The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is nearing and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see how general manager Jerry Dipoto handles the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” in Seattle. With that in mind, I’ve been doing “primers” for each American League (AL) West division club to see how the club’s rivals stack up as the August 1 trade deadline approaches.

In recent days, I’ve discussed each of Seattle’s divisional rivals — the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the the Mariners.

As mentioned in the earlier pieces, the trade market is certain to fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Some teams will go on a hot streak and feel like they have a chance, while others will stumble. In the end, all will have to decide whether to buy or sell and how aggressive they should be in the market.

The Mariners fall into the category of a “stumbler” and are an excellent example of how quickly a team’s trajectory can veer off course. After posting a 30-11 win-loss record during the first two months, Seattle is 6-13 since. The club’s recent spate of misfortune has probably influenced the opinion of some fans on whether the Mariners should be buyers or sellers.

For the purpose of this primer, I’m going to assume that the Mariners will be buyers. A month from now, their season may look much differently. For now, they’re still above the .500 mark and still very much alive in the divisional and wild card race. First, let’s talk about how Seattle entered their June tailspin.

What happened?
As with any baseball team — or season — there’s no one “thing” that leads to failure. In the case of the Mariners though, there’s one segment of the roster that’s clearly under-performed during the rough patch known as the month of June — their pitching. Look at the following table to see what I mean.

Mariners Run Production vs. Run Prevention
Month RS/Gm RA/Gm
Total W-L
W-L (+4 Runs scored)
W-L (Under 4 Runs Scored)
April 4.3 3.3 13-10 9-1 4-9
May 5.6 4.1 17-11 16-4 1-7
June 4.8 5.5 6-13 6-5 0-8

As you can see, there’s been a downward trend in runs allowed (RA/Gm) during month of the season. It’s true that club’s offense isn’t as robust in June when compared to their monster May, but it’s still averaging 4.8 RS/Gm. That should be plenty to win the majority of games.

For further proof, look at Seattle’s win-loss record when they’ve scored four or more runs during each month of the season. In April and May, the Mariners combined to go 25-5 in those games. In June, however, they’re barely over .500. In fact, the ball club hasn’t won a game when they’ve scored three or less runs this month. It’s always tough to win when a team scores three or less, but 0-8?

The declining effectiveness of the pitching staff is the root cause to the club’s June swoon. So, what’s the problem with the Mariners staff?

The ugly baby
The most apparent problem with the Mariners’ staff is the is the health of their starters. Many pundits and fans point to losing ace Felix Hernandez to the disabled list (DL) as the turning point. To a degree that’s true, but it’s a bit more complex.

Sure, losing King Felix hurts. But, his replacement — James Paxton — has performed admirably in the King’s absence. Look at the numbers of Felix’s last four starts prior to his calf injury compared to Paxton’s. There are relatively the same.

Felix Hernandez vs. James Paxton (Last three starts)
Player IP H
ER SO
BB
HR
AVG
Felix Hernandez 26.1 23 11 24 8 3 .235
James Paxton
26 28 4 27 8 1 .285

Am I suggesting that Paxton can replace Felix on a long-term basis? Of course not. But, the southpaw isn’t the problem. In fact, he’s been one of the team’s better pitchers in June.

The true pain from Felix’s absence has to do with the subsequent loss of Wade Miley to the DL and the ongoing injury issues with Taijuan Walker. With Paxton subbing for the King, he wasn’t available to fill in for Miley or Walker. That forced the Mariners to turn to Adrian Sampson to take Miley’s most recent turn.

The uncertainty surrounding Walker and the tendonitis affecting his right Achilles region will force Seattle to look to another hurler for Walker’s next scheduled start on Friday. Options include Mike Montgomery, newly acquired Zach Lee, and possibly Vidal Nuno.

Obviously, losing two and possibly three starters would be a major setback for any team. But, it’s been worse for the Mariners. Why? The team was forced to rely more heavily on a bullpen that wasn’t a strength entering the season.

The following table illustrates how the percent of workload has been slowly shifting from the starters to relievers with each passing month. Not coincidentally, the club’s win-loss record has worsened as the bullpen worked more innings. In June, the ugly baby finally appeared.

Mariners Pitching Workload Distribution and Results
Month SP IP
SP %
SP FIP
RP IP
RP %
RP FIP
April 143 69% 3.78 64 31% 3.15
May 161.1 64% 4.30 90.4 36% 3.38
June 104 61% 4.20 67 39% 5.1

As you can see, relievers are inheriting a larger workload. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to deliver the results as a unit. I included their increasing fielding independent pitching (FIP) to make that point.

For those not familiar with FIP, it’s a metric that looks similar to earned run average (ERA), but only measures the outcomes that a pitcher can solely control — strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs. I’m not trying to be a “saber-geek,” but FIP takes out the luck and defense so we can just focus on the pitchers during this conversation. If you want to know more about FIP, you can’t read about it here at FanGraphs.

Before getting into what the Mariners can do to fix themselves during the season, let’s discuss a few harsh realities facing general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Reality check
Seattle has limited resources available to use on the trade market. Their minor league system isn’t barren. However, it started the season ranked number-28 by Keith Law of ESPN.com. Just one prospect — Alex Jackson — ranked in the MLB.com Top-100. He came in at number-85.

After this month’s draft, the club’s number-11 overall pick —  Kyle Lewis — catapulted to second in Seattle’s system, according to Prospect Insider — ahead of Jackson.

Top prospect Tyler O’Neill is a rising star. Should the club consider trading the 21-year-old now? If they did, they’d be selling low. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Yes, the Mariners have a few pieces to sell and that’s the problem — they have FEW pieces. Moving O’Neill, Jackson, or Mike Zunino would bring some value back to Seattle. But, Dipoto would be selling low. He’s more accustomed to buying low.

Does this mean that the Mariners won’t be able to wheel and deal? Of course not. But, they’ll be vying for pieces coveted by market competitors — such as the Astros, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs — who have many more prospects to offer during negotiations.

Reality check (Part two)
Let’s be honest, the Mariners entered the season as a fringe-contender capable of winning more games than they lost, but not many more games.

Thanks to a strong first two months, fan and pundit expectations for the club have soared. Now, the Mariners are leveling out. What’s changed since the start of the season? Nothing. The team is the same fringe-contender with an underwhelming bullpen. In a way, Seattle is exactly where they should be — hovering near the .500 mark.

Does that mean that club should give up on the season? No. But, selling the farm — if they had one to sell — for a shot at a potential one-game playoff would be short-sighted and unreasonable, especially for a general manager in his first season with a new organization.

Now that I’ve depressed and angered fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, what can be done to improve the Mariners pitchers and the rest of their roster? If it were up to me, I’d take a measured approach that attacked the following areas in this order — bullpen, corner outfield, rotation.

Bullpen
The biggest challenge facing the Mariners — other than limited resources — is that nearly every contender will be looking for relief help. That doesn’t mean that Seattle can’t find help. But, they’ll be facing steep competition.

