MLB Trade Rumors: Analyzing Latest Buzz for Best Available Players

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price delivers in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

In the United States, July is a special month. We honor our nation's independence. We schedule vacations. We actually go outside for 15 minutes a day rather than sitting in our slovenly filth all day long. We undergo crippling defeats in the World Cup.

We also welcome Major League Baseball's midseason trade extravaganza. Over the past few seasons, teams have become more conservative. The names thrown around on the rumor mill are very often more exciting than the ones who actually get dealt.

Last season, Jake Peavy was the biggest name who flew off the market. Peavy is a very good starting pitcher—at least in most seasons—but an in-his-prime Randy Johnson being traded to Houston he is not. Teams have become increasingly smarter about locking up their promising young players to long-term contracts that buy out their first couple years of free agency. The trend is great for fans of small-market clubs and horrible for those who want July to become engulfed in anarchy.

Luckily, the anarchists will have plenty to root for over the next few weeks.

David Price, Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija and plenty other top-notch talents will hear their name bandied about—some of whom have a better-than-50 percent chance to be dealt. Price, whose contract expires after this season, might be the best player dealt midseason since CC Sabathia in 2008.

With that in mind, let's check in on Price and the latest news on the other top players who are being shopped around.


Price Being Held Until Near the Deadline

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Price has been on the block for more than a year. The Rays have dangled him in talks and spent all of last season throwing out Godfather scenarios to other teams. They knew they had one more year of control, and Price is not the type to ruin his value via poor performance.

Tampa Bay never thought its leverage would be ruined by its own futility. Even in the midst of a five-game winning streak, the Rays are 9.5 games back of Toronto in the AL East. The division isn't what it once was, but at 38-49 and boasting teamwide underperformance, the Rays are probably cooked.

Faced with the franchise's first losing season since Tampa Bay removed Devil from its nickname, Rays management has begun admitting it's time to retool—even if they won't mention Price by name.

"I think, in a lot of ways, it's our only chance for success," general manager Andrew Friedman told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. "The trades that we've made, looking back, the only reason we got good players in return is because we traded really good players. And so it's important for us to know what our weaknesses are and what our limitations are and operate within them."

In Price, the Rays know they have one of the best pitchers in baseball. He bounced back from a rocky start over the past month, giving up only 11 earned runs in his past 46.2 innings pitched. The uptick has seen Price lower his ERA to 3.50 and even his record at 7-7. His strikeout-to-walk ratio remains absurd, and he may end up as a five-win player for the first time in his career at this pace.

Whatever concerns teams had in April are gone.

The questions are now when and where rather than if. The Rays can coax teams into a bidding war here, even if it's only between a select few teams that think they can keep him long term. Sources told CBS Sports' Jon Heyman they expect Friedman and Co. to string the process out near the deadline.

While I fully expect Price to get dealt, this will also allow the Rays to assess whether their recent hot streak is a mirage or a sign of things to come. Toronto isn't setting the world on fire and is tied with Baltimore in the loss column. We're not in the heyday of the AL East when 98 wins could have sent you to the Wild Card Game.

If the streak continues, expect Price's, um, cost to keep going up as we get closer to the deadline.


Jays Probably Aren't Getting Their Hands on Cole Hamels

Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

The Blue Jays hit the ball very hard. They rank in the top 10 in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and almost every advanced measure that's publicly available. Jose Bautista is back to performing at an All-Star level after two lost seasons. Edwin Encarnacion is tied for the MLB lead with 26 home runs. Almost everyone has forgotten the steroids thing with a solidly performing Melky Cabrera.

There are good vibes north of the border—except when one of their own pitchers steps to the mound.

Taking the excellent Mark Buehrle and the mostly OK Drew Hutchison out of the equation, Toronto's pitching staff has been a mess. R.A. Dickey's such a high-variance guy you never know what's coming. J.A. Happ has gone mostly bust. Toronto starters currently rank 19th in WAR, per FanGraphs, and I'd shudder to see those numbers once Buehrle is taken out of the equation.

Point being: The Jays need pitching—badly.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

And since there is roughly an igloo's chance in hell Tampa does an intradivisional trade, Alex Anthopoulos is tasked with scouring the non-Price market.

One of the names that has continually come up is Phillies mainstay Cole Hamels. The 30-year-old lefty is again mired in a situation where his win-loss record wildly deviates from his effectiveness. Despite giving up more than three runs just three times all season and having put up a 1.23 ERA in June, Hamels sits at 2-4.

The Phillies have lost six straight and are 10.5 games out of the NL East lead. Eventually, Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to realize he built this roster on a dilapidated foundation and begin a complete overhaul. That probably begins with trading Hamels, who still has value despite a whole metric bleep-ton of money coming his way.

Amaro just probably isn't going to start that process by dealing Hamels to Toronto. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported that the Blue Jays are on Hamels' list of teams he can refuse a trade to, as stipulated in his contract:

With four more years remaining on his deal after this season, it's unlikely Hamels would waive his deal. If he were an impending free agent like Price and could be a hired gun for a few months, then perhaps a stint in Canada for a pennant run might be appealing. Doing so after years of getting comfortable in Philly and uprooting himself for almost a half-decade is a little more daunting.

Players negotiate these clauses for a reason. Even if he'd rather be competing, there's a reason Hamels wanted it put in writing he'd never take a hike to the Great White North.


Quick Updates

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 28:  Chase Headley #7 of the San Diego Padres throws the ball to second base to start a double play in the 8th inning of the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Petco Park on June 28, 2014 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent
Kent Horner/Getty Images

Yankees Scouting Headley: It says something about the nonexistent hitting market that Chase Headley might be the most attractive piece available. Headley is hitting .202/.287/.318 on the season and hasn't posted a batting average of better than .212 in any month. It's been a miserable couple of years following a breakout 2012 campaign, and no one is quite sure what to make of his ceiling at this point. But, once upon a time, he hit 31 home runs in a season. That alone makes him valuable to teams. The Yankees, who no one would confuse with the Bronx Bombers of years past, have been scouting Headley, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports. New York currently starts walking sad-face emoji Kelly Johnson at third. This makes some sense.


CHICAGO, IL - JUNE  28: Jeff Samardzija #29 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Washington Nationals in the first inning during the second game of a doubleheader on June 28, 2014 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Image
David Banks/Getty Images

Cubs Plan to Wait with Samardzija: Jeff Samardzija's decision to turn down a five-year, $85 million contract offer from the Cubs, per Morosi, puts them in a similar situation to Tampa. Theo Epstein would optimally like to keep the flame-throwing righty, but avoiding a deal leaves the Cubs receiving lousy draft-pick compensation instead of a huge prospect haul. Samardzija, who is 2-7 despite a 2.83 ERA and nearly a strikeout for every inning pitched, is a coveted asset in the prime of his career. He's going to hit free agency this winter and command a deal near the $20 million-per-season range. Knowing this, the Cubs plan on holding on as long as possible before trading him, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. Who knows? Maybe the wait will lead to one more big contract offer.


Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: