An Early Look at the Top 10 MLB Trade Deadline Chips
As of today, only six teams are more than five games out in their division and there is plenty of time to recover. No one is thinking about the trade deadline yet, aside from maybe the rebuilding Houston Astros, who have the worst record in the American League, and the Chicago Cubs, who have the second-worst mark in the National League.
It's not too early to speculate, however, which players will be available in July because their respective teams will have fallen out of playoff contention, and/or they are approaching free agency and are unlikely to re-sign.
Here are the top ten speculative trade chips.
10. Jason Hammel, SP, Chicago Cubs
The 2014 Cubs are very similar to the 2013 version in many ways. For one, they're not very good, and they are just biding their time until their top prospects begin to arrive in 2015.
Secondly, they have a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, who is likely to be placed on the trading block barring an injury or disastrous stint. Last year, it was Scott Feldman. This season, it's Jason Hammel.
Feldman proved to be a valuable chip in 2013 after the Cubs signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal in the hopes that he would pitch well and build up his trade value. He did just that, posting a 3.93 ERA in 15 starts before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop last July.
Hammel is in a similar situation. Coming off of a disappointing season with the Orioles, the 31-year-old also received a one-year, $6 million deal from the Cubs. And like Feldman, Hammel is quickly boosting his trade value by pitching very well.
In three starts, the right-hander has a 3.05 ERA with only 10 hits allowed in 20.2 innings pitched to go along with five walks and 16 strikeouts.
Once again, look for the Cubs to try and parlay their one-year investment into a young player or two who can help in 2015 and beyond.
9. Steve Cishek, RP, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins have opted to hold on to their closer, Steve Cishek, despite continued interest from teams that would seemingly make better use of him, simply because they have the lead much more often late in games.
Not only are the Marlins probably better than expected—they are 9-11 and only two games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves—they're trying to make good with a fan base and a star player, Giancarlo Stanton, who were up in arms after the team dealt several of their best players prior to the 2013 season.
So why would things be different in 2014?
By mid-July, the young Marlins will be well out of the playoff race and their closer will not have made as much of an impact with respect to his hefty $3.8 million salary. With hard-throwing Carter Capps (10 IP, 2 ER, 8 H, 6 BB, 14 K in Triple-A) waiting in the wings, the Marlins should feel comfortable enough to deal away Cishek, who will make a substantial salary as an arbitration-eligible player from 2015-2017.
8. Mark Buehrle, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
With a 10-9 record and only one game out of first place, the Toronto Blue Jays are hoping they can make up for an awful 2013 in which they finished in last place despite being widely considered preseason favorites in the American League.
Veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle (pictured) has been a big reason for the team's early success with a 4-0 record and 0.64 ERA in his four starts. But at 35 years of age and with a career ERA of 4.12, that won't continue. If the Jays could convince a team to take him and the remaining salary on his contract right now— he's making $18 million this season and set to make $19 million in 2015—they would.
Teams aren't likely to jump the gun this early in the season. There's a good chance, though, that if the Jays have fallen out of the race in July, they can negotiate a fair trade with a pitching-starved contender. The key to such a trade would be finding the right balance between how much of Buehrle's contract another team would take on and what that team would give up.
7. Melky Cabrera, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Melky Cabrera's actual value is a bit of a mystery. No one knows how much of his amazing 2012 season with the San Francisco Giants (.906 OPS, 11 HR, 25 2B, 10 3B, 13 SB) was due to his usage of performance-enhancing drugs—he was suspended 50 games at the end of that season. And no one knows how much of his struggles during his Toronto Blue Jays debut in 2013 were due to a season-ending ankle injury in early August and had a benign tumor removed from his spine in September.
But if the first 19 games of this season are any indication, he's closer to the 2012 version than 2013.
Off to a blazing .345 start with four homers, five doubles and three stolen bases, the 29-year-old Cabrera is setting himself up for a nice payday after the season when he becomes a free agent. If they fall out of contention, the Jays will try to benefit from his resurgence by dealing him to a team in need of outfield help.
6. Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres
With the season underway, soon-to-be free agent Chase Headley and the San Diego Padres might be done trying to negotiate a long-term deal.
If he and his agent were measuring his value off of his MVP-caliber half-season in late 2012, the Padres weren't going to pay anywhere close to the kind of money he'd cost. In that three-month run, he posted a .978 OPS with 23 home runs and 73 runs batted in. But in all likelihood, the Padres wanted to give him a deal based on what he has been aside from 2012, a slightly-above average third baseman.