We already know that Dipoto is innovative and previously fixed the 2014 Angels bullpen — they won 98 games that year. His cornerstone acquisition in 2014 was closer Huston Street. Perhaps, a reunion could take place.

The 32-year-old recently completed a five-week stint on the DL due to a strained left oblique. Assuming that he returns to form and the Angels and Mariners are willing to deal with each other — big assumption — Street would quickly improve Seattle’s bullpen. He’s set to make $9 million next season with a $10 million team option or $1 million buyout for 2018.

Having Street available would permit the Mariners manager Scott Servais to push incumbent closer Steve Cishek to the eighth inning. By doing so, Joaquin Benoit could become Servais’ seventh inning option. Suddenly, the bullpen has a different feel to it with Nick Vincent and Edwin Diaz being the primary middle relief options.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why not snag a big fish like New York Yankees setup man Andrew Miller? It does sounds appealing. After all, he’s flat out better than any Mariners reliever. Jim Bowden of ESPN.com even suggested Miller as a best fit for the Mariners not long ago. But, I don’t agree.

Bowden mentions that the Yankees would want a “young starter or young middle-of-the-order bat” in return for Miller. Who exactly is that in the Mariners organization? The guys that they can’t afford to squander on a reliever.

The same applies to Miller’s teammate — Aroldis Chapman. Having a closer capable of throwing 100-mph would be great. But, Seattle will be competing with clubs who have more valuable pieces to dangle in front of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

All of this assumes that the Bronx Bombers will be sellers. Considering that they haven’t registered a losing season since 1992, I don’t expect them to become sellers until very near the deadline. Even if the Mariners had the resources, can they wait that long?

If snagging a closer isn’t a doable do, the club could acquire relievers, who could help preserve save opportunities for Cishek. Dipoto could turn either to rentals or longer term options. Personally, I’d prefer the latter option.

I’m not going to name every possibility option, but I’ll mention the type of players that could make sense. The first one is familiar to Mariners fans — Fernando Rodney. Seattle’s former closer has been dealing for the San Diego Padres, who hold a $2 million option for 2017 with a $400 thousand buyout. Rodney is likely to be in high demand. Would the new regime bring back the “Fernando Rodney Experience” back to the Emerald City?

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently suggested several trade options to help the Mariners, including their bullpen. Among the names was David Hernandez of the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander is having a good year pitching in the seventh inning with 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine innings during 32 appearances entering today.

Divish also suggested Daniel Hudson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hudson is serving as Arizona’s eighth inning setup man and has surrendered just .786 walks and hits-per-innings pitched. An intriguing factor with the 29-year-old — he was acquired by Dipoto during his first month as interim general manager of the Diamondbacks in July 2010.

Another player that the Mariners general manager is familiar with is Angels reliever Joe Smith, currently on the DL with a hamstring problem. Assuming he returns within a few weeks, Smith could be an option. The side-arm thrower wasn’t effective prior to his injury. If Smith proves to be back to his normal self, he’d be a good value as a middle-reliever.

If the Mariners wanted to expend more resources, there are options out there. Examples include Padres rookie Ryan Buchter, Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves, and Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers. All are having good years and come with with multiple years of team control.

Several relievers under team control through just next year include John Axford and Fernando Rodriguez of the Athletics and Fernando Abad of the Minnesota Twins. Each player is have varying degrees of value. They’d cost more than a rental, but less than the players with multiple years previously mentioned.

Divish noted that Jeanmar Gomez of the Philadelphia Phillies as a possible fit. He’s the team’s closer and has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Gomez could help with the ninth inning or could take over the eighth inning.

Corner outfield
Mariners left fielder Norichika Aoki has been the target of fan scorn this season. The veteran has a league-average OBP of .322, but only 12 extra base hits coming into today. Plus, his outfield defense has been — at best — slightly below-average. Improving the left field spot, both offensively and defensively, may be a tall order.

Big names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Carlos Gonzalez could be available and are under team control for several years. Plus, there’s Carlos Beltran, who would be a rental. Each sounds sexy, but all have drawbacks.

Kemp is slashing .256/.274/.470 and owed nearly $64 million through the 2019 season — that’s not counting the $10.5 million that the Los Angeles Dodgers are chipping in. Even if the Padres were willing to pay some of Kemp’s contract, adding another regressing outfielder on the wrong side of age-30 would make zero sense.

Braun and Gonzalez are putting up good numbers, but the haul required to get them is realistically out of reach for the Mariners. Moreover, Braun is due to make over $80 million between now and the end of the 2020 season, when he’ll be 36 years-old. That doesn’t include the $15 million mutual option/$4 million for 2021. Getting older just doesn’t make sense.

Beltran would cost much less. But, when will the Yankees become sellers? Will they sell?

A lower profile name like Jon Jay of the Padres would make more sense. Yes, I’d rather see the team pick up a player with more control than Jay — he’s a free agent at the end of the season. However, he’s be a significant upgrade over Aoki. Entering today, the 31-year-old is slashing .296/.345/.407 slash and would present Servais with another center field option — if Leonys Martin were unavailable or needed a day off.

Tampa Bay Ray Steve Pearce would be an interesting option. Although he wouldn’t be a center field replacement. The versatile right-handed hitter has spent time at first base, second base, and both corner outfield spots during the last two seasons. Like Jay, he’ll be a free agent at season’s end.

Another potential corner outfield rental would be Josh Reddick of the Athletics. Reddick is currently on the DL due to a broken thumb, but he’s close to returning. Assuming that he’s back and healthy by the deadline, the 29-year-old would be a nice fit in right field.

Before his injury, the left-handed hitter was slashing .322/.394/.466, which were career highs. Even if he returned to his normal league-average numbers, he’d provide the Mariners with a better glove, arm, and bat.

Adding a right fielder, like Reddick, would actually help left field indirectly. Such a move would permit the Franklin Gutierrez/Seth Smith platoon to left field and significantly reduce the outfield time for Nelson Cruz. Essentially, adding one player would help both corner outfield spots.

Rotation
Here’s where I’m really going to get in trouble with Mariners fans. I recommend doing nothing with the rotation. At the most, make a minor deal late. Why do I feel that way?

To me, there’s no reason to use scarce resources on a starter. If there are any more significant issues with the starting staff, the Mariners aren’t likely to be serious contenders anyway. That probably doesn’t sit well with some Mariners faithful. But, it’s true.

As of today, Felix and Miley appear to be on track to return within the next month and there’s no indication that Walker’s problem is season ending. It’s quite possible all three could be back before or near the all-star break. Assuming that Seattle regains the trio without losing another starter, they’ll be in good shape with their starting pitching. Otherwise, there’s not much hope of postseason contention in 2016.

Finally
What I’ve presented is a plan for a team that’s two games over .500 entering today. For a club in that position, the best course of action would be to make incremental improvements to the roster without forsaking the future for a shot of instant gratification.

If the Mariners plummet during the next month, they’d be better served to consider being a seller at the deadline. Conversely, if they were soaring after the all-star break, leaning forward in a common sense way would be reasonable.

