1 Player Every MLB Contender Should Target Before the Waiver Deadline

Ben BerkonContributor IAugust 2, 2013

1 Player Every MLB Contender Should Target Before the Waiver Deadline

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    With the 2013 non-waiver deadline now a thing of the past, teams still looking to acquire talent via the trade route now face a bit of a hurdle.

    A player can now only be traded once he has successfully gone unclaimed on waivers. And after August 31, any player acquired via trade is not eligible for the postseason.

    Teams often place players on waivers that they even intend on keeping—just to get a pulse check on their value. But for impending free agents and big-salaried veterans, especially, the waiver deadline sometimes becomes a haven for contending teams to add talent at a far reduced cost.

    Below is one player that every MLB contender should target before the waiver deadline.

     

    All statistics (through July 31) and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, respectively.

Boston Red Sox: Aramis Ramirez

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    On Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox traded Jose Iglesias, their starting third baseman, in order to acquire pitcher Jake Peavy. Even though the addition of Peavy will bolster the ailing Red Sox rotation, the subtraction of Iglesias left a big void on the left side of their infield.

    In the event that Will Middlebrooks can’t figure out his hitting woes, the Red Sox could look to acquire Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

    Ramirez has posted a pedestrian park-adjusted 112 OPS+ in 2013, but is just a season removed from a 137 OPS+. He also led the league with 50 doubles in 2012.

    The 35-year-old is a prime waivers candidate due to his big contract. The right-handed hitting Ramirez is owed another $3 million this season and will earn $20 million next season (including the $4 million buyout for 2015).

    Assuming Ramirez can prove his health in August, a trade to the Red Sox would make sense.

Tampa Bay Rays: Josh Willingham

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    The Minnesota Twins were really hoping to dangle Josh Willingham at the non-waiver trade deadline, but the uncertainty surrounding Willingham’s torn left meniscus now makes him more of a salary dump candidate than good trade bait.

    According to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com, the 34-year-old is expected to begin his rehab assignment this weekend. 

    A lot of teams might shy away from acquiring Willingham, but the Tampa Bay Rays could be interested. Even though the outfielder has only posted a park-adjusted 108 OPS+ in 2013 (over 298 plate appearances), Willingham was one of the more underrated power hitters in 2012. In fact, the right-handed slugger posted a 141 OPS+ with 35 home runs last season.

    With a $7 million salary in 2014, Willingham could be a bargain going forward—that is, however, if his torn meniscus is truly healed.

Baltimore Orioles: Adam Dunn

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    The Baltimore Orioles were busy in July, acquiring pitchers Scott Feldman, Francisco Rodriguez and most recently Bud Norris. Now that the Orioles have addressed some pitching holes, the team could use the waiver deadline to find a new designated hitter since Nolan Reimold is out for the season.

    Adam Dunn quickly comes to mind as a fit. Dunn, currently a member of the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, has jacked 25 home runs and a park-adjusted 109 OPS+ in 2013. The 33-year-old will also earn $14 million next season, making him a prime waiver deadline trade candidate. 

    Even though Dunn is no longer the hitter he once was, the veteran would still be an instant upgrade over Henry Urrutia or Steve Pearce.

    The Orioles are going for it all in 2013, so the prospect of adding additional payroll doesn’t appear to be a barrier.

Detroit Tigers: Hunter Pence

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    The Detroit Tigers were pretty nifty at the non-waiver trade deadline, scooping up reliever Jose Veras and infielder Jose Iglesias.

    The one weakness that remains, however, is a true starting left fielder.

    Andy Dirks has posted a below-average park-adjusted 78 OPS+ in 2013. And Dirks, who mostly platoons against right-handed pitching, only owns a park-adjusted 83 wRC+ against in his “stronger” matchup.

    With the San Francisco Giants quickly fading into oblivion, it wouldn’t be surprising if Hunter Pence became available. Pence will be a free agent after the season and currently earns $13.8 million.

    The right-handed hitting Pence and his 122 OPS+ in 2013 makes him an instant upgrade over Dirks.

Cleveland Indians: Joba Chamberlain

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    The Cleveland Indians don’t plan on taking on a ton of salary, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t be players before the waiver deadline.

    The New York Yankees have been looking to move Joba Chamberlain for a while, but they haven’t received any bites. But the Indians, who acquired the left-handed Marc Rzepczynski at the deadline, could still use a right-hander after demoting Vinnie Pestano. 

    Chamberlain, 27, has endured his worst major league season in 2013. The power righty has posted a 4.97 ERA (versus park-adjusted 82 ERA+), 1.69 WHIP and 2.00 K/BB over 25.1 innings. But during July, the maligned reliever witnessed an improved 1.50 ERA over six innings. 

    Joba Chamberlain will be a free agent after the season, and even though his $1.88 million salary might seem slight, he would still likely pass through waivers.

Oakland Athletics: Nick Hundley

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    The Oakland Athletics have been utilizing a very productive platoon at catcher between Derek Norris and John Jaso. Jaso, however, was recently placed on the disabled list with a concussion. With two prior concussions, Jaso's most recent bout puts his seasonand perhaps even his careerin jeopardy.

    Assuming the Athletics do not want to use Norris as a full-time starter, the team could look to acquire a catcher who hits right-handed pitching well in place of Jaso.

    That man could be San Diego Padres catcher Nick Hundley.

    Hundley has not looked like the same player since posting a park-adjusted 132 OPS+ in 2011. But the right-handed hitter does perform well against his own kind—the 29-year-old has posted a park-adjusted 119 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2013.

