MLB Teams with the Most at Stake at the 2014 Trade Deadline
With just over a week to go before the July 31 trade deadline arrives, questions abound for nearly every team in baseball.
Are they going to be buyers or sellers?
If they're buying, are they really one impact player away from making a deep playoff run and contending for a World Series ring, which would make selling off part of the farm system worthwhile, or are they looking at their roster through rose-tinted glasses, obscuring the multiple holes that are evident to everyone except those in charge?
If they're selling, are they really ready to commit to a youth movement, dealing away longtime franchise fixtures and valuable veteran assets for an influx of youth that, while maybe not bringing immediate results, is best for the team's long-term future?
Or are they merely providing lip service to a frustrated fan base, saying that everyone's available when, in reality, these teams have no intention of making a deal, regardless of the offers that they may receive?
What about those teams that aren't quite sure what they are? Can they figure it out before it's too late, or are they destined to stand pat as the deadline arrives while teams around them are busy making moves?
For these five teams, the answers to those questions carry significant importance, both for the future of their teams and, in some cases, the future of those making these decisions.
New York Yankees
Despite missing four-fifths of their starting rotation and getting little in the way of production from two of their biggest offseason additions, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, the Yankees sit in the thick of the American League playoff race.
That they've been able to stay in contention as long as they have is no small feat—and it's going to take an even more impressive performance by general manager Brian Cashman to keep them there.
“Forgetting the trade deadline, trying to acquire starting pitching depth is important, period, whether it’s tomorrow, or by the deadline or even after the deadline,” Cashman told Andy Martino of the New York Daily News recently.
But trying to acquire pitching—and actually acquiring it—are two entirely different things.
“Oh, he’s out there. He’s really trying to make something happen," a rival general manager told Martino. "I personally don’t think he has the pieces to get a big trade done, but he’s working at it.”
The problem is that the team's best prospects are all years away from making an impact, and what's left simply isn't all that enticing to potential trade partners. With parity running through the game and rebuilding clubs nearing the end of those efforts, prospects who can help a team relatively quickly are far more valuable.
But excuses don't fly, especially in the Bronx, where any season that doesn't result in a World Series championship is considered a failure. The pressure to win is further amplified by the fact that the face of the franchise, the face of baseball for two decades, Derek Jeter, is retiring.
Nobody wants to see Mr. November walk away from the game without one final postseason appearance, but can Cashman find an appropriate balance between wanting to give Jeter the best chance to go out on top and ensuring that the team finds success in a post-Jeter era?
Philadelphia had a tremendous five-year run from 2007-11, winning five consecutive division titles and making two appearances in the World Series, winning it all in 2008. But the party is officially over.
Since the end of that run, the team has played losing baseball (196-225, .466 winning percentage) and the farm system lacks the young talent needed to build around.
General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. can no longer justify being a buyer at the trade deadline. The team's farm system is bare, devoid of anyone who can provide immediate help, and the club's core is aging, some less gracefully than others.
The good news is that the Phillies have no shortage of trade chips to play with. Forget A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez or Kyle Kendrick, as the Phillies couldn't get anything of significance in exchange for them.
The bad news is that their most valuable commodities—Marlon Byrd, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley—all have significant money left on their deals and varying degrees of no-trade clauses to either block moves or use as leverage to ensure that, say, a team option down the road is picked up.
The Phillies have deep pockets, and if the club has to pick up the bulk of some of those contracts to facilitate a deal—and bring back the kind of young, impact talent that they so desperately need—so be it.
Staying the course and sitting with largely the same roster Aug. 1 as it has now is a scenario that must be avoided at all costs.
Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik went all-in this winter, spending well over a half-billion dollars in current and future payroll to sign Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Fernando Rodney.
So far, his expenditures have paid off, with the Mariners six games above .500 (52-46) and currently occupying the second wild-card slot in the American League.
The Mariners are also chasing the two teams with the best records in baseball in the AL West race—Oakland (61-37) and Los Angeles (59-38)—and both of those clubs just went out and made big-time additions to bolster their rotation and bullpen, respectively.
Adding a right-handed bat with power, preferably one that can play a corner outfield spot, is a glaring need and why the club has been linked to a number of veteran outfield bats.
But those pesky David Price rumors just won't go away, and the latest report, from The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, is that the Mariners would be willing to trade for Price without having a long-term commitment in place to keep him in town past next year.
Price's agent, Bo McKinnis, told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal in December that his client wouldn't sign a long-term deal to stay in Seattle, so there's significant risk in trading the farm to bring him aboard.
Acknowledged or not, there is significant pressure on Zduriencik to end the club's 12-year playoff drought this season. Is mortgaging a chunk of the team's future for a season-and-a-half of Price worth it? How would ownership react if Price were to walk away after 2015, while the players they spent time and money to develop become stars for Tampa Bay?
Your move, Jack.
St. Louis Cardinals
With Jaime Garcia out for the season, Michael Wacha not yet cleared to resume throwing and Yadier Molina out until mid-September, the Cardinals could use some help.
Luckily for St. Louis, few franchises are as well-equipped to obtain those much-needed reinforcements as the Cardinals are, with one of the deepest, most talented farm systems in all the land.
General manager John Mozeliak has the ability to work out a trade for pretty much any player who becomes available, with the personnel needed to satisfy a team's asking price and, in some cases at least, the blessing of ownership to add payroll.
Tampa Bay's David Price is one of those cases, according to Cafardo, who reports in his latest column that the Cardinals would be willing to trade for Price, but only if he'd commit to a long-term deal ahead of time.
With four teams within three games of owning the top spot in the National League Central and eight teams within three games of the top spot in the National League, the Cardinals simply cannot stand pat at the deadline and see how things play out.
The opportunity is there for the Cardinals to obtain the help they need and put some significant distance between themselves and the rest of the field, both in the division and the league. It's on Mozeliak to make sure that opportunity doesn't pass them by.
Tampa Bay Rays
Before Tampa Bay general manager Andrew Friedman can decide whether to trade David Price and Ben Zobrist, he has to ask himself a simple question: Does he believe?
Does he believe that his Rays, as presently constituted, can jump over four teams in the American League East, over seven teams in the American League wild-card race, and make the franchise's fifth postseason appearance?
We've seen the Rays pull off some pretty incredible feats under the stewardship of manager Joe Maddon, but you couldn't blame even the most ardent believer for having doubts this year.
At some point, there may not be any magic left in that old wool hat.
To his credit, Freidman is both a believer and a realist, fully aware of his team's financial constraints and the need to sometimes trade away his most talented—and expensive—players, as he recently explained to Tyler Kepner of The New York Daily News:
I think, in a lot of ways, it’s our only chance for success. 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.
Tampa Bay doesn't have to trade either Price or Zobrist right now, as both are under team control for another season. But their escalating salaries—Price alone accounted for nearly 20 percent of the team's 2014 payroll—make moving both an eventual necessity.
Friedman will have ample opportunity to move one or both of his longtime stars, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he decided to wait until the winter to do so.
But other teams are likely to view a season-and-a-half of one (or both) players as being far more valuable than only one season, making now the ideal time for Friedman to strike a deal with another club.
Trade negotiations often emulate a poker game. In this particular instance, a two is far more valuable than an ace, something that the Rays need to realize—and capitalize on—while they're holding all of the cards.