with his new team colors will saturate the internet. During that introductory press conference, the newly imported star will likely explain why he chose his new team, while omitting the fact that his new employer was the highest bidder.

At the time, most fans won’t care if their team overbid for their new star or just outbid themselves. Their team spent the big bucks to get their man and that’s all that will matter. Naturally, the blogosphere will erupt and season ticket and team merchandise sales will escalate. But, how long will it be before the jubilation turns to frustration?

Big dollars, lots of years
Take a look at the 15 biggest major league contracts of all-time to see why fans could go from ecstatic to pessimistic just a few years after the big name signed with their team. The players highlighted in yellow have appeared in a World Series after signing their monster deals.

Player Current Age Tm Total Value (million)
Duration
Giancarlo Stanton 26 MIA $325 2015-27
Alex Rodriguez TEX $275 2008-17
Alex Rodriguez 40 NYY $252 2001-10
Miguel Cabrera 32 DET $248 2016-23
Albert Pujols 35 LAA $240 2012-21
Robinson Cano 32 SEA $240 2014-23
Joey Votto 32 CIN $225 2014-23
Clayton Kershaw 27 LAD $215 2014-20
Prince Fielder 31 DET $214 2012-20
Max Scherzer 31 WAS $210 2015-21
Derek Jeter (retired) 41 NYY $189 2001-10
Joe Mauer 32 MIN $184 2011-18
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY $180 2009-16
Justin Verlander 32 DET $180 2013-19
Felix Hernandez 29 SEA $175 2013-19

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On the surface, that may not seem that bad since so many of the above deals are relatively new. On the other hand, only three contracts – Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Mark Teixeira – have helped a team win a World Series and that was the 2009 New York Yankees.

A couple of Detroit Tigers did appear in the Fall Classic during a losing effort – Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Fielder was traded the Texas Rangers after being with the Tigers for just one season and appearing in the 2012 World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants. Cabrera is starting his second eight-year extension with Detroit.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera’s his first extension paid dividends for the Tigers. He’s a two-time league Most Valuable Player and a perennial Silver Slugger award winner. But, he’s age-33 next season and his current deal runs to at least 2023. Will he still be worth $32 million annually at age-40?

Ironically, the Tigers are one of two teams with players on the list that finished in last place in their division last season – the Cincinnati Reds is the other. They’re not the only teams that had big contract players and were unsuccessful in 2015.  The Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Angels, and Miami Marlins all underachieved last season.

Long-term deals can affect a team’s executive suite also. Six of the 10 clubs with players on the top-15 list have replaced their GM after their high-dollar signing(s). Spending an owner’s money can be risky business, depending on the outcome.

The Yankees or the Dodgers can afford to overpay – if they choose – and not overextend themselves financially. Conversely, Cincinnati’s signing of Joey Votto may have thrilled the masses when the deal was announced. Now, the team is reportedly ready to trade away major leaguers that they’re no longer willing or able to pay due to Votto’s increasing salary.

In 2015, Votto’s paycheck accounted for nearly 13-percent of the Reds’ payroll. Depending on offseason acquisitions, that could rise to nearly one-quarter of player salaries for next season. Plus, his pay continues to climb throughout the term of the contract. By the time that Cincinnati climbs back to relevance, their high paid star may no longer be a star, but he’ll still be high paid.

Sure, there’s still hope for the above organizations and I’m not trying to say that teams shouldn’t strike deals of seven years or longer. It comes down to making wise choices and understanding the risk being accepted.

Sometimes, it makes sense for a team to go all-in on signing a big name. Perhaps, ownership wants to make a statement on their commitment to winning or they’re in a “win now” mode. That’s why the Mariners signed Robinson Cano to an enormous contract.

Cano’s legacy with Seattle fans will hinge on whether the team wins a World Series during his tenure. If they don’t, his 10-year/$240 million deal will only cause angst among Mariners faithful. Especially, when he inevitably declines during the last five years of his contract.

Other times, winning isn’t the only priority. Creating goodwill by retaining a homegrown star who’s become an icon in the local community matters too. Examples of that practice would be the Mariners and New York Mets, who signed the face of their franchise to long-term extensions. Those players are Felix Hernandez and David Wright respectively.

“King Felix” is still at the top of his game. But, how long will that last? Yes, he’ll only be entering his 30-year-old season next year. However, his 2,262 innings pitched is third highest by any active pitcher since his debut in 2005. Who’s right behind him? C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, and Justin Verlander who all had a down year in 2015.

I’m not saying that the end is near for Hernandez. Every pitcher is different. But, seeing his peers struggle should give fans a reason to pause since he’s signed through at least 2019.

Wright is suffering from spinal stenosis and his long-term future is questionable. He’s under contract through 2020, which is his age-37 season. Fortunately for the cash-strapped Mets, his annual income drops from its current level of $20 million to $12 million during the last year of his deal

I grew up as a Mets fan and I’m married to a Mariners lifer, so I appreciate the reasoning behind both teams signing own stars. With that said, both players could fall into the “overpaid, under-performing ” category by the end of their deals.

Big dollar bats
Since the majority of the above contracts kicked-in during the last three years, I decided to look back at 12 current long-term deals that were signed in 2012 or earlier to see how they look with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. You’ll notice that there are a few familiar names already mentioned.

I focused on games played (G) to gauge durability and the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage to measure performance. Average games played for 2012-2015 and games played for last season that were below 120 have been highlighted in yellow. I did the same with below league-average slash stats. All league-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com.

Player Age Tm Avg G (2012-2015) 2015 G PA 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
Adrian Gonzalez 33 LAD 158 156 643 33 0 28 .275 .350 .480 2012-18 $21.9M
Mark Teixeira 35 NYY 93 111 462 22 0 31 .255 .357 .548 2009-16 $23.1M
Albert Pujols 35 LAA 142 157 661 22 0 40 .244 .307 .480 2012-21 $25M
Alex Rodriguez 39 NYY 106 151 620 22 1 33 .250 .356 .486 2008-17 $21M
Prince Fielder 31 TEX 131 158 693 28 0 23 .305 .378 .463 2012-20 $24M
Joe Mauer 32 MIN 134 158 666 34 2 10 .265 .338 .380 2011-18 $23M
Matt Holliday 35 STL 132 73 277 16 1 4 .279 .394 .410 2010-16 $17M
Ryan Zimmerman 30 WSN 112 95 390 25 1 16 .249 .308 .465 2009-19 $14M
Matt Kemp 30 SDP 121 154 648 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 2012-19 $21.8M
David Wright 32 NYM 110 38 174 7 0 5 .289 .379 .434 2014-20 $20M
Carl Crawford 33 LAD 80 69 193 9 2 4 .265 .304 .403 2011-17 $21.6M
Jayson Werth 36 WSN 111 88 378 16 1 12 .221 .302 .384 2011-17 $21M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Several of the players listed above had “decent” years. But, the majority struggled with poor performance and/or injury in 2015. For some, their struggles started before last season.

Adrian Gonzalez continues to provide value, as did Teixeira. But, “Tex” only played in 111 games. Injuries have plagued the 35-year-old first baseman during the majority of his contract – he hasn’t played in more than 123 games since 2011. Teixeira isn’t alone when it comes to having injuries affect both playing time and performance.

Rodriguez averaged just 88 games-per-season between 2011 and 2013 due to hip issues. As a result of his physical limitations, he’s been restricted to the designated hitter position. “A-Rod” enjoyed a strong start to 2015 and his overall numbers look good. But, a closer look at his stats uncovers a paltry .191/.300/.377 slash during the last two months of the season.

Albert Pujols hasn’t missed much playing time during the last two seasons, but he’s been hampered by foot problems and is projected to miss the start of the 2016 season due to foot surgery. His overall numbers fell below expectations and were buoyed by a strong June. Like A-Rod, he struggled during the second half of 2015 with a .231/.288/.419 slash.

Losing playing time due to injury shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a curse unless it’s been a trend. For example, Fielder hadn’t missed a game in three consecutive seasons until he had neck surgery in 2014 and missed all but 42 games. He bounced back to play in 158 games in 2015 and was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. Hopefully for the team and player, he’ll stay healthy through 2020 when he’s age-36 and earning $24 million annually.

Hired guns
Let’s turn our attention to starting pitchers where the list is much smaller. Until recently, clubs were very reluctant to go seven years or longer with a starter.

Since 2013, four pitchers have signed deals of seven years or greater – Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Justin Verlander. Only Tanaka’s signing wasn’t an extension deal with the player’s original club. Price’s signing suggests that some teams are willing to commit to elite free agent pitchers on the grandest scale.

Like with the position players, I reviewed starting pitchers with deals greater than seven years and signed in 2012 or prior. Only two pitchers fit the bill. Depending on your outlook, both could be viewed as either worthwhile or a bust.

Player Age Tm G GS CG Avg IP (2012-15) 2015 IP ERA FIP HR BA OBP SLG Term 2016 Salary
CC Sabathia 34 NYY 29 29 1 156 167.1 4.73 4.68 28 .285 .338 .458 2009-16 $25M
Matt Cain 30 SFG 13 11 0 139 60.2 5.79 5.54 12 .293 .352 .545 2010-17 $20M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/14/2015.

