MLB Teams with Hitting Depth to Trade Entering 2014
Despite all of the time, energy and effort put in by front offices around baseball, no roster is perfect at any moment. The best and most consistent franchises are solid across the board—pitching, offense, depth, youth and leadership—which leads to winning baseball. Others are good in one particular area but lack the necessary depth in other facets of the organization.
With the 2014 season underway, it's the teams with extraordinary depth in certain key areas that can facilitate franchise-changing trades during the season. And remember, across baseball, offense is down and pitching is on the rise.
Young, fire-throwing arms seem to emerge from farm systems across the sport on a yearly basis. Watching phenoms rise through the minors, emerge as contributors and blossom into star-caliber starters and relievers is now common place.
On the other hand, offense is scare. If teams have an extra bat or two, that surplus will be in high demand as the season progresses.
Here are five teams with great hitting depth to consider when projecting the future trade market around baseball.
Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs brass have put together one of the most impressive collections of young, burgeoning offensive talent that the organization has seen in quite some time. From spring training standout Javier Baez and outfielder Albert Almora to Cuban defector Jorge Soler and 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant, the Cubs have four of MLB.com's top prospects entering the 2014 campaign.
When removing the young arms from that list, Chicago's system is overflowing with a ridiculous percentage of baseball's top hitting prospects. Before long, they'll arrive at Wrigley Field and form the backbone of a winner.
When that day arrives, current Cubs like Starlin Castro, Nate Schierholtz and Mike Olt could be expendable for teams who are willing to exchange young, ascending pitching for legitimate offensive talent.
In the case of Castro, a slew of suitors could line up for a 24-year-old shortstop with 692 career hits already on his ledger. According to Baseball-Reference (subscription required), only 20 players in history had more hits through their respective age-23 season. Some of the names below Castro on that list of young hit kings include: Roberto Alomar, Miguel Cabrera, Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols.
New York Yankees
After spending $503 million this offseason in order to fortify a below-average offensive attack, the New York Yankees left themselves with enviable problems: too much veteran depth in the outfield and young catching prospects without a route to the majors.
First, the outfield.
In the aftermath of Robinson Cano's departure to Seattle, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman replaced the future Hall of Fame second baseman with two outfield bats: Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran.
On the surface, the additions made a good deal of sense. While neither player can hit like Cano, the combination of on-base ability and speed from Ellsbury and switch-hitting genius from Beltran could give New York a different—and possibly better—look.
Yet, with Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki all under contract, the Yankees created an outfield logjam for manager Joe Girardi. If any team is interested in Ichiro Suzuki—a former MVP regulated to pinch-hitting and defensive-replacement duty—the 40-year-old can be had on the spot.
According to MLB.com, two of the organization's top-four prospects—Gary Sanchez and John Ryan Murphy—are young catchers. Catching depth is excellent, but it is only worth it to the Yankees if one or both could make an impact in the Bronx within the next few years. With catcher Brian McCann entering the first year of a five-year, $85 million deal, that won't be the case.
Any team in need of a future starting-caliber catcher could look to the Yankees farm system to facilitate a deal.
In 2002, the Oakland Athletics—as chronicled in Moneyball—won baseball games by unearthing small advantages, building a roster using castoffs and going against the grain in order to procure enough talent on a small budget.
Twelve years later, little has changed for the competitive team in the American League West.
While the original Billy Beane Athletics were built on on-base percentage, power and patience, the current edition is paced by platoons, matchup advantages and a manager who is smart enough to execute the plan and put players in the proper positions to succeed.
Yet, for as good as Oakland has been—winners of back-to-back AL West titles—the specter of reality hangs over a franchise in an old, decaying stadium and a division with big-market teams like Texas, Los Angeles and Seattle.
If the A's struggle during the 2014 season, Beane could reverse course, shock the baseball world and tear down a team full of offensive contributors. Atop the list of desirable commodities in Oakland is shortstop Jed Lowrie.
With Addison Russell (MLB.com's No. 12 prospect) on the cusp of major league stardom, Lowrie—an impending free agent—could be expendable. As the pursuit of capable offensive performers heats up in June and July, any mention of Lowrie on the trade block would cause contenders to put together very attractive offers for the versatile 29-year-old switch hitter.
Last year, Lowrie posted a 122 OPS+ for the Athletics. That mark ranked second among shortstops who qualified for the batting title, trailing only Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
Los Angeles Dodgers
Can a team have too much talent? In Los Angeles, we could find out this summer.
For now, one of baseball's most famous and talented outfield groupings can avoid controversy (outside of the incessant day-to-day banter surrounding Yasiel Puig's personality) and take the field for manager Don Mattingly.
However, with $160-million center fielder Matt Kemp due back from the disabled list as early as April 4, the team will have to make room for a former MVP candidate that wants to play every single day, per Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times.
A healthy Kemp can undoubtedly help the Dodgers win—as can the team's current starting outfield of Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. Also, by summer, outfield prospect Joc Pederson could be ready to crack the big league roster, further complicating a delicate outfield shuffle at Chavez Ravine.
As presently constituted, the Dodgers don't have any pressing holes or needs to fill in order to contend and thrive in the NL West. However, if an injury occurs or an unsuspecting need arises in the infield, rotation or bullpen, the Dodgers could have up to five starting-caliber outfielders to use as trade bait.
General manager Ned Colletti will enter the trading season with an unprecedented area of strength.
Once upon a time, Cleveland Indians fans likely imagined the long-term left side of the infield at Progressive Field featuring Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. While that scenario could still play out at points during the 2014 season, the long-term future outlook couldn't be more different for the Indians.
After an offseason position switch, former catcher Carlos Santana is manning third base. With an MVP-caliber bat, Santana won't soon give the position back to Chisenhall.
At shortstop, Cabrera—an impending free agent—is keeping the seat warm for 20-year-old Francisco Lindor, a prospect that played in the Futures Game at the age of 18 in 2012 and landed in Double-A Akron one year later.
The idea of Chisenhall and Cabrera as chess pieces on manager Terry Francona's bench during the stretch run is intriguing, but both players could be worth more as trade chips this summer. If the Indians need a veteran starter or arm in the bullpen, a slew of teams could be intrigued by either of Cleveland's expendable assets.
Agree? Disagree? What hitters are most likely to get dealt this season?