MLB Trade Deadline 2014: Ranking the Top 10 Players Rumored to Be Available
Only a few times over baseball's regular season are fans from all 30 teams actively engaged with the goings-on around their team.
The days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline is one of those times.
Fans of teams out of the running want expensive veterans traded for younger talent that could help bring future success, while those who cheer for teams unsure of their contending status just want to see someone make a decision.
For fans that cheer for a contender, they want to know what moves their team has planned to plug holes on the roster. They wonder if their team will be able to acquire an impact player without having to mortgage its future.
When it comes to impact players that are available, they are few and far between.
Some players, like Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, have been the subject of speculation but lack a credible rumor to back up any claim that they are available. You won't find Tulo or other players that fall under that umbrella here.
Others, like Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (via ESPN's Buster Olney), have seen their teams say they aren't being traded.
We might not believe the Phillies completely on that one, but they say he's not on the market—so he's not on our list either.
Of the players that remain, how do we determine who is the best of the best?
While we'll take a number of factors into consideration—a player's age, contract, future production and what it might cost a contender to work out a deal—the major factor in our rankings is a player's current level of production and his potential impact on this year's playoff races.
So who is the most valuable player that could be wearing a new uniform in just over a week?
Let's find out.
It'd be a stretch to call any of the players on this list legitimate "impact players," but each could be moved at the trade deadline and would either be a low-level upgrade or serve as additional depth for a contender:
- 2B Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox
- SS Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians
- RP Neal Cotts, Texas Rangers
- OF Alejandro De Aza, Chicago White Sox
- 1B/DH Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
- IF Nick Franklin, Seattle Mariners
- RP Jim Johnson, Oakland Athletics
- SP Jake Peavy, Boston Red Sox
- C Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins
- OF Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins
- OF Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox
10: RP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 39 G, 2-1. 1.17 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 38.1 IP, 23 H, 2.1 BB/9, 7.7 K/9, 23-for-25 SV
Contract Status: $13 million salary in 2014, due as much as $26 million through 2016*
Despite the fact that it seems like he's been around forever, Jonathan Papelbon remains one of the best closers in baseball, converting saves at a high rate and effectively shutting down the opposition.
The problem is that not only does Papelbon make a ton of money, but he's not afraid to speak his mind, something that can easily cause friction among even the most tightly knit bullpen. Teams are leery of messing with chemistry as it is—introducing a firecracker like Papelbon into the mix could be disastrous.
He recently told Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News that he'd like to be traded to a contender, seemingly completely stunned by the idea some players want to stay in Philadelphia despite the team's losing record.
"Some guys want to stay on a losing team? That's mind-boggling to me. I think that's (wanting to play for a contender) a no-brainer."
Those are likely two of the major reasons that, while the Phillies would be willing to move him, Papelbon isn't generating any interest, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal recently noted.
If a contender can get past all the noise and isn't concerned with damaging clubhouse chemistry, Papelbon would be a valuable on-field addition, especially when you consider his track record of postseason success (18 G, 1.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 7 SV).
*Papelbon has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 that kicks in if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games combined between 2014-15.
9. SP A.J. Burnett, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 21 GS, 6-9. 4.08 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 136.2 IP, 128 H, 3.8 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 12 QS
Contract Status: $15 million salary in 2014, $15 million mutual option in 2015 ($1 million buyout)
While his numbers on the season aren't terrible by any means, they do a pretty good job of hiding the fact that A.J. Burnett has struggled badly with his command for much of the season.
Leading the National League in walks (58), Burnett has issued at least three free passes in nine starts, nearly half of his 21 appearances on the season, pitching to a 5.53 ERA in those starts. In games when he has command over his arsenal (three walks or fewer), his ERA drops to 3.20.
That you can't be sure which Burnett you're getting, coupled with his postseason struggles over the course of his career (8 GS, 6.37 ERA, 1.59 WHIP), should be a red flag for any contender looking to bolster its rotation, but it hasn't stopped multiple teams from expressing interest in the veteran hurler.
8. IF/OF Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats: 98 G, .272/.317/.366, 23 XBH (4 HR), 36 RBI, 2-for-3 SB
Contract Status: $11 million salary in 2014, due an additional $22 million through 2016
There hasn't been much in the way of trade chatter surrounding Arizona's Martin Prado, with only Toronto having been linked to the versatile super-utility man to fill one of the voids in its infield, per Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi.