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Sabathia started strongly with the Yankees by helping the team win the 2009 World Series and finishing in the top-four of Cy Young award voting during his first three seasons. Since then, he’s declined with each passing season. There are many fan bases that would accept the down years of Sabathia if it meant winning a championship. I’m not sure that Yankee fans feel that way though.

Perhaps, carrying the long-term deals for fading players like Teixeira, Rodriguez, Sabathia, and the recently retired Derek Jeter is the reason that the Bomber’s World Series chances have dimmed lately.

Similarly, Matt Cain initially did well after signing his long-term deal and has gone on to struggle in recent years. During the early years of his contract, his team was successful in the World Series. Unfortunately for the pitcher and his team, he’s suffered injuries that have restricted his innings during the last two seasons.

Some Giants fans may view the Cain deal as a waste, while others probably don’t mind. The fact that Cain pitched in two of their three victorious World Series has to help lessen any frustration.

Final thoughts
Signing an elite free agent can be a defining moment for a baseball organization. Sometimes it’s a good moment, more often it’s not. Especially, if a team ventured outside of it’s financial comfort-zone to seal the deal or went significantly above market value to get their man. The cold, hard truth is there’s no guarantee that signing the biggest name on the market will ever translate into a championship.

Fans who want to see a World Series championship parade in their town shouldn’t necessarily pine for the next Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano. They’d be better off hoping that their team’s GM takes a balanced approach between developing homegrown players and acquiring reasonably priced talent. It’s not sexy, but five of the last six World Series champs were built that way.

Ironically, the only big spender to win it all lately – the Red Sox in 2013 – just signed Price. It’ll be interesting to see if they can avoid the same fate of the other two most recent big-spending champions – the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Both clubs have been weighed down by bloated contracts of aging players over the past half-decade.

History isn’t on Boston’s side. Death, taxes, bad long-term deals……

 

When starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma declined the Seattle Mariners’ qualifying offer of one-year for $15.8 million, it became clear that the team would be forced to compete with other major league clubs to bring the starting pitcher back to Seattle. The fact that the right-hander declined the offer comes to no surprise to most. It’s been widely reported that Iwakuma is looking for a multi-year deal.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that retaining Iwakuma is an offseason priority for his club and reportedly, the veteran hurler wants to stay in Seattle. Keeping “Kuma” in the Emerald City should be a lock, right? Maybe.

Much to the chagrin of some fans, Dipoto may be reluctant to offer Iwakuma the three-year deal that he’s reportedly seeking. Evidently, Seattle has offered a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third season.

Another hurdle in keeping Iwakuma is the fact that he may have several suitors other than the Mariners. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweeted that the Detroit Tigers were interested in the 34-year-old. Some teams may view Kuma as a less expensive alternative to top-tier free agents like Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto. If a market builds for Iwakuma, the Mariners could refrain from overpaying or over-obligating for the all-star starter.

The advantage that Seattle has on their side is the qualifying offer. If Iwakuma signs with another team, Seattle would receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2016 amateur draft. Any team that signs Iwakuma would have to their surrender first-round pick for the 2016 draft unless the team holds one of the first 10 picks. Those teams would lose their second-round pick instead.

Unfortunately for the Mariners and their fans, the Tigers own the number-nine overall pick. So, they’re legitimate competition for Iwakuma. Here is the entire first round draft order, plus the compensatory picks for next year’s draft.

Losing Iwakuma would be a blow to the Mariners offseason plans, but it’s important to keep his value in perspective. Let’s look at his major league numbers.

Year Age Tm W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2012 31 SEA 9 5 3.16 30 16 0 0 125.1 4.35 1.277 8.4 1.2 3.1 7.3
2013 ★ 32 SEA 14 6 2.66 33 33 0 0 219.2 3.44 1.006 7.3 1.0 1.7 7.6
2014 33 SEA 15 9 3.52 28 28 0 0 179.0 3.25 1.050 8.4 1.0 1.1 7.7
2015 34 SEA 9 5 3.54 20 20 1 1 129.2 3.74 1.064 8.1 1.2 1.5 7.7
AL (4 yrs) 47 25 3.17 111 97 1 1 653.2 3.62 1.082 8.0 1.1 1.7 7.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2015.

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The 2013 season was the veteran right-hander’s first season as a full-time starter and it was by far his best season with the Mariners. Iwakuma started in 33 games and pitched a career-high 219 innings on his way to finishing third in Cy Young award voting.

Unfortunately, the 2014 season didn’t get off to a good start when he reported to Spring Training with a strained tendon in his right middle finger. After missing the first month of the season, he pitched like his 2013 self until September when he struggled during his last five starts when the team was trying to make the postseason.

Perhaps, the lack of Cactus League prep affected Iwakuma during the home stretch of the season or perhaps the veteran merely had a “rough patch” as Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont described it at the time.

This past season, Iwakuma started poorly with three sub-par starts before going on the disabled list with a right lat strain after his April 20 start. However, he bounced back nicely after returning in in July by pitching 100 innings during the second half of the season and throwing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on August 12.

All-in-all, Iwakuma has been a valuable pitcher during his stay in Seattle and he’s demonstrated the ability to be a number-two starter. However, he’ll be 35-years-old next season and is coming off two injury-shortened seasons. A team that intends to contend can’t rely on him to be their number-two starter entering 2016. A more realistic projection for Iwakuma going forward would be as a number-four starter.

Sure, it’s possible that Iwakuma will have a great season next year. But, is it reasonable for a team to commit three years to an aging pitcher who’s only pitched over 200 innings once during his major league career and only twice in 11 seasons in Japan?

Naturally, fans would like to see one of their favorites to return, but that’s not how winners are built. If there were a younger player available to sign, shouldn’t the Mariners explore that option?

If the team is going to be forced to obligate three years to a pitcher, wouldn’t it make sense to obligate those years and dollars to a free agent like Mike Leake rather than Iwakuma? Here are the 27-year-old’s numbers since Iwakuma arrived in Seattle in 2012.

Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9
2012 24 CIN 8 9 .471 4.58 30 30 2 0 179.0 4.42 1.352 10.1 1.3 2.1 5.8
2013 25 CIN 14 7 .667 3.37 31 31 0 0 192.1 4.04 1.253 9.0 1.0 2.2 5.7
2014 26 CIN 11 13 .458 3.70 33 33 0 0 214.1 3.88 1.246 9.1 1.0 2.1 6.9
2015 27 TOT 11 10 .524 3.70 30 30 2 1 192.0 4.20 1.161 8.2 1.0 2.3 5.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2015.
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The right-hander isn’t in the class of elite pitchers like Price or Greinke, but he’d be a nice fit as a replacement for Iwakuma. It’s true that Leake’s numbers aren’t at the same level of Iwakuma’s. However, his stuff should play well at Safeco Field and – thanks to his age – there’s a better chance that he’d be worth his asking price than Iwakuma, even if that means a five-year commitment.

Leake isn’t the only player who could help the Mariners fill out their rotation instead of committing three years to Iwakuma. Former Mariner Doug Fister – also a free agent – would also make more sense. Like Kuma, Fister has experienced availability issues in recent years and would likely cost a team less in dollars and years.

Bear in mind that signing Iwakuma to a third year would mean that the Mariners would paying a 38-year-old starting pitcher $13-15 million in 2018 when Nelson Cruz will be approaching the same age and earning similar money, plus a 35-year-old Robinson Cano will be banking $24 million.

Does paying approximately $52 million to three players – who are over the age of 35 – sound like a business model for sustainable success?

Retaining Hisashi Iwakuma for two years is an acceptable risk. Otherwise, there are other options – via free agency and trade – who would be more cost efficient than Iwakuma and just as effective or even better in 2016 and beyond.

 …

ChapmanEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Royals Going For It
The Kansas City Royals reportedly were close to acquiring right-hander Johnny Cueto Saturday night. The deal fell through due to an apparent lack of medical clearance for one of the players headed from Kansas City to Cincinnati in the deal. Even with the deal failing to go through, this news tell us the Royals are going for it.

Cueto, a legitimate No. 1 starter, is a two-month rental and the Royals went for it. Certainly they will continue to attempt to land such a piece, perhaps even Cueto still. With such aggressiveness at the forefront, one has to wonder if the club also will look to grab an outfielder. Alex Gordon is out for a few months, and while Alex Rios has swung the bat better in July, he may not be a trustworthy bat. Gordon likely will return for October but if there are any setbacks with his rehab the Royals could be down a hitter in the postseason.

Brewers’ Sale
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets that right-hander Mike Fiers has drawn trade interest, but adds that the club is trying to move Kyle Lohse and/or Matt Garza, instead.

Good luck.

Lohse and Garza started the year with a chance to create nice value, but neither have pitched well. Garza has $25 million guaranteed still on the books, too, with a vesting option based on games started and the avoidance of the disabled list worth $13 million or a $5 million buyout. Lohse is movable, perhaps even without cash going with him. Garza is not, unless a bad contract is coming back.

