Crain could be the top reliever available on the trade market next month.
Relief Pitcher Market
The White Sox lost a potential trade chip when Jake Peavy suffered a non-displaced fracture in his rib cage, but setup man Jesse Crain is rising to the top of team wish lists, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.
I recently named Crain as one of six soon-to-be free agents who are playing themselves into a big contract. The White Sox can also take advantage of the dominant season he's having by trading him to a contender, should they fall out of the pennant race —they're currently 28-38 and 8.5 games back of a playoff spot.
The 31 year-old Crain hasn't allowed a run in his last 25 appearances (24 IP, 17 H, 7 BB, 33 K) and is tied for the league lead in holds (17) with Joel Peralta of the Rays. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, who thinks Crain is "probably the single most likely player to change teams this summer", examined why he's been so successful this season.
While it's uncertain if any team would acquire Crain to be their closer, the Phillies believe that the Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers are interested in their closer, Jonathan Papelbon. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he has no desire to trade Papelbon, however, partly because they don't have anyone in the organization ready to step into that role.
With the Mets unlikely to shop closer Bobby Parnell, closing options could be limited on the trade market. The Cubs would've loved to have gotten Carlos Marmol some save opportunities in the coming weeks to try and boost his value but his latest debacle seems to have put that scenario to rest for good.
The fading Brewers might be willing to move some veterans in the next six weeks and former closer John Axford (pictured) could be an intriguing option for a team like the Tigers, who could be a clear favorite in the American League if they can find a more reliable closing option.
Axford, pitching in middle relief these days, hasn't exactly been the poster boy for reliability but he hasn't allowed a run in 16 consecutive appearances (14.1 IP, 9 H, 7 BB, 15 K, 4 holds) and was one of the more dominant closers in the game from 2010-2011 and parts of last season. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez has also pitched well (11.1 IP, ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 10 K, 4 SV) and could garner interest.
In the meantime, Jim Henderson has been solid as the Brewers' closer and deserves to remain in that role so it wouldn't be out of the question if they shopped Axford and/or Rodriguez.
Yovani Gallardo Trade Market
In Cafardo's column, he mentions several starting pitchers who could be available, as well as teams like the Giants and Orioles that are seeking rotation help. With only a handful of teams far enough out in the playoff race to even consider a trade in mid-June, it's difficult to know which pitchers will or will not be seriously discussed in trade talks.
One team that is certainly starting to look like a potential "seller" is the Brewers, who are 28-40 and 12.5 games back of a playoff spot. While they were also 12 games under .500 as late as August 19th of last season, they won 29 of their last 42 and made a serious run at a playoff spot in late September.
Whether that's enough motivation to hold off on at least a mini "fire sale" is yet to be seen. With Cory Hart (knee surgery) not expected back until the second half and Ryan Braun on the disabled list with a thumb injury, the Brewers could continue to go backwards over the next few weeks. General manager Doug Melvin has already said that the team won't be "buyers", but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll trade a player who is under team control for 2014 and beyond.
If he does, Gallardo would be one of the top starting pitchers available. Signed through the 2014 season ($11.25 million) with a $13 million club option for 2015, the 27 year-old would bring the Brewers back at least two very good prospects in return. He can block a trade to ten unknown teams but there won't be a shortage of interest amongst contenders so that shouldn't hurt his value much.
After his June 5th start when he allowed five earned runs in six innings against the A's, Gallardo's ERA had risen to 5.25. But with 14 scoreless innings over his last two starts, he appears to be back on track and his trade value is back on the rise.
Shortstop Depth in Boston
Teams don't always have to be out of the pennant race to deal veteran players. It's less common, but a team with depth at a certain position could make a trade to fill another roster need or just open the spot for a younger player and take back minor leaguers in return.
In the case of the Red Sox, they have two major league shortstops —not to mention one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball (Xander Bogaerts) in Triple-A—on their roster while a few teams around the league don't have a single good option. If a team like the Cardinals, Pirates or even the Dodgers —Hanley Ramirez could move to third base —made a solid offer on Stephen Drew, who is making $9.5 million on a one-year deal, would the Sox feel comfortable handing everyday duties over to rookie Jose Iglesias? I believe so.
The 23 year-old Iglesias (pictured), often described as a Gold Glove caliber defender, is finally coming around at the plate (.438 BA; 39-for-89, 8 2B, 7 BB, 14 K) after posting mediocre numbers in the minors the past couple of seasons. Drew's overall numbers aren't good because of a slow start but he has a .751 OPS since April 27th, including 16 extra-base hits (5 HR, 9 2B, 2 3B).
Cafardo mentions in his column that he doesn't believe the Sox would have trouble finding a taker for Drew while an NL general manager he spoke with thinks Iglesias can start for 29 other teams in the league. The Sox could wait and see if they'll have a major need to fill in mid-to-late July before making a decision. If not, they can either trade Drew for a minor leaguer or two or just stand pat and continue to use Iglesias as a utility infielder.