Part of the problem is that while Prado is capable of filling holes at multiple positions (second base, third base, either corner outfield spot), he carries a hefty price tag and isn't exactly putting up earth-shattering numbers at the plate.
He's primarily played third base this year, and of the 22 players at the hot corner that qualify, Prado's .682 OPS ranks 18th.
That said, he still offers some power from the right side of the plate, and his versatility would make him a valuable addition to any contender.
7. SP Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats: 21 GS, 7-9. 3.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 129.1 IP, 120 H, 2.6 BB/9, 9.5 K/9, 11 QS
Contract Status: $6.1 million salary in 2014, one year of arbitration left
Putting up his best numbers since going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.09 WHIP for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, Ian Kennedy is one of the more intriguing starting pitchers on the market.
Third in the National League with 137 strikeouts and under team control for another season, Kennedy's numbers aren't a result of spending half his time at the pitcher friendly Petco Park. His stats on the road (3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) are significantly better than they are at home (4.18 ERA, 1.28 WHIP).
Those splits, along with his age and that he's under team control for another season, make him a valuable trade chip for the Padres, who aren't necessarily looking to move him, as noted by Rosenthal.
Yet quality starters under the age of 30 don't hit the market very often, so it wouldn't be surprising to see a contender meet what is sure to be a high asking price from San Diego to add Kennedy to the middle of its rotation.
6. OF Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 98 G, .268/.319/.483, 41 XBH (19 HR), 55 RBI, 1-for-2 SB
Contract Status: $8 million salary in 2014, $8 million salary in 2015, $8 million team/vesting option in 2016
That 36-year-old Marlon Byrd is perhaps the most productive bat available as the trade deadline draws near should tell you everything you need to know about the trade market these days.
Byrd can block trades to four teams: Kansas City, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Toronto.
Two of those teams, the Royals, per Morosi, and Mariners have been linked to Byrd already, with the veteran telling the Phillies he'd only waive his no-trade clause under certain circumstances, as The News Tribune's Bob Dutton tweeted:
"Hearing what @JimBowdenESPNxm previously reported: Marlon Byrd wants $8m option for 2016 guaranteed to waive no-trade clause to Mariners."
While the prospect of paying a then-38-year-old Byrd $8 million based on his level of production in 2014 might scare off those on his no-trade list, 25 other teams could make a play for him without having to deal with those demands.
For a team that believes it's only a bat away from making a deep playoff run, it could do far worse than adding Byrd's powerful right-handed bat to its lineup.
5. OF Alex Rios, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: 96 G, .302/.330/.435, 33 XBH (4 HR), 42 RBI, 16-for-24 SB
Contract Status: $12.5 million salary in 2014, $13.5 million team option for 2015 ($1 million buyout)
After averaging 19 home runs a season from 2006 through 2013, Alex Rios has hit only four out of the park this year, raising questions as to where his power has gone. But he's put together a solid campaign for the injury-riddled Rangers, hitting .302 with a .765 OPS and an American League-leading eight triples.
That he does it all from the right side of the plate only makes him a more attractive trade chip for the Rangers to dangle, though his current sprained ankle isn't doing anything to help facilitate a deal.
He does have a six-team no-trade clause, which allows him to block deals to Arizona, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Oakland and the New York Yankees.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported that the Royals have some interest, while noting in a different piece that the veteran outfielder would prefer to not play in Seattle, another team that wouldn't mind adding him to its outfield mix.
Despite his disappearing power, Rios' ability to hit for average and cause problems with his speed when he gets on base makes him one of the better bats available as the deadline draws near.
If he rediscovered his power, he'd become a far more valuable addition to the middle of a contender's lineup than he would be without it.
4. RP Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers
2014 Stats: 34 G, 1-3. 2.51 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 32.1 IP, 21 H, 1.1 BB/9, 11.7 K/9, 17-for-18 SV
Contract Status: $5.5 million salary in 2014, $7 million team option for 2015 ($500,000 buyout)
If there was one person in the AL West that was happy to see the Los Angeles Angels trade for Huston Street, it was Texas GM Jon Daniels, who saw the value of his own closer, Joakim Soria, increase.