Garza has posted a 4.89 FIP while seeing his strikeout rates fall for the fourth straight season. He’s still throwing 91-94 mph with three offspeed pitches but his fastball is getting hit hard and his above-average slider and curveball have also dipped in effectiveness. He’s 32 in November and has not gone more than 163 1/3 innings since 2011.

Milwaukee, however, is expected to strongly consider offers for Carlos Gomez, who may net the club a future impact piece. Fiers, by the way, is a solid No. 3 starter with four more years of club control remaining. He will not be arbitration eligible until after the 2016 season.

Chapman, Kimbrel
Aroldis Chapman may or may not be traded this summer, but if he or Craig Kimbrel lands in Washington the Nationals will have even fewer excuses for an October failure than they have had in the past.

ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted Saturday that rival executives believe if Nats GM Mike Rizzo makes a move it will be a big one. Chapman or Craig Kimbrel would be pretty big. Either’s presence would push solid closer Drew Storen to the eighth inning.

The Padres and Reds aren’t contending and could jump start a busy offseason by maxing out their value this month, rather than reducing their value by hanging onto them for two more months. Expect both to be dealt, as A.J. Preller and Walt Jocketty get busy on a reload job.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Cishek Deal Not A Market Setter
While Oakland’s haul in return for Scott Kazmir may indeed help set the market price for starting pitcher rentals this summer, the Steve Cishek acquisition by the St. Louis Cardinals won’t come close to doing so.

For one, Cishek, 29, has struggled this season. So much that at one point he was shipped back to Triple-A. His velocity is down a bit, he’s walking more batters and striking out fewer and simply allowing more hard hit baseballs. He’s also owed more than $2 million over the final two months of 2015.

Not only does the trade cost for Cishek — 25-year-old Class-AA reliever Kyle Barraclough — not set the market for closers, it likely doesn’t do so for setup men, either. He may very well end up a solid pick-up for the Cardinals, but we’ve yet to see a legitimate high-leverage reliever change teams, so we’ll have to wait until one does to get a sense of what the price is going to be for such arms.

Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria and Francisco Rodriguez are among the proven closer rumored to be somewhat available this month. Late-inning, setup or mid-level closer types that may be available include Brad Ziegler, Joaquin Benoit, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Will Smith, Jim Johnson, Mark Lowe, Brad Boxberger, Jonathan Broxton and Shawn Kelley. The Red Sox, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, have received interest in Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara but there are no indications Boston will move either right-hander.

Who Needs CF Help?
Contenders that have not received much production from their centerfielders and could be on the lookout for some assistance there before the July 1 deadline:

St. Louis Cardinals: 76 wRC+, .279 wOBA
Peter Bourjos has taken away most of the playing time from Jon Jay and has been much more acceptable offensively with a .314 wOBA and 100 wRC+ supporting a solid .339 OBP.

With so little available on the market, the Cardinals do not appear likely at all to try and trade for a Cameron Maybin, Austin Jackson, Ben Revere or Rajai Davis.

Houston Astros: 76 wRC+, .280 wOBA
Jake Marisnick is a solid glove but at .229/.266/.367 and a .275 wOBA, the contending Astros could use a little more offense. But they also need corner-outfield help and it appears they’re more likely to get a decent player in that search.

San Francisco Giants: 86 wRC+, .286 wOBA
Angel Pagan has scuffled most of the season — .302 OBP, 277 wOBA, 79 wRC+ — and he’s not the glove he was three or four years back. The Giants may prefer to go after starting pitching — they have been linked to Mike Leake and might be a terrific fit for Hisashi Iwakuma if the Mariners end up selling — but center field is a weak spot without question. Pagan has hit left-handed pitching well in the small sample that is 102 plate appearances, suggesting perhaps a platoon partner might make more sense than attempting to land an everyday replacement. Revere is the ideal option in this case.

Tampa Bay Rays: 91 wRC+, .294 wOBA
Moving Kevin Kermeier to a corner or acquiring another centerfield-type defender and playing him left — even if the offensive output isn’t significant — may be the best way a surprise Rays club can get better without spending big in trade cost or salary. Of course, a healthy Desmond Jennings could change the approach and he’s on the comeback trail after knee surgery last month.

Catchers
Several clubs would like to add at least a No. 2 catcher, if not a split-advantage backstop or even a starting-quality option, but there’s not much available and the cost for those that are is quite steep.

Seattle, since trading Welington Castillo in the deal to land Mark Trumbo, has been one of those clubs. One of the clubs they spoke to requested a high-end prospect in exchange for a veteran backup catcher who will be a free agent after the season. The talks, apparently, dies right there.

Here are some catchers that may be discussed over the next week, and some of them perhaps beyond into the waiver deadline period in August:

Rene Rivera, Tampa Bay
Alex Avila, Detroit
A.J. Pierzynski, Atlanta
Stephen Vogt, Oakland
Nick Hundley, Colorado
Geovany Soto, White Sox
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia
Brayan Pena, Cincinnati
Michael McKenry, Colorado

There aren’t a lot of clubs contending right now that are having significant issues behind the plate. Minnesota is getting a down year from Kurt Suzuki at the plate, Baltimore’s Matt Wieters hasn’t hit much yet and the Rays, who may end up selling instead, are getting nothing offensively from their group. Chris Ianetta’s poor year is hurting the Halos but they aren’t going to move on from him at this stage of the season while they lead the division.

Some have speculated the Padres may be willing to listen on Derek Norris, and if that is the case, like with Oakland and Vogt, clubs may come out of the woodwork to consider him.…

IwakumaIf Hisashi Iwakuma goes out in five days and pitches well again, the Seattle Mariners absolutely will have the opportunity to trade the right-hander to a contender, and the package Oakland received in exchange for Scott Kazmir could serve as a baseline for any deal Seattle makes involving the 34-year-old. This should increase the chances the club makes such a trade.

Iwakuma isn’t going to bring back the same level of package as Kazmir just did — he hasn;t been as good in 2015 and is even more of a concern to clubs in terms of his health, but Kazmir returned a potential future above-average everyday catcher in Jacob Nottingham plus a future back-end starter or reliever in Daniel Mengden.

Such a haul suggests Seattle could net something useful in return for Iwakuma, provided he doesn’t blow up next time out. He’ thrown the ball well three straight times out and despite giving up for homersin his first start off the disabled list, he did show something in that one, too. He’s struck out 18 in his last 20 2/3 innings, walked just four over that span and has induced a lot of ground balls outs. His four starts since being activated have been versus Detroit twice, the Yankees and a red-hot Angels club, too.

Iwakuma could be attractive to clubs that don’t like the asking price for Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Johnny Cueto and even Mike Leake. Those interested in Leake or other mid-rotation types could end up with a better deal and a better pitcher in Iwakuma, who has looked the part of a No. 2-3 type starter of late.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted earlier Thursday that indications are the Mariners are “hesitant to sell.”

Of course they are, because it tells the fan base that 2015 is a failed season, which doesn’t bode well for attendance, TV ratings or the job security of the general manager. It’s the right things to do, however, which is why the A’s went ahead and did so, even though starting play Thursday they were ahead of the Mariners in the standings.

Reports surfaced last week that Detroit, who sits several games ahead of Seattle, is exploring trading their own pending free agents such as ace David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. More evidence that a smart seller can take advantage of so clubs preferring to buy this summer.

Clubs that may see Iwakuma as ideal may include the Baltimore Orioles, who want to add a bat and perhaps a starter, too, but don’t have a lot of ammo to land both and as a result could get left in the cold for the bigger names. The Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Kansas City Royals (who need multiple starting pitchers) and even San Francisco Giants also could see a reasonably-priced Iwakuma as a solid option.

Waiting to ‘make sure’ they’re out of the race before selling could cost the Mariners a chance to capitalize on the market. Doing so with Iwakuma and/or J.A. Happ is a ridiculous mistake, especially considering a perfectly capable Roenis Elias is awaiting a recall from Triple-A Tacoma. If the M’s get hot and somehow find themselves in the race in late September, it won’t be because of a negative value differential between Iwakuma (or Happ) and Elias. Not to mention there’s still a chance James Paxton makes it back at some point.…

"<strong/Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Advantage Sellers
Since there aren’t as many sellers as there are buyers those clubs ready to sell have a chance to take advantage of the market. The wisest of those clubs will sell aggressively if they get the opportunity. The Seattle Mariners could be one of those.

Even with David Price and Yoenis Cespedes added to the trade market, there still is a shortage. Some clubs that want to add to their rosters may not be able to do so because they either cannot afford or prefer not to part with the talent it takes to land Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or Cole Hamels. Some clubs looking for starting pitching will prefer the mid-rotation, innings-eater type, or may even want an option to cover a spot in the rotation until an injured arm can return. J.A. Happ isn’t going to return much, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be advantageous to move him. This landscape may allow for the legit return necessary to bother pulling the trigger.

Teams that ultimately balk at the price for Mike Leake could look to Happ or Rangers righty Colby Lewis.

Teams looking for offense may run dry on options once Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Ben Zobrist are moved. Mark Trumbo has some value. Like Happ, Trumbo isn’t bringing back anything earth shattering, but a piece that can help? No doubt.

