MLB Trade Rumors: Fact or Fiction with the Latest Buzz at the Start of July
As you might have noticed, the 2014 Major League Baseball season has been underway for a while now. If you haven't, well, it began in March. Better get with the times, man.
But the 2014 MLB trade season? That's just now kicking into high gear.
With Tuesday being the first of July, the countdown to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is on. And these being modern times, you should plan on wading through trade rumors for the next few weeks.
We might as well get started here. With quite a few rumors already out there, let's take stock of the juicy ones with a good, old-fashioned, Internet-tastic game of "Fact or Fiction."
Should the Rays Trade David Price Later Rather Than Sooner?
With the Tampa Bay Rays at the bottom of the American League and David Price rapidly approaching free agency, everyone and their uncle is expecting the 2012 AL Cy Young winner to be dealt.
And it sounds like he will be, as Rays general manager Andrew Friedman just told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times that trading stars like Price is "our only chance for success" going forward.
If anything, the more pressing question is this: When?
The latest word is from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, who says rival executives believe Price will be dealt around the July 31 deadline. The Rays are a "thoughtful intellectual group," so they'll take their time.
But this runs contrary to an earlier report from ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required) that says rival executives believe the Rays are ready to deal right now. And this strikes me as being more sensible. It's not like the Rays have much hope of a drastic turnaround in the near future, and Price's value is as high as it's going to get.
The lefty just pitched to a 2.27 ERA in June with 54 strikeouts and five walks in five starts, lowering his season ERA to 3.63 in the process. Also, every additional start he makes for the Rays is one fewer start he could have made elsewhere. The more starts the Rays can shop, the more they can ask for in return.
Maybe a Price trade will happen later, but it's actually quite easy to see one happening sooner.
Should the Blue Jays Pass on Jeff Samardzija?
As long as there have been Jeff Samardzija trade rumors, there have been Samardzija-to-the-Blue Jays rumors.
But maybe not for long. While it was just last week that Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports was reporting on a possible deal between Toronto and the Chicago Cubs, the more recent word from Heyman is that the Jays are "much more likely" to deal for a different Cubs right-hander: Jason Hammel.
Because (as we'll discuss shortly) Hammel's a solid plan B, this is plausible. I don't endorse it, though.
Regardless of the exact prospects involved, the Jays do have the young pieces to pry Samardzija from the North Side. While you can't blame the Jays for supposedly being protective of their best prospects, now's a time when they should be looking to be aggressive.
They need a stud starting pitcher to go with Mark Buehrle, and not just to keep their lead in the AL East this year. With the Rays and Boston Red Sox taking steps back, and the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles facing iffy futures, Samardzija could definitely help Toronto win the AL East in 2015.
Of all the potential suitors out there, the Jays still look like the most sensible one.
Should Jason Hammel Really Be Such a Hot Trade Target?
You shouldn't need me to tell you that Samardzija is a hot trade target, but what if I told you Hammel is an even hotter trade target?
The 31-year-old right-hander might be just that, as Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe heard the following from an MLB source: "You could argue that Hammel is the most sought-after player, positional or pitcher, in the trade market right now."
This might come as a surprise, but it's actually sensible.
For one, Hammel is a perfectly reasonable rental option. He's only under contract for this season, and the $6 million deal he signed with the Cubs is halfway done and, thus, even cheaper.
For two, Hammel's success in 2014 isn't that fluky. The 2.98 ERA he owns matches up pretty well with what, according to FanGraphs, metrics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA say his ERA should be. That's what happens when you have a career-high strikeout-to-walk ratio and are keeping the ball in the park.
I wouldn't put Hammel on Price's or Samardzija's level, but it's not often you come across quality pitchers who are also relatively affordable on the trade market. He should be highly sought after.
Does Chase Headley Make Sense for the Blue Jays?
Let's get back to the Blue Jays, who aren't just looking for a starting pitcher. Apparently, they have their eyes on San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley too.
This is according to Jeff Sanders of U-T San Diego, who reported that the Blue Jays have discussed acquiring the 30-year-old switch-hitter.
This one is pretty easy to believe. That the Blue Jays are supposedly looking at Headley meshes with a report from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that they're looking at infielders, and third base is an ideal area to upgrade now that Juan Francisco has come down to earth (.587 OPS in June).
Headley's also a good buy-low guy. It's unfortunate that his injury issues this year and last are a part of that, but he could be in for a big rebound if he stays healthy. His .201 average is largely a product of an uncharacteristic .243 average on balls in play, which he has despite an improved line-drive rate.
So far as I've noticed, the second-base market doesn't have any buy-low options as good as Headley. Eyeing a deal for him that would move Brett Lawrie to second base full-time makes sense for the Jays.
Should Rangers Stars Yu Darvish and Adrian Beltre Be Untouchable?
The Texas Rangers have a number of guys they could sell at the deadline this year, but it sounds like the two most appealing players they have might not be available.
That's the main takeaway of a recent report from Heyman. In it, a rival GM is quoted as saying the Rangers are "open to anything" with their core veterans, but other sources suggest that third baseman Adrian Beltre and right-hander Yu Darvish are "on a different level."
Speaking with Jim Bowden on Sirius XM Radio on Monday, Texas GM Jon Daniels didn't exactly dispel such talk, saying he couldn't imagine a scenario where he'd trade either player.
Rightfully so where Darvish is concerned. He's a superb pitcher, is still only 27 years old and is under contract through 2017 at team-friendly rates. He could return a huge haul in a trade, but it's in the Rangers' interest to still have him when Prince Fielder and others are healthy in 2015 and beyond.
