Latest on Garza and Nolasco
Amid heavy speculation that Matt Garza of the Cubs and Ricky Nolasco of the Marlins could be traded any day now, both pitchers made their latest starts and, fortunately for their current teams, only boosted their value after strong performances.
The 29-year-old Garza, who is regarded as the best starting pitcher on the trade market, made his fourth consecutive strong start with eight strong innings (8 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO) against the A's on Wednesday with a dozen scouts watching him. Since getting roughed up for nine earned runs in five innings versus the Reds on June 11, he has allowed just three earned runs and 19 hits in 30 innings with eight walks and 28 strikeouts.
One of the team's in attendance during Garza's start was the Red Sox, a team I consider to be in the best position to acquire the right-hander. Not only do they have the payroll flexibility to add the remainder of Garza's $10.25 million salary for 2013, but they also have several close to major league ready prospects that could interest the Cubs, including center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and starting pitchers Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo.
Evan Drellich of MassLive.com writes that the Sox haven't decided if pursuing Garza, or another top of the rotation option like Cliff Lee of the Phillies, would be worth it, according to a source. They're unlikely to have interest in a back-of-the-rotation type like Nolasco because he's probably not enough of an upgrade from what they have in-house.
Speaking of Nolasco, the 30-year-old rebounded from a rough start on June 28 when he allowed five earned runs and 11 hits in five innings against the Padres by shutting down the Braves with seven strong innings on Wednesday (7 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 0 BB, 7 K). This was Nolasco's tenth quality start on the season and the sixth time he has completed at least seven innings this season, allowing no more than three earned runs in any of those starts.
Before Nolasco's latest start, Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote that two executives in contact with the Marlins believe that the Dodgers, Rangers and Rockies were the three teams making a strongest push for the right-hander.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports says the Marlins are not only asking for quality prospects in a deal, but they'd want teams to take on most of, if not all of Nolasco's remaining salary—he's making $11.5 million in 2013. This is likely what has kept Nolasco in Miami longer than had previously been anticipated.
The Dodgers, who have already lost starters Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley for the season, are getting a solid contribution from rookie Stephen Fife (2.83 ERA in seven starts) but lefty Chris Capuano has gotten knocked around in his last two starts and could be in danger of losing his spot if the Dodgers were to acquire Nolasco (pictured).
What could give the Dodgers an edge is if they were willing to eat most of his remaining salary. The return wouldn't have to be as strong, which helps because their farm system isn't nearly as deep as the Rangers.
The Rangers and Rockies make a lot of sense, considering a potential need in the back of the rotation. Roy Oswalt has two walks and 21 strikeouts but has given up 14 earned runs and 27 hits in 16 innings since joining the Rockies' rotation. The Rangers' young duo of Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch appear to be running out of steam.
Nolasco, who has averaged 190 innings per season since 2008, would help either rotation down the stretch. He'd likely slot in as the No. 3 starter on either club right now.
Diamondbacks have trade chips to land impact player
As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reminds us, the first place Diamondbacks have some valuable trade chips in the minors and could be the most likely team in the NL West to make a significant upgrade via trade.
The question is whether they would have to mortgage their future to stay atop what appears to be a very weak division. With a 2.5 game lead over the 42-44 Rockies, they might not feel the need to trade a Tyler Skaggs (pictured) or an Archie Bradley, both considered amongst the top pitching prospects in the game. At least not yet.
The Dodgers, fueled by the arrival of rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig and the return of a healthy and productive Hanley Ramirez, have moved to within 3.5 games of Arizona after winning 10 of their last 12 games. If there's a team capable of running away with the division, it's the Dodgers. Just the threat of that happening could push general manager Kevin Towers to make a big move.
While Towers wouldn't have to give up a top prospect for some much-needed late-inning bullpen help—the D'backs have their eye on a trio of Brewers relievers, according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports—he would certainly have to give up a very good prospect or two in order to land a top-of-the-rotation starter like Garza or Yovani Gallardo of the Brewers.
The Brewers and D'backs have discussed Gallardo, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, but Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the team has no interest in moving Skaggs, who is expected to join the D'backs rotation today in place of the injured Trevor Cahill. And if they're not willing to move Skaggs in a deal for Gallardo, there's no way they'd move Bradley, who appears to have leap frogged Skaggs as the top prospect in the organization with the dominant year he's having (1.81 ERA, 99.1 IP, 76 H, 40 BB, 112 K between Double-A and High-A).
If Gallardo was pitching better in 2013—his ERA jumped to 4.78 after he allowed eight earned in three innings during his last start—the D'backs might be willing to part with Bradley or Skaggs.
