Updating the Top MLB Impact Player Available at Each Position
The July 31 MLB trade deadline is quickly approaching, and teams are deciding whether to buy or sell in 2013.
For those teams around the majors bent on making a playoff run, they’ll likely have to sacrifice a bit of their future to acquire an impact player right now.
Some contenders, like the Detroit Tigers, would find some bullpen solace by acquiring a top-notch closer. Other contenders are desperate to add a premier hitter.
Trade rumors come and go—especially in July—but below are the current top-impact players available at each position.
All statistics from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted and up to date through July 20, 2013.
Catcher: Dioner Navarro
Few people, perhaps including Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein, expected Dioner Navarro to become a deadline asset in 2013.
The 29-year-old catcher hasn’t garnered more than 400 plate appearances since 2009. In fact, Navarro hasn’t even been a productive player since 2008 (with a .295 batting average and park-adjusted 100 OPS+) when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.
But that hasn’t stopped Navarro from enjoying his 2013 season. The Venezuelan has hit .288 with a 136 OPS+, eight home runs and a 10.6 percent walk rate.
According to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, the cost-cutting Cubs could dangle Navarro due to his lush performance. Plus, with 26-year-old Welington Castillo in tow and Navarro set to become a free agent in 2014, there’s little reason for the Cubs not to cash in on Navarro.
Potential Destination(s): Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks
First Baseman: Justin Morneau
The lowly Minnesota Twins are expected to be sellers at the deadline this year.
Ever since enduring a concussion midway through the 2010, however, Morneau has not been the same hitter.
(* = OPS+ is a park-adjusted statistic)
In 2013, the 32-year-old Morneau has posted a .276 batting average with seven home runs (2.0 percent home run per at-bat), 6.9 percent walk rate and park-adjusted 104 OPS+.
While the first baseman is nowhere near the player he was prior to his concussion, Morneau could still provide a prospective suitor with at least a quality platoon versus right-handed pitching (park-adjusted 113 wRC+ versus right-handers in 2013, according to FanGraphs).
Unlike the Seattle Mariners’ Kendrys Morales, who earns just $5.25 million and would likely command a decent prospect, Morneau would be more of a salary dump with his $14 million contract. It's also likely the Mariners would prefer to extend a qualifying offer to Morales than settle for an insignificant package.
Potential Destination(s): New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates
Second Baseman: Chase Utley
When healthy, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is one of the most feared hitters in the major leagues.
In 286 plate appearances this season, the 34-year-old has posted a park-adjusted 131 OPS+ with 13 home runs and a 7.6 percent walk rate.
Even with Utley’s good play, the Phillies’ chances of a playoff berth are slim.
For starters, the team’s record is just 49-49. Now without Roy Halladay, Mike Adams, Ryan Howard and Ben Revere, the Phillies face an uphill battle to catch the Atlanta Braves for the division or a slew of surging teams for either wild-card spot.
If the Phillies decide to throw the towel in for 2013, Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has not “eliminated the possibility of trading Utley.”
Potential Destination(s): Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez
The Pittsburgh Pirates have recently been linked to Chicago White Sox’s outfielder Alex Rios, but asJon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported, the Pirates could also “expand the talks to include shortstop Alexei Ramirez”.
Ramirez is in the second season of the four-year, $32.5 million contract the infielder signed with the White Sox in 2011. The 31-year-old will earn $21.5 million (including a $1 million buyout in 2016) over the next two seasons, but despite a massive power drop-off in 2013, Ramirez still makes up for it with great speed and defense.
In fact, Ramirez has already matched his stolen base total from 2012 with 20 and has displayed stellar defense at shortstop (8.5 UZR/150, per FanGraphs). With both the Pirates and National League Central Division-leading St. Louis Cardinals in dire need of a shortstop, the asking price for Ramirez could swell.
Potential Destination(s): Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez
The 2013 season hasn’t been particularly kind to Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
The 35-year-old Ramirez, who is still on the disabled list with a knee injury, hasn’t produced anything close to his 2012 numbers.
After posting a .300 batting average, park-adjusted 137 OPS+, 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles in 2012, Ramirez has been pedestrian in 2013. The two-time All-Star has hit .271 with a 110 OPS+ and just five home runs over 209 plate appearances this season.
Even if Ramirez is still hobbling by the deadline, as Adam Steen of MLBTradeRumors.com points out, teams like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees could still take a chance on him given the dearth of options, including Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Michael Young.
Injury aside, the Brewers will likely have to kick in significant money, as Ramirez will earn $16 million next season and has a $4 million buyout clause for 2015.