Fans don’t like to read or hear that kind of talk. But, it’s the best approach for a club that started the year as a fringe-contender.

AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics

AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels

AL West trade primer: Houston Astros

AL West trade primer: Texas Rangers

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.

 …

There’s a groundswell of unease taking hold of Major League Baseball (MLB). Both executives and pundits alike are expressing concern that the league is facing a problem that, if not addressed, could jeopardize the integrity of the game and ultimately lead to a loss of fan confidence. When Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote about the sport’s dilemma in January, an unnamed team official stated, “I’ve never seen the game so messed up.”

What predicament could possibly be so troublesome that it would spur such pessimistic commentary from a baseball official? Believe it or not, tanking in baseball.

For the casual sports fan, “tanking” carries a negative connotation and is typically used to characterize a strategy to “tank” games or seasons by deliberately building a non-competitive roster. Essentially, lose today in order to have a brighter tomorrow.

Baseball’s “tankers”
Those who believe that tanking is “a thing” in MLB, generally point to a couple of organizations — the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs — as recent examples of clubs that tanked their way to the top.

After languishing at the bottom of the standings for several years, both teams started anew in 2011 by hiring new front office personnel who set out to overhaul their respective rosters. Five years later, Houston and Chicago are now poised to be serious postseason contenders in 2016 and beyond.

The success of the Astros and Cubs has helped ignite concerns that other clubs are now adopting the tactic of tanking. The teams most frequently referred to as “tankers” are the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and Milwaukee Brewers. All of these organizations have been shedding payroll and trading veterans for prospects; each projects to do poorly during the upcoming season, according to FanGraphs projections.

Why the anxiety?
The heart of the matter is how the appearance of intentional losing could damage the reputation of MLB. Joel Sherman of the New York Post points out that baseball has vigorously worked to safeguard its integrity ever since the Black Sox Scandal. As Sherman notes, a key principle to protecting the league’s brand is advancing the expectation that every team is trying to win every game.

The integrity of baseball isn’t all that’s at stake, apparently. The simple pleasure of watching MLB games is at risk according to Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Gordon opined that the Cardinals try to win every year and that “Our National Pastime would be far more enjoyable if every other team shared that ambition.”

Based on the passionate outcry from these insiders and others, a casual observer might conclude that baseball is facing a new threat as ominous as the previously mentioned Black Sox Scandal, the lost 1994 postseason, or the steroid era. Fortunately for the sport and its fans, what’s going on in baseball is neither new, nor a threat to the game.

Not for nuthin’
I respect the writers I’ve mentioned, but the term “tanking” is hyperbolic click-bait that’s led to misplaced outrage. In reality, the types of overhauls performed in Houston and on the north side of Chicago aren’t new to MLB. Why is that so hard to see?

The Braves, Brewers, Phillies, and Reds have made the unpopular move of announcing to their faithful that are they’re in a rebuilding phase — that’s not tanking. By being upfront, these clubs aren’t impinging on the integrity of the game and they’re not permanently damaging their relationship with fans.

A review of league standings and playoff participants over the last decade points to something far more questionable than a few teams “blowing up” their rosters and starting over — prolonged inferior performance by teams not mentioned during tank-talk. Please, give me an opportunity to show you why I feel this way.

Clunking
Why haven’t the caretakers of the baseball’s reputation, who’ve decried the pitfalls of tanking, been equally vocal about the long postseason droughts of the Seattle Mariners, Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox, and Colorado Rockies?

These “clunkers” have been out of serious contention for much longer than the accused tankers — several have failed to enact a clear-cut plan to become relevant again. Isn’t “clunking” worse for MLB than the “tanking” that’s allegedly going on?

If maintaining competitive balance and fostering credibility with baseball fans are truly key objectives for the guardians of the game, shouldn’t complicity mediocre organizations be the targets of more scrutiny? In a couple of cases, clunkers have produced an inferior on-field product for over a decade. Look at the postseason drought “leader board” to see what I mean.

Longest MLB Postseason Droughts
Years Team Last PO Appearance .500 or better seasons (since 2011) Est. 2016 Payroll
14 Seattle Mariners 2001 ALCS
One $141M
12 Miami Marlins 2003 World Series
Zero $64.4M
9 San Diego Padres 2006 NLDS
One $102.5M
7 Chicago White Sox 2008 ALDS
One $127M
6 Colorado Rockies 2009 NLDS
Zero $109.9M
5 Minnesota Twins 2010 ALDS
One $108.2M
4 Arizona Diamondbacks 2011 NLDS
Three $99.9M
4 Philadelphia Phillies 2011 NLDS
Two $101.5M
4 Milwaukee Brewers 2011 NLCS
Three $63.4M

It’s somewhat ironic that alleged tankers receive so much attention, although the Marlins blew up their roster after winning the 2003 World Series and haven’t been back to the postseason since.

Two of the current teams viewed as tankers — the Phillies and Brewers — have made a combined seven postseason appearances since the Marlins and Mariners last played October baseball — which was during the first presidential term of George W. Bush. Yet, the overhaul of the Phillies is more detrimental to the sport? I bet the baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest and south Florida would disagree.

One could contend that the Mariners and White Sox, unlike some of the team listed above, have been willing to spend money. That’s true. However, neither club has been able to buy a winning roster.

Then, there are the Padres and Rockies. Neither projects as contenders this year, nor do they appear to be heading towards a cure for their perpetual case of the doldrums. How can anyone be anxious about so-called tankers when so many other teams have been second-rate — or clunking — for so long?

How bad is it, really?
So, just how “messed up” is baseball right now? Based on the statements from the pundits, you’d expect to discover that the number of 90-loss and 100-loss teams has been steadily climbing, right? Well, not really.

A Decade of Losing
Year # of 90-loss teams 100-loss teams
2006 6 TBD/KCR
2007 8 None
2008 7 WSN/SEA
2009 7 WSN
2010 7 PIT/SEA
2011 9 HOU
2012 8 HOU/CHI
2013 6 HOU/MIA
2014 6 None
2015 7 None

The number of bad teams has remained relatively the same over the past decade. It’s also worthwhile noting that there hasn’t been a 100-loss team during the last two seasons. That’s the first time since 1999-2000 that MLB has gone two consecutive seasons without a 100-loss team. Perhaps, the sky isn’t falling.

With that said, I’m sure that seeing the above table further infuriates the fan bases of the Mariners and Marlins. They are the only two franchises listed that haven’t returned to the postseason since their last 100-loss season.

Everyone does it, right?
When discussing tanking, both Sherman and Gordon emphasized that it’s critical for MLB teams to present their best roster for the entire season. That’s a noble thought, but what about the clubs that start the season believing they have a shot at the playoffs until reality sets in?

At the start of last season, the Detroit Tigers were — once again — serious postseason contenders. When things didn’t work out as planned, the team opted to become “sellers” at the trade deadline. Detroit traded ace David Price, closer Joakim Soria, and star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to three postseason contenders.

On July 31, the Tigers were 3.5 games away from the second wild card berth with 58 games remaining. Yet, they traded away three of their best players. Why doesn’t that doesn’t that constitute a tank job? Where’s the outrage?

