MLB Teams That Need to Blow Up Their Rosters This Summer

Ben BerkonContributor IJune 21, 2013

MLB Teams That Need to Blow Up Their Rosters This Summer

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    The July 31,non-waiver trade deadline is one of the most exciting periods in baseball. The summer becomes a "bazaar of baseball," as teams either look to acquire a missing piece, or bag the rest of the year by dealing away their most valuable players. Whether your team needs a right-handed outfielder, speedy shortstop or third starter, it's usually there for the taking—if the price is right, of course.

    But even if your team dismantles its roster, there's a different sense of excitement: excitement for the future. Trading away a franchise cornerstone might be difficult in the interim, but if the top prospects in return materialize down the road, that painful void becomes instantly filled. 

    Below are five teams, that if they decide to rebuild, need to blow up their rosters this summer.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    From 2007 to 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies reigned as one of the most consistent teams in baseball. During that span, the Phillies made five playoff runs, advanced to the world series twice and even won the whole thing in 2008.

    The organization's dominance in those five seasons was due to their ability to cultivate fine young talent such as Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Brett Myers, Vance Worley, and Kyle Kendrick.

    They uncovered good low risk/high reward producers like Jayson Werth, Chad Durbin, Pedro Martinez, Jose Contreras, John Mayberry, and Ben Francisco and executed timely trades for Aaron Rowand, Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Roy Halladay. They also inked the right veteran free agents (i.e. J.C. Romero, Cliff Lee, Raul Ibanez, and Placido Polanco).

    Yet, the present-day Phillies have seen better days. In 2012, the team witnessed their first .500 squad since 2002, and is currently in third place with a .479 winning percentage this season. Considering most of their former stars are either over-the-hill or injured, it's time for the Philadelphia Phillies to overhaul and rebuild.

    Luckily for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the major league roster has plenty of good trade chips. For instance, Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz, and Chase Utley will all be free agents after this season. Especially if the latter two can exhibit good health, the Phillies should have no problem shipping all three of these players to contending teams.

    But the Phillies shouldn't stop there.

    In addition to dangling reliever Mike Adams (who has a year remaining on his two-year, $12 million contract, and a club option for 2015), and possibly even arbitration-eligible pitchers Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo, the organization could also evaluate the market for Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, and Jonathan Papelbon.

    Between Rollins, Lee and Papelbon, the Phillies could retool their farm system overnight.

    Enduring a few rebuilding seasons might be difficult for fans. But unless the Phillies drastically improve their farm system, they run the risk of falling far behind division rivals Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, and even the New York Mets over the next five years.

Chicago White Sox

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    The Chicago White Sox were poised for another winning season in 2013. Under the guidance of second year manager—and former fan favorite third baseman—Robin Ventura, White Sox fans were hopeful that the team could build on their exciting 85 win season the year before.

    But just about everything that could go wrong has for the White Sox in 2013. The team lost starter Gavin Floyd for the season with a torn flexor muscle and ulnar collateral ligament, and now, ace pitcher Jake Peavy is expected to miss at least a month with a fractured left rib.

    In addition, just about every hitter has underperformed, and 27-year-old Tyler Flowers, who took over the catching duties from departed veteran A.J. Pierzynski (park adjusted 119 OPS+ in 2012), has been an offensive dud (park adjusted 72 OPS+ in 2013). 

    Player BA (Career) BA (2013) BB% (Career) BB% (2013) OPS+ (Career) OPS+ (2013)
    Adam Dunn .240 .182 16.2% 10.7% 126 87
    Jeff Keppinger .288 .226 6.6% 1.8% 97 34
    Alexei Ramirez .276 .268 5.2% 3.7% 91 69
    Dayan Viciedo .263 .230 5.1% 5.3% 97 70
    Alejandro De Aza .280 .262 7.8% 6.5% 102 94
    Paul Konerko .283 .248 9.8% 7.7% 121 81

    While the White Sox would be forced to "sell low" on a lot of their trade chips, the team also has a bunch of intriguing options to pick from as well.

    If teams in search of a closer find Jonathan Papelbon to be too expensive (both his contract and the return), White Sox setup man Jesse Crain might be a nice alternative. Crain, 31, has posted a 0.57 ERA (vs. park adjusted 764 ERA+), 0.97 WHIP, and 4.67 K/BB over 31.2 innings this year. The right-handed pitcher, whose average fastball clocks in at 94.4 MPH, only has four career saves—but then again, his former Minnesota Twins teammate Glen Perkins only racked up two saves before shutting the door 16 times in 2012, and another 18 times already this season. Crain will be a free agent after the season.

    The White Sox could also be a target for teams in pursuit of non-closing relievers. Both right-handed Matt Lindstrom and left-handed Matt Thornton are enjoying productive seasons, hurling a 2.83 ERA (vs. park adjusted 154 ERA+) and 3.47 ERA (vs. park adjusted 126 ERA+), respectively. Like Crain, both veteran relievers will be free agents at year's end. 

    The other three, more lucrative veteran trade chips would be Paul Konerko, Jake Peavy, and Alex Rios. 

