Rumors and speculation are at the forefront of the Major League Baseball world this week, as the July 31, non-waiver trade deadline approaches on 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Every team, good or bad, has a specific plan that they want to execute this time of year. If you are a bad or disappointing team, you want to look toward 2014 and beyond by trading aging players and expiring contracts to replenish your system.
On the flip side, the teams that really drive the deadline are contenders. Those that have identified their flaws, carried out plenty of scouting, and preparing offers they hope will satisfy the other general managers.
If only things were that simple. Right now, what we get is a lot of whispers from around the league that will end up being nothing more than that. Bringing in a second wild-card team to each league has given more hope to franchises that otherwise would be planning their offseason moves.
As we look at all the latest news and rumors coming out, here are our thoughts on what is being said.
Cliff Lee is, without question, the biggest name out there, though the extent to which the Phillies are willing to trade remains a great mystery. There is also the question of whether a team would be able to match the sure-to-be-sky-high asking price, as well as absorb Lee's lucrative salary, to make Ruben Amaro pull the trigger.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Phillies are talking with Lee about the possibility of moving him. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News noted that an executive who talked with Amaro thinks that the Phillies will in fact move Lee, and that Boston is the most likely destination.
It is no secret that the Red Sox are in the market for starting pitching with Clay Buchholz injured, Jon Lester's inconsistency and John Lackey likely to regress a bit in the second half after not pitching all last season due to Tommy John surgery. Ryan Dempster is an average starter and Felix Doubront is merely an effective back-end starter.
However, as is often the case with a trade of this magnitude, the Red Sox would have to part with a lot of talent from their system to land Lee. Remember, he still has two guaranteed years at $25 million a season and an option year of $27.5 million in 2016 (with a $12.5 million buyout).
That price tag could drive the Phillies' price down slightly, but not too much. The Red Sox do have a lot of intriguing talent at the top of their system, led by 20-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is not far from a call-up from Triple-A.
But given how great (not good) Bogaerts' bat projects to be, his age, and contract, it is hard to imagine the Red Sox including him in a trade.
All of this is predicated on Amaro actually biting the bullet and dealing Lee, which seems skeptical at this particular moment. Things can change on a dime this time of year, but the Phillies don't seem to have a clue what they want to do right now.
Now it appears they may be willing to part with 28-year-old Jeff Samardzija. That is, if you don't mind letting Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer raid your system for anything they want, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:
[T]he Cubs are basically requesting of teams that they "take whatever they want'' when it comes to a potential Samardzija deal.
That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much.
The difference between a pitcher like Cliff Lee, who is clearly the better of the two, comes down to value. Lee is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but also carries a $50 million price tag the next two years and will be 35 on August 30.
Samardzija, on the other hand, has two more years of arbitration before he hits free agency and is six years younger than Lee. He has really evolved into a very good starting pitcher after looking like a relief-only option early in his career. His stuff and control have notably improved, though his command tends to drift in and out.
But when you are a team like the Cubs in rebuild mode, why not send out feelers on your most valuable piece to see what you can get? Especially when that player has two years of cost control left before hitting free agency.
Still, it is going to take a major miracle for Samardzija to be pitching somewhere else on August 1.
The "right return" is always funny to hear this time of year because anyone can be traded for the right return. Somehow, someway the Angels could put Mike Trout on the market and say they will deal him for the "right return. "
But it is interesting to hear this kind of rumor with a player regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball coming into the season who will have six years of club control when he eventually returns, to the minors, in 2014.
Even though Bundy is coming off the elbow surgery, there is no longer a huge stigma surrounding Tommy John. So a team may at least try to kick the tires on a deal just to see how serious the Orioles are about a potential trade.
For what it's worth, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette told MASN's Roch Kubatko that the rumor "probably came from someone who wants to trade for the player."
No one actually expects that the Orioles will move Bundy, especially now when his stock is as low as it could possibly be without him being a total bust in the big leagues. But just the idea of it being floated around is fun to think about.
