The final week before Major League Baseball's July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline is a lot like the last hour of Titanic. Everyone is running around trying to find an answer for the immediate future, but no one has any definitive idea what will happen.
You can see the desperation more in teams that haven't been to the postseason in a long time or can sense their window of opportunity will close sooner than later.
For instance, according to Kyle Bogenschutz of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, the Detroit Tigers traded two quality arms to Texas for Joakim Soria on Wednesday:
Under normal circumstances, the Tigers would get ripped for trading two young, cost-controlled arms for a reliever, but this is a team that's been close to winning a title in recent years and is getting older with Justin Verlander looking mediocre (4.84 ERA) and Max Scherzer due to become a free agent, so it makes sense.
The point being, you see weird things happen at the deadline when desperation and the heart are more important to the decision-making process than logic.
Here are the latest rumors floating around ahead of the trade deadline that we are keeping a close eye on.
Cliff Lee's Philadelphia Departure May Be Later
While there are sure to be teams calling the Philadelphia Phillies about left-handed starter Cliff Lee, ESPN's Buster Olney reports that there's just as strong a chance clubs have a crack at him one month later during the waiver deadline period:
Rival evaluators saying July 31 trade deadline doesn't apply to Cliff Lee, because he'll clear waivers; guaranteed $48m for next 1 1/3 yrs.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2014
Lee's situation is a perfect representation of how general manager Ruben Amaro has handled the Phillies in recent years. The southpaw was talked about in trade rumors last year, but Amaro never pulled the trigger on a deal.
No one knows what the offers for Lee were, if any formal ones ever came through, but Amaro seemed to have no intentions of trading him.
Now, one year later, Lee is coming off a two-month stint on the disabled list, is giving up more than nine hits per nine innings and has his lowest average fastball velocity (89.7 mph, per FanGraphs) since 2007 with Cleveland, when he was demoted to the minors late in the year.
Given Lee's advanced age (35), declining performance and huge salary that Olney mentions, the Phillies have lost all leverage in any potential trade discussions. At least the team can hold down the fort at the bottom of the National League East with all those big-name players making a lot of money.
Matt Kemp Sparking Interest from AL Teams
After the 2011 season, Matt Kemp was the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers, finished second in NL MVP voting and signed an eight-year, $160 million contract extension.
Fast forward to 2014, coming off two injury-plagued years in 2012 and 2013, as well as a disappointing performance this season (.268/.333/.422) and an outfield logjam, it's clear something has to give.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the solution appears to be Los Angeles moving the former All-Star soon, maybe:
Some rival executives say the Dodgers want to move Kemp. The team certainly is open to trade offers. But at least one club that asked about Kemp – the Red Sox – did not get the sense that the Dodgers were eager to make a deal, according to major-league sources.
Three other American League teams – the Indians, Mariners and Rangers – also have called on Kemp, but none made an actual proposal, sources say.
Given his recent injury history, going to the AL where he can DH makes all the sense in the world.
However, therein lies the problem for Los Angeles. If the Dodgers decide to move him now, they would be getting 50 cents on the dollar, at best. No team is going to pay a premium price in prospects or pick up the $107 million he's owed from 2015-19 for a player who currently has a negative FanGraphs WAR (-0.5).
Which team needs to make a trade at the deadline?
Cleveland certainly isn't going to make a significant offer for Kemp at that price tag. Texas has no reason to make a move adding assets at the deadline because it's been decimated by injuries.
Seattle would be interesting because that lineup needs more help. As bad as Kemp's offense has been this season, he's still markedly better than the Mariners center fielders (.251/.287/.316) and left fielders (.249/.292/.352) this season.
The Mariners have a chance to make the postseason this year as the second Wild Card team, but it would be a struggle to have a deep run because their offense outside of Robinson Cano is so bad.
Kemp's not a superstar anymore but is better than anything the Mariners have. The Dodgers have to create space for someone with Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford all fighting for time at the MLB level and prospect Joc Pederson waiting for a chance in Triple-A.
Reds Looking At Marlon Byrd for Offensive Upgrade
The separation between the top four teams in the National League Central (Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) is 4.5 games, so everyone believes it has a chance to make a run in the second half.
Cincinnati, the fourth team in the division at 51-49, has the most incentive to make a move before July 31 because it's got the worst offense among contenders in the division with a .687 OPS (24th in MLB) and just 389 runs scored (26th in MLB).
If the Reds are going to make a move, Philadelphia's Marlon Byrd could be the piece coming back, according to ESPN.com's Jim Bowden:
Reds and Phillies continue trade talks regarding Marlon Byrd according to sources— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 23, 2014
Byrd's strong comeback season in 2013 at age 35 (.291/.336/.511) made him a prime candidate for regression this season, but he's continued to hit for average (.268) and power (19 homers, .478 slugging percentage).
The Reds have played a lot of this season without Joey Votto, who is currently on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury and isn't expected back until the stretch run, according to team medical director Tim Kremchek via John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
Kremchek: Hope to get Votto back for the "stretch run." Players shy away for Platelet Rich Plasma injections during season (cont)— John Fay (@johnfayman) July 12, 2014
No one knows what to expect from Votto even upon his return, so if the Reds want to make a playoff push, they need to get outside help.
The only question is how much the Phillies value Byrd. If they are as strict with him as they are other players on their roster, no one is going to pay that kind of price. If they realize their best move is to start acquiring future assets, the outfielder is going to be dealt at the deadline for the second consecutive year.
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