When Detroit signaled they were sacrificing 2015 in order to be better in the future. I don’t recall any writers or executives decrying the impact of their moves on the competitive balance of their remaining schedule. Yet, some pundits fretted when the Phillies traded away their ace — Cole Hamels — to the Texas Rangers at the same trading deadline?

To be fair, both Price, Soria, and Cespedes were about to become free agents, while Hamels is under contract until 2020. So, there’s a distinction between the players’ situations. Nevertheless, Detroit could’ve kept all three players, tried to win as many games during the remainder of 2015, and then attempt to retain all three. After all, they’re a “win-now” type of ball club. Right?

Instead, the Tigers opted to deal players and finish poorly and “earn” a top-10 protected draft choice, just like the Phillies.

The Boston Red Sox took a similar stance in 2014. The club dealt pitchers John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, outfielder Jonny Gomes and shortstop Stephen Drew at the deadline when they were hopelessly out of contention.

Yes, Boston picked up Cespedes, outfielder Allen Craig, and reliever Joe Kelly in the deals. However, didn’t the “Sawx” symbolically throw in the white towel for 2014 when they parted ways with their ace and their best reliever? Why wouldn’t that be tanking?

Some may argue that the Red Sox and Tigers are win-now teams, unlike to the tankers expected to sink to the bottom this year. That may be true, but Boston’s 2014 purge didn’t lead to a winning 2015.

What if Detroit suffers a similar fate and is out of contention by mid-July? Will they sell again? How many years does a team have to be a seller at the deadline before they’re a tanker?

Don’t get me wrong. The Tigers and Red Sox made wise choices by being sellers at the deadline. So did the Phillies in dealing Hamels. To me, these deals are all the same. Teams are taking advantage of an opportunity to improve their rosters for the future, even if it means not fielding the best roster possible for the current season.

One last thought on building the best roster possible for the entire season. If maintaining the highest level of quality on the field is paramount, why does the league permit their teams to dilute their major league rosters by expanding from 25 to 40 players on September 1?

Reality check
As for that executive who had never saw “the game more messed up,” I didn’t need to look back decades for examples of when baseball was less competitive. Try five years ago.

In 2011 — the year that the Astros and Cubs changed leadership and started their alleged tanking — the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise ended a 30-year playoff drought. The Nats weren’t alone in enduring postseason futility at that time. The Baltimore Orioles (14 years), Toronto Blue Jays (18 years), Pittsburgh Pirates (19 years), and Kansas City Royals (26 years) were still in the midst of their postseason droughts.

Since then, the Orioles, Pirates, Blue Jays, and the Royals have reached the postseason, just as the Astros and Cubs did in 2015. So, no, the game isn’t more messed up than ever.

Finally
Clearly, fans in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia aren’t ecstatic with the thought of watching their team plod through successive losing seasons. I’m sure that game attendance will suffer and fan patience will eventually wear thin.

At least teams that are attempting to kick-start themselves provide some measure of hope to their respective fan bases. It’s certainly a better alternative than what’s been transpiring in Seattle, Miami, Denver, San Diego, and the south side of Chicago.

Baseball teams mired in mediocrity for extensive periods will eventually see their fans migrate away and become infatuated with other options on the sports menu, such as NFL preseason or professional soccer. Seattle is an excellent case study of that phenomenon.

Only time will tell if teams, like the Mariners, can re-earn the trust of those who walked away or never became interested due their failure to be relevant for so long. When you look at it from that perspective, “tanking” for three to five years and then becoming a sustainable winner doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 …

A right-hander that helped lead the Kansas City Royals to the World Series was notched firmly below Max Scherzer and Jon Lester among starting pitchers when discussing the 2014-2015 free agent class. James Shields ended up joining the San Diego Padres on a four-year, $75 million deal last winter, a winter in which the Padres were heralded as the winners of the offseason. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and with a few key pieces already departed, the Friars are reportedly looking to deal their ace.

Shields, who’ll turn 34 a few days before Christmas, had a down year in 2015 by his standards despite clearing the 200-inning plateau for the ninth consecutive season. He did post a career-best strikeout rate, but also a career-worst walk rate. Perhaps one of the main reasons for Shields’ down year, and this is strange having pitched half his innings at Petco Park, was difficulty with the long ball. His 17.6 percent home run per fly ball rate was nearly double the rates he had posted in the previous two seasons.

The right-hander’s spike in home runs could be worrisome, but it appears that it could simply be an outlier as his BABIP and contact rates were in line with his career averages. Shields has lost a tick on his fastball over the past couple years, but he has never been a guy who has relied on velocity so that shouldn’t be concerning

It’s conceivable that Shields could regain his form as a three-to-four WAR pitcher next season, but I would bet on the lower end of that spectrum given his age and the miles on his arm. Still a valuable asset, though.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports via Twitter that there is significant interest in the Padres’ ace. Olney also points out that Shields passed through revocable waivers last August. There was speculation that San Diego wanted to rid themselves of the contract at that time and are looking to do so again.

So we have a quality arm who’s proven to be good for 200 productive innings annually. First question, why are the Padres trying to move him? Second, why hasn’t anyone taken him yet? Answer: the contract.

Of the $75 million guaranteed to the right-hander, only $10 million of it was paid in 2015. Part of how the Padres were able to sign Shields, amidst their other big money transactions, was to front-load the deal. For each of the next three seasons, Shields is due $21 million. He will also be owed a $2 million buyout for a $16 million team option for the 2019 season.

Also to be aware of: Shields can opt-out of his contract after 2016. This means he could be a one-year rental to an acquiring club. If he has a rebound season it’s not inconceivable to see him get a new three-year deal with an average annual value north of $20 million. But it could be tough to get a fourth-year guaranteed so there are pros and cons on Shields’ side for opting out.

Let’s assume he doesn’t opt out, and we can say Shields is owed $65 million for the next three years. That’s $20 million more than now former Mariner, Hisashi Iwakuma, received in his three-year free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It doesn’t sound as if the total sum of money was the issue for Seattle not re-signing their No. 2 starter. GM Jerry Dipoto said yesterday that the club wasn’t comfortable with paying Iwakuma for his age 35, 36, and 37 seasons while mentioning sustainability. Some reports had the Mariners offering two years and $25 million.

For the next three years Shields will pitch in his age 34, 35, and 36 seasons — just one year younger than Iwakuma. However, if sustainability is the desired target, that’s where Shields differentiates himself from Iwakuma. In the past three seasons, Iwakuma has one campaign of 200-plus innings to Shields’ three.

As seen in yesterday’s trade with the Boston Red Sox, the Mariners gave up Carson Smith and Roenis Elias for a similar sustainability. Wade Miley has four straight years of throwing 190-plus innings, but is only 29-years-old and his total cost for the next three years would be slightly less than $27 million if his 2019 option is exercised. There’s value in cost certainty and the potential for slightly more upside with a pitcher yet to hit 30.