Potential Destination(s): Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Left Field: Raul Ibanez
The 45-52 Seattle Mariners might be clinging on for dear life in the American League West, but in all likelihood, the team will once again become sellers at the 2013 deadline.
If that’s the case, Larry Stone of The Seattle Times thinks veteran Raul Ibanez would be a hot commodity.
Ibanez, 41, is on pace to post his best career year. The left-handed batter is hitting .263 with a park-adjusted 145 OPS+ and 24 home runs. Ibanez’s reasonable $2.75 million expiring contract only adds to his trade value.
The Mariners still have a few weeks to decide their 2013 fate, but in the event the team throws in the towel, expect Ibanez to be dealt.
Potential Destination(s): Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Cincinnati Reds
Center Field: David DeJesus
Even though the Chicago White Sox will be sellers at the deadline, that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily dangle a team-controllable asset like Alejandro De Aza.
Instead, the crosstown rival Chicago Cubs might possess the top center field chip in David DeJesus.
DeJesus was in the midst of a solid 2013 season, posting a .260 batting average, park-adjusted 105 OPS+ (versus career 106 OPS+) and six home runs before spraining his shoulder on June 15. If the 33-year-old comes off the DL soon, the rebuilding Cubs would instantly pawn off the left-handed hitter to the highest bidder.
Carrie Mukat of MLB.com tweeted on Monday that DeJesus could be activated by the end of the week.
Prospective suitors could also use the veteran in both right and left field, as DeJesus has played all outfield positions throughout his 11-year career.
Potential Destination(s): Philadelphia Philles, Cincinnati Reds, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers
Right Field: Marlon Byrd
When the New York Mets signed Marlon Byrd to a minor league deal in February 2013, most fans assumed Byrd would just be Triple-A depth. Surprisingly, the right-handed batter has instead emerged as the team’s best hitter not named David Wright.
Byrd has a .274 batting average with a park-adjusted 130 OPS+ and 16 home runs. The 35-year-old has also played stellar defense in right field with a 6.0 UZR/150, per FanGraphs.
Considering Byrd only earns $700,000 this season, prospective teams might prefer his bite-sized salary to that of Alex Rios’ $26 million total over the next two seasons. In terms of pure production, Byrd has been the better of the two.
(* = OPS+ is a park-adjusted statistic)
According to Jorge Castillo of The Star-Ledger, the Mets front office would have to be “overwhelmed” if it were to trade Byrd. But given the team’s rebuilding status, the Mets would be ill-advised to retain the veteran beyond the July 31 deadline.
Potential Destination(s): Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds
Starting Pitcher: Matt Garza
It seems like Matt Garza will be traded any day now.
The Chicago Cubs hurler was rumored as recently as Saturday, July 20, to be headed to the Texas Rangers for a package of prospects. But according to Jeff Wilson of The Star-Telegram, the once nearly complete negotiations have since fizzled.
Garza, 29, has a 3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 3.10 K/BB so far in 2013. As an impending free agent, the Cubs will unfortunately not be able to garner a comparable package (Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee, etc.) to the one they originally surrendered to acquire the right-hander on Jan. 8, 2011.
That said, the return for Garza—even if not with the Rangers—will still be a significant one for a pure rental player.
Potential Destination(s): Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals
Relief Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez
Four days ago, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com Insider (subscription needed) reported that the Colorado Rockies would dangle closer Rafael Betancourt at the trade deadline.
However, the right-handed reliever went back on the disabled list after already missing a month, this time with appendicitis.
With Betancourt likely off the block, teams in need of a closer will have to knock on the door elsewhere.
The availabilities of stoppers like Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Parnell, Addison Reed, Glen Perkins and Huston Street have all been discussed, but no late-inning reliever will be more available than Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez.
The Brewers inked Rodriguez to a minor league deal on April 17 and stashed the former closing great at Triple-A. Nobody expected Rodriguez to close in 2013 as incumbent John Axford and setup man Jim Henderson were far above him on the saves depth chart.
However, due to Axford’s ineffectiveness and Henderson’s subsequent hamstring injury, the 31-year-old found himself back in the spotlight.
Rodriguez has embraced his old role, posting a 1.14 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 3.25 K/BB and 10 saves. The right-hander’s final salary figure is based on games finished, but his total 2013 pay would be capped as a mere $2.5 million.
Papelbon, by comparison, will earn another $5 million-plus this year as well as an additional $26 million through 2015.
According to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com, a variety of teams have been heavily scouting K-Rod. Given the Brewers' pathetic 2013 season, the team is expected to pawn off all of its spare parts, especially K-Rod.
Potential Destination(s): Detroit Tigers, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals