With the non-waiver trade deadline still a good two months away, things are falling into place for deals to take place well ahead of time. That has not often been the case since Major League Baseball introduced the wild card and then a second wild card in both the American and National Leagues. But this season there are a number of teams that just plain stink.
So, which players in the AL are the best bets to get traded by the deadline? Let’s take a look:
As of today, the status of the AL East teams is pretty clear-cut. The battle for the division title will be between the Yankees and Red Sox, while the “other” team is pretty assured one of the two wild-card spots.
Buyers – Yankees and Red Sox
Sellers – Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays
The biggest name on the trade block in the AL East is, of course, Baltimore’s Manny Machado. The Orioles entered this past weekend at 17-39 (.304) and occupied the division cellar. This was a team that was a contender not so long ago, but injuries and underperformance have decimated them.
Machado could bring the O’s a boatload of prospects in return but there’s one big catch … his name is Peter Angelos, the Orioles’ owner. Flashback to the 1998 season when All-Stars Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro were pending free agents. It was already assured that neither would be re-signing with Baltimore, but Angelos insisted that the fans deserved to have the best team on the field. Did anyone ask the fans what they wanted? FanRag sports’ Jon Heyman has been pitching a Machado to the Chicago Cubs for months. If that were to happen, Addison Russell would certainly be sent to Baltimore to replace Machado at shortstop.
As the non-waiver deadline approached, the Orioles were a .500 team and were 23 to 24 games out of first, with no shot at the wild card. Alomar and Palmeiro could have gone to contenders for a slew of prospects but Angelos refused. The impact was far reaching … the Orioles didn’t make the playoffs again until 2012.
In addition to Machado, Orioles centerfielder Adam Jones, who has spent 11 of his 13 seasons with Baltimore, could also be moved. The veteran is also a free agent after the season, and while his offensive numbers have diminished, he could still fetch a decent return.
The Orioles would love to deal Chris Davis and the $92 million owed to him, but that’s not happening.
The Yankees are certainly keeping tabs on Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ, who is the better option between himself and his right-handed teammate Marco Estrada. Happ is also arguably a better option than the Texas Rangers’ Cole Hamels. Trading within the division is always sticky, however, and watching your former players come back to haunt you is never a good thing. But the Yankees need starting pitching if they are going to have a long postseason run. If not New York, Happ will find himself in a new city.
In addition to Happ and Estrada, the Blue Jays will try to deal third baseman Josh Donaldson, but he needs to get healthy to have any value. Toronto will also get calls on the status of Russell Martin, Yangervis Solarte, Curtis Granderson and Kendrys Morales (who isn’t going anywhere if he keeps hitting .180).
The Rays began dismantling their team before the season started. Longtime star Evan Longoria was traded to San Francisco. Outfielder Corey Dickerson was dispatched to Pittsburgh and starter Jake Odorizzi was sent packing to Minnesota. This past week the Rays dealt struggling closer Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span to the Mariners.
The player garnering the most interest is starter Chris Archer but the right-hander’s struggles from last season have carried over into this one. The Rays will want plenty in return nonetheless because Archer’s contract is a bargain. He’s set to earn $7.6 million next season and there are team options for $9 million and $11 million for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, respectively.
As bad as the AL East’s non-contenders are, the AL Central teams not named Cleveland are horrendous. Minnesota is the biggest disappointment, with a 22-30 (.423) record, after making the playoffs last season as a wild card. It’s especially disheartening since they started the year with a decent 8-5 mark.
Buyer – Indians
Seller – Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox
The Twins were only 4.5 games behind the Indians entering the weekend, but Cleveland is playing better and is a much better team than Minnesota. They should pull away from the rest of the division in short order. The Twins are a long distance from the wild card race as well.
Minnesota has one of the best pending free agents in second baseman Brian Dozier. The seven-year veteran hit 76 home runs and drove in 191 runs over the last two seasons. One of the reasons behind the Twins’ trudge through the 2018 season is Dozier’s slow start. His .231/.303/.401 slash line with 7 HR and 19 RBI are well below his 2016-2017 pace. Put him in a good lineup and things could change around.
The Twins might listen to calls for Odorizzi, who is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after the 2019 season. The starter makes $6.3 million this season, a 50%+ bump up from the prior year. If that holds true for next year, “Eggs Over Easy” will earn in the neighborhood of $9.4 million. That’s the type of money the Twins have historically not liked to pay out.
Prior to this season, the Twins received Odorizzi in a deal for a 21-year old infielder that is struggling at Double-A right now. They could now flip Odorizzi to another team for much more than they gave up to get him. (The Yankees could consider Odorizzi as a Plan B to Hamels.)
The Royals were World Series champions a mere three years ago, but have fallen on hard times. After last season, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, and outfielder Lorenzo Cain became free agents. The front office knew they could lose all three to teams with much better contracts than they could afford to offer. The team may have also squandered opportunities by opting for draft picks instead of dealing any of them at last year’s trade deadline for established prospects.
It didn’t take long for Hosmer to sign an eight-year deal with the Padres and Cain to return to the Brewers, the organization he started his career with. But Moustakas was left swinging in the breeze despite a season in which he hit 38 home runs and slugged .518 (The possibility of collusion is a story for another day). Moustakas finally re-inked with the Royals in early March, on a one-year deal, $5.5 million. It was a pay cut of over $3 million from the prior year. It would be a complete shock if Moustakas remained in KC past the deadline, especially since his contract includes a $15 million option/$1 buyout for next year.
