Once you hit the final stretch before Major League Baseball's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, all of those rumors that have been bantered about for weeks start coming into focus. Not all of them will happen, but it's much clearer who is and isn't available.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in recent years, the most exciting moves usually just end up being for middle relievers because teams are so reluctant to deal anything that might have future value for the chance to win now.
There are also financial ramifications that have to be taken into consideration, which is why one thing you will hear a lot this time of year is teams kicking in money to make a deal happen. Not all clubs are willing to do that, which can be the difference between making a move and standing pat.
Here are some of the deals being discussed that involve teams trading a big league asset and kicking in money to make them happen.
Phillies Working to Move Papelbon
Even though the Philadelphia Phillies have been reluctant to move any of their aging homegrown players, general manager Ruben Amaro has no problem exploring the trade market for anyone who is an "outsider."
Closer Jonathan Papelbon appears to be right at the top of the chopping block, as Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported the Phillies are willing to chip in some cash to cover the money he is owed through 2015.
The Phillies are telling teams they'd absorb a portion of the $18 million remaining on closer Jonathan Papelbon's deal if they are interested in trading for the closer.
Papelbon's market seems light, if existent, after both the Angels and Tigers filled back-end bullpen needs with Huston Street and Joakim Soria, respectively.
As Heyman mentioned, the market for closers has changed dramatically in the last week with arguably the two teams in most desperate need of back-end arms filling those holes.
It also doesn't help that Papelbon's 2015 salary ($13 million guaranteed) is markedly higher than what Huston Street ($7 million team option) and Joakim Soria ($7 million team option) are set to earn. Unless the Phillies want to kick in $6 million next season to even things out, it's hard to envision a scenario where he gets dealt.
Another problem the Phillies will have dealing Papelbon is his attitude. You love a late-inning reliever with swagger and bravado, but when you are telling reporters, like Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, that an entire organization needs to change, it's not a way to endear yourself to other coaches and general mangers.
Papelbon isn't the dominant force he once was, with declining strikeout rates in each of the last three seasons, but he's still effective at the end of games, as evidenced by his low ERA (1.91) and FIP totals (2.72) this season.
Mets Ramping Up Effort to Move Colon
Even though teams subscribe to the theory that you can never have too much pitching, especially in light of the run on Tommy John surgeries in the last year, the New York Mets know there's no point in retaining a pitcher over 40 when you aren't competing for a playoff spot.
Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports the Mets are not above kicking in money to help cover Bartolo Colon's salary through 2015 if they can find a trade partner for the right-hander.
In fact, if the Mets move Colon before the deadline, that is how it will probably go down, according to several executives briefed on the process: Right near the end, after teams know what is happening with the other three starters.
We are also told, via sources, that the Mets are willing to eat approximately $2 million what remains on Colon’s two-year, $20 million contract ($11 million next season).
Under normal circumstances, $11 million would be a lot of money for a starting pitcher. However, when you consider what a league-average starter gets on the market, that actually seems like a bargain.
Which team will be the biggest player at the deadline?
If the Mets are throwing in $2 million, bringing an acquiring team's bill down to $9 million next season, suddenly Colon looks a lot more attractive. There are limitations to his game as a 41-year-old who allows more than one hit per inning, but the ability to pepper the strike zone, not walk hitters (19 in 134 innings) and take the ball every fifth day is extremely valuable.
With Tampa Bay surging in the American League East, it's unlikely David Price gets dealt this summer. Cliff Lee just came off the disabled list, had a bad start against San Francisco on Monday and is guaranteed $25 million next year.
Colon might be the best and safest trade option for teams in need of starting pitching help down the stretch. He comes with extra value because of an affordable contract for next season, so a deadline deal would make a lot of sense.
Cleveland Wants Offense and Pitching
Unless Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis have been playing possum the first three months of the season, Cleveland's offense is going to be mediocre the rest of the year.
If that's the case, it puts more pressure on a starting rotation that ranks 26th in ERA. It's no wonder, then, that Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the team is looking to find a right-handed bat or starting pitcher:
After that, they'd like to add a No.1 starter between now and the end of August, but that seems improbable at the moment.
If they can't do that, they've been talking to teams about acquiring an outfielder to help their sagging offense and protect them against left-handers. They've talked about acquiring starters and role players.
Terry Francona's squad has a budding star in the rotation with Corey Kluber. The 28-year-old is tied for third among American League starters with 3.9 wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com, and is sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.76) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.91).
With Trevor Bauer developing nicely this season with a 3.93 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 84.2 innings, Cleveland has young, cost-controlled pitching talent to work with, so offense would be a better area to address.
Unfortunately, due to injuries that have limited Kipnis and Bourn this year and Swisher looking like a relic already at the age of 33, there's not a lot the front office can do to supplement the position players.
Cleveland's payroll is already at $84 million, its highest mark since 2001, so there's limited financial flexibility. The most likely scenario has general manager Chris Antonetti not making any moves until the offseason, when Cabrera and Justin Masterson, making a combined $19.7 million in 2014, come off the books.
Stats and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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