If Headley wants to prove he is worthy of a superstar contract, he isn't doing himself any favors with his early-season performance. Through 16 games, the 29-year-old switch-hitter has a .521 OPS with one homer and 17 strikeouts.
He also isn't doing the Padres any favors since they'll likely begin to gauge interest in Headley the minute they fall far enough out of the playoff race.
5. Alexei Ramirez, SS, Chicago White Sox
In their quest to lower their payroll and the average age of their roster, the Chicago White Sox traded Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain in separate deals last summer. It's likely that they were also shopping shortstop Alexei Ramirez, but his trade value couldn't have been very high given his escalating salary and second consecutive poor season at the plate (.693 OPS, 6 HR).
A different story could be shaping up in 2014, though, with the 32-year-old off to a terrific start (.963 OPS, 4 HR, 5 2B, 4 SB). The White Sox could get a nice return for Ramirez if he can continue producing over the next two months.
The Sox also have sufficient middle infield depth with youngsters Marcus Semien, Leury Garcia and Carlos Garcia all capable of holding down the job until top prospect Tim Anderson, the 17th pick in the 2013 draft who currently has an .824 OPS in High-A, is ready to take over.
4. Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners were hoping that a healthy Corey Hart would be putting up big numbers while competing for a playoff spot down the stretch. The way things are going, Hart is more likely to be doing it on a team other than the M's, who could look to trade the 32-year-old if they fall out of contention a few months from now.
Off to a 7-11 start and in the midst of a six-game losing streak with four starting pitchers currently on the disabled list, the M's might find themselves in too big of a hole once they're back to full health.
They weren't in a selling mood last July despite being non-contenders, but they didn't have a healthy Corey Hart either. He would be a prime trade candidate in July for teams hoping to add an impact bat to their lineup.
After signing a one-year deal that guarantees him $6 million with a chance to make another $4.65 million in incentives, Hart is beginning to resemble the hitter who posted an .830 OPS for the Milwaukee Brewers between 2007-2012.
With four consecutive two-hit games coming into Monday, which included a homer and two doubles, Hart had his OPS up to .891 and his homer total up to four. He's also started two games in right field and one at first base after being relegated to designated hitter duty over the first 10 games.
3. Justin Masterson, SP, Cleveland Indians
Despite being one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last four months of the 2013 season, Ubaldo Jimenez left as a free agent without much of an effort by the Cleveland Indians to re-sign him.
Will staff ace Justin Masterson (pictured), who is set to become a free agent at season's end, suffer the same fate?
It certainly appears to be headed in that direction as the two sides were unable to make much progress on a contract extension in the offseason. In addition, because the team failed to find a replacement for Jimenez, it might not be good enough to remain in contention through July.
After getting shelled in back-to-back starts, the 29-year-old Masterson got back on track with a quality outing last Friday (6.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 9 K). Without Jimenez around to help carry the load, Masterson could feel extra pressure, which could be eased with a change of scenery later this summer.
Teams looking for a solid No. 2 or 3 starter and not looking to give up their No. 1 prospect, could find a match with the Tribe.
2. Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs
While the the Chicago Cubs were shopping starter Matt Garza last June, he did his part to ensure his value would be at its peak by the time he departed. From June 16 until he was dealt in mid-July, he was 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA. The result was a terrific package of prospects acquired from the Texas Rangers.
Now Jeff Samardzija is doing his part with four terrific starts to begin the season, all seven-inning stints with no more than two earned runs allowed. The Cubs seem to want to get a contract extension done with their 29-year-old ace, who is under team control through the 2015 season. But that was also their stance with Garza.
The likelihood isn't as great that they trade Samardzija, mostly because of the extra season of team control. But the Cubs could decide that his value will never be higher and cash in on a terrific package of young talent one last time before they're ready to compete again next season.
1. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins have one of the premier sluggers in the game in Giancarlo Stanton. He's only 24 years old, under team control through 2016 and hits the kind of home runs that fans pay good money to watch. Sending him packing in a trade would further hinder the team's ability to bring fans to a stadium that was 29th in home attendance last season in only its second year of existence and is 27th this season with 21,865 fans per game.
From a baseball standpoint, however, it makes sense to at least consider a trade, which would bring back a massive return of talent.
This is an organization with a lot of good young talent on the way and a few others—Jose Fernandez, Nate Eovaldi, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna—who have already arrived. But realistically, they might not be ready to compete for a playoff spot until 2016, the last year before Stanton can bolt as a free agent.
Trading him now, while the team is rebuilding and not drawing a lot of fans anyway, for two or three elite prospects who can be part of the team's bright future would be a highly unpopular move. But it could be one that would pay off greatly down the road.