The Padres are reportedly willing to eat salary to move Shield’s contract. This morning they dealt $7.5 million and Jedd Gyorko to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jon Jay and his $6.225 million salary. Obviously this was a different scenario, but between the cash sent and money owed to Jay, the Padres were willing to eat almost $14 million of the $33 million guaranteed to Gyorko over the next four years.

How much the Padres are willing to eat in order to move Shields will be less relevant than what Seattle would potentially be willing to take on.

We haven’t talked about the potential fit, but that much should be self-explanatory. Miley sits No. 2 to Felix Hernandez on the depth chart, but better reflects the skill set of a No. 3 starter in a good rotation, and perhaps a No. 4 in a great rotation. Nothing against Miley, he just doesn’t quite fill the gap that a healthy Iwakuma leaves.

Shields could still be a solid No. 2, and with an improved outfield defense behind him — a lack of Matt Kemp would help anybody — should be able to succeed in Seattle.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Mariners value Shields between $15-to-$18 million annually. This would mean getting the Padres to eat $3-to-$6 million annually. Part of the value Miley brings, according to Dipoto, is that what he provides the kind of value that would cost between $12 and $18 million on the free agent market.

Without having an inside look at the Padres’ financials, I’m going to suggest that an arrangement along those lines would be feasible. But, it would involve San Diego getting that much more in player value as the return.

Seattle doesn’t have a Brad Miller available anymore to solve the Padres’ shortstop problems. After trading Elias it’s unlikely a James Paxton or Taijuan Walker would be on the move and there’s literally no more bullpen depth to deal from. Chris Taylor or Ketel Marte could probably be a conversation starter, but would the M’s need to add a D.J. Peterson to get the Padres’ attention?

If San Diego is open to less-immediate major league help, maybe rising prospect Tyler Smith could be of interest. Top prospects Edwin Diaz and Alex Jackson are still a few years away from the majors and while I don’t love the term untouchable, they should only enter the conversation if Seattle is getting a top-flite young player with multiple years of control.

Perhaps an ideal situation would be the Padres taking back old friend Seth Smith. With Justin Upton departing via free agency there is some need for additional outfield depth, and the money owed to Smith could balance out the finances some.

A deal based on Smith and Taylor with a mid-level prospect going to San Diego could be a starting point, but I have a feeling another club will be able to offer more than Seattle can, either in player value or in portion of contract assumed.

After dealing Carson Smith, Elias, Miller, and Patrick Kivlehan, the Mariners don’t really have the depth to make a significant deal without moving major league parts or young roster players. I don’t think that will or should stop Dipoto from trying to make a big splash, but it is a legitimate consideration.

I think getting James Shields at three years and $45-to-50 million would be a solid buy based on what’s going on with free agency. Last winter Brandon McCarthy signed for four years and $48 million, and we already have J.A. Happ costing the Toronto Blue Jays $36 million over three years. There are other examples, but Shields at $15 million annually is a much better buy than either of those two starters at $12 million per.

Given the demand for Shields, I don’t think the market will soften enough to the point where he fits what Dipoto wants to do. Until we hear a little more about what the potential ask might be, it’s tough to speculate on what the M’s would need to give up.

If Shields does plan on opting out, which we won’t know for 11 months, it doesn’t make sense to pay a steep price for a rental. If the Padres were to deal him as a potential rental though, the asking price would likely reflect that. Maybe guaranteeing Shields’ 2019 option with an equal AAV to his other three years could convince him to drop the opt-out. That’s my own speculation though.

Obviously every player makes sense at a certain price and Shields may not end up at a price that makes sense for Seattle. This may not be an idea worth pursuing, but it’s worth exploring in order to beef up the rotation for potentially the next couple seasons.…

New general manager Jerry Dipoto is wasting no time in his efforts to improve the Seattle Mariners. One day ago Franklin Gutierrez was re-signed for another year and a deal with veteran catcher Chris Iannetta was reported to be close. Today, reliever Joaquin Benoit has been acquired from the San Diego Padres in exchange for two minor league players.

Since debuting in 2001 and splitting the next three years between the rotation and bullpen, Benoit has been a reliable bullpen arm. He did miss the 2009 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery, but now has five consecutive years of good health under his belt. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noted on Twitter that the right-hander is in fact throwing a notch harder than he did ten years ago.

Despite a sub par 2015 in which he saw his strikeout, walk, and home run rates go in the wrong directions, Benoit can still be looked at as an eighth or ninth inning option. He’s posted a pair of sub-2.00 ERA season since returning from surgery and saved 24 games for the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

In the last five seasons there are only two in which Benoit hasn’t produced at least 1.1 fWAR; 2012 and 2015. The common denominator in both? Spikes in his home run per fly ball rate. In 2012 he allowed nearly twice as many home runs per nine compared to his career mark. Pitching in Safeco Field half the time should mitigate some of the home run risk even though he had some struggles pitching in Petco Park last season — a similarly pitcher-friendly environment.

Benoit relies on a fastball-changeup combination similar to that of former Mariner reliever Fernando Rodney. Not to suggest the two share similarities beyond that, but the latter was tremendous in his first season donning blue and teal before disintegrating prior to the end of his second.

The Padres picked up Benoit’s $7.5 million option a week ago so he doesn’t come cheaply. But for a proven veteran on a one-year deal in a relief market that could boon, it’s a reasonable price. More importantly, he takes some of the pressure off Carson Smith as the club’s go-to option in the late innings. Either player is capable of setting-up or closing and it will be interesting to see how first-year manager Scott Servais goes about positioning them in his pen. My guess is that, if nothing else changes, the veteran starts as the closer with the youngster having to take the job away from him.

In exchange for the Benoit, the Mariners are sending two prospects to San Diego: right-hander Enyel De Los Santos and infielder Nelson Ward.

De Los Santos is the more interesting prospect of the two as a power arm with potentially above average secondary stuff. The 19-year old was signed as an international free agent about 16 months ago to a $15,000 bonus. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill saw De Los Santos pitch in Everett this summer and surmised that he belongs among the organization’s top 20 prospects. Though he is very raw, the right-hander had an impressive professional debut notching 71 strikeouts and 18 walks in eight starts between Everett and Peoria (Rookie League).

Ward was selected in the 12th round of the 2014 draft and finished this past season with Class-A Bakersfield. In 76 games in the hitter-friendly California league he hit seven home runs to go along with eight stolen bases. Ward has the makings of a contact hitter and has primarily played second and third base early in his minor league career. He’ll turn 24 next summer and could begin the year at Double-A for the Padres.

Despite Seattle’s farm system being in a state of distress, the trade doesn’t subtract too much from it. De Los Santos is several years away from the majors but carries enough upside to be an interesting prospect. Ward on the other hand appears to be more of an organizational player.

From the Padres perspective I like this deal. They shed Benoit’s salary while picking up a lottery ticket arm and some minor league depth. For Seattle, filling a position of significant need without dealing any impact talent from the system makes tremendous sense. It could be five years until we see what De Los Santos is for a major league club. The Mariners, and Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and Nelson Cruz, don’t have five years to wait and find out.

