As MLB teams head out of the All-Star break, the trade deadline will serve as the make-or-break point for plenty of clubs on the fringes of playoff contention. The two weeks before the July 31 deadline should bring lots of intrigue and action as teams vacillate between buying and selling on a seemingly daily basis.
Because of the surprises in the standings throughout the league, plenty of teams that harbored postseason or even World Series aspirations at the beginning of the year could turn into sellers shortly. While it's unclear how much talent will actually move this month, the available players are enough to create more excitement than baseball fans have seen in years.
For those looking for the most recent scoops on the biggest names, check out the latest rumors surrounding players who could potentially shift the pennant race this summer.
Contenders for Price?
David Price will move out of Tampa eventually. But with the Rays' recent surge, the postseason is no longer a total improbability in the mediocre AL East, even as Tampa sits 9.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.
The fact that Price is still under team control in 2015 could allow the Rays to wait until the offseason to deal the former Cy Young Award winner. As ESPN's Jim Bowden reports, Tampa would command a haul superior to what the Cubs received for Jeff Samardzija (subscription required):
The impression teams are getting is that if the Rays manage to get back in the playoff chase, they will hang on to Price, and if they don't, they will trade him only if they get a better package than what the Chicago Cubs got for Jeff Samardzija, which eliminates a number of possible suitors.
The Rays would be looking for an elite prospect and a top prospect in exchange for Price, and there are only a few organizations that have that type of package to offer, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cubs and Minnesota Twins, and the latter two teams aren't really a fit for Price. (Both the Cubs and Twins have been adding prospects, not trading them.)
It's not unreasonable for the Rays to set their expectations high, as Price is a superior pitcher to Samardzija. Even though the latter has experienced a breakout year, Price has produced more wins above replacement (3.0 to 2.4).
Still, it will be difficult for any team to match what the Cubs received for Samardzija in Addison Russell. A package for Price would require a premium major league-ready prospect, such as the Dodgers' Joc Pederson or St. Louis' Carlos Martinez. Even so, Price might not be willing to accept a trade unless it sends him to his preferred geographic location:
southern comfort? david price names the team (other than rays) he'd like to play for. http://t.co/jbcKy3DsNz— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) July 16, 2014
Ultimately, though Fangraphs gives the Rays just a 5.8 percent chance of reaching the postseason, they also give them the best projected record from now until the end of the season. At the moment, Tampa seems likelier to hang onto the slim chance of surging into October rather than shutting down their window of contention.
Papelbon Going West?
Philadelphia Phillies' general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. held onto delusions of contending headed into the season. With his last-place Phillies at 42-53 and 10 games out of first place, however, it appears a fire sale is closer than ever to becoming reality.
One prime candidate to go would be closer Jonathan Papelbon. The 33-year-old Papelbon does not have tremendous trade value because of his age and onerous contract. However, at least one plugged-in reporter believes that the Los Angeles Dodgers could seek out Papelbon's services:
Spoke to a baseball source today who said he expects the #Dodgers to pursue Jonathan Papelbon— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) July 16, 2014
It's a bit unclear why the Dodgers would want to add Papelbon. After a rough start, closer Kenley Jansen has rebounded to post nine consecutive scoreless appearances. Moreover, his .391 BABIP and 1.87 FIP suggests some poor luck that will eventually correct itself and bring his 3.49 ERA down.
Nonetheless, Papelbon could be interested in joining the NL West leaders. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb, Papelbon recently hinted at frustration over the team's losing and a willingness to accept a trade to a contender:
Some guys want to stay on a losing team? That's mind-boggling to me. I think that's a no-brainer.
You know, I came here for a reason...and I say that because I'm with a group of guys in the bullpen that can do very special things in the future. I've been waiting for that, you know what I mean? It's fun to be a part of that, it really is. We are there finally with our bullpen. So that aspect of it would kind of [stink] to leave. But at the same time, winning is the cure-all of cure-alls.
How would acquiring Jonathan Papelbon affect the Dodgers?
Papelbon has had his best season for the Phillies, posting a 1.21 ERA thus far. However, there are numerous alarms that regression is imminent—an 85.7 percent strand rate well above his career average, an overall increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts, a .232 BABIP that is 45 points below his career average and the fact that he has yet to allow a home run even in the bandbox of Citizens Bank Park.
Still, someone is bound to take the leap based on Papelbon's experience and reputation as a big-time playoff performer after his time in Boston. The Dodgers don't have a clear need, but they could at least absorb his salary without so much as blinking.
Bullpen Help for Angels?
The Los Angeles Angels have surged to the second-best record in baseball and are just 1.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the AL West lead. With the A's having made their big splash already, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that the Angels could be readying an answer:
Street has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise grisly season for the San Diego Padres, whose historically impotent offense has the team floundering at 41-54. Though his sterling 1.09 ERA has been aided by a .195 BABIP, he has also increased his strikeouts, reduced his walks and induced worse contact. A slight correction is likely coming, but Street is not turning into a pumpkin this summer.
For his part, Street appears tired of floundering on poor teams. The 30-year-old has not pitched on a playoff team since the 2009 Colorado Rockies, and according to the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaiken, Street would welcome the opportunity to play in Anaheim:
'I would love it,' he said.
Street cited the chance to 'play with guys like Albert Pujols and Mike Trout' as well as to play for Manager Mike Scioscia. Street broke into the major leagues with the Oakland Athletics from 2005-08, when the Angels won the American League West three times in four years.
If the Angels acquire Huston Street, who wins the AL West?
The Halos have had bullpen issues for much of the season, a bullpen that ranks 27th in WAR. Even with Joe Smith's recent emergence to stabilize the closer position, Los Angeles ranks just 18th in bullpen WAR over the last 30 days. The trio of Street, Smith and Kevin Jepsen would secure the final three innings for the Angels, turning arguably their greatest weakness into a strength.
The fickle year-to-year performance of relievers makes it harder to construct lockdown bullpens at the beginning of the season, but the trade-off is that acquiring help during the season is easier. Acquiring Street and perhaps upgrading the back of the starting rotation would leave the Angels among the small handful of favorites for the World Series.
*All stats via Fangraphs.com.