The Mariners, though, will have to be aggressive in shopping their available players because they aren’t alone. The Padres, Red Sox, White Sox and Rockies have a similar opportunity, and at some point the buyers could run out. Timing is of the essence. Happ’s last start in a Mariners uniform should already have been made. Trumbo’s days should be numbered. Austin Jackson‘s .271/.311/.376 triple-slash since May 26 is just reasonable enough to poach a useful piece from a contender needing help in center field, too. Jackson could be more than just useful in a time share, as he’s hitting .275/.315/.464 versus lefties this season.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins are two contenders that have not received much offense from their centerfielders. So little that Jackson would serve as an upgrade.

Trading Nelson Cruz
Trading Nelson Cruz might be a good idea for the Seattle Mariners. Maybe this summer, maybe over the winter. He’s had another fantastic season at the plate, his best in the big leagues. He’s owed $42 million over the next three years, which hardly is a burden — if he keeps hitting.

Cruz is 34 and probably isn’t going to be much more than a league average DH soon. The Mariners, who have had significant issues building a competitive offense, seemingly should cling to Cruz and keep building, and maybe that’s the right move in the end. But if trading Cruz can answer another question or two for 2016, dealing the slugger pushes the reset button a bit.

Cruz, though, is the James Shields of hitters. Teams were in no hurry to give him four years last offseason and their assessment of his value may not have changed enough to all of a sudden encourage them to take on the final three years of the contract plus trade talent to do so.

In theory, Seattle should trade Cruz and start anew over the winter, attempting to build a roster with more speed, defense, pitching and a bat or two that plays well at Safeco Field. Giving him away to cut payroll doesn’t make sense. If an offer comes along that helps the club get where they need to go, they should pull the trigger. The market for Cruz, however, may to dictate the Mariners keep Cruz.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

The Mets and Ben Zobrist?
The New York Mets have been linked to Ben Zobrist, among other left-side infielders, but Tuesday Ken Rosenthal tweets that discussions have been set aside.

The Mets are in the thick of the races in the National League and need offense in the worst way. David Wright may not be back in 2015, Michael Cuddyer now is hurt and the lineup was down a bat or two even with those two healthy.

Zobrist could play some shortstop for the Mets, or he could slide into a corner outfield spot. He’s a rental that will likely interest a number of clubs. The Mets may need two acquisitions, however, perhaps a shortstop or third baseman plus an outfielder. Zobrist helps, but another addition to go along with him might put the Mets over the top. The problem is, the Mets, like a few other clubs in buy mode as the trade deadline nears — Orioles, Angels, for example — the Mets don’t have a ton of talents that make sense for them to part with for two-month answers. Their pitching is either hurt — Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler — or completely off limits — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and there aren’t a ton of mid-level prospects in their system.

Finding at least one match may be doable, however, it’s the second one that’s difficult to see happening.

Where Zobrist lands is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost certain he gets moved. Several clubs could use him in a number of spots on the field and in the batting order, including the Yankees (2B, SS), Baltimore (OF), Angels (OF, 2B), Kansas City (OF, 2B), Mets (SS, OF), Pirates (SS), Dodgers (SS, OF).

My List of Sellers
Philadelphia
Milwaukee
Oakland
Seattle
Boston
Texas
Miami
Cincinnati
Arizona
Colorado
White Sox
Boston
San Diego

Oakland, Seattle, Boston, Texas, Arizona, San Diego and the White Sox have an outside shot to get white hot for the next 8-9 days and play themselves into buying. It doesn’t appear Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami and Colorado have even that kin of shot. TMany of the former seven clubs may look to buy for the future, including Texas, who continues to be linked to Cole Hamels.

Bubble
Detroit
Cleveland
Atlanta

The Tigers already have reportedly decided to field calls for Yoenis Cespedes and David Price, but at 46-47 and four games back in the American League Wild Card race, it’s tough to expect them have already decided to sell a few pending free agents and close up shop. Detroit may be the classic sell-buy combo club this month: Trade Cespedes and Price for players that can help them now as well as in the future.

Cleveland is the quintessential bubble team at 44-48, 5.5 games out in the Wild Card. A poor next nine games they could find themselves in a position to plan more for 2016 than worrying about this season. If they were to lose three or more games in the standings and perhaps even get pass by the Rangers and/or White Soxm for example, aggressively buying no longer makes much sense. The Indians don’t have the group of pending free agents some other potential sellers have, however, and they’re actually a talented team with a chance to win immediately, so we’re not talking about the big names here, and perhaps not even many of the smallers ones.

Atlanta is likely to sell, but if they were to find a way to close the Wild Card gap from six games to, say, 3-4 games, they may not be quite as aggressive in sell mode. Buying for this season appears to be the one thing the Braves won’t do, however, so they are as much sellers, really, as the top group.

Buyers
Kansas City
L.A. Angels
Houston
Baltimore
Toronto
Minnesota
Washington
St. Louis
L.A. Dodgers
Pittsburgh
Chicago Cubs
San Francisco
New York Mets

The Mets may have a tough time landing what they need, but they have the ammo to get at least one helpful deal done. The Royals likely will be looking for starting pitching and the Halos are linked to Jay Bruce, among other bats. Baltimore apparently is after another bat, but can someone get Buck Showalter a frontline starter, please? Chris Tillman isn’t a No. 1 — or a No. 2. Neither is… anyone else in that rotation.

The Blue Jays need pitching help, as do the Astros. The Twins may choose the dull route, but they aren’t selling off pieces as the current holder of the No. 2 Wild Card berth. The Nationals are loaded, but aren’t healthy, and shortstop Ian Desmond has been awful at shortstop. Maybe another bullpen arm is on Mike Rizzo’s radar.

The Cardinals don’t have any glaring needs, per se. On the surface it would seem they could use a frontline starter to fill in for Adam Wainwright, but Lance Lynn (.278 FIP, 9.67 K/9) has done that job nicely and Michael Wacha (3.20 FIP), John Lackey (3.5 FIP) and Carlos Martinez (3.51 FIP, 9.3 K/9) have been strong solidifying the starting five. With Jaime Garcia also out, howver, St. Louis could set out to acquire a mid-rotation option, perhaps as solid as Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake or Tyson Ross or as ordinary as J.A. Happ.

The impact move is Hamels, Johnny Cueto, David Price or Jeff Samardzija. A few potential under-the-radar targets include Hisashi Iwakuma, Andrew Cashner or John Danks. Yovani Gallardo, reportedly being shopped by the Rangers, could fit, too.

The club to watch here is the Cubs. They have the inventory to get just about any player, perhaps any two. With bait that for the right return could include Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler, plus prospects such as Billy McKinney and Albert Almora, the North Siders can bully their way into trade discussions for any available player. There’s probably zero chance two of Castro-Baez-Soler is moved, and it’s unlikely but not out of the question that one of them is moved.

The Cubs could use a starting pitcher, a reliever and not a lot else. Dexter Fowler hasn’t been stellar in center field or at the plate, but unless it’s Carlos Gomez the center field market isn’t likely to help here, and Fowler is showing signs of life since the break.

The Giants are tough to figure out for me. Anyone?…

AdeinyEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Another Ace on the Market
With Bob Nightengale’s report that the Detroit Tigers are preparing to discuss trading ace left-hander David Price and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Price hitting the market could have an impact on the prices for other starters, especially Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels and Jeff Samardzija. I’m not sure if Price’s availability would increase or decrease the value of the others expected to be on the market, or perhaps do nothing. The first one to be moved could kinda-sorta set the market. Price could, however, take a team out of the market for one of the others, particularly the other rentals — Scott Kazmir, Cueto, Samardzija — and reduce the return their clubs ultimately receive.

For example, maybe the best chance for Chicago White Sox to max out on Samardzija’s value is to pit, say, the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers against one another — just for example, not assuming interest or fit here. If the Cubs land price, not only does it remove a club from the bidding, it removes specific talents from the equation. It becomes a two-team bidding war, not three, and the potential asking price from the Cubs is deleted.

As for which clubs appears as fits for Price? Any contender this side of Washington could work. The Dodgers may prefer Hamels since he’s under club control beyond 2015 and Zack Greinke may opt out at season’s end. Clubs such as Tampa Bay may not have the inclination to add a little salary on top of the trade cost to reacquire their former ace and No. 1 pick. The Twins may be in the same boat. Some clubs may not be likely matches in terms of talent inventory, possibly including Baltimore and the Angels.

As for Cespedes, he could fit what the Angels would like to do offensively, though a left-handed stick makes more sense. They have been linked to Jay Bruce. Gerardo Parra is a better fit — less trade cost, no future commitment. The Halos reportedly prefer a hitter they can use beyond 2015, however.

If the Tigers are sellers, though, Price and Cespedes aren’t the lone potential pieces GM Dave Dombrowski could deal. Outfielder Rajai Davis, right-hander Joakim Soria and catcher Alex Avila could make sense to move, too. If they aren’t contending, there’s no point in holding tight to pending free agents. Avila’s father is one of Dombrowski’s assistants, so that situation may be handled differently than some others, but Avila could bring back a useful piece or two, especially considering the high cost of catching.

Shortstop Thoughts
Several clubs have been after help at shortstop since long before the season started. San Diego and the Mets are two examples. The Pirates, with the injuries to Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez and Josh Harrison, now could use a third baseman or a shortstop.