Benoit will turn 39 next summer but you can all but count on him for 60 innings of quality high-leverage pitching. After the bullpen implosion of 2015 he should come as a sigh of relief for Mariners fans.…

With the news breaking Friday morning that the Seattle Mariners parted ways with Jack Zduriencik we’ve already started to hear the names of possible replacements. It’s all speculation at this point, but retreads galore likely are littering your Twitter timeline, drawing eye rolls and even some ‘WTF’ replies. Understandably.

Team president and COO Kevin Mather stated publicly via press conference and radio interviews the club wants to find a new baseball guy before the offseason truly gets under way. Part of that is to make sure they don’t get beat to the punch on candidates, part of it is about hitting the offseason ready to go. It’s the only way to go about this these days.

Several other things Mather said Friday via the various outlets that struck me as interesting or somewhat important:

  • Despite giving Lloyd McClendon a sort of vote of confidence, the new GM will have the power to bring in his own field staff, including the manager. Mather will encourage but not force McClendon on the new GM
  • Mather believes the 25-man roster is fairly close to being good enough, though clearly there are holes to fill and admits his opinion may not be that of the baseball people he chooses in the end
  • Club prefers a GM that sees the roster is close enough not to suggest a tear-down, at least not heading into 2016.
  • Mather mentioned the GM’s front office staff more than once, strongly suggesting 1) that he, as the president and COO, understands the GM must have the right people in place around him and 2) perhaps Zduriencik did not. (He didn’t). Part of the draw of some candidates will be the people with which they are connected that can be brought in as part of the new regime. The GM can’t do everything.
  • The change is being made not based on 2015 and all its disappointment, but why the club is where it is, seven years after Zduriencik was hired. Mather stated directly the failures in player development. Yes, ultimately it’s about wins at the big-league level, but Mather clearly has people in baseball he;’s been talking to — I mentioned his familiarity with the FO in Minnesota and how he’s talked to them in the past, and he noted said relationship in his interview with Mike Salk and Brock Huard Friday morning.
  • Since Mather prefers not to rebuild, he expects a GM with experience, but if he’s open-minded enough about the process, he’ll interview several inexperienced candidates that won’t require allowance for a rebuild, nor see the immediate need for it, while demonstrating they are capable of adding to the current mix enough to project a winner.

Here are some names with which to start, but a few caveats:

  1. I don’t know most of these people personally. I derive their candidacy by leaning on those I do know in the game for their qualifications, plus what reports have been out there up to and through today’s news in terms of candidacy.
  2. You will hear good and bad about most or all of the following, almost all of which will be complete trash. Pick and choose who you trust on these kinds of matters.
  3. Included below are candidates I wouldn’t necessarily hire myself and that I don’t believe are good candidates, but they’ll be mentioned, so they go here, anyway.
  4. I do know some of these candidates, some better than others.
  5. These are listed in no particular order.
  6. I am not sure each of the names below are so eager to get a shot at GM that they’re willing to work under an ownership with a terrible track record of interfering and downright bufoonery, but there are only 30 GM gigs in the world, so …
  7. It’s also worth noting that Mather does appear to be leading the search there is always a chance the ownership is willing to budge on some things to get the right candidate to take the job.
  8. In no way is the following a suggestion that these are the names Seattle will interview or consider.
  9. There will be names below that never are mentioned, never interviewed or considered or even some that may not have interest or are hired elsewhere.

Jerry DiPoto: Former Angels GM
Having resigned from his GM post in Anaheim, DiPoto brings mixed reviews when I ask around — like most. He’s a former player that believes in scouting and analytics — and a blend of both that cannot be written in stone for even two seconds — and reportedly was the Mariners’ No. 2 choice in 2008 when the club hired Zduriencik.

He was an assistant in Arizona overseeing scouting and player development, scouted under Theo Epstein’s crew in Boston before that and now is serving as an extra set of eyes for the Red Sox, who just hired Dave Dombrowski to run the while kitchen. DiPoto could be a strong candidate for GM under Dombrowski.

Knowing what I know — which isn’t enough to make the kind of call the Mariners have to make — I’d find it difficult to hate the move if DiPoto was ultimately tabbed the new baseball executive in Seattle.

John Coppolella: Assistant GM, Atlanta Braves
Coppolella may be my personal favorite for the job, not because I have had many conversations with him but because he seems value exactly what the Mariners need; Detailed in terms of covering all the bases before making decisions, valuing greatly the assessments and work of those around him, no use of the ego in evaluating players or situations, high-impact passion for the game of baseball and winning, and he’s as short on confidence in his abilities as I am on Twitter snark. Which is to say not at all, sir.

Coppolella grew up in the New York Yankees organization, was a favorite of the late George Steinbrenner and in Atlanta has overseen the pro scouting department before essentially taking the helm of GM under president of baseball operations John Hart. He’s had the advantage of working with and under some of the most successful baseball executives in the game, including Brian Cashman, John Schuerholz and now Hart.

In my dealings with Coppolella, he’s never taken credit for anything, it’s always “we” or he deflects credit entirely. He’s adept in the area of statistical analysis, but player development is extremely high on his list, especially having worked with execs with tremendous track records in growing from within.

He was hired by Schuerholz, was a huge draw for Hart when he was contemplating taking the job and I have a feeling he sees eye-to-eye with Mather’s preference of not rebuilding right away, which I believe is the right approach.

If Coppolella were to be hired, the Mariners would be getting a GM with a sound plan, capable of adjusting said plan to accommodate the myriad situations that indeed will come up 12 months out of the year. The group that ultimately would land in Seattle to accompany him would likely be quite impressive. Coppolella’s network is as large as anyone’s and he’s as respected on and off the field as much or more than anyone I’ve ever asked about.

Jason McLeod: Director of Scouting & Player Development, Chicago Cubs
Having worked so much under Theo Epstein, one would think plenty has rubbed off on McLeod, who worked under Epstein in Boston before moving on with Jed Hoyer to San Diego, and then Chicago. I hear only great things about McLeods abilities to evaluate not only players at all levels, but his track record with development strategies, the draft and trade and free agent markets. There are some who believe Epstein’s success is wildly over-the-top because of Epstein himself, but there’s a reason he keeps winning, first in Boston and already in Chicago. The presence of Hoyer and McLeod clearly are critical.

Flatly put, McLeod is a winner, has an enormous network from which to choose his lieutenants and has witnessed absolute greatness from a winning standpoint for more than a decade.

McLeod should be high on the club’s list of candidates.

Erik Neander: V.P. of Baseball Operations, Tampa Bay Rays
Neander is among the many that run the Rays baseball operations department and one of a few Rays execs that could be legitimate candidates in Seattle.

Scott Sharp: Assistant GM, Kansas City Royals
Sharp has been among Dayton Moore’s top assistants as the Royals have ascended to the top of the American League behind pitching, speed and defense.

I don’t know tons about Sharp but in looking at the kind of players the Royals have shown they value most, it’s largely what Seattle doesn’t have an needs. Defense, speed, athleticism, multi-dimensional. And they’ve done it on a somewhat limited payroll.