For what either pitching prospect, or both, could net in a trade, Towers could ask about frontline starters that might not be openly available but could possibly be had at the right price. Ken Rosenthal reported last week that they were interested in Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, who might cost the team both Bradley and Skaggs. David Price would be another intriguing possibility if the Rays happened to fall out of contention in the next few weeks.
With limited options on the trade market to improve the top of the rotation, Bradley and Skaggs might be staying put while Towers could utilize a second tier of prospects—Triple-A shortstop Chris Owings and Triple-A third baseman Matt Davidson—to try and land another starter and/or late-inning reliever.
Chase Utley to the Dodgers?
The top player on my recent list of "Top Hitting Targets 1 Month From Deadline", Chase Utley (pictured) is giving the Phillies plenty of leverage in trade talks with his recent hitting performance. The 34 year-old, appearing healthy with his past knee problems not a factor in 2013, has his OPS up to .870 with 11 homers, 12 doubles, three triples and six stolen bases in 57 games.
Of course, that leverage could be limited by Utley's ability to block trades to 21 teams and a potential unwillingness for interested teams to take on most of, if not all of his remaining salary—his 2013 salary is $15 million.
Of the potential teams that would likely have interest, the Dodgers would appear to be best-positioned to take on the salary. And while they might not be willing to part with one of their top three prospects, in addition to taking on salary, to rent Utley for the remainder of the season, there is a possibility that they agree on a tentative deal that includes a window for Utley and the Dodgers to negotiate a contract extension.
If the two sides come to an agreement, which wouldn't be a big surprise for a few reasons, the Dodgers might be willing to include one of those aforementioned top prospects—starting pitcher Zach Lee, third baseman Corey Seager or outfielder Joc Pederson.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently wrote about the Dodgers' potential long-term interest. They'll need a second baseman after the season when Mark Ellis departs as a free agent and Utley will likely be the second best available player at the position.
While the Dodgers have widely been considered the Yankees' biggest competition for Robinson Cano next offseason, team president Stan Kasten recently spelled out the team's philosophy on age and long-term deals, indicating that they might not be as interested in the current Yankees star.
Since Utley is from the Los Angeles area and went to college at UCLA, there appears to be a perfect match. If there are no long-term concerns with his knees, a three-year, $36 million contract extension isn't out of the question.
Reliever market after Jesse Crain's injury
Although the White Sox are expecting setup man Jesse Crain (0.74 ERA, 36.2 IP, 31 H, 11 BB, 46 K, 19 holds) back from his stint on the disabled list due to a shoulder strain before the trade deadline, teams won't have much time to assess his health and will be less willing to give up a good prospect to acquire him for the remainder of the season.
In the meantime, it's a good bet that teams will shift their attention elsewhere for late-inning bullpen help. The Brewers and Marlins are reportedly receiving calls on multiple relievers with John Axford and Steve Cishek (pictured) likely to net either team the most in return.
Axford hasn't pitched in too many high-leverage situations for the Brewers since losing his closing job earlier in the season but the 30-year-old is working on a 19.2 consecutive scoreless innings streak. He's 3-0 with six holds, eight walks and twenty strikeouts over that span. Under team control through the 2016 season, he could be a late-inning upgrade for several teams around the league and possibly even a closing option if he continues to pitch well.
Like Axford, Cishek also lost his closing job earlier in the season but he's earned it back and has been dominant for the Marlins over the last few weeks. His current scoreless streak (12.1 innings) isn't as long as Axford's but he's allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out 13 since last allowing a a run on June 4. The 27-year-old, who is under team control through 2017, has also converted on all 12 save opportunities over that span.
Acquiring veteran closers Francisco Rodriguez of the Brewers or Kevin Gregg of the Cubs won't be as costly because they're free agents at season's end, but they've been just as effective and will certainly net their current teams more than they could've expected when they joined them earlier in the season.
The 31-year-old Rodriguez has allowed just two earned runs in 19.2 innings and has been perfect in his seven save chances. He's not the dominant reliever he once was but he's allowed just 14 hits and seven walks while striking out 21. The four-time All-Star will have some level of interest from just about every contending team in the league.
While Gregg hadn't been a factor in a major league bullpen for some time, he's resurrected his career with the Cubs and has pretty much been the lone bright spot in their bullpen. The 35 year-old has saved 14 games in 15 chances while posting a 1.59 ERA. He's holding opposing hitters to a .192 batting average and has struck out 31 hitters in 28.1 innings.
Expect the trade market to focus on Axford, Cishek, Gregg and Rodriguez with Crain a possibility to jump back into the mix once he returns from the disabled list. It's not worth mentioning specific teams that could have interest because just about every contender could use bullpen help down the stretch.