San Diego landed three of Los Angeles' top prospects in the six-player deal, making the Rangers' asking price of "two to three prospects" for Soria, as previously reported by MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan and Grace Raynor, seem more than fair.
The top closer left on the market, Soria's performance, along with his reasonable salary, both this year and next, makes him one of the most valuable players still available. His arrival would immediately solidify the back end of a contender's bullpen, which helps to explain Detroit's interest, per Morosi.
3. 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Stats: 86 G, .264/.353/.404, 29 XBH (7 HR), 27 RBI, 5-for-8 SB
Contract Status: $7 million salary in 2014, $7.5 million team option in 2015 ($500,000 buyout)
Versatile, well-rounded, dependable players with a track record of success that can hit from both sides of the plate don't become available all that often—especially those that are on a team friendly deal. So Tampa Bay is sure to get a nice package of talent back in exchange for Ben Zobrist.
Problem is, the Rays aren't in any rush to decide whether they actually want to trade him.
Sources told Peter Gammons (via WEEI.com's Conor Ryan) that Seattle thought it was close to a deal for Zobrist, but the Rays pulled back. They indicated that they planned on waiting until 48 hours before the July 31 trade deadline hits to decide whether to sell off some of their veteran pieces.
Capable of providing an upgrade at second base or a corner outfield spot for a contender, Zobrist's bat has heated up after a rough start to the year. He is hitting .333 with four doubles, a home run, nine RBI and an .876 OPS in 15 July games.
2. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats: 11 GS, 4-5. 3.67 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 73.2 IP, 90 H, 1.2 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 8 QS
Contract Status: $25 million salary in 2014, due as much as $52.5 million through 2016*
Cliff Lee did little to help his trade value upon his return from a two-month stay on the disabled list with a sore elbow, allowing six earned runs and 12 hits in only 5.2 innings of work against San Francisco on Tuesday.
With only a few teams able to take on all of the money left on Lee's deal, there's a limited market for his services, a market that could be further limited by his no-trade clause. The clause, according to Morosi, allows him to block deals to 20 teams, including the New York Yankees, long considered to be one of his most ardent suitors.
Throw in his age, inauspicious return to action and concerns about his elbow moving forward, and it's clear that Philadelphia isn't going to get a package of talent that's commensurate with his ability.
That said, it may be more important to the Phillies to clear their books of his deal than it is to get equal talent in return, but Lee's going to have to put forth a better performance in his next start if there's any chance of working out a deal with a contender.
When he's healthy and at the top of his game, the four-time All-Star and 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner remains one of the elite starters in baseball, trailing only Tampa Bay's David Price in terms of potential impact on a playoff race among available arms.
If the Rays decide to hang on to Price, Lee becomes the biggest impact player available, regardless of position.
*Lee has a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016 (with a $12.5 million buyout) that becomes guaranteed if he throws 200 innings in 2015 or a combined 400 innings in 2014-15.
1. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
2014 Stats: 21 GS, 10-7. 3.06 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 155.2 IP, 141 H, 1.2 BB/9, 10.0 K/9, 15 QS
Contract Status: $14 million salary in 2014, one year of arbitration left
Since allowing five earned runs to Boston on May 24, David Price has thrown the ball as well as anyone in baseball. Over his last 10 starts, he has a 1.72 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 89 strikeouts in 78.1 innings of work.
ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that it's a three-team race to acquire the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner:
"Exec involved in Price conversations said this: 'It all comes down to which teams decides to be aggressive—Dodgers, Cardinals or Mariners.'"
There's a problem, however.
As previously noted when we looked at Ben Zobrist, the Rays aren't in any rush to trade him and won't seriously consider doing so until right before the trade deadline, per Gammons.
Additionally, most teams are going to want a long-term commitment from him before making a deal, with The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo reporting that of those three teams, only Seattle would make a deal without having an extension in place (there's no word on where the Dodgers stand on that front).
Arguably the best left-handed starter in baseball not named Clayton Kershaw, Price is as big a game-changer as you're going to find. Adding him to the front of any contender's rotation would immediately make that team one of the favorites to represent its league in the World Series.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and are current through games of July 21. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (subscription required).