    At age 37, it appears as though Father Time has finally caught up with the former-slugging Konerko. As the above chart indicates, the right-handed hitting first baseman's 2013 output has been far below his career averages. However, since Konerko will be a free agent after the season, a prospective team wouldn't be on the hook for nearly as much money as if they acquired, say, Adam Dunn (and his guaranteed $15 million in 2014) instead. Similar to how the New York Yankees acquired Lance Berkman at the deadline in 2010, teams could use Konerko in a limited role—especially since he still rakes against left-handed pitching (park-adjusted 125 wRC+ vs. LHP in 2013).

    Aside from Konerko, the White Sox's two biggest chips would be Peavy and Rios. Prior to the broken rib, the 32-year-old Peavy still wasn't quite as dominant as he was in 2012 (3.37 ERA vs. park adjusted 128 ERA+), posting a pedestrian 4.30 ERA (vs. park adjusted 100 ERA+ in 2013). But given the dearth of available starting pitchers, the White Sox shouldn't have too much trouble finding a taker for Peavy (assuming he's healthy by July 31).

    The White Sox were rightfully worried in 2011, when Rios only mustered a .227 BA (vs. park adjusted 63 OPS+), 13 home runs, and 11 stolen bases. But since then, Rios has been hitting more closely to his 2006-08 prime years. In 2012, the right-handed hitter finished in the top 15 of the MVP ballot, swinging to the tune of a .304 BA (vs. park adjusted 125 OPS+), 25 home runs, 23 stolen bases, and 91 RBI. The 32 year old hasn't been quite as good in 2013, swatting a .282 BA (vs. park adjusted 115 OPS+) with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases, but any contending team in need of an upgrade in right field should be interested in Rios' services.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Since making a playoff run in 2011—and then deliberately losing both Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke to free agency and trade, respectively—the Milwaukee Brewers have been a sad bunch. The Brew Crew finished third in the NL Central last season, and given their current 29-41 record, they would be lucky to repeat. 

    Yet, the Brewers have a lot of good, young talent at the major league level. Their roster features catcher Jonathan Lucroy, shortstop Jean Segura (who was acquired for Greinke), outfielders Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, and Marco Estrada—all of whom are under the age of 30. But with little else in the farm system, the Brewers might need to trade some big names in order to make the future brighter.

    The three big trade chips that come to mind are Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, and recent-signee Kyle Lohse. Weeks, 30, is a former second overall pick and has been the Brewers' starting second baseman since 2005. From 2009 to 2011, the right-handed hitter entered elite status, owning a combined .269 BA (vs. park adjusted 122 OPS+) with an average of 19 home runs, 7 stolen bases, and a 9.6 percent BB%. Since then, however, Weeks has been a bit of a disappointment. In 2012, the infielder slumped to a .230 BA (vs. park adjusted 93 OPS+)—and has been even worse in 2013, posting a .217 BA (vs. park adjusted 81 OPS+). Despite the two bad seasons—and $11 million salary in 2014—many teams would still be interested in taking a chance on Weeks due to his skill sets and position scarcity.

    Aramis Ramirez, like Weeks, has seen better days. Despite posting a park adjusted 136 OPS+ in each of the past two seasons, the 35-year-old hitter has only swatted four home runs so far in 2013, and has witnessed his OPS+ drop by 23 points. But even with slightly diminished power, Ramirez has plenty of trade value as the veteran third baseman has still posted a respectable .272 BA with a 10.4 percent BB% in 2013. However, since Ramirez will make $16 million in 2014—and also has a $4 million buyout in 2015—the Brewers would likely have to kick in some money to get a deal done.

    Last on the list is Kyle Lohse. Due to the new compensation rules, Lohse was advised by his agent Scott Boras to wait all the way until March 25 to sign with a team. Somehow, he was still able to garner a $33 million deal over three years. While the Brewers were a surprise suitor, Lohse is on pace to earn every dollar. The right-hander has posted a 3.68 ERA (vs. park adjusted 108 ERA+), 1.22 WHIP, and 3.60 K/BB over 85.2 innings. His non-prohibitive contract makes him a good target during the deadline.

    In addition to the "big three," it's also possible the Brewers might be able to acquire young talent for Francisco Rodriguez, who has posted a 0.68 ERA (vs. park adjusted 605 ERA+), 0.75 WHIP, and 4.33 K/BB over 13.1 innings. But make no qualms about it, if the Brewers' organization is serious about rebuilding, they'll have to bid adieu to Weeks, Ramirez, and Lohse.

Chicago Cubs

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    When general manager Theo Epstein left the Boston Red Sox to join the Chicago Cubs, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Epstein was handed a team coming off 91 losses, and his job was to fix everything. Even though the Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, Epstein consciously began the rebuilding process. On December 23, 2011, Epstein cashed in reliever Sean Marshall by acquiring starting pitcher Travis Wood from the Cincinnati Reds. While Wood wasn't great in his first full season in Chicago (4.27 ERA vs. park adjusted 96 ERA+), the 26 year old has turned some heads in 2013. The southpaw has posted a 2.74 ERA (vs. park adjusted 145 ERA+), 1.00 WHIP, and 2.29 K/BB over 92 innings. Wood, given his service years, will not be a free agent until 2017. 

