It must be July; Cliff Lee is on the trade block.
by Drew Sarver
Major League Baseball is a week past the All-Star break, which means the MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away. There’s already been a major trade between the Oakland A’s (Addison Russell) and the Chicago Cubs (Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel) that will have an impact on the AL West race. Teams have until July 31 to decide whether to be sellers, buyers, or to stand pat at the deadline. It gives them less than two weeks to figure out if they are really as bad as they might be playing or as good as they think they are. Should a team within striking distance of a playoff spot go hard after a big-name player or pull the trigger on smaller deals? Or should they stand pat?
There’s precedence for just about every situation at the break. On July 31, 1997, the Chicago White Sox sat four games in back of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central division. Despite their close proximity to first place in the standings, the White Sox went into “full sell” mode. They dealt starting pitchers Wilson Alvarez and Danny Darwin, and closer Roberto Hernandez to the San Francisco Giants for a half-dozen prospects: Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry, Ken Vining, Mike Caruso, Brian Manning, and Lorenzo Barcelo.
All three players dealt by Chicago were free agents after the 1997 season, so GM Ron Schueler cut his losses. (Of the six players acquired by Chicago, only Foulke and Howry went on to have successful Major League careers . The Giants won the NL West, but were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual World Champion Florida Marlins. The following season, Alvarez and Hernandez went on to big money deals with Tampa Bay, while Darwin re-signed with San Francisco.)
It’s difficult to tell fact from fiction this time of year, which is why the words “rumor” and “reported” are thrown around like baseballs. More often than not, the player attached to the strongest rumors does not get dealt, or goes to the team that had no rumored association with the player. (Think Cliff Lee.)
So let’s take a look at some of the names being bandied about right now and those names that might be brought up once the deadline gets closer.
Jonny Gomes and Ben Zobrist: There are a lot of moves made at the deadline to shore up a position, or to get one or two more players that might put a team over the edge to make the playoffs and/or make a long run at the title. Gomes and Zobrist would fall into that category. Gomes had several big hits last year to help the Red Sox win their third World Series in the last 10 years. But, with Boston struggling this year, Gomes may be one of the guys to go. According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the KC Royals have made Gomes a “potential trade target”. KC is in contention with a group of younger players and could use some experienced, ring-bearing veterans like Gomes.
Zobrist’s name has popped up in many rumors. Though the 33-year old’s bat hasn’t produced as much in the last two seasons, he’s just three years removed from back-to-back 20-home-run seasons. Zobrist, Gomes’ former teammate on the Rays, can also swipe a base when needed and defensively can play both middle infield positions, (second base is his best spot), and the outfield. With a $7.5MM team option for next season, Zobrist comes at a bargain price. That means better prospects will be demanded by the Rays in return.
Fishing for pitching is always a popular sport this time of year, and the biggest fish out there is a Ray. David Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, won’t be a free agent until 2016, but the Rays may deal him before then to haul in a big catch. Price made $14MM this season and will surely top that in arbitration or a one-year deal next season. The 6’6″ left-hander entered Monday’s play leading the league in strikeouts and games started, and had pitched to a 3.06 ERA and a 1.041 WHIP.
Price has been especially hot of late, with six earned runs allowed in 48 innings (1.13 ERA). He’s pitched less than seven complete innings only once in his 13 starts and has thrown at least eight innings in nine of those starts. With the Rays playing better baseball of late – they’ve won five straight and 14 of 18 – Price may stick around Tampa until next season’s trade deadline.
With Samarzdiga, Hammel, and Brandon McCarthy already moved, San Diego’s Ian Kennedy has heard his name mentioned frequently. Recently, FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that the Los Angeles Angels were very interested in Kennedy, but as of this writing, the teams have not been able to match up players for a deal.
Based on the way Kennedy pitched with the Yankees, you never would have thought he would be in demand. But scouts stood up and took notice when Kennedy finished 21-4, 2.88 with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011. He struggled the following two years and was dealt to San Diego at last year’s deadline. This season, Kennedy has turned things around and is back in demand. The USC product made $6.1MM in 2014 and is arbitration-eligible next year.
Scouts are showing up in droves for Philadelphia Phillies games, with the fightin’ Phils not having a whole lot of fight in them. Teams have made inquiries about starters Lee and Cole Hamels, and closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Phillies would reportedly prefer to hold on to the 30-year old Hamels (They need someone to build around) and deal Lee. (Is it just my imagination, or does it seem like every year Lee is either looking for a free agent deal or he’s the subject of trade rumors?)
The soon-to-be 36-year old Lee is owed the remainder of $25MM this season, another $25MM next year, and at the very least, $12.5MM in 2016. (The $12.5MM is a buyout; Lee can earn $27.5MM in 2016 if he throws at least 200 innings in 2015.) By comparison, Hamels is owed $90MM from 2015-2018. Just what was GM Ruben Amaro Jr. thinking with these deals and contracts like Ryan Howard’s (min. $60MM owed for the next three years)? Perhaps the Dodgers could swap Matt Kemp’s huge contract for Lee’s?
Papelbon is owed $13MM next year and can get another $13MM in 2016 if he finishes 55 games next season, or 100 games over the current year and 2015 combined. After a shaky 2013 season, Papelbon has bounced back strongly this year. He’s saved 23 of 25 games and struck out 33 batters, while he has allowed nine walks, and has a 1.17 ERA. Opposing batters have only managed to put together a .429 OPS this season. With teams always looking for bullpen help and with so many closers having off years, the Phils could get some very good return for Papelbon.
Well, there you have it for now. Stay tuned later in the week for another report as the calendar creeps closer to August.
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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at email@example.com.