    Hundley is set to earn $4 million next season, and he also has a $5 million team option for 2015. Given his inflated salary, the catcher should slip through waivers.

Texas Rangers: Alex Rios

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    The Texas Rangers are likely losing Nelson Cruz for the season due to his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Unless you count Manny Ramirez, the team does not have a good internal replacement to start in right field.

    If the team were to look outside the organization, however, Alex Rios would be an ideal fit.

    The Rangers were linked to Rios for the past month, but neither them nor any other team were able to agree upon a deal for him with the Chicago White Sox. But with the Ranger’s increasing urgency to find a replacement for Cruz, perhaps the team would be willing to pay the asking price for Rios.

    Rios is earning $12.5 million this season and is set to earn another $13.5 million in 2014 (including a $1 million buyout for 2015). Rios’ park-adjusted 100 OPS+ is fine for a role player, but his contract will likely scare off other, less desperate suitors.

Atlanta Braves: Tim Lincecum

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    After losing Tim Hudson to a nasty broken ankle injury, the Atlanta Braves could be in the market for a starting pitcher.

    The Braves have solid internal options in Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood, but in the event the team would prefer a more veteran presence for the playoffs, Tim Lincecum might be a good fit.

    The San Francisco Giants’ hurler has only posted a mere 4.61 ERA (versus park-adjusted 73 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP and 2.69 K/BB in 2013, but he has posted a 4.06 ERA over the past two months. Lincecum also threw a no-hitter on July 13 against the San Diego Padres.

    Needless to say, Lincecum and his $22 million salary will easily pass through waivers. But with a career 2.47 ERA in the postseason, it might inspire the Braves to make a call.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Huston Street

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    With stud closer Jason Grilli out for the next month or so, the Pittsburgh Pirates have turned to dominant setup man Mark Melancon to close out games. Melancon has looked the part, too, pitching three scoreless save innings since being named the interim closer.

    But for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1992, the Pirates should make a move to improve their chances. While the team’s bullpen is far from a weakness, adding Huston Street would put it over the top.

    The San Diego Padres are likely placing Street on waivers, as the pitcher has posted a pedestrian 3.58 ERA (versus park-adjusted 98 ERA+) in 2013. Street, who will earn $7 million next season, should pass through waivers since teams would only want to utilize him as a setup man and not pay his closer's salary.

St. Louis Cardinals: Dan Haren

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    The Washington Nationals have underachieved immensely in 2013, despite boasting one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Being 11.5 games back in the National League East, the Nats don’t seem primed for a playoff run, which is pretty disappointing.

    But no individual on the roster has been more disappointing this season than pitcher Dan Haren.

    Haren was signed to a one-year, $13 million deal this past offseason but has been a complete dud in 2013. Despite owning a career park-adjusted 116 ERA+, the 32-year-old has tossed a 70 ERA+ in 2013. 

    The veteran starter is owed another $4 million this season, but the Nationals could attempt to salvage some of it by passing him through waivers. At a far reduced rate, the St. Louis Cardinals might see Haren as an upgrade over Joe Kelly.

    Haren, who was originally drafted by the Cardinals in 2001, could use a change of scenery, too.

    Especially in the event Chris Carpenter has a setback or if the Cardinals do not want to promote Carlos Martinez, Dan Haren could become a target.

Cincinnati Reds: John Buck

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    The Cincinnati Reds do not have many weaknesses. With Ryan Ludwick returning from injury soon and the bullpen doing just fine without its injured trio of relievers, standing pat wouldn’t be frowned upon.

    But perhaps the Reds could look to acquire a backup catcher in the event Ryan Hanigan’s bum wrist doesn’t heal properly. Even when healthy, Hanigan also hasn’t been a productive hitter in 2013, posting a mere park-adjusted 56 OPS+ over 168 plate appearances.

    The New York Mets will undoubtedly be shopping John Buck, whose $6 million salary in 2013 is far too rich for a player of his caliber. That said, the impending free agent can hit home runs (14 on the season) and has posted a superior OPS+ (87) to Hanigan’s.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Michael Young

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    For a team spending over $200 million, the Los Angeles Dodgers should not be using Juan Uribe as their starting third baseman. The Dodgers could immediately rectify that situation, though, by acquiring Michael Young from the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Young has posted a park-adjusted 106 OPS+ and an 8.7 percent walk rate in 2013. Even though his defense has been suspect at third base (-1.8 dWAR), the 36-year-old can still be a weapon on offense.

    There’s little reason for the Phillies not to dangle Young once he passes through waivers, as the third baseman will be a free agent after the season. And unlike Chase Utley, he has no ties to the franchise.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Jonathan Papelbon

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks have witnessed failed closer after failed closer in 2013. In fact, the team is currently using Brad Ziegler in the ninth inning, despite the fact that he was fourth in line for saves prior to the season. 

    At the deadline, the Diamondbacks already proved that they are looking to improve their bullpen, sending starter Ian Kennedy to the San Diego Padres for left-handed specialist Joe Thatcher. However, the team should still pursue a true closer, too.

    If Jonathan Papelbon were to become available, Snakes’ general manager Kevin Towers should consider taking on his contract. Papelbon is set to earn at least $26 million over the next two seasons, but could also see his $13 million option in 2016 become guaranteed with 55 games finished in 2015 (or 100 games finished between 2014 and 2015).

    Upwards of $39 million might be a lot of invest in a one-inning pitcher, but given the lack of solace the Diamondbacks have experienced with J.J. Putz and Heath Bell, it might be worth it.