    Similarly—and about a month later—Epstein dealt live-armed reliever Andrew Cashner for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whom Epstein had actually drafted while general manager of the Red Sox. After spending most of 2012 in the minor leagues, Rizzo got the call in late June last season, and proved why he was twice rated within Baseball America's top 100 prospects. The left-handed hitter posted a .285 BA (vs. park adjusted 115 OPS+) with 15 home runs and 48 RBI over 368 plate appearances. Tabbed as the opening day starter in 2013, the 23-year-old Rizzo has produced a .242 BA (vs. park adjusted 110 OPS+) with 10 home runs and 39 RBI. His good play earned him a seven-year, $41 million extension, which will keep him in Chicago until 2020.

    Considering the 2013 Chicago Cubs are well on their way to another losing season (they're currently 29-41), it shouldn't come as a surprise if the Cubs are very active at the deadline this year.

    As much as Cubs fans might want Epstein to get rid of Alfonso Soriano and Edwin Jackson, it's unlikely any team would see the has-been slugger or vulnerable 5.49 ERA hurler as upgrades. It also doesn't help matters that Soriano and Jackson will make another $18 million in 2014 and $39 million through 2016, respectively. Instead, the Cubs will have to trade the likes of Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva to retool the farm system. 

    Much to the dismay of Epstein, the 29-year-old Garza isn't off to his best season (4.98 ERA vs. park adjusted 81 ERA+), but after missing all of April and most of May with an injury, it's possible the career 3.94 ERA (vs. park adjusted 108 ERA+) hurler will get back on track. Garza might not garner a similar package to what the Cubs had to surrender for him back in 2011 (i.e. Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee), but since the right-hander will be a free agent after the season, it makes little sense for the lowly Cubs to hang onto him—regardless of the return. 

    On the flip side, two of Epstein's low risk/high reward signees paid off big time. Carlos Villanueva, 29, has again proven to be a capable starter and reliever. The right-hander, who is under contract through 2014 for a mere $5 million, has spun a 3.76 ERA (vs. park adjusted 106 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP, and 2.67 K/BB over 64.2 innings.

    Perhaps Scott Feldman has been the true diamond in the rough. Feldman, who was kicked off of the Texas Rangers, has pitched to the tune of a 3.05 ERA (vs. park adjusted 131 ERA+), 1.10 WHIP, and 2.86 K/BB over 79.2 rotation innings. Like Garza, Feldman will be a free agent at season's end, but given his pedestrian $7 million salary, the Cubs will be able to quickly pawn off the 30 year old to the highest bidder.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Going into 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays were the favorites to win their division for the first time, perhaps, since 1993. General manager Alex Anthopoulos enjoyed one of the most active offseasons in recent memory, acquiring Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson via trade, as well as signing Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis as free agents.  

    But, literally, each of the Blue Jays' acquisitions have either fallen prey to injury or been complete busts. As a mid-market franchise, it's possible the Blue Jays cannot afford to see a 42 percent salary spike without reaping the benefits of a winning ball club. If that's the case, then the Blue Jays will be forced to become sellers at the deadline. 

    Assuming the Blue Jays do not want to trade either Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, the 30-year-old Reyes will top the trade block. The shortstop had been off to a hot start in 2013, hitting a .395 BA (vs. park adjusted 172 OPS+), 11.6 percent BB%, and five stolen bases, but he severely sprained his ankle while sliding into second base on April 12. Even though Reyes will earn $86 million through 2017 (including a $4 million buyout for 2018), his play upon his return will determine if his contract becomes a hurdle during trade talk.

    In addition to Reyes, the Blue Jays' three acquired "ace" pitchers should also become available to the league. Despite dealing top prospects like Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Marisnick, and Justin Nicolino in order to acquire Dickey, Buehrle, and Johnson this past offseason, all three pitchers have pitched well below their as-advertised abilities.

    Player ERA (2012) ERA (2013) ERA+ (2012) ERA+ (2013) K/BB (2012) K/BB (2013)
    R.A. Dickey 2.73 4.90 139 85 4.26 1.76
    Josh Johnson 3.81 4.38 106 95 2.54 2.60
    Mark Buehrle 3.74 4.60 108 90 3.13 2.48

    Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, if they decide to sell Reyes, Dickey, Johnson, and Buehrle, it would be for ten cents on the dollar. Yet, one saving grace could be reliever Casey Janssen. Janssen has emerged as one of the best closers in baseball during the 2013 season, pitching to the tune of a 2.28 ERA (vs. park adjusted 184 ERA+), 0.76 WHIP, 5.50 K/BB, and has saved 16 games over 23.2 innings. Unlike Jonathan Papelbon, the 31-year-old Janssen is only signed through 2014—and at a very reasonable $4 million salary.