The contenders have begun to separate themselves from the pretenders at this point in the season, so the MLB trade rumors are really starting to pick up some steam.
Most teams don't start actually making the tough decisions until July, but there are no shortage of rumors early this summer—the most pertinent ones involving aces.
Aside from teams that really lack punch on offense, many clubs look to upgrade their pitching staffs at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Even a good pitching team benefits from adding talent to its ranks. With so many top arms currently on the market, the landscape of the league will surely change a bit by the deadline.
The Tampa Bay Rays are really scuffling and have several major pieces that should be appealing to other clubs. Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist are two bats that come to mind, but ace left-hander David Price will bring the biggest haul.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear that he will provide GM Brian Cashman the resources he needs to make a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline, and the Yankees won't be seeing the postseason if they don't deal for another legitimate starter who doesn't have health or decline questions. The Yankees' system is loaded, and though they would decline the inclusion of Dellin Betances, the Rays' first choice, they would give up what they have to in the minor leagues to acquire Price. The Rays have a long-term need at catcher, and Gary Sanchez would be the perfect acquisition in a Price deal.
I say that the New York Yankees could "surprisingly" be in on the action because it's rare to see division rivals make trades. This swap would clearly be a major benefit to the Yankees, so the Rays could hold off—even if a deal is appealing.
If Betances isn't involved in a trade, then Sanchez definitely has to be. A young, high-upside prospect like Greg Bird or Eric Jagielo might also make sense for Tampa Bay.
The Yankees are in definite need of pitching help. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno are question marks moving forward. Adding an established ace to go along with a budding one in Masahiro Tanaka would give the Yankees the one-two punch necessary to contend with the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles in the American League East.
Price is a guy who likely won't be moved until the last moment, as the Rays will look to acquire as much talent as possible for him.
Even though the Boston Red Sox are struggling a bit, they are always players at the trade deadline. When asked a question in his mailbag about which players the team would target, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe pointed to two names—one of which is pretty interesting:
Tell me where they are in July. If they’re in the hunt, wouldn’t shock me to see them try to obtain another starting pitcher. The Philadelphia guys – Cliff Lee (if he’s healthy) and Cole Hamels – are possibilities. If they’re not in it, the Red Sox could sell off a few veterans who may not be in their plans next season, such as Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, and Grady Sizemore.
Lee has been in trade rumors for seemingly his entire career, so it honestly isn't too surprising to hear that he's involved yet again. Teams inquiring on Lee will have to see that he is healthy before committing to a deal, however.
The inclusion of Hamels as a trade candidate is interesting. The 34-39 Philadelphia Phillies really aren't going anywhere, so the idea of dealing veterans makes sense. One tends to think of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley when it comes to selling off pieces, but the case for trading Hamels is compelling.
The left-hander is still relatively young (30), and he is signed through the 2018 season. He's 2-3 with a 2.78 ERA and a 76-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year. He has thrown at least 183 innings every season since 2007. The team acquiring the left-hander would get someone ridiculously consistent.
But just what would it take to acquire a player of Hamels' caliber?
The Red Sox might have to include Garin Cecchini in the deal, as well as a couple of quality young arms. That's a big price to pay for Hamels, but if the Red Sox think they're in it in July, it might just happen.
It would be shocking if Jeff Samardzija still called Wrigley Field home after the deadline. The Chicago Cubs are going nowhere fast (currently in last place in the NL Central), and he is one of their most attractive trade pieces. It's really a no-brainer for the Cubs brass.
It all comes down to the right package, however, and we now know at least two teams that are definitively interested in his services, per Fox Sports' Jon Morosi:
Both the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals are interesting trade candidates, as they both boast full rotations. A move for Samardzija would require a shift of another pitcher to the bullpen or another roster move to make space.
The Giants have pushed Tim Lincecum to the bullpen before, which might make sense again in 2014. He currently has a 4.90 ERA and has proven the most hittable he ever has in his career, evidenced by his 1.476 WHIP and 9.5 hits-per-nine-innings rate.
The Royals really have no space at all. James Shields, Jason Vargas and Yordano Ventura aren't going anywhere, and both Danny Duffy and Jeremy Guthrie have looked good of late. That said, space can be made for someone like Samardzija.
On a capable offensive club, Samardzija would be a candidate to start the All-Star Game for the National League. It will be interesting to see how he fares on a better team.
Note: All stats current as of Saturday, June 21 at 6 p.m. ET.