It is so rare that we see a prospect of this magnitude even in trade rumors, so why not take a few moments to think about what constitutes the "right return" for Dylan Bundy?
We already touched on Cliff Lee, but the Phillies are a fascinating study this deadline season because they seemed to have a warped sense of how good they really are. Kind of.
Ruben Amaro has been reluctant to part with his most valuable assets, but now Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia reports that the team will listen to offers on anyone except Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown and Chase Utley.
Hamels just signed a six-year extension last July, and Brown is under team control through 2017, so it makes sense that the Phillies would want to hold onto them. But Utley is the puzzling piece of this whole equation, simply because he is the only really valuable asset (aside from Lee and Brown) that would net them a good to potentially great return.
We can all talk about how popular Utley is in Philadelphia, or how terrific he has been this season after looking like his career was on the downswing the last couple of years. But it is important to remember that this is a player with chronic knee problems that won't go away.
Why wouldn't you try to cash in on his high trade value right now when you aren't going to contend? Even if the Phillies extend Utley after this season on a short two- or three-year deal, is his health really worth gambling on as he enters his age-35 season in 2014?
As much as the Phillies tout that they are listening on anyone but the three mentioned, does anyone really want to take on Jonathan Papelbon's contract? Or a dreadful Carlos Ruiz? Or Ben Revere? Or Delmon Young?
There is a lot of bad talent and bad contracts on the roster that aren't movable. Chase Utley is the best piece they have, yet they reportedly refuse to even discuss him.
Coming into the year with high expectations following a second World Series in three years, the San Francisco Giants have hit the skids and will need a miracle to get back into the NL West race. Entering Tuesday, they are currently 10 games back in the division and 11.5 in the wild-card race.
With that, the team will possibly start dealing soon-to-be free agents. Ken Rosenthal reported that the Giants would "entertain trade offers" at the deadline.
Ideally, the Giants would like to keep three of their potential free agents — right fielder Hunter Pence, right-hander Tim Lincecum and left-handed reliever Javier Lopez. But at this point, club officials feel they must listen to any reasonable proposal, sources say.
Lopez will likely generate the most trade chatter in the next two days because relievers are in extremely high demand right now, especially lefties, and the cost is (usually) not as high as it would be for a starter like Lincecum or everyday player like Pence.
Lincecum is an interesting case this season, because we know he has tremendous value thanks to his ability to start down the stretch and then come out of the bullpen for multiple innings in the postseason. (Of course, that assumes a team trying to acquire him has three better starters to use in a short playoff series.)
Pence is having a solid bounce-back season with 14 home runs and a .457 slugging percentage. There are so few bats out there right now that the Giants may set a high price tag for him. But considering he would likely just be a rental for a few months, it would be a surprise to see the Giants get enough for him.
When you are a team with as many problems as the Mets, you should be willing and ready to trade any asset you have in the big leagues not named Wright, Harvey or Wheeler.
Instead, it appears the front office is more than happy to play out the season with players like Bobby Parnell and Marlon Byrd.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Parnell, who sports a 2.20 ERA and is heading into his second arbitration year in 2014, will cost an acquiring team a top prospect—a "Wheeler type."
Wheeler may be one of the best relievers in the world—he may be the next Mariano Rivera for all we know. But given his increasing salary and fact he will only throw 60 innings a season, there is no way a team is going to give up a prospect the caliber of Wheeler.
Even when the Mets acquired Wheeler, while his stuff wasn't nearly as good and refined as it is today, he was regarded as a potential No. 2 starter given his age, big fastball and power curveball. Teams aren't going to trade a top prospect for a reliever with an increasing salary.
On the Marlon Byrd front, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that there have been "nibbles" but the Mets expect things to be quiet through the deadline.
We don't know what exactly constitutes "nibbles," but the fact that there is any interest in Byrd right now should be enough for the Mets to act. This is a player who hit .210/.243/.235 last year, is going to be 36 on August 30 and is a rental player. How much do you really expect to get for that type of player?
Forget the fact that Byrd is having an outlier season with a .508 slugging percentage, he's not a star. His on-base percentage is just .324 and BABIP is an extremely high .347 compared to his career mark of .323. The fall will happen sooner than later, so take what you can get and move on.
With only a couple of key players left who aren't under team control for the next five years or making too much money given the direction they are going, the Astros may not do a lot more selling at the deadline.
The one big piece they have left is pitcher Bud Norris, who was scratched from his Monday start. Manager Bo Porter told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that trade conversations have gotten more intense lately. McTaggart also reports that the three teams in on Norris right now appear to be Arizona, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Arizona and Baltimore make sense because both teams desperately need another starter if they want to hang in their respective division races. The Orioles have already tried to patch up their rotation with Scott Feldman from Chicago, but they could use at least one more starter.
For the Diamondbacks, Brandon McCarthy is still in rehabilitation for continued shouler problems, Ian Kennedy has been a huge disappointment with a 5.22 ERA, Trevor Cahill has never taken that step forward most expected him to and is basically a No. 5 starter, and Randall Delgado has had a solid season so far but there are some warning signs to watch for (e.g. home run rate).
The Astros are likely to put a high price tag on the 28-year-old Norris, who has two more years of arbitration left before free agency and is having a solid season with a 3.93 ERA. He doesn't have swing-and-miss stuff, so his ceiling is limited and will likely hinder the package the Astros ultimately get, but those two years of control are huge for any potential suitors.
Since we mentioned Ian Kennedy on the previous page, it is only appropriate we carry him over here with talk surrounding him getting louder.
Jon Heyman reported on Tuesday that the Diamondbacks, could be inclined to move Ian Kennedy regardless of any other move they may or may not make.
Word is, the market is soft for Ian Kennedy but the Angels could be a landing spot for him with GM Jerry Dipoto being a former D-Backs exec. Peter Gammons of MLB Network first reported Arizona was shopping Kennedy and outfielder Jason Kubel.
Ken Rosenthal followed Heyman's report by saying that the Angels were "hopeful" they could land Kennedy.
Kennedy could be a good buy-low starter for a team like the Angels. He is having a disastrous season in Arizona, posting a 5.22 ERA and allowing 17 home runs in 119 innings. But if you put him in a big ballpark where his fly balls can die in the outfield, he could at least be a league-average starter.
At 48-56 entering Tuesday, the Angels need to plan for the future and Kennedy still has two years of arbitration left after this season. Pitching is the Angels' biggest area of need, and with such a weak farm system, they can't afford to go after a bigger fish. So it makes complete sense they would try to nab a struggling starter who has had success in the past.
Jake Peavy, who has a 76-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 80 innings this season was scratched from his Tuesday start against Cleveland and has been the most-talked about player on the market in the last few days.
It would seem to make sense for the White Sox, clearly in rebuilding mode and bad enough that they should start selling off aging, expensive assets as soon as they can.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, they are "asking more than the Cubs did for Garza." However, as Ken Rosenthal notes, there is a problem the White Sox are facing because they want the acquiring club to take on virtually all of the $24 million Peavy is still owed through next season.
If a team is going to take on that much salary, they are obviously going to package lesser prospects since they assume a lot of the financial burden and risk.
Then there is the matter of whether the White Sox really want to trade the 32-year-old Peavy. ESPN's Buster Olney noted on Monday that they were looking to build around him. There is a lot of posturing this time of year, so take that report with a grain of salt.
But it would certainly be in Chicago's best interest to move Peavy now because he can break down at any moment and is the most valuable starting pitcher available right now (depending on how much you believe the Phillies are entertaining offers for Lee).
UPDATE: Peavy has been traded to the Boston Red Sox, according to Matt Snyder and CBS Sports:
Peavy heads to the Red Sox, infielder Jose Iglesias goes to the Tigers and outfielder Avisail Garcia is headed to the White Sox.
More details will be passed along when they are known.
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