ARODThe Rockies, one of the biggest surprises earlier in the season after a 13-4 start, have crashed down to earth with a 31-44 since. And while they're only 3.5 games out in a very competitive—or just very bad—division, it's hard to ignore the fact that they're probably just not good enough yet, especially when star players like Troy Tulowitzki and Dexter Fowler miss time with injuries.
If they can stay within five or six games while creeping back to the .500 mark as we approach the July 31st trade deadline, there's a legitimate chance that the Rockies will be "buyers". Their top priority would likely be starting pitching. If not, then they'll have a few veteran players that they can potentially shop to a contender.
The team's upcoming four-game series starting today at Dodger Stadium could be a deciding factor in which direction the Rockies go, suggests Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. If they become "sellers", Knobler says they'll listen on Michael Cuddyer, who is having a breakout season at age 34 with a .337 batting average, 15 homers and 52 runs batted in. The price, however, will be extremely high.
With another year left on his current contract, which pays him $10.5 million per season, and the versatility to play first base or a corner outfield spot, Cuddyer's value is likely at its peak. The Rockies, who have decent starting outfield depth with Charlie Blackmon, Tyler Colvin and Corey Dickerson, could take advantage and strike a deal now while they can get a pretty good package of prospects in return.
Interest in the right-handed hitting slugger, whose .894 OPS on the road will keep talks of a Coors Field-aided advantage at bay, will be limited because of the high price tag but it's worth listening to offers in hopes that a contending team will value Cuddyer enough.
And which teams might be willing to step up and offer a top prospect for one of the best hitters in baseball this season? I have no idea. But here are five that should.
Despite very little buzz in the rumor mill regarding the Orioles and non-pitcher trade candidates, I've mentioned first base/corner outfield/designated hitter types as possibilities several times over the past few weeks.
That's because their current mix of designated hitters, which includes Nolan Reimold (.612 OPS), Chris Dickerson (.706 OPS) and Brian Roberts when he's not playing second base—Alexi Casilla has played second when Roberts is the DH (.614 OPS). It's not hard to better.
Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that minor league outfielder Henry Urrutia, a 26 year-old Cuban who signed with the team last summer, is getting closer to being an option. The left-handed hitter has a .957 OPS with seven homers in 66 games between Triple-A and Double-A.
While Urrutia could be the real deal or maybe even Reimold heats up after finally staying healthy for an extended period of time, why not go all out and add a veteran with playoff experience (.845 OPS in 22 games) like Cuddyer and who appears to be in the midst of as rare slump-free seasons. He's that locked in.
It'll probably take a young starting pitcher under team control—lefty sinkerballer Zach Britton could be a good fit in Colorado—and one of their better prospects, either second baseman Jonathan Schoop or lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.
Kansas City Royals
After going all out to upgrade their rotation this offseason, the Royals find themselves with several holes in their lineup and little help on the way from the upper minors. At 43-46 and six games back in the AL Central, it would be an understatement to say that it would be a disappointment if the Royals were "sellers" instead of "buyers" later this month.
If they can get hot and gain some ground in the standings, it should be enough to avoid a fall from contention. It might also give the team enough hope where it would look to fill a lineup hole via trade. Adding the veteran Cuddyer to a lineup full of young and inconsistent hitters would likely be a major boost.
And since there is no help on the way, they'd essentially be getting a head start on the offseason by acquiring a starting right fielder now. Would they give up one of their best pitching prospects, Yordano Ventura or Kyle Zimmer, for Cuddyer? Probably not. Young shortstop phenom Adalberto Mondesi is probably off the table, as well.
But I'm guessing most everyone else, including outfield prospect Jorge Bonifacio and a starting pitcher who could help in 2014 might be good enough. Former Rockies pitcher Felipe Paulino, who was coming into his own before Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 season early, could be an intriguing option. He's under team control through 2014.
New York Yankees
It's no secret that the Yankees could use a right-handed bat in the middle of the order. Alex Rodriguez, who is expected back from hip surgery later this month, could be that guy. Or maybe the soon-to-be 38 year-old is just a shell of his former self. Or maybe he gets suspended, as has been rumored, in connection with the Biogenesis investigation.
One guy who won't be getting suspended and appears to be in the best shape of his career is Cuddyer, who is 16-for-44 in four career playoff series agains the Yankees. He'd likely bounce around the lineup in New York, logging at-bats at first base, right field and designated hitter but his consistent bat in the middle of the order would be a great asset to the 50-42 Yankees.
If they stick around in the playoff race, acquire Cuddyer, get healthy and Rodriguez avoids suspension, their lineup late in the season could look something like this ...
1 Brett Gardner, CF
2 Derek Jeter, SS
3 Robinson Cano, 2B
4 Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5 Curtis Granderson, LF
6 Alex Rodriguez, 3B
7 Curtis Granderson, LF
8 Ichiro Suzuki, RF
9 Chris Stewart, C
Amid so much talk of the Phillies being a potential "seller", they continue to hang around and are currently 45-47 and 6.5 games back of a playoff spot. Still on the "buyer" or "seller" fence, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. could be convinced to give it a run if his team can climb over the .500 mark and gain a few games in the standings over the next two weeks.
If so, Cuddyer could be the ideal trade target to take over at first base for the injured Ryan Howard, who is out 6-8 weeks after knee surgery, and then move out to right field late in the season. He'd also be the starting right fielder in 2014.
Many think the Phillies should be trying to re-stock their farm system this season but they do have a few good prospects, including lefty Jesse Biddle and third baseman Maikel Franco, who would likely entice the Rockies to give up Cuddyer.
It would be very risky to go this route but the Phillies might be willing to take the risk if they get close enough. And if they don't make the playoffs, they can at least take solace in knowing one of their offseason tasks—finding a starting right fielder—has been completed.
With 37 year-old Lance Berkman on the disabled list with a hip injury, left fielder David Murphy struggling and right fielder Nelson Cruz in line for a possible suspension in connection with the Biogenesis investigation, Cuddyer would very likely be a target for the Rangers.
At 53-38 and a 1/2 game back in the division, the Rangers appear to have bigger problems with so many injuries to their starting rotation, but they have the minor league talent to use as trade bait to fill multiple holes this month.