It’s a difficult position to fill in Major league Baseball, and always has been. The Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Rays, Cubs and Orioles have received very little offense from the position.

The Dodgers could call on Corey Seager to help at the position and the Rays, Cubs and Orioles don’t appear to be in any hurry to go outside the organization. Baltimore just signed Everth Cabrera for some depth.

The Padres are not currently being thought of as buyers so any acquisition at shortstop has to be about 2016 and beyond. The Rangers would love to get rid of Elvis Andrus‘ contract, but it’s difficult to imagine that occurs. Perhaps a club is willing to take a piece of it, however.

Outside of Troy Tulowitzki, Jean Segura may be the best player on the shortstop market, all apologies to Alexei Ramirez, and tertiary names such as Jose Ramirez, Chris Taylor and Cliff Pennington have limited value, although Ramirez and Taylor bring club control and low salaries with them.

The shortstop situation — many clubs with a need, pretty much no club with a surplus of a shortstop capable of providing everyday value — begs the question: Would it behoove a club with a solid, under-club-control option at shortstop be wise to take advantage and make theirs available, even without another answer of their own? For teams not close to contention, this is absolutely a good idea — at least see what clubs might pay. For others, those contending now and those with even a chance to contend in 2016, not having a viable option after the current starter.makes it difficult, but still worth casting a net.

That includes clubs such as Miami with Adeiny Hechavarria, Seattle with Brad Miller and certainly the Cubs with Starlin Castro. You simply never know what a club may be willing to part with when a starting-quality shortstop with years of club control are on the hook.…

PuigEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Chances Yasiel Puig is Traded
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, who is well-connected around baseball, writes there is growing belief in Los Angeles that Yasiel Puig is “losing popularity” with his teammates, per a league source. Cafardo suggests one possibility if the Dodgers look to move their right fielder may be Philadelphia and their ace, Cole Hamels. A trade centered on Puig-for-Hamels makes a lot of sense on the surface, since the Dodgers may be planning for life without Zack Greinke who may opt out after this season and the Phillies clearly want to get younger, more athletic and to perhaps reel in their payroll a bit.

But even though Puig isn’t having a great season — .274/.358/.435 in 45 games — the Dodgers don’t have a surplus in outfielders … at least not productive outfielders, anyway. Andre Ethier has rebounded and Joc Pederson has been very good but Carl Crawford has again struggled when he’s been available and neither Scott Van Slyke nor Alex Guerrero appear to be reliable everyday options; Van Slyke has trouble producing versus right-handed pitchers and Guerrero, also right-handed, is new to the outfield and has problems hitting right-handed pitching, too.

If Puig were to be traded, the Dodgers would have a bit of a hole to fill, albeit one that could be closed by adding a left-handed hitting platoon bat. Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Gerardo Parra may fit, as might Cleveland’s David Murphy, among others.

If I were the Phillies, however, I’m not sure I’d want Puig if he’s some kind of a clubhouse problem, and I’d focus on adding young arms before big-league players that may not be around when my club is again ready to compete.

Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman may prefer to avoid selling low on Puig and making a drastic alteration to his regular lineup, one that has, at times, struggled to produce runs consistently. The rotation may need a boost after this season, if Greinke leaves, but the Dodgers have been one of the better run-prevention clubs in the National League this season with one of the more effective starting staffs.

I’d bet Puig stays where he is this summer with the hopes from the Dodgers’ perspective that he has a big second half, helps the club win and improves his trade value for further consideration this coming offseason.

Angels, Bruce; Orioles, Upton
Jay Bruce is on the Angels’ radar, tweets Jon Morosi, and that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. The Reds, according to John Fay, are expected to discuss any player this side of Todd Frazier, including Bruce and the Halos have a need in the outfield.

Deadline deals are strange — sometimes a good trade doesn’t work out because all that has to occur to ruin it is the acquired player struggles for better part of two months. That also makes such trades risky. The question here, however, is more about what the Reds will require for Bruce, whether or not the Angels have it and whether or not they’re willing to part with it.

Same goes for Baltimore’s interest in Justin Upton, per Morosi. Upton, a two-month rental, isn’t as valuable so presumably he will cost a lot less in trade. The Orioles’ system is thin and has some injuries balking up their depth, but there’s a few players in that organization I’d trade Upton to take a chance on if I were Padres GM A.J. Preller. Baltimore may not be the best offer Preller gets, however, but the O’s can certainly compete in the Upton sweepstakes — if they want to.

For both Baltimore and Anaheim, there may be better options when cost is brought into the equation. Parra could be a fit for both, as might Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick. Reddick likely will be more costly than any rental — since he’s not one — and may rival Bruce’s price tag, despite the differential in team control.

Mariners Idea
With each loss the Mariners get closer and closer to having no legitimate choice other to sell off their pending free agents, perhaps including Hisashi Iwakuma, who has had one bad start, one very good one and one OK outing since returning from the disabled list.

Lefty J.A. Happ, centerfielder Austin Jackson, relievers Fernando Rodney, Mark Lowe and Joe Beimel also will be free agents after the season. Neither Rodney nor Beimel are going to net much in return, of course — Rodney because he’s had an awful season and Beimel simply because he’s not a high-leverage arm — but Lowe may be worth something useful in the future, as might Happ, Jackson and Iwakuma.

I’m not suggesting any of the above are worth a return of a starting outfielder, top prospect at any position or anything like that, but there’s no reason one or more of them cannot help the Mariners rebuild their bullpen for 2016 and/or fill a bench hole or two.

The Mariners can be buyers in one sense, however: Focusing on acquiring players that fit 2016 and perhaps beyond. This season may not matter much, but getting a jump start on fixing some issues is not a bad thing.

The Mariners, in my opinion, should listen on Nelson Cruz (don’t believe for one second they will), Seth Smith, Mark Trumbo and Charlie Furbush, too. If not now, then over the winter. Exhausting all options is important when building an effective roster, even when it means discussing productive players to which you’d prefer to add. The Mariners need more team athleticism, and more specifically better outfield performance both offensively and defensively. Until that’s addressed successfully, they’ll be a team trying to win with one frontline starting pitcher in Felix Hernandez and the three-run homer. …

StarlinEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels?
In his latest video post at FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal notes that the market for Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels includes the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also adds that the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox have interest, too.

My first reaction was to think about a series in October that started with Kershaw, Greinke and Hamels on the mound for the Dodgers. Hamels hasn’t been terrific this season but he has been good. I’d put money on him having a stronger final two months than the 3.40 FIP he’s posted thus far.

But how do the Dodgers, or Cubs, Rangers and Red Sox get Hamels in their uniform for the next three-plus seasons? The Phillies feel no pressure to move their ace right now, so they will hold out for the right deal. Here’s what each club has to offer that Philadelphia may have request during negotiations. In no manner is the following a suggestion of a deal that either side would accept, nor does it imply Philly has interest in the specific player or the other club’s willingness to deal said player or players.

Dodgers
Corey Seager, SS/3B
Julio Urias, LHP
Hector Olivera, 2B
Jose De Leon, RHP
Grant Holmes, RHP
Alex Verdugo, CF
Zach Lee, RHP

Seager and Urias may be as close to untouchable as it gets for the Dodgers, probably in that order. De Leon, Olivera, Holems, et al, may not be enough to land Hamels, especially considering there are other clubs with young talent to offer the Phillies.

Mike Bolsinger, 27, may carry some value as a tertiary piece in a package for Hamels, but doing so would require the club to fill another spot in the rotation.

Cubs
Kyle Schwarber, C
Carl Edwards, Jr., RHP
Albert Almora, CF
Billy McKInney, LF
Gleyber Torres, SS
Dylan Cease, RHP
Duane Underwood, RHP
Carson Sands, RHP
Justin Steele, RHP
Jorge Soler, OF
Starlin Castro, SS
Jorge Baez, RHP

The Cubs appear to have so much depth that adding an arm like Hamels may never come back to hurt them even a little bit. The Phillies need everything, probably starting with pitching depth, suggesting at least one of Edwards, Jr., Cease, Underwood, and the like, may be necessary. I did not list Kris Bryant or Addison Russell because common sense says if the Cubs deal an infielder it will be Castro or perhaps Baez.

If Castro were to be traded, the general idea is that Bryant would play everyday at third, Baez would move to second and Russell would slide over to shortstop, his natural position, full time.

Castro may be involved if the Cubs and Padres get together on a deal for a quality starting pitcher with some club control left. Castro also could interest the

Red Sox
Mookie Betts, CF
Yoan Moncada, 2B
Javier Guerra, SS
Henry Owens, LHP
Blake Swihart, C
Manuel Margot, CF
Rafael Devers, 3B/OF

The Red Sox aren’t as deep as the Cubs or Dodgers but if they are willing to part with any two of the above, they’ll likely be able to pry Hamels away. Boston does not have depth in the starting pitching department down on the farm, so trading both Owens and fellow lefty Brian Johnson in the same four-player package may be asking a but much.

