With the addition of the second wild card, the MLB trade season has produced fewer fireworks in recent years. The increased number of contenders limits the number of sellers and typically the talent pool as well.
However, 2014 may prove an exception due to the number of talented teams that have surprisingly fallen out of the race. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays are both floundering under .500 and could consequently turn into sellers. Likewise, teams such as the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds have suffered debilitating injuries in the past week, leaving them on the fringes of buy or sell.
There are still two weeks until the July 31 deadline, but as the Oakland Athletics demonstrated, pouncing early can have tremendous consequences. As we hit the All-Star break, check out the latest rumors surrounding some of the biggest names on the market.
Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has held onto hopes of contending with an aging squad but has not been rewarded for his faith. Since notching a 102-win season in 2011, the Phillies have gone just 196-223 in the two-and-a-half seasons since.
Now, it appears the Phillies' veteran pitchers could be on the market. According to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, Cole Hamels could be on the block if Philly wants to cash in its biggest chip, though the front office's preference remains to keep their ace:
Hamels has four years and $90 million remaining. … The Phillies, who are operating under the organizational mantra of “we’ve got to get younger,” would rather build around Hamels than deal him, but if they do they can’t reap the rewards of the likely three good young players they’d get in return.
It's not clear who would take on his contract, but he does have an extensive no-trade clause built in. As Fox Sports' Jon Morosi reports, Hamels can only be traded to nine teams without his permission:
The 30-year-old southpaw is having another excellent season, with a 2.93 ERA. Despite a 3-5 record, Hamels' peripherals suggest that he is having one of the best years of his career. With a stellar 8.89 K/9 rate and his highest ground-ball rate since 2011, Hamels continues to prove himself as a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Philadelphia might not get to reap the rewards anymore, as they desperately need to restock a relatively barren farm system. Saying goodbye to the former World Series MVP might be a painful but necessary step towards a genuine rebuild.
The defending champions have had a disappointing season in large part due to the sudden impotence of their offense. After pacing the league in runs last year, the Red Sox rank 23rd on a park-adjusted basis, with a wRC of 91 (9 percent below league average).
At 9.5 games out of first place, Boston could easily turn into sellers. First baseman Mike Napoli could intrigue a team looking for power, and Cafardo reported in the link above that the Red Sox have received calls for the veteran slugger:
There have been trade inquiries made on Napoli, according to a major league source. He hasn’t had the year he did last year. There’s also Will Middlebrooks, who could transition to first base. Napoli would have more value if he could catch 20-30 games, according to one American League GM, but his degenerative hip condition doesn’t allow it.
Napoli's power is far down from his 23-homer season of 2013. With 10 home runs thus far, Napoli's slugging percentage is also down to .431, over 50 points worse than last year's .482 mark. Consequently, his .165 isolated power mark is the lowest of his career. For reference, that is in the same neighborhood as the likes of Brandon Crawford and Luis Valbuena.
Napoli does have an excellent track record, which could make him appealing to teams. However, as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman notes, the two-year deal he signed this winter contains a limited no-trade provision:
It's unclear how many or which teams Napoli could block. Nevertheless, as the Red Sox begin to audition the top talents of their farm system, look for veterans like Napoli to find themselves squarely on the trading block.
Pitching for Angels?
The Los Angeles Angels may have the second-best record in baseball, but the exploits of the AL West-leading A's have the Halos playing catch-up. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Angels could be close to landing their own pitching coup in a deal with the San Diego Padres:
The Los Angeles Angels, trailing the A's by 1-1/2 games, are trying to counter their division rivals by targeting both Padres All-Star closer Huston Street and right-hander Ian Kennedy, according to major league sources.
The teams have discussed Street, but their talks have yet to include Kennedy, sources say. In addition, a package deal might be difficult to complete with the Padres controlling both Street and Kennedy through 2015.
Kennedy would appear less of a pressing concern, as the Angels rotation has stabilized due to Garrett Richards' breakout and meaningful back-end contributions from Tyler Skaggs. In addition, Joe Smith has been a major bullpen savior, holding down the ninth inning after Ernesto Frieri's struggles led to his exile.
Of course, Rosenthal also notes that the Angels had the worst farm system in the league according to Baseball America's rankings. The Halos already dealt from their major league roster in swapping Frieri to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason Grilli, and they may have to conduct a similar move.
While Los Angeles is likely assured of at least a wild-card berth, Oakland sits well within striking distance. One impactful trade could save the Angels from the nerve-wracking, do-or-die play-in game.
*All stats via Fangraphs.com.