Baseball's opening month provided a glimpse into the future, one in which pretenders are contenders, contenders are exposed as frauds, and the sobering reality that much of what we thought we knew about how the trade market was going to shape up heading into the 2014 season...we can forget.
It's not quite as mind-blowing a development as learning that up is really down or that an apple is really a banana, but it's troubling, nonetheless. For uncertainty makes most people uneasy, especially when it comes to their favorite team.
Not everything we thought we knew is wrong, of course.
The Chicago Cubs are still going to hold their annual auction of starting pitchers as the trade deadline nears. And the big-market clubs will be linked to nearly any player whose name comes across the rumor mill, especially those individuals with significant money left on their deals—and others who have become too expensive for their current clubs.
Like Tampa Bay's David Price.
The overwhelming assumption heading into the season was that the Price sweepstakes wasn't going to get underway until the winter, but Tampa Bay's rotation has been decimated by injuries, and those left standing simply haven't been good, with the group ranking 26th in ERA (4.55) and 22nd in WHIP (1.38).
Those numbers alone are mind-blowing, but when you throw in that the team's seemingly never-ending pipeline of pitching talent has suddenly run dry and that the Rays could just as easily win the AL East as they could finish in last place, well, it's enough to wonder if we're living in some sort of alternate reality.
As a result, two of the best in the business—ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required) and the legendary Peter Gammons—believe the Rays may try to maximize Price's value at the July 31 trade deadline so that they can restock the system on the fly.
Olney, in a recent insiders-only column, opined that the Los Angeles Dodgers could make a play for Price, while Gammons pointed to another team in the NL West—the San Francisco Giants—while a guest with Christopher Russo on MLB Network's High Heat:
Whether you buy into either school of thought, that we are even talking about the possibility of an in-season trade involving Price is a major departure from how we viewed the trade market only two months ago.
As for the Dodgers, who are built to win now, it was widely assumed that should a need arise for them during the regular season, that any number of the team's top prospects could find themselves being used as trade chips to acquire those reinforcements.
But according to Gammons, the cream of Los Angeles' farm system—outfielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias—are off limits, making a deal for Price (or any other elite-level player) unlikely.
Speaking of prospects, Oscar Taveras just finished up 16-game hitting streak for the Memphis Redbirds, St. Louis' Triple-A affiliate, during which he hit .333 with a .533 slugging percentage, only increasing the calls from fans and media alike for the disappointing Cardinals to promote him.
By comparison, the five players that the Cardinals have used in both center field and right field this season have combined to hit only .205 with a .329 slugging percentage. Simply put, the Cardinals can't keep Taveras down on the farm for much longer, and once he arrives, it'll be for good.
Adding Taveras to the mix is going to push one of the team's current outfielders out of the picture, whether it be the Peter Bourjos/Jon Jay combination in center field or Allen Craig in right.
While there have been no signals that the team is even considering a Craig deal down the road, between Taveras' impending arrival and the fast track to the majors that fellow minor league outfielder Stephen Piscotty is on, St. Louis simply doesn't have enough room for all of that talent.
Of the three outfielders that stand to be displaced, Craig, with a past track record of success, the ability to play right field and first base, and a team-friendly deal, has the most value. A contender in need of an upgrade at first base and a boost to its lineup—like the New York Mets—could have interest.
That's right folks, the Mets, despite getting hardly any production out of the team's biggest offseason acquisition, Curtis Granderson, enter May with a winning record, only two games back of Atlanta for the division lead.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson recently told Tyler Kepner of the The New York Times that he's not only optimistic about his team's chances the rest of the way, but that he's in a position to make an impact acquisition—even if that means taking on a hefty contract:
The fact that we have the record we have, and the month we've had, without the offensive contributions, gives me optimism as opposed to pessimism. We have the authority to go higher (in payroll) if it’s necessary at the trade deadline. I’m not worried about that at all.
Despite posting halfway decent numbers, Lucas Duda isn't the long-term answer at first base, while shortstop Ruben Tejada is a major liability, both at the plate and in the field.
If the team doesn't look to upgrade first base, finding a replacement for Tejada is a must—and that player might be found in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks are a complete disaster and the only preseason contender that has completely fallen out of the playoff race after the season's first month.
Nothing has gone right for the D-Backs, who at this point have only two players that should be viewed as untouchable—first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and prized pitching prospect Archie Bradley.
Everyone else on that roster should be viewed as a possible trade chip—which could make Arizona GM Kevin Towers the unofficial czar of the MLB trade market as the non-waiver trade July trade deadline draws near, something that wasn't lost on ESPN's Jim Bowden in a recent column (subscription required).
Think about the players that Towers could shop around the game to rebuild on the fly: second baseman Aaron Hill, catcher Miguel Montero, shortstops Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, the versatile Martin Prado and a slew of veteran pitchers, including Bronson Arroyo, Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy.
Granted, none of these players has shown much in 2014, but they all have track records of success (with the exception of youngsters Gregorius and Owings)—and GMs for contending clubs may believe that a change of scenery is all some of these players need to get back on track.
Now yes, much of this is speculation based loosely on rumor. And yes, it's early and we may be singing a different tune about many of these teams and players after the second month of the season has run its course.
But if April is any indication, this year's trade market looks like it could be far more active—and full of far more intriguing players—than anyone anticipated.