Potential Fits for Chase Utley
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently that he views second baseman Chase Utley, who has an .866 OPS and 11 homers in 54 games this season, as a "Phillie for life" and doesn't view him as a player they'd move in a deal.
But Amaro's latest Utely-related quotes from yesterday, via Ryan Lawrence of The Philadelphia Enquirer, after his team dropped to 39-44 and 9.5 games out in the NL East include the famous "never say never," "we have to keep our minds open," and "we have to see how things play out," indicate that he's starting to come to terms with his team's slim chances this season and would move the 34-year-old Utley in the right deal.
I had Utley going to the Oakland A's in last week's "Ideal Trade Scenarios" piece while Dave Cameron of FanGraphs also thinks Utley to Oakland is a perfect match. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe says that the Royals have discussed the possibility of acquiring him.
Both teams have the need based on the lack of production from the second base position up to this point of the season, although Johnny Giavotella, who had three hits in his season debut on Sunday, figures to get a few weeks to prove that he can be the answer for the Royals while the A's could soon turn to prospect Grant Green, who has an .892 OPS and 11 homers in Triple-A.
If either team could still use Utley later in the month, another obstacle that would have to be cleared is the estimated $7 million he would be due for the remainder of the season. Not too many teams in baseball would be willing to pick up that amount to rent Utley for a few months, and especially not smaller market teams like the A's and Royals. Keep in mind that the more of Utley's salary the Phillies will pay, the better return they'd seek.
Other potential destinations include the Blue Jays, where Emilio Bonifacio has a .538 OPS, and the Orioles, but only if the oft-injured Brian Roberts can't stay healthy. He just returned from the disabled list on Sunday.
Utley can block trades to 21 teams, which could further complicate a potential trade.
Alex Rios: Top outfielder on trade market?
With Giancarlo Stanton not expected to be made available on the trade market this season, the next best option for teams seeking outfield help could be Alex Rios of the White Sox.
Assumed to be "open for business" with a 32-47 record after five consecutive losses, the White Sox have several players who they can shop to contenders before the July 31st deadline. None would likely have a higher trade value than Rios (pictured), a 32-year-old right fielder with a .268 batting average, 11 homers, 18 doubles and 14 stolen bases.
A recent 9-for-56 slump with no homers has dropped his OPS to .771 but he had an .850 OPS last season, can play any of the three outfield spots and is under contract for at least one more season ($12.5 million in 2014, $1.5 million buyout on $13.5 million club option for 2015).
The D'backs seem like a long shot with Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel and Cody Ross already on the roster and rookie Adam Eaton a few weeks away from returning from an elbow injury. The Giants and Rangers, on the other hand, appear to have a need.
With center fielder Angel Pagan out until at least September after hamstring surgery, the Giants are going with Andres Torres (.693 OPS) in their everyday lineup. Rios is an obvious upgrade for a struggling Giants team that is 39-42 and won only 10 of 27 games in June.
Rangers outfielders Nelson Cruz (.927 OPS, 7 HR in June) and Leonys Martin (.825 OPS, 9 SB in June) are red hot, but David Murphy is having a rough season and Craig Gentry is on the disabled list with a fractured hand. Jurickson Profar could reportedly move to the outfield in the near future, but he has no experience there and the first-place Rangers would likely have a more reliable option in place.
Other contenders that could be shopping for outfield help include the Pirates, who are giving regular playing time to Gaby Sanchez (.777 OPS) at first base so Garrett Jones can play right field, and the Reds, who have been giving most of the starts in left field to Derrick Robinson (.680 OPS) with Ryan Ludwick not expected back until late in the season after shoulder surgery.
Brewers relievers drawing interest
Corey Hart will undergo season-ending knee surgery and is no longer a potential trade option for teams seeking a right-handed power hitter later this month. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin should still be very busy fielding calls, however, especially with so many teams seeking bullpen help and so many Brewers relievers pitching well.
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel says there is interest in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, as well as lefty Michael Gonzalez. All three have closing experience, although the Brewers appear set at the closer's spot with 30-year-old rookie Jim Henderson.
While free-agents-to-be Gonzalez and Rodriguez are very likely to be traded, the 30-year-old Axford (pictured) is still under team control for three more seasons and is no certainty to be dealt. He hasn't allowed a run in 22 consecutive appearances (19.2 IP, 0 R, 12 H, 7 BB, 20 K, 6 holds), though, and would net the Brewers the biggest return in a deal.
It's unclear if a team searching for a closer (Tigers, Red Sox) sees Axford as a potential option, considering he lost his closing job in Milwaukee the past two seasons. But teams seeking a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever—at least 75 percent of contending teams, in my estimation—are very likely to contact Melvin to see what it would take to land the guy who had 105 saves from 2010-2012.
A much cheaper alternative would be Rodriguez, who the Brewers gave the opportunity to save his 300th game, even after Henderson had returned from the disabled list. Now that he's gotten that milestone out of the way, the next step is to move on to a contender and pitch in a setup role. The 31-year-old had his worst outing of the year on Sunday, (IP, ER, 3 H, 3 BB) but he's been terrific overall (17.2 IP, 2 ER, 11 H, 6 BB, 17 K, 6 Sv in 6 chances).
Gonzalez will probably be the top lefty reliever available on the market. The 35-year-old reliever has a 3.41 ERA with 16 walks and 39 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched. Burke Badenhop has also been solid overall (3.38 ERA) but has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters (.547 OPS).
Yankees have trade chips should they fall out of contention
Fueled by an impressive start to the season (37-26 on June 9th) behind no-name replacements of injured stars, the Yankees have not gotten healthy fast enough and are in danger of falling out of contention by the time the trade deadline arrives.
With only five wins in their last 18 games, including losses in five straight, the Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman might have to start thinking about which veteran players have value on the trade market as opposed to which veteran players they could pursue for the stretch run.
Those likely to be shopped in a case where the Yankees do become "sellers", according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, include starting pitcher Phil Hughes (pictured), reliever Joba Chamberlain and outfielder Curtis Granderson.
Granderson isn't close to returning from a fractured knuckle, but the free-agent-to-be is a proven home run hitter (84 homers combined in 2011-2012) and will certainly have a ton of interest as long as he makes it back before the trade deadline. And even if he doesn't, the 32-year-old could still clear waivers in August as teams will likely pass on the remaining portion of his $15 million salary, which would allow the Yankees to shop him then.
Expect the same teams that are interested in Rios to approach the Yankees about Granderson. The Rangers, in particular, could use another left-handed power bat in the middle of their lineup after losing Josh Hamilton to the Angels this past offseason.
Hughes and Chamberlain haven't come close to living up to the lofty expectations they had early in their big league careers, partly due to injuries, but both are still only 27 years old. They're also both eligible for free agency after the season.
Although inconsistent, Hughes still flashes the ability that made him the organization's top prospect before he broke into the majors in 2007. He allowed just two earned runs on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts in an impressive eight-inning performance against the Rangers in his last start. And he's pitched very well several times this season. He's also been very bad when he's not very good.
After allowing four earned runs over his first two appearances of 2013, Chamberlain ran off 10 consecutive scoreless appearances (10 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 3 BB, 9 K, Sv, 4 holds) and appeared as though he'd play an integral role in the Yankees bullpen. Since then, he's allowed nine earned runs in 7.2 innings.
Will the real Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain please stand up? Maybe they're just inconsistent. But the upside in acquiring either is that they'll put it all together with a change of scenery. There should be plenty of interest, but teams might not be willing to give up much.