Betts and Swihart reportedly interest the Phillies greatly but whether or not the Red Sox will reconsider their availability remains doubtful, perhaps at best. Guerra hasn’t been the slick fielder he was expected to be just yet but despite contact issues he’s mashing in Class-A Greenville, showing more power — 31 extra-base hits in 73 games — than most anticipated. The Phillies don’t have a specific need for a shortstop with J.P. Crawford a top prospect and shoving his way toward a big-league debut, potentially next season, but adding high-end talent never is a bad idea.

A package including Guerra, Owens and Devers might be a tough one to turn down in the end.

Rangers
Joey Gallo, 3B/RF
Jorge Alfaro, C
Nomar Mazara, OF
Nick Williams, OF
Jake Thompson, RHP
Lewis Brinson, OF
Josh Morgan,2B
Elvis Andrus, SS

The Rangers have holes beyond their starting rotation, including one of the league’s worst offensive outfield collections and bullpen units. Texas may need three arms — two starters and a releiver — plus an addition to their lineup to project well enough to be in the race beyond mid-August. The Rangers probably shouldn’t have much interest in Hamels right now, particularly considering the likely haul in young talent. If Philly insists on a premium four-player package that includes Mazara or Alfaro plus Thompson, GM Jon Daniels probably, and understandably, backs down quickly.

Gallo and Alfaro should be off limits, in my opinion. Not 100 percent untouchable, but for the right to pay Hamels for three-plus seasons I would not include either player. Andrus is highly unlikely to be involved in a deal for Hamels unless a third club is involved.

In the end, I’m just not sure now is the right time for Daniels and the Rangers to pay big on a big-money pitcher. Sure they get him for three more years, yet stay away from the long-term risks of future free agents, but that kind of talent cost is prohibitive for the return.

Texas can go out and get better this month, but they don’t have to pay the hefty toll to do so. Not for a club 42-47 and fading fast with many more holes to fill for 2016.

If the Rangers wants to add high-level starting pitching, they can do so on the free agent market after the season. Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and company will hit free agency, and the Rangers will get back Yu Darvish at some point in 2016, plus should have a healthy Derek Holland. Martin Perez is back, the Rangers should supplement the rotation on top of that rather than rebuild it with Hamels.

Texas should be in the market for Tyson Ross, as are the Astros, per Dennis Lin. Ross won’t come at the cost — salary or trade talent — as Hamels and his ability to induce ground balls (62.9% in 2015), fits the home park.

James Shields is another alternative and one Padres GM A.J. Preller may prefer to move over Ross.

What About the White Sox and Indians as sellers?
They’re each 42-47, seven games out in the American League Central and 6.5 out of the No. 2 Wild Card spot. The White Sox have won six of 10, the Indians have lost six of 10. There’s a chance one or both could end up benefiting from selling a key piece or two rather than trying to add for a run this season.

The Sox have pending free agent Jeff Samardzija, a high-quality starting pitcher that may net them a nice return. Beyond that, catcher Geovany Soto, shortstop Alexei Ramirez and perhaps first baseman Adam LaRoche could be dangled before July 31.

Soto is on a 1-year deal while Ramirez’s contract carries a club option for next season at $10 million or a $1 million buyout. LaRoche will earn $13 million in 2016.

Most of Chicago’s offense has scuffled this season, including Ramirez who, entering Saturday’s game owed a paltry .237 wOBA and 43 wRC+. LaRoche, too, has struggled, particularly thus far in July — .132/.195/.184 with a nice thin wRC+ of 1. You read that correctly. Soto has been respectable at .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+. Worth noting that wOBA is park adjusted, wRC+ is not.

The Tribe has a lot of interesting pieces that, if GM Chris Antonetti decided to attempt a quick retool, may get the job done all by themselves. Corey Kluber is going nowhere, and it’s difficult to see any of the other young, inexpensive starters — Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar — being sent out in deals this month. Jason Kipnis is a centerpiece, as is rookie shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Outfielder Michael Brantley, however, does not scream ‘building block’ to me. He’s a very nice player without any major weakness in his game. But he’s 28, an average-at-best glove that all comes with a very reasonable price tag if $14 million over the next two seasons plus an option at $11 million or a $1 million buyout, suggesting he could be worth more in trade than if he remains on the roster, considering the lack of quality position players available.

Platoon bat David Murphy could help a contender down the stretch, same for Brandon Moss. Ryan Raburn is a nice bench option with a $3 million club option for 2016. Right-handed reliever Zach McAllister is good, cheap and a late-inning option that could fill a need for clubs such as Texas, Seattle, the Dodgers, Cubs and Twins.…

Gomez15Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Atlanta Braves Sale
The Braves started their rebuild over the offseason when they traded the likes of Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Evan Gattis and Justin Upton, among others. That trend likely will continue this month with names such as Juan Uribe, Cameron Maybin and Jim Johnson on the market. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is being discussed, too.

Maybin is interesting because he’s having a solid year at the plate and can pass as a centerfielder. He’s due about $2.5 million the rest of 2015 and is set to earn $8 million next season. His 2017 option comes with a $1 million buyout or a $9 million salary.

Due to the lack of options in center these days, at least a dozen clubs should have some level of interest in Maybin, who shouldn’t cost much more than Austin Jackson did a year ago, a middle infielder with a chance to be a big-league regular, albeit with some risk attached (Nick Franklin).

Houston’s Buying
With zero chance they sell pieces, the Houston Astros are as firmly in the buyers line as any club in the American League right now. They need a starting pitcher or two, and if they were to land a Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija or cole Hamels, they may just grab the one and call up Mark Appel to shore things up on the back end. They have been linked to Mike Leake, too, however. Leake can get ground ball outs, which fits the Juice Box well, and he’s used to pitching in a hitter’s environment at the Great American Smallpark but has struggled at home in three of his last four seasons.

It’s difficult to see Jeff Luhnow whiffing at the deadline. The Astros are going to add a starting pitcher, perhaps two, and if a veteran first baseman falls in their lap, they may jump on that, too. The Astros are three games under .500 this season if you remove their 10-game winning streak, to lend an alternate idea how well they have played. But they aren’t going to fade into oblivion, especially if the rotation gets help. I still like the idea of Scott Kazmir for them, if the lefty is healthy, and if they find a way to get more offense from either their catchers or at first, this remains a dangerous team, a year or two before we thought they might be.

They have prospects to move, including Appel (who isn’t likely to be traded, but he certainly wouldn’t be on my untouchables list), outfielders Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips and Danry Vazquez, plus a crop of young arms that may be deep enough from which to trade to get the veteran they need. The Astros even have a couple of young shortstops they may not need to protect aggressively in Nolan Fontana, Joan Mauricio and Miguelangel Sierra.

You Can Go Get Him Now
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that the Brewers are “now showing a willingness to trade Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura. Gomez, perhaps the best all-around centerfielder in baseball, is under contract through 2016. Segura, a capable a shortstop in the mold of Erick Aybar at the plate, could interest about 20 teams, with the dearth of shortstops available in baseball. The Mets come to mind, as do the Padres, though Segura’s bat isn’t a significant upgrade for either club. His defense is sound, though, and he’s under club control for three more years. He will be arbitration eligible this coming winter, but his 2016 salary is unlikely to be anything but a bargain, still.

Gomez could be the prize a contending team needs to get over the top. Imagine the right-handed hitting speedster roaming the pastures at Comerica Park or tipping the scales of the lineup for the Angels, who could move Mike Trout to left field, use Gomez at leadoff and keep their best hitter in the two or three spot rather than moving him around to attempt to spark things.

The price for Gomez isn’t going to be easy to reconcile for some clubs, but the chance to add elite speed and defense plus a legitimate option at the top of the batting order that could impact not one but two chances at the postseason probably is worth the risk in most cases.

What clubs like Seattle cannot afford to do is sell five years of Taijuan Walker for a year and two months of Gomez. I’m not convinced the Mariners can get Gomez any other way, however. Maybe over the winter such a deal can make more sense, but the M’s need Walker to be what he was for most of the final two months of the season’s first half if they want any shot to get back into the 2015 chase.

The Mets, Heyman notes, have Gomez on their radar. In a scenario where Gomez and a healthy Juan Lagares are available, I’m not sure who plays center, but again, Gomez’s presence changes the game in three ways for New York. How they acquire Gomez also is beyond me. They aren’t moving Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz is hurt and dealing Noah Syndergaard cancels out a good portion of the “getting better” part of adding a player like Gomez in the first place.

The Brewers have a chance to jump-start their retooling by trading Gomez, Segura and perhaps Jonathan Lucroy, but with so many buyers and so few sellers, I’d wager Gomez gets moved this summer and maybe the other two are dealt over the winter. Milwaukee needs a lot of things, but starting pitcher is atop that list for me. And not just mid-rotation arms. They need upside, near-ready types.…

Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

CarGo’s Trade Value
An interesting nugget by Jeff Todd at MLBTradeRumors.com turned me to consider the same subject matter. Todd, citing Nick Groke’s report that Gonzalez is finding his timing, posed the question of whether or the recent resurgence will ultimately ignite the trade market for Gonzalez.

