Major League Baseball front offices go through stages every year. Right now, with the draft firmly behind us, all the attention shifts to the trade market. This seems like a particularly interesting market, with big-name stars potentially available and many teams in playoff contention.
However, therein lies the problem that all 30 clubs are facing before July 31, and it's been an issue since MLB implemented the second wild card in 2012: There are currently 24 teams within five games of a playoff spot.
Some of those teams certainly aren't playoff teams on paper (Minnesota, Colorado, Philadelphia), but if management or ownership wants to placate the fanbase, those teams won't sell assets to get better for the future.
Whatever direction the trade season takes, the rumors are beginning to swirl and we are going to break down the best of the best right now.
Matt Kemp The Odd-Man Out In Los Angeles?
Before the season started, one of the hot topics in baseball was what the Los Angeles Dodgers would do with their surplus of outfielders. Yasiel Puig was the only sure thing to stay, while Matt Kemp seemed like a safe bet if he could stay healthy, given how talented he is and the money invested in him.
That left Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, as well as prospect Joc Pederson—who is still in Triple-A—battling it out for one spot.
Nearly three months into the season, it appears the decision is coming into focus, even if a deal doesn't happen during the year, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal:
Kemp finally is getting hot, his disposition improving with his swing. Many in the industry, however, believe he ultimately will be moved — most likely in the offseason — due to his tempestuous relationship with some of his superiors.
The Dodgers, replicating their path to the postseason last year, are starting to play better, having won nine of their last 13 games. Kemp's been on fire in June with nine extra-base hits and a 1.020 OPS.
He's just 29 years old but is due to make $107 million through 2019. That's a lot of money to invest in a player coming off two injury-plagued seasons, not to mention what the Dodgers might ask for to move him.
Eventually, something will have to be done about L.A.'s outfield, especially if the team wants to re-sign Hanley Ramirez, and Kemp is the most talented player in the group not named Puig.
An offseason deal also allows more teams to get involved in the bidding, though the Dodgers would likely have to kick in some money to consummate any potential deal.
Carlos Quentin's No-Trade Clause May Not Be a Problem
Which player should get traded?
The San Diego Padres are one of the few teams who have fallen out of playoff contention already with a 31-42 record. They do have a lot of potentially valuable trade chips, though, from Chase Headley to Huston Street to Seth Smith.
One player who isn't in the final year of his deal but could provide a decent return if he starts hitting is Carlos Quentin. Injuries have always been a huge part of the enigmatic outfielder's game. He's been limited to just 27 games this season and is hitting a paltry .192/.302/.342.
However, it's precisely because of the injuries and poor start that Quentin could be valuable in a trade for teams in need of a power bat. He must agree to any deal thanks to a no-trade clause, though CBS Sports' Jon Heyman notes that may not be an issue under the right circumstance.
While he wouldn't necessarily approve just any AL team that may call, sources say he would be amenable to considering trades and open to approving at least some teams that may call. In other words, he wouldn't force the Padres to keep him.
Due to Quentin's track record, the Padres can't ask for a lot if they put him on the market. The best they can hope to get is financial relief—Quentin is making $9.5 million in 2014 and $8 million in 2015—along with a C-level prospect.
For a small- or mid-market team that can't make a big play on the trade market, Quentin has solid upside as a power bat if he can stay healthy.
He's got more potential to succeed in the American League, which will allow him to DH, and could start to see an uptick in performance just by getting out of Petco Park. The 31-year-old has a .729 OPS on the road, compared to a .438 mark at home this season.
Rays Not Selling Ben Zobrist
To say this season has been bad for the Tampa Bay Rays would be an understatement. They currently have the worst record and run differential in the American League, the offense ranks in the bottom 10 in batting average, slugging percentage and runs scored and no player on the roster who qualifies for the batting title has an OPS higher than .742.
Normally, this would be a clear sign that the Rays would go into sell mode before the trade deadline, but ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reports that may not be the case.
Teams that have spoken with the Rays believe (a fire sale is) extremely unlikely.
They might listen on Ben Zobrist, Jeremy Hellickson, David DeJesus or nearly anyone else. But Zobrist in particular fits this team's mold so perfectly, in every way, one executive who has spoken with the Rays' brass came away believing it would be "really, really difficult" for them to come to grips with dealing him.
Zobrist is the player highlighted in that group because he's clearly got the most value. David Price is in a class all by himself, but Stark also notes that if the front office believes contending next year is possible, the Rays won't just deal their No. 1 starter.
Getting back to Zobrist, the Rays do have motivation to sell him based on the fact he's only got one more year, a team option at $7.5 million, left on his current deal. Yet that salary and his versatility to play second base, shortstop and right field make him more appealing to this team.
There will be moves made by the Rays before July 31 because their farm system is in need of a serious overhaul soon, but the MLB team isn't so desperate for talent that a complete overhaul is necessary to get back on top in 2015.
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