Mike Chernoff: Assistant GM, Cleveland Indians
Ask one baseball exec about Chernoff and I get positive descriptions. Ask another and I get “meh” type replies. Ask yet another and I get “I don’t know, I’m not sure how much that front office really gets to do on their own.”

But anytime I inquire about candidates, Chernoff’s name comes up in conversation.

Thad Levine: Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Billy Eppler: Assistant GM, New York Yankees
Dan O’Dowd: Former GM, Colorado Rockies
Ben Cherington: Former GM, Boston Red Sox
Charlie Kerfeld: Special assistant to the GM, Philadelphia Phillies
Dan Jennings: Manager & former GM Miami Marlins
Tony LaCava: V.P. Baseball Operations, Assistant GM, Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Arnold: Assistant GM, Tampa Bay Rays
Larry Beinfest: Former President Baseball Operations, Miami Marlins
Matt Klentak: Assistant GM, Los Angeles Angels
Kevin Towers: Former GM San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks & special assistant to GM, Cincinnati Reds
Damon Oppenheimer: Director of Scouting, New York Yankees

LaCava interviewed in 2008 and was my preference based on what I was told from those that know him. He’s a market analysis genius and has served the Jays well during his time, playing a large role in their current success. He’s probably as qualified for the job as any of the assistant types that will be mentioned and might have the ability to put together the best staff.

Levine has worked under a highly successful executive base in Texas with Nolan Ryan and John Daniels. Is typically among the top 8-10 as I ask around baseball about candidates that have yet to serve as full-time GM.

Jennings has a history in Seattle, having served as an area scout in the late 80s and eventually a crosschecker in 1995. He served as the Rays scouting director before moving onto the Marlins as a player personnel V.P. and assistant GM. He was named the Marlins’ GM in 2013 and took the field as the skipper earlier this season.

Kerfeld would be an interesting choice in style as he’s old school in the way he scouts in his present role but understands the necessity for a blend, and not simply when it’s convenient to implement. He’s a former pitcher who’s worked for years under Pat Gillick.

Arnold is thought to be as instinctive as it comes in baseball operations and with Neander served under Andrew Friedman, now of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during their run the past several years as a have-not beating the haves with consistency.

Beinfest, like Jennings, has history in Seattle having served as an assistant in the scouting and player development departments in the late 80s and through the 1999 season. I don’t see how Beinfest fits at all, but we’ve already seen his name linked to the club, which means little to nothing in the end.

Cherington is a puzzler for me. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t understand the attraction. Yes, he has a World Series title, and he did make some moves prior to the 2013 championship run that played a key role, but that roster was largely built by Epstein and sandwiched around the ring for Cherington is a last-place finish in 2012, another in 2014 and the roster he built for 2015 is headed for one more. I’m not suggesting he’d be a bad hire, but his track record suggests so and that speaks volumes in my book.

Names that may be bandied about that probably make so little sense that the Mariners won’t truly consider in the end include Ned Colleti, Kenny Williams, Jerry Walker.

Jeff Kingston, the interim GM in Seattle, is sharp, analytically inclined and always has come across to me as a no-nonsense type that’s all about getting it right and winning. The M’s will get a look at Kingston over the final month.…

The major league non-waiver trading deadline has passed and now, there’s time to reflect on the moves made by both buyers and sellers leading up to Friday’s 4 pm ET deadline. In Seattle – much to the chagrin of their fans – the under-performing Mariners are on track to miss the postseason for the fourteenth consecutive season. That’s why going into this week, Seattle was poised to be a seller with several veterans – Austin Jackson, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mark Trumbo, Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Mark Lowe, Joe Beimel, J.A. Happ, and Dustin Ackley – who could have some degree of value to contenders.

Prior to this week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill suggested that Seattle should strategically trade major league talent – be buyers and sellers – in order to get an early start on making improvements for next year. The team did that to some degree this week by making three deals –- Ackley to the New York Yankees, Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Lowe to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects. Jason gives Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik a satisfactory grade for the moves he made, while giving the organization a failing grade for holding on to Iwakuma – their most valuable deadline commodity

The team’s moves acknowledges that they know that the season is lost and will further energize fans who’ve been debating on the approach that the Mariners should take to transform the themselves into contenders in 2016 and beyond. There’s an segment of the Mariners’ fan base that doesn’t agree with Jason – who has suggested a “remodeling” rather than a complete rebuild. They’d prefer to “blow up” the roster and start over from the ground up.

In the eyes of some, the term “rebuilding” equates to “blowing up” an organization at both the major and minor-league levels. In reality, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to getting a franchise back on track. Some teams need to go the “blow up” rebuilding way, while others can go via the “remodeling” route. So, which approach should the Mariners to use become a serious contender and not just a team that lingers on the fringe of contention?

I’m the son carpenter, so I tend to relate fixing a major league organization in the terms of home improvement. As with a home, re-doing a baseball franchise depends on its existing condition, desires of the owner, and financial flexibility. With that in mind, lets look at a few teams that used different approaches in order to become relevant once again.

Razing the foundation – Chicago Cubs
When Theo Epstein assumed the duties of President of Baseball Operations in 2011, the Cubs were coming off a 91-loss season and the roster consisted of aging, high-priced veterans who were under-performing and there wasn’t any immediate relief in their minor league system. Despite not winning a World Series in over a century, Cubs’ ownership was willing to accept a massive rebuild – which takes time – because Epstein and General Manager (GM) Jed Hoyer was to planned to build a sustainable winning organization.

To say that the Cubs “blew up” the roster is an understatement. Only one player – Starlin Castro – on the team’s current 25-man roster is a holdover from the previous regime. Chicago incrementally parted ways with major leaguers in order to maximize value and restock their minor league system. Players like Scott Hairston, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija, Andrew Cashner, Welington Castillo, and Sean Marshall have netted Chicago eight players who are currently on their big league roster – including Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, and Dexter Fowler.

Thanks to the combination of trades, amateur drafting, and amateur free agent signings, the Cubs have transformed their minor league system into one of the best in the majors. Their top six prospects – including recent call-up Kyle Schwarber – rank among the MLB.com top 100. Throw in draftee Kris Bryant – who debuted this year and is already an all-star – and Cuban free agent Jorge Soler and you can see that the Epstein/Hoyer tandem has built a strong foundation of young major leaguers and prospects to build around or use as trade commodities.

How Cubs Were Built
Draft
Int’l Amateur Free Agency Trades Rule 5/Waivers
2 2 13 14 0

The future looked bright going into this season, although most of the team’s bright minor league stars weren’t ready for the majors. So, the Cubs added a marquee free agent – Jon Lester – plus other prominent names such as Miguel Montero, Jason Hammel, David Ross, Rafael Soriano, and Jason Motte via free agency and trades in order to let their prospects continue their development and simultaneously field a competitive team in 2015. The Cubs’ strategy to supplement their core group of dynamic, young, players with inexpensive veterans has helped the team into playoff contention and – for the first time in years –the team playing on the north side of Chicago was relevant at the deadline .