The outfielder, 30 in October, has been a very good left-handed run producer for the better part of the last six years. I say ‘better part’ because the last couple of seasons have been riddled with injury and struggles. After a .302/.367/.591 campaign in 2013, Gonzalez played just 70 games a year ago, batting .239/.292/.431, and despite his recent hot streak remains well below his career levels at .259/.314/.452 in 82 games this season. The 82 games, however, is a good sign.

He’s at .286/.305/.582 over the last 30 days, 26 games, with a .373 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Of course, beyond the health and overall performance concerns — which are legitimate, despite a strong track record prior to 2014 — some will wonder if Gonzalez can hit outside Coors Field. The trap here is to simply look at his road splits, which in both 2014 and this season take a dive — not to completely useless levels but down to part-time performer status.

Attempting to determine a Rockies hitter’s ability to hit away from Coors has to go much deeper than simply checking the road statistics. Why? Because, wisely, Rockies batters do what they can to take advantage of their home park. Those are things that do not necessarily work away from Denver, and expecting hitters to make perfect adjustments every road series, several times a month, is ridiculous.

Having said that, Gonzalez’s good years are accompanied by good years away from Coors Field. In 2013, his last strong, healthy season — just two years ago, by the way — produced a .332/.381/.606 triple-slash on the road. He was better away from Coors that season. He did struggle on the road in 2012, but was useful on the road in 2011 and solid in 2010.

How does a club evaluate, then, what Gonzalez is? The analytical department will delve into how often Gonzalez hits line drives, how hard he hits them, how many of his long balls may not be homers, or even hits, in their home ballpark, or even most road parks.

His line drive rates are just under 20 percent, per FanGraphs, much closer to his 20 percent career mark than 2014. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, which could be a good sign. One front office executive suggested perhaps Gonzalez, the healthy version, can “trust his hands,” more now that he’s healthy. No, he did not have a significant hand or wrist injury — he had knee surgery — but hitting starts with the legs. If you don’t have full strength, agility and flexibility with your legs, you can put more pressure on everything above your hips in attempt to get to good velocity and hit with authority.

But he’s hit 85 balls at 90 mph or more and 70 at 95 mph or more, and his BABIP is more than 50 points lower than his career mark, suggesting perhaps he’s been unlucky, too. It’s worth noting that sometimes when a hitter loses bat speed or some other ability for whatever reason, or is hurt in a manner that impacts those abilities, BABIP often sinks then, too. Batting average on balls in play is a very inexact measure in terms of using it as analysis to explain away struggles. A 50-plus point differential is quite large, however.

Gonzalez is due about $5.5 million the rest of 2015 and $37 million guaranteed through 2017. If he’s still a .350 wOBA bat, his value is quite high. Clubs that believe that may be willing to give the Rockies exactly what they want, whatever that is. There are reasons for concern, however, and Gonzalez’s average defense (some metrics suggest below average, though the knee problems he’s apparently getting away from now could explain some of that) may or may not help his market grow.

My instincts tell me Colorado will not get the offer they want for Gonzalez and are better off holding onto him to see if he hits the rest of 2015 and shows clubs that he still can hit enough to warrant regular time in the middle of a lineup. He’s started hitting, if it continues, his value goes up, both to the Rockies and to clubs that need outfield help. One thing is pretty clear: Rockies GM Jeff Bridlich made it known that he has doesn’t value Gonzalez based on the statistics, “so if a team is just doing that, I don’t know.” The price for Gonzalez will be higher than his present numbers suggest.

Market for Justin Upton
Justin Upton, who has played for three teams in four years, could be on the move again if GM A.J. Preller doesn’t see a reason to buy versus selling his pending free agents on the trade market.

Upton, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, says he wants to stay with the Padres and see this through, adding that he hopes he and his teammates can turn things around quickly. “In a perfect world, we play well over the next two or three weeks and A.J. pumps the brakes on dismantling the team,” Upton said.

If that doesn’t happen, Upton is among the most likely players to be traded before the July 31 deadline. He’s a right-handed power-hitting outfielder without long-term salaries attached. He’ll earn around $5 million for the rest of this season before testing free agency for the first time in his career.

Upton is having merely an OK season, batting .253/.331/.422 with a .328 wOBA and 114 wRC+. He’s a fringy defender in either corner outfield spot. He strikes out a lot, always has, but he’s still drawing walks at a 10.2 percent rate and in a better hitting environment his raw power may play better.

Several contending clubs could use Upton, including the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and with Alex Gordon’s injury and Alex Rios’ struggles, the Kansas City Royals. All of the above, however, have greater needs, such as starting pitching and bullpen help, but Upton is likely to land somewhere.

Other possibilities include Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco. If the Cleveland Indians find themselves buyers, they, too, could be a fit with the struggles of Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss (.220/.296/.427).…

AJPEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

M’s Seek Catching
The club already traded for and traded away Welington Castillo this season, but properly have identified catcher as a need spot and FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi tweeted early Wednesday that Seattle was nearing a deal to acquire a catcher. Since that tweet, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweeted that no deal is “close.” The quotations around the word ‘close’ suggests the club may indeed be attempting to land a catcher but that nothing is imminent.

The Mariners have two glove-first catcher in Tacoma in John Hicks and Steve Baron. Neither are full-scale upgrades over Jesus Sucre, however, although offensively either probably has a better chance.

Shi David of Sportsnet.ca tweets that Dioner Navarro does not appear to be on Seattle’s radar. Morosi reports via Twitter that Braves backstop A.J. Pierzynski is not close to being acquired by Seattle. Keep your eye on Pierzynski, though. Until the M’s acquire another catcher or Pierzynski is dealt elsewhere, he’s as strong a candidate to end up in Seattle.

The M’s are highly unlikely to option Mike Zunino to the minors, but clearly recognize the need for more production from the position and the value a 3-day per week option brings versus Sucre, who plays only when it’s time to give Zunino a breather. The extra time keeps Zunino fresh and could allot more legitimate development as he works with the staff, including Edgar Martinez.

Other potential names the M’s may have shown interest in include Colorado’s Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry, Cincinnati’s Brayan Pena, Oakland’s Josh Phegley, Carlos Ruiz of the Phillies, Cleveland’s Robert Perez and the White Sox’s Geovany Soto. Alex Avila may be another possibility if the Tigers believe in Bryan Holiday enough to form an acceptable defensive tandem with James McCann. Avila has not been healthy this year, but he’s active now. He’s also the club’s best game caller and the Tigers certainly fancy themselves contenders this year.

John Jaso, Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt are three more names to think about, though the former is a well below-average defender and has caught just one game in 2015 and the latter pair are undoubtedly going to be extremely pricey to acquire.

If I had to wager I’d put money on Pierzynski, Ruiz or Soto.

Signs The Astros Will Trade
The simple fact they’re legit contenders is enough but in case you need more evidence to suggest Jeff Luhnow is likely to make a deal or two, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle writes, with starting pitching a priority.

Drellich notes that there isn’t much to suggest Houston has their eyes on Cole Hamels, but rentals such as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija “remain names of interest” to the second-place Astros. Drellich also mentions Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner as a reasonable target.

Interestingly, Drellich also adds that Luhnow may be more willing to move right-hander and 2013 No. 1 pick Mark Appel than other prospects such as outfielder Brett Phillips. From what I have heard on Appel, capitalizing on his recent surge would be wise.

Even though it’s within the division, I wonder if Scott Kazmir, provided he’s healthy, might be a better fit for Houston among the rental starters. He shouldn’t come at the cost of Cueto or Samardzija and it adds another lefty to an otherwise four-righty rotation. Handedness simply is a bonus to break ties.

Luhnow choose to strike a bit early to beat others to the punch to ensure he doesn’t get cornered later this month and either end up overpaying or being left in the cold. Paying too much now, however — because not many clubs are willing to call it a season and sell — is the challenge.

As pointed out by Steve Adams here, first base may be another spot Luhnow looks to upgrade. Chris Carter has struggled, Jonathan Singleton has yet to gain any traction at the plate and the most likely in-house answer beyond those two appears to be Luis Valbuena once Jed Lowrie returns from the disabled list. Perhaps Adam Lind is an option for Houston, and if the Astros add one of the above three starters plus address first base to the level of an Adam Lind, on paper that’s the best team in the division, and probably the second-best in the American League.

The Twins, too
Terry Ryan is unlikely to do nothing between now and July 31 and while nobody believes they’ll make the big-money splash, they could get a lot better by making a few improvements to the late-inning bullpen options and perhaps shortstop or catcher, as Mike Berardino of the St, Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

Shortstop and catcher will be difficult to address, of course, but Eduardo Nunez may get more time if he keeps hitting. The market isn’t dry, but the top names, such as Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, are more of the impact variety that the Twins may steer clear of to avoid the heavy cost and salary. Ben Zobrist can still hang at shortstop and might be an ideal fit. Not sure the two match up, especially if the Mariners, too, see themselves as buyers, but Chris Taylor may be a nice solidifying piece for the Twins.

I don’t expect the cannonball, but I do expect Ryan to make waves this month. …

Vogt15Every day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

July 13, 2015: Papelbon, Shields, Bruce

Should the Mariners be sellers?
Whether or not the Seattle Mariners should be buyers or sellers this month is as hot a topic as there is regarding baseball in the city. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins covered the subject last week. Tuesday, MLBTradeRumors posted a poll asking which teams should be sellers. There were 11 teams on the list to vote for. The Mariners received fewer votes than eight other clubs at 5.79 percent, more than only the Indians and Rangers.