Beltre's situation, on the other hand, is a little different.
Daniels told Heyman earlier in June that the Rangers "haven't really considered" dealing Beltre, but they should. His .332 average and .888 OPS mean he's still valuable now, but his ongoing problems with nagging injuries and fading defensive skills are red flags—especially given that he's 35.
Beltre's under contract through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016, but the Rangers are better off trading him in the present than they are holding on to him for the future.
Verdict: Fact on Darvish, Fiction on Beltre
Is Elvis Andrus a Sensible Trade Candidate?
We're not done with the Rangers, as buried further down in Heyman's most recent report on their situation is an interesting nugget concerning shortstop Elvis Andrus.
"I think Andrus might make more sense than people realize (as a trade piece)," one GM told Heyman.
Pretty much everyone needs more offense these days, and Andrus doesn't offer that. After posting a .659 OPS in 2013, the 25-year-old is at it again with a .659 OPS in 2014. As such, any teams interested in dealing for him will be eyeing his defense and baserunning first and foremost.
And will anybody take on the eight-year, $120 million contract he signed in 2013 to get those things?
That's a tough call, especially considering that the most shortstop-needy teams out there aren't ideal fits. The Detroit Tigers don't need another big contract, and $120 million is likely too steep a price for the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates to pay for defense and baserunning.
Trading Andrus isn't the worst idea the Rangers could conjure. It's other teams trading for him that's the problem.
Should the Yankees Be Prioritizing Starting Pitching over Offense?
By their typical standards, the Yankees offense stunk in 2013. It was supposed to be better this year, but it isn't. The club's production has only risen from 4.01 runs per game to 4.03 runs per game.
But despite a report from Morosi that the Yankees are "regularly" scouting Headley, finding offense might not be their top priority. ESPN's Jayson Stark said in a recent chat session that the Yankees are "all about adding starting pitching first and everything else second."
You might disagree with this approach in light of the Yankees' run-scoring issue, but it makes sense.
While the Yankees entered the week ranked 21st in runs scored, FanGraphs had them in that same neighborhood at 20th in starters' ERA. Take Masahiro Tanaka's 2.10 ERA out of the equation, and things look even worse.
Part of the problem is that there's just not a lot of talent around Tanaka in New York's rotation, and that's in large part because of injuries to Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. Nova's gone for the year with Tommy John surgery, and it's up in the air when Pineda and Sabathia will be back. Then there's how effective they'll be when they do eventually return, of course.
The Yankees could use a bat or two, but an arm is something they need more. They have the right idea.
Should the Mets Want to Hang on to Bartolo Colon?
Elsewhere in the Big Apple, there's been some buzz about a big guy possibly being on the move.
That would be New York Mets veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon. Newsday's David Lennon, for example, wrote recently that there's "no point" in the Mets holding on to him.
The Mets will be rolling the dice if they do keep him. He's rebounded nicely with a 2.20 ERA over his last eight starts, but it's still not easy to trust that the 41-year-old Colon can keep up his late-career revival. Since the Mets are on the hook to pay him $11 million next year, they should be wary.
But other teams are going to be wary of these things too, you know. So rather than accept what would be a disappointing return, why not keep Colon and have high hopes for a rotation featuring him, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese in 2015?
Why not, indeed.
Is Middle Relief the Only Help the Tigers Need in Their Bullpen?
The Detroit Tigers let a perfectly good closer go when they let Joaquin Benoit leave as a free agent over the winter, choosing instead to replace him with a "proven closer" in Joe Nathan.
That's not working out so well, but it doesn't mean the Tigers are looking to upgrade at the deadline. Stark said in his chat that he's not getting "any sense" that the Tigers are shopping for a closer, and we have words from the club's GM too.
"Well, we do not need a closer at this point, so we would not look for that. We may need a little bit of help in the bullpen, maybe middle relief," Dave Dombrowski said on MLB Network Radio, via The Detroit News.
This isn't surprising, as it's hard to imagine a GM who's gotten burned by targeting a "proven closer" being in a hurry to find another one. Plus, guys like Joakim Soria and Huston Street aren't going to come cheap.
However, it's apparent from Nathan's 39 years, 6.37 ERA and additional poor pitching even after a mechanical tweak that nobody should be expecting too much from him. While Joba Chamberlain has had a good season, his one notable shot at ninth-inning duty didn't end well. Outside of the two of them, Detroit is pretty thin on options for high-leverage action.
Maybe the Tigers don't need a new closer, per se, but they should at least target late-inning relief help and then go from there.
Should Brandon McCarthy Really Be THAT Desirable?
For teams looking for a starting pitching rental, Hammel looks like the top option. After him, though, might be Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic says the Diamondbacks are definitely planning on selling. McCarthy himself granted to Jack Magruder of Fox Sports Arizona that it "certainly seems likely" he'll be traded.
And despite McCarthy's 2-10 record and 5.11 ERA, Rosenthal says the interest is definitely there, noting his sub-4.00 FIP and impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Rosenthal hit the nail partially on the head in referencing McCarthy's FIP and K/BB ratio. These things have since gotten better, and xFIP and SIERA like McCarthy even more than FIP does. Those two metrics like high ground-ball rates in addition to high K/BB rates, and McCarthy's working on his highest ever.
The overall indication is that the veteran right-hander could benefit from a better defense. And there are a lot of those outside Arizona, as Baseball Prospectus has the D-Backs near the bottom of MLB in defensive efficiency.
Add in McCarthy's remaining salary of $4.5 million, and you have all the ingredients of a better rental candidate than surface stats indicate.