Remodeling with a shoestring budget – New York Mets
After the 2010 season, the Mets hired Sandy Alderson was hired as their GM to help reinvigorate a franchise that lost its direction after appearing in the 2000 World Series and 2006 National League Championship. Like Epstein, Alderson had a proven record. Contrary to Epstein’s situation, Alderson inherited a minor league system that – entering this week – supplied 18 of the 37 players on their 25-man roster or on the disabled list. Many of those 18 names are familiar names.

Key Mets Inherited by Sandy Alderson
  David Wright
Matt Harvey Jacob deGrom
  Jon Niese
Lucas Duda Daniel Murphy
  Steven Matz Juan Lagares Wilmer Flores
  Bobby Parnell
Jeurys Familia Jenrry Mejia

With so many players already in place, there was no need to “blow up” the roster. So, Alderson built up the team’s foundation by shrewdly making several deals that have landed valued assets. As I discussed in June, the Mets acquired starting pitcher Zack Wheeler by flipping pending free agent Carlos Beltran at the 2011 trading deadline. Alderson then boldly traded the reigning Cy Young Award winner – R.A. Dickey – to the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who will be vital to their playoff aspirations during the remainder of this season and beyond.

Although the Mets play in a big market, they’ve maintained a small market budget during the Alderson era due to the reported financial hardship that their ownership has experienced. Accordingly, New York has strategically added several lower-tier veterans with relatively short contracts – Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer. In the days leading up to Friday’s deadline, Alderson has continued to improve the team’s roster by adding veterans Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard to help jump start the team’s offense and improve their bullpen. Now, the Mets are poised to play meaningful games in September.

A rebuilding team can amass talent in four different ways – amateur draft, international amateurs, international and major league free agency, and the trades market. The Cubs and Mets have used these options differently because one had a good foundation and one didn’t. Yet, they’ve arrived at the same position – contenders on July 31. There are other situations when patience is in low supply and teams want their rebuilding effort completed sooner than later. In those cases, a more aggressive approach may be applied.

Quick fixer-upper – San Diego Padres
When Padres GM A.J. Preller took over last August, he wasted little time in giving his roster a facelift. Unlike the Cubs and Mets – who took years to renovate – the Padres opted to make a series of headline-grabbing changes that immediately altered their appearance and the perception of the team, but they didn’t necessarily do much to reinforce their long-term infrastructure.

Preller traded for multiple recognizable names like Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Craig Kimbrel, and Will Middlebrooks, plus he signed starting pitcher James Shields to a four-year/$75 million deal. Of the 31 players on the 25-man roster or the disabled list, 14 weren’t with the team in 2014.

Noted Padres Added By A.J. Preller
 Matt Kemp
Justin Upton
Derek Norris
 James Shields
Craig Kimbrel
Wil Myers
 Shawn Kelley
Melvin Upton Jr.
Brandon Maurer
 Clint Barmes
Brandon Morrow

Acquiring big names created a groundswell of excitement, but it came at a cost – in both talent and dollars. San Diego parted ways with several of their highest-regarded young players – Dodgers’ starting catcher Yasmani Grandal – and two MLB.com top 100 prospects – Washington’s Trea Turner and Atlanta’s Matt Wisler. Moreover, another nine prospects traded are now top-30 prospects for the teams that they were traded to – Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies. Only one of Padres prospects – outfielder Hunter Renfroe at number 37 – is in the MLB.com top-100 and he’s currently playing at Class-AA level.

The Padres’ win-now approach looks to have fallen short, although Preller’s hasn’t given up on 2015 – he added reliever Marc Rzepczynski and kept his pending free agents. It’s unclear how he’ll address his fixer-upper project after the season if the team doesn’t jump back into the race. I’m not going to second-guess the Padres’ GM because his turnaround effort isn’t over yet – he’s merely transitioning to another phase of the process. Hopefully for Preller, his rebuilding project won’t result in a condemnation by ownership and fans. Unlike San Diego’s improvement plan that tried to do a major refurbishment quickly, a winning team may have good curbside appeal and still need more improvements. 

Doing an add-on – Kansas City Royals
The defending American League champions had a great 2014, but GM Dayton Moore had his work cut out for him after game-seven of the October Classic – the team ace Shields, designated hitter Billy Butler, and outfielder Nori Aoki to free agency. Since the Royals are a small market team, they opted to not sign the threesome and decided to add lower-tier free agents.

Although the team’s offseason acquisitions have produced mixed results, the totality of the new players – combined with holdovers – have buoyed the team to the best record in the American League. Although the décor looked good, Kansas City entered July with a few issues that needed attention. Specifically, right-hander Yordano Ventura’s struggles after a breakout 2014 combined and the recent loss of southpaw Jason Vargas to season-ending elbow surgery left the starting rotation as an area needing improvement.

Key Changes to 2015 Kansas City Royals
  Notable Losses
 Notable Additions
  James Shields
 Edinson Volquez
  Billy Butler
 Kendrys Morales
  Nori Aoki  Alex Rios
  Raul Ibanez
 Chris Young
  Scott Downs
 Johnny Cueto
   Ben Zobrist

To make sure that his master plan didn’t lose momentum, Moore added a pitcher with game-one starter stuff – Johnny Cueto. Moreover, he added Ben Zobrist who can help at second base – where Omar Infante has struggled – or in the outfield, while injured all-star Alex Gordon recovers before an expected September return. Thanks to the team’s strong foundation of young players, the Royals have been able to quickly update their appearance and have gone from wild card wannabe to World Series contender in just one year.

Conclusion
The 2014 Mariners were better than most expected – including me, but they’ve regressed in 2015.  The Ackley, Happ, and Lowe deals signal that the team is ready to make changes. It’s true that multiple changes will be needed in the offseason, but the Mariners aren’t a “blow up” candidate. Unlike the 2011 Cubs, they have veteran and young players who can be either used as a foundation or flipped in deals to help reinforce that foundation.

Doing a massive purge in Seattle – if that was the correct choice – requires complete buy-in by the organization. That means that no Mariner would be untouchable – including fan favorites Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager who would reap the most value in trades. I don’t believe that most “blow up” proponents wants to see the departure of “King Felix” and Seager.

The Mariners would best served to “remodel” – as the Mets have done – by parlaying select veterans into future contributors, retaining key pieces, strategically adding veteran acquisitions and excelling at developing prospects. Seattle should also adopt the Cubs’ business practice of acquiring veterans – via trade and free agency – who can serve as bridges until their heralded prospects are truly ready. This would help the Mariners feeling compelled to rushing prospects like they’ve done with Ackley, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller.

The team’s moves prior to the Friday’s deadline sets the stage for an interesting offseason for the Seattle Mariners. Player value won’t be the only element of the organization’s structure that will be scrutinized –- team ownership will have to evaluate their front office and decide whether to stick with the current leadership or make a change. As with any big remodeling job, the Mariners’ choice of overseeing foreman will be the most important factor in changing the Mariners’ on-field fortune. 

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.…