In my opinion, one big reason for the low “Sell” count is the Mariners don’t have a big name to sell. They don’t have a pending free agent with a flashy name like Justin Upton or Johnny Cueto. They aren’t presently in a position where it’s clear the club is seriously considering tearing down their current roster and starting over, like what could occur in Colorado if they were to move Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Once again, the M’s are stuck in the middle, the worst place to be.

The first week out of the break is enormous for Seattle, Texas, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland in the American League, and if the Diamondbacks want to hang around they’ll need to make a move in the win-loss column, too. A lot can change between now and the deadline. If any of the clubs above lose six of their first eight post break, they could go from buyers to sellers or from somewhere in between to aggressive sellers. Winning six of eight puts any of them firmly in line to purchase help and probably steps up the aggressiveness on that side.

Johnny Cueto
Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports tweets that Cueto is drawing the most interest from Kansas City, Toronto and Houston. All three need the right-hander, but Cueto isn’t the only option.

Cueto is due about $3.5 million the rest of the season and will hit the open market over the winter. He could put the Royals over the top in the American League, though now without Alex Gordon they may need a little outfield help, too.

I continue to be disappointed that Baltimore isn’t being linked here or anywhere near a legitimate frontline starting pitcher. Why? Because they have none and their division rivals do. They haven’t a soul that can match up with Chris Archer, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, or even Clay Buchholz when he’s on his game. Chris Tillman is not and never has been a No. 1, and Ubaldo Jimenez‘s days as such are gone. If the Jays end up with Cueto or another one of the top arms available, the Orioles will have a significant disadvantage versus every club in their division. If the O’s were to add one, they might end up the second-best team in the circuit.

Interestingly, the Red Sox also are looking to acquire more pitching, per the Boston Herald. Cueto and Cole Hamels could be joined by White Sox righty Jeff Samardzija on the trade market. All three are difference-making talents and Hamels is under contract for three more years after 2015.

Ideas
I haven’t seen a lot of chatter about this, but the Yankees need a second baseman in the worst way, Rob Refsnyder, a rookie, was called up and if he gets hot the Yankees may focus on other needs, but acquiring Ben Zobrist instantly makes the Yankees, already enjoying a 3.5 game lead, the heavy favorites for me in the American League East (acquisitions by other clubs in the division notwithstanding)…

The Twins at 49-40 may not be all that aggressive on the trade market beyond a reliever and a part-time player, but with so many rentals available, including Upton, Cueto, Samardzija and Zobrist, Terry Ryan could pull the trigger and surprise some people. How about re-acquiring Carlos Gomez?

The chicago Cubs are fascinating, not just because the best front office in baseball is running them but because they are full of young talent that is performing and at 47-40 and a Wild Card leader at the break are in a position to add significant pieces that help them now and beyond. Hamels shouldn’t be out of the question, nor should Gomez or a rental such as Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. I’d bet on at least two moves for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and a summer on the north side to remember…

If I am the Angels I acknowledge that despite the presence of the game’s best player Mike Trout, who is all of 24 years old, that my window of opportunity with the current group is very short. The Halos need a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Their farm system isn’t very good, but if they’re willing to take on some salary there are fits that can help them stay out front in the American League West and perhaps be in a better position than they were a year ago when they won 98 games but were without Garrett Richards in October.

While Hamels, Cueto and Samardzija would be terrific additions, the Angels may not need to go that far. Kazmir is an upgrade, too, and if they have a young player or two that the Padres really like, perhaps they can pry Tyson Ross from A.J. Preller and the Padres. Jay Bruce is a fit in the Angels outfield, but a less expensive option may work better, such as Milwaukee’s Gerardo Parra, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn or Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies.

Stephen Vogt
Vogt is the most interesting player this summer for me. He’s a viable catcher, under club control pre-arbitration through next season and can really hit. The A’s could use him to make a run next season and still be in position to trade him if they again falter, but his value is at an all-time high and the return may be too good to pass up.

So many clubs need catchers and Vogt is such a strong bat that on days he doesn’t catch he can play first base or serve as the DH. He changes the lineup dramatically in Texas, Seattle and Boston, It’s difficult to find a team that wouldn’t benefit greatly from acquiring him. If Billy Beane makes Vogt available, he may garner the biggest return this side of Hamels, and he may surpass what Ruben Amaro gets for his lefty ace.

The question is whether or not many clubs have the inventory of young talent to send out in such a deal. Beane is as creative as it comes, though. Stay tuned.…

jay-bruceEvery day through July 31, and even deep into August to a lesser extent, there will be multiple reports regarding clubs having trade discussions with other clubs, about certain players, and there always are contract details, payrolls and many roster scenarios to consider. We won’t be the rumor round-up hub, but we’re here to fill in some of the missing pieces, offer thoughts on the process and if we happen to run into some information that is useful, we’ll share in in this column.

Papelbon, Other Closers
ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark tweeted last week that closer Jonathan Papelbon was close to being dealt but the Phillies “pulled back.” Stark mentioned Toronto, Texas, Chicago Cubs among those in said discussions.

Papelbon’s vesting option and no-trade clause certainly play a large role here. He’s due a around $4.5 million the rest of 2015 and his $13 million club option automatically vests with 55 games finished this season or a combined 100 games finished the past two. He tallied 52 a year ago and has 29 before the All-Star break.

Papelbon can block trades to 17 teams, but appears more than willing to sign off on a trade, Jake Kaplan of the Philly Inquirer reports.

At 34, Papelbon has yet to show significant signs of decline. He enters the break with a 2.75 FIP and 9.36 K/9 rate, though his velocity has dipped a full tick since 2013 and nearly three since 2012.

The closer market rarely is flooded, but there could be some other big-name stoppers available, potentially including Craig Kimbrel and Francisco Rodriguez. Several setup types likely will be available, too, but if you’re the Rangers and want a proven ninth-inning option, the aforementioned trio likely will be their best bet.

Rodriguez, 33, may be especially attractive thanks to his contract, which calls for him to earn just over $1 million the rest of 2015, $7.5 million next year with a $6 million club option for 2017.

Jay Bruce, Anyone?
Four years ago Bruce looked like a star, but 4 1/2 years into a six-year contract with a club option, he’s being dangled on the trade market, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. He’s just 28 but his production fell to .217/.281/.373 in 2014 after knee surgery. He’s rebounded some in 2015, getting back to .251/.341/.465 in a healthy first half.

Bruce is due about $5 million the rest of this season, plus $12.5 million in 2016. His $13 million club option comes with a $1 million buyout. When healthy, Bruce is an average defender with a plus arm and he may be a legitimate 3.0 fWAR player. While his home-road splits aren’t pretty this season he’s had numerous season where he hit better away from the Great American Smallpark, as some pitchers like to call it.

Bruce’s contract allows for him to block trades to eight clubs — A’s Jays, Yankees, Twins, Marlins, Red Sox and Diamondbacks — but none appear to be fits for the right fielder, anyway. Who does? How about the Royals, who lost Alex Gordon to injury? The Angels
also could be a fit if they have enough trade inventory to interest Reds GM Walt Jocketty. Seattle, Texas, the Dodgers and perhaps even the Giants also could have some level of interest.

Bruce isn’t pricey, there’s no long-term commitment and it appears he’s put his struggles behind him after a terrible April.

Other outfield bats that may hit the market include Justin Upton, Carlos Gomez, Ben Zobrist and Josh Reddick, all of which will draw heavy interest. Every team anywhere near contention outside Pittsburgh, Yankees, Kansas City, Baltimore, Angels and Dodgers could use Gomez. Who needs him the most? Probably Seattle, San Diego and St. Louis. Gomez puts the Cards’ offense over the top and offers the M’s and Padres an answer in center and leadoff through next season.

As for Bruce, I’m curious if the Angels or Giants like Bruce enough to make a run at him.

Shields
When the recent report that the Padres were testing the waters for James Shields hit the Web, I wasn’t surprised, only reminded that it took a long time for a team to give Shields a deal he liked over the offseason. Shields signed for $75 million over four years, but not until days before pitcher and catchers reported for spring training. Now that he’s halfway through year one and due about $3.5 million the rest of 2015 plus $65 million more guaranteed through 2018. Shields can opt out after next season and in lieu of a $2 million buyout on his 2019 option, is due $16 million that season when he will be 38.

He’s pitched OK this season for the Padres, posting a 4.16 FIP and 10.11 K/9 over 19 starts. But OK isn’t worth $21 million per season — unless you’re the Red Sox, who gave Rick Porcello nearly $100 million guaranteed for the same kind of performance. Perhaps that deal is why A.J. Preller wants to see what’s out there for Shields.

Clubs that may have interest include Texas, Toronto, Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals. All of those clubs had a shot at Shields six months ago, but a few things have changed due to injury. It’s too bad the Royals don’t have the available payroll for a reunion, but I’d love to see the Tigers grab Shields and make the American League Central that much more intriguing.…