5 Last-Minute Moves Before MLB's Opening Day
As spring training is in full swing and the World Baseball Classic kicks off Friday night, it’s clear baseball season is rapidly approaching. With offseason over and the new season a month away, it’s time to look at a few final moves that teams might use to improve.
These are not based off any rumors or rumblings. These moves, in general, are also not likely (save, perhaps, for the first one). What each represents is a unique opportunity to acquire or keep talent that various organizations need to win.
Slim chances? Absolutely, but why not spend time on unlikely but potentially useful moves?
Seems more fun than analyzing trade rumors that may or may not have validity.
San Francisco Should Extend Tim Lincecum’s Contract
Tim Lincecum had a rough 2012.
A pitcher who many expected to continue making the leap to stardom took an enormous step back, coming into the All-Star break with the lowest WAR of anybody in the National League.
His velocity was down throughout the season, and with his freaky windup, one wonders if any amount of coaching can help.
At the same time, Lincecum continued to put up high strikeout totals, indicating that his pitches still move and he can still miss bats. In the second half, Lincecum’s numbers were significantly improved, and at times, The Freak showed a flash of the man who won two straight Cy Young Awards.
Simply put, if this guy’s good, Lincecum is never going to be cheaper than he is right now.
Leave him unextended, and there’s a chance he'll put up the kind of season that adds a zero to his next contract. Let him hit free agency like that, and check out how many big-money teams are looking for an ace.
Likewise, trading the starting pitcher would be foolish.
Because his value has dipped, the return the Giants would get in a trade now is rather low. Even if Lincecum steps up and returns to form in the first half of this season, his trade value will only be as a “rental,” meaning the Giants are unlikely to get a good haul for him.
Because of that, now is the time to lock Lincecum up long-term. There will never be a better time for it.
Every Team That Needs a Starting Pitcher Should Look to Jon Lester
Another high-end starter whose value is about as low as it’s going to get is Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Lester’s 2012 did not live up to the ace expectations of the Red Sox’ brass, posting a career-high ERA, but clearly there was a lot at play in Boston last year.
It’s hard to fault Lester entirely.
If a team is looking to land a left-handed front starter, Lester is a good gamble to take. If a team managed to land him, it could do the same thing the Giants might do with Tim Lincecum (long-term extension at a once-in-a-lifetime price) and give Lester a change of scenery that may do him some good.
For these reasons, it is also very unlikely that the Red Sox would trade the pitcher who is likely to be their Opening Day starter. Still, the worst Ben Cherington can say is “no,” and these opportunities are rare. It couldn’t hurt to put in a call.
Try to Get Philly to Panic
The Philadelphia Phillies' contract situations might turn out to hurt them in the long term.
Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have been excellent, but time is eventually going to become a factor there. Jonathan Papelbon is a top-level closer, but the Phillies need to get to that point in a game for such a thing to be useful.
Chase Utley is rebounding from an injury. Jimmy Rollins is getting on in years. Ryan Howard’s contract is becoming an albatross.
Domonic Brown’s trade value is barely worth mentioning.
The prospect of Philadelphia’s future has thus far made little impact, and his potential is no longer enough to bag a major player for him in a trade. In short, despite their considerable resources, the future in Philly looks spotty.
This would not be a bad time to see if Philadelphia is interested in breaking it all up.
Howard is pretty much untradeable because of the size of his contract, a shame to every AL team that could revitalize his career in a DH role.
Halladay would likely—and certainly should—be off-limits. It’s not often that one of the best pitchers in baseball changes teams, and when they do it generally turns out poorly for the team that let him go. Cole Hamels has to stick around because he is vital to Philadelphia’s future.
Everybody else could, potentially, end up in play sometime this year.
A more manipulative GM might be tempted to pick up the phone and try to convince the Philadelphia front office that it needs an injection of youth and budget flexibility sooner rather than later.
After all, Ruben Amaro Jr. is likely to jump on a deal that could free up room in the future the way that Boston did with its mega-deal with the Dodgers.
Try Taking a Page out of Toronto's Playbook
When the Toronto Blue Jays sought out a trade partner that could improve their lineup right away, it didn’t take long to realize that the Miami Marlins were not likely to want to keep their highly paid players very long.
They weren’t performing well, and more importantly, Miami’s organization has a clear track record of cutting away players on big contracts.
Very few teams trade star players, of course. But Miami, Kansas City and Pittsburgh are the kings of this behavior.
Neal Huntington is unlikely to part with big names in Pittsburgh.
The city and fans have demanded that the Pirates front office support the community at least a fraction as much as it has bent over backward to support an organization that leads the league in two categories since 1992: losing seasons and excuses.
Could A.J. Burnett be had?
It seems unlikely with the pressure mounting around PNC Park, but trading Joel Hanrahan away for less than market value seemed equally unlikely right up until they pulled that trigger.
Could Giancarlo Stanton be had?
Miami keeps saying no, which leads most people to believe that he might as well pack.
What would be more attractive to the Kansas City Royals’ front office: avoiding a public relations disaster by trading a good player or not having to pay Alex Gordon when it comes time to pay him?
Certainly, their track record leads one to wonder if Gordon, for all his importance to Kansas City, could be had.
If Andrew Friedman Calls, Do the Opposite of What He Says
Until Andrew Friedman makes a trade or declines to re-sign a free agent and that actually comes back to hurt Tampa Bay, it seems foolish to deal with the man.
If Friedman likes a prospect in your organization, that prospect should immediately become untouchable. If Friedman is offering a star player, expect that star player to be right at the end of his prime.
It doesn’t matter if he’s offering David Price for a minor leaguer. Expect that minor leaguer to be the next big thing, and expect Price to not be the guy who has dominated with the Rays.
If anything else were the case, Friedman wouldn’t be calling.
There is a growing possibility that Friedman actually knows the future.
Scott Kazmir leaves and bottoms out immediately. Carl Crawford has fought injuries and a three-ring circus since leaving St. Pete. Carlos Peña is a sub-Mendoza Line hitter now whose best-case scenario is being used as a supersub off the bench. A couple of years ago, he was leading the AL in homers and getting huge hits in clutch situations.
Oh, a deal with Friedman might seem like one of those deals mentioned earlier with a Pittsburgh or a Kansas City.
That’s what makes it so deceptive.
He’ll offer an established player, all he’ll want is someone with no MLB experience, and it only seems too good to be true because it is.