The MLB Trade Deadline Saga

Toronto+Blue+Jays+v+Tampa+Bay+Rays+dHnNBK3RLUmlWe are about a month away from MLB’s trade deadline, and the story lines are making themselves obvious. Which teams will be making a big splash? Who will be on the market? What teams should be in sell mode?

Greg Kaplan takes a gauge of the market and pick the some of the biggest stories to follow leading up to July 31st.

David Price

GK: There isn’t a bigger name that is on the market – or that people believe is on the market – than Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. Price will enter the final year of arbitration eligibility after this year, and his single-season price tag of $14 million will only rise. Considering the Rays small payroll, allocating such a high salary to one player tends to go against everything they’ve been known to do in the past.

At the same time, since the Rays do have another full year of control with Price and could always look to move him in the off-season, it’s safe to say it’ll take a king’s ransom to pry Price out of their clutches.

Price is such a rare talent to be available in trade that it won’t necessarily be a team that’s looking to win now come away with the prize. A team trading for Price could still be looking towards 2015 when they acquire him, and see trading for him now as an advantage to weed out some of their competition. That mindset is why I think – if Price were to get traded – the Texas Rangers would walk away with him. The Rays desperately need an influx of offensive talent to what has been a punch-less line-up in 2014, and the Rangers have a gluttony of top-tier infield prospects the Rays desire. Putting Price at the top of the rotation with Yu Darvish and a healthy Derek Holland in 2015 would make them a hard beat, even for the seemingly stacked A’s, the Trout-led Angels and reloading Mariners.

Trade Scenario: Rays trade David Price to Texas for IF Jurickson Profar, C Jorge Alfaro, OF Leonys Martin and P Alex Gonzalez

Seems like a lot, right? But remember, the Rays on paper possibly got more for James Shields from the Royals. Trades like these do happen, despite how infrequent they seem.

Chicago Cubs

GK: Chicago is a team still desperate to find long-term pieces that can help them compete down the road, and they certainly have the chips to trade this year. I already wrote about the trade scenarios for Jeff Samardzija, and still believe he finds his way to the Toronto Blue Jays when all is said and done. However, he’s not the only pitcher the team will have the option of moving.

Most likely to be moved even before a Samardzija trade is finalized would be a move involving righty Jason Hammel. Much like last year with Scott Feldman, the Cubs took a flier on Hammel who has had mixed results throughout his career. And again like Feldman, Hammel has come up looking like a diamond in the rough. His 2.98 ERA and 3.10 FIP are career-bests, and his 8.5 K/9 is a tenth off his career high from 2012. He’s also not walking hitters, having issued free passes to less than 6% of opposing batters. Chicago may not get a bigger return than what they got last year for Feldman, which has turned out to be a fantastic trade for the Cubs, which also leads us perfectly to our next point.

The main player the Cubs received from the Balitmore Orioles last year was pitcher Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had struggled to find any sort of consistency with the Orioles after coming in with a lot of hype, but has found serious comfort in Wrigley’s friendly confines. After posting a 3.66 ERA in nine starts for the Cubs last year, Arrieta has blossomed into a rotational anchor for Chicago. His 1.81 ERA and 1.95 FIP are spectacular figures for a team seemingly going nowhere, and his 10.3 K/9 and 4.63 K/BB figures are blowing away his previous career highs.

Chicago may be inclined to hold on to Arrieta, at least through the rest of this season, considering he won’t hit the free agent market until after the 2017 season. The counterpoint would say  that Arrieta is already 28-years old, and this could all be a fluke. Unlike Samardzija – who is one year away from free agency – or Hammel, the team has plenty of cheap, team-controlled years left with Arrieta. I would imagine that they would need to be blown away with an offer to actually move him.

Philadelphia Phillies

GK: Well, there are two trains of thought when it comes to the Phillies at the trade deadline. There’s what the Phillies should do, and what the Phillies are going to do.

What the Phillies should do this year is sell any veteran piece that may have a drop of value on the market. They’re currently one of the oldest teams in baseball, and don’t have a strong crop of prospects coming on the horizon to inject youth into the organization. And believe it or not, there are veterans in Philly that could bring back decent prospects. Marlon Byrd has proven that the power he showed last year for the Mets and Pirates wasn’t as much of a fluke as we thought, and plenty of teams would be willing to take on his $8 million salary for 2015 to improve a corner outfield spot this year. Jimmy Rollins is in the final year of his contract, and his 100 OPS+ would be an upgrade at shortstop for a number of contenders hoping to make the playoffs. Chase Utley is once again playing at an All-Star level, and everyone always needs extra bullpen help, so finding a suitor for Jonathan Papelbon wouldn’t be too difficult.

And then there’s what the Phillies will do, which is probably a huge pile of nothing. I can’t think of a circumstance where the Phillies will ever trade Chase Utley, even if it’s in their best interest. They would probably love to trade Jimmy Rollins, but he has veto power over any move and has yet to indicate that he’s willing to leave the franchise. Ryan Howard is unmovable, even if the team wanted to get rid of him. Cliff Lee is hurt, making him hard to move for a return that you would feel comfortable to do so. Cole Hamels probably isn’t going anywhere thanks to his massive contract. Maybe they trade Marlon Byrd, but they could also be talking themselves into somehow turning this around in the off-season and him being a part of their 2015 “success”. If the Phillies want to remain a train wreck, that’s fine by me. But, there are ways for them to improve. They just choose not to do it.

Chase Headley

GK: 2014 has been a disaster for Chase Headley. Two years ago, Headley was on the verge of stardom, posting a strong .286/.376/.498 slash with a 145 OPS+ and 6.3 bWAR. He followed that season up by battling through pesky injuries in 2013, but still posting a 3.8 bWAR in 141 games despite his slash line falling to .250/.347/.400. With free agency coming for Headley after the 2014 season, many expected him to return to his 2012 levels and garner plenty of interest across the league on the open market.

Well, we all thought wrong. 63 games into the 2014 season and Headley is slashing .201/.287/.320, posting an OPS+ of 77 and a bWAR of 0.4. Despite the poor numbers, there are contenders that would take a risk on him, specifically the Angels, Yankees or Nationals.

At the same time, there are issues moving Headley and what the Padres could get for him. With his season going so poorly, it’s hard to imagine the Padres, a team in need of a rebuild, will place a qualifying offer on him, and the market for him is at its lowest. And a team that wants to trade for Headley thinking they could re-sign him after the season may find that hard if Headley elects to sign a one-year offer to rebuild his sinking market. There’s also the problem of the Padres not currently having a general manager, and few people lining up to take the post. Headley’s market come July 31st might be the most interesting to watch.