The KC player most in demand, however, will be closer Kelvin Herrera. Relievers are at a premium at the trade deadline and Herrera is having a fantastic season. As of this writing, he’s thrown 21-2/3 innings without issuing a walk and has struck out hitters at a solid 7.5 K/9 IP. He’s allowed just two earned runs and fewer hits than innings pitched.
The White Sox haven’t made it to the postseason since 2008 and are in full rebuild mode. The team is reconstructing the team around former #1 prospect Yoan Moncada, shortstop Tim Anderson, a trio of young starters – Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, and Michael Kopech – and one of the best prospects in baseball, outfielder Eloy Jimenez.
Chicago needs to make a decision about first baseman Jose Abreu’s future. The native of Cuba is currently earning $13 million and is arbitration eligible after the season. Abreu, who turns 32 in January, has averaged 31 home runs and 102 RBI in his four seasons in the Major Leagues. He’s currently on pace to reach or come close to his averages – translation, he’ll be making a lot more than $13 million next season. Now is the right time for the White Sox to collect some more major prospects.
The Detroit Tigers are another team in transition but they don’t appear to have what it takes to turn things around quickly. Top prospects Franklin Perez, Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, and Beau Burrows are still two to three years from arriving in the Majors.
The other issue for Detroit is a lack of valuable players to deal. Age and injury have caught up to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. While he may still have some very good years left in him, the $154 million he’s guaranteed from 2019 – 2023 makes him virtually untradable.
On the other hand, veteran catcher Victor Martinez is a prime candidate to be traded. “V-Mart” re-signed with Detroit on a one-year, $18 million deal this past off-season. Though he’s only sporting a .681 OPS, the switch-hitter would add a veteran presence and an experienced bat to a lineup. Due to health reasons, the American League is likely the only place where Martinez could land. Two of Martinez’s former teams, the Red Sox and Indians, as well as the Angels and the Mariners are possible destinations.
The Tigers explored trading their top starter Michael Fulmer last year and might again. It’s odd since the right-hander is only 25-years old, but perhaps they are counting on a big haul if they do trade him.
“Stop the defending champion Houston Astros.” That’s the motto that the contenders in the AL West live by. The Astros entered the weekend with a 33-23 mark, good enough for first place in the division. Despite a rash of injuries, the Seattle Mariners have managed to continue their pursuit of Houston and headed into the weekend just a game behind them, and even in the loss column. The Angels are within striking distance as well, sitting 5.5 games from the top. For now, those three are buyers, but the Mariners’ and Angels’ statuses could change in two months.
Buyers – Astros, Angels, Mariners
Sellers – Rangers, A’s
That’s not the case with the Rangers and A’s. The Rangers missed the playoffs last season after two straight first-round losses in the Division Series. That won’t change this season with the Rangers occupying the division cellar. But, Texas will be a happening place come late July, if not before that.
Hamels is one of the most in-demand pitchers on the market. He’s a World Series ring holder, a left-hander with a veteran presence, and he is in the final year of a fairly friendly contract. Expect GM Jon Daniels’ phone to be ringing off the hook despite the uneven season Hamels has experienced.
The former Phillies star has had control issues this season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is an awful 5.26, and he didn’t make it through the 6th inning in four of his 11 starts. On the flip side, he’s recorded his highest numbers of K/9 IP (9.1) in three years and he’s allowed two earned runs or less in five of his last six starts.
Bartolo Colon is 45-years old but is still pitching effectively. “Big Sexy” has posted a FIP (4.95) not much better than Hamels, but the 21-year veteran has pitched seven innings or more in five of his nine starts. The Rangers won’t get a lot in return but should be able to add a mid-level prospect.
Though his hitting acumen is a far cry from what it once was, Shin-Soo Choo would also provide a viable bat for a contender. Forget his batting average and Choo’s got a pretty good looking slash line of .259/.364/.431.
There’s not a more active team, at least in holding dialogues at the trade deadline than the A’s. Exec VP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane is always shuttling veteran players in and out of the Bay Area.
The A’s are a game over .500 and 6.5 games behind the Astros but are not going to be able to stay in the AL West and wild card races over the long haul. The team doesn’t have a Tim Hudson or Barry Zito in the rotation as they have had in many past years but they do have one of the biggest sluggers in the game in Khris Davis.
The pending free agent hit 42 and 43 home runs in the last two seasons respectively, and he is on a pace to hit 40 again this year. That’s an impressive feat considering he plays 81 home games at the pitcher-friendly Oakland Alameda Coliseum. Davis earned $10.5 million this year, so it will be virtually impossible for Beane to sign him to a new long-term deal. After Machado, Davis is arguably the most valuable bat available.
A possible landing spot for Davis would be the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. The DBacks may be atop their division but they have the third lowest runs total in the NL and fifth worst in the Majors. Also, anytime that Beane is dealing, you have to consider the St. Louis Cardinals as a prospective trade partner.
Closer Blake Treinen will be among the relievers who are in high demand. Acquired from the Nationals last July, Treinen is thriving in his first season as a full-time closer. The numbers are impressive – 10.9 K/9 IP and a 4.13 K /BB ratio, to go with a 0.99 ERA and a 1.024 WHIP. Treinen has converted 13 of 15 save opportunities and has allowed just one home run this season.
So, who’s the first to go? We may know by July 1, so stay tuned!