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Ranking the Top Players Available at the MLB Trade Deadline

Matthew SmithCorrespondent IIIJuly 28, 2014

Ranking the Top Players Available at the MLB Trade Deadline

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    Jon Lester is one of the best pitchers in the American League and happens to be the subject of many trade rumblings.
    Jon Lester is one of the best pitchers in the American League and happens to be the subject of many trade rumblings.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline will officially be upon us Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. That gives contending teams looking to upgrade their roster three days, give or take, to acquire someone to put their club over the top.

    It’s easier imagined than accomplished, however.

    Part of the problem is that some of the best available players have already been moved. See the trades of Huston Street, Jeff Samardzija, Joe Thatcher and Joakim Soria, for example.

    The other issue is that with the second wild card, more teams now believe that there is a chance they can make it to the postseason. Some of those clubs are fooling themselves, of course, but that is another column altogether.

    Either way, there are still players left who can make a difference. This list will rank, in ascending order, the best hitters, pitchers and setup men/closers still on the MLB trade block.

    In order to be considered here, a player must have been rumored to be available. We did not randomly select players; rather, the list that CBS Sports' Jon Heyman put together earlier this month was used as a launching point. 

    Here are the 22 best players left as the trade rumors continue to swirl around MLB.

Methodology

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Before moving forward, it is important to set the parameters for each player’s rank.

    For starters, there are so many pitching variables that FIP (fielding independent pitching) was the only metric used. Developed by Voros McCracken, FIP “is a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level” because it looks only “at the results a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and home runs,” per FanGraphs.

    In other words, FIP removes the defense from the equation. FanGraphs also notes that this measure “has been shown to be more effective than ERA in terms of predicting future performance and has become a mainstay in sabermetric analysis.” 

    Regarding the hitters, each player will be ranked on his ability at the plate, meaning WAR (wins above replacement) will not be used as the primary criteria. WAR takes defense, baserunning and hitting into consideration, and as a result, it's too broad. We will use wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in its place.

    The best thing about wRC+ is that it “is park and league-adjusted, allowing one to compare players who played in different years, parks, and leagues,” per FanGraphs. Now, the years factor is not necessarily relevant here, but since the players that we are discussing could be switching leagues, having a neutralized metric to rank each hitter is a must.

    WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) will be used for all relief pitchers and is courtesy of Baseball-Reference. It is a fairly common statistic, quantifying how many baserunners a pitcher allows each inning of work. And since bullpen arms are judged upon their ability to protect leads and keep men off base, there isn't a better way to generalize their value.

    Each of the ranking metrics will be in parentheses after the player's name.

    Note: Players on the disabled list will be excluded. That means guys like Michael Cuddyer and Troy Tulowitzki will not be mentioned. Also, all trades that have already happened are considered public knowledge and will not be linked to or dissected. 

Hitters

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    Marlon Byrd is easily the best hitter available.
    Marlon Byrd is easily the best hitter available.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The recent acquisitions of Kendrys Morales by the Seattle Mariners and Chase Headley by the New York Yankees are the biggest moves that have been made on the offensive front in advance of this season’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. There are many more teams that need to address the batting order, though.

    Unfortunately for those clubs, the market is light as it relates to impact bats. And when it comes to players rumored to be available, only a handful will end up being traded.

     

    7. Elvis Andrus (76 wRC+)

    Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is a mercurial ballplayer. He has dynamic speed and can be a catalyst, but he also has a propensity to strike out and doesn’t reach base often enough. He would, however, be an improvement over what the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers have on their rosters.

    To be sure, it will take a rather large package of prospects and the willingness to assume the rest of Andrus’ contract to acquire him. While a trade may be unlikely, the Rangers wouldn’t be averse to the idea, as his conditional availability was the topic of much discussion last offseason, according to multiple tweets from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

     

    6. Dayan Viciedo (85 wRC+)

    Dayan Viciedo is one of the most dynamic right-handed sluggers in MLB. That said, he is maddeningly inconsistent and has a hard time handling high fastballs.

    There is value in what Viciedo does, though. He has three home runs and 14 RBI in only 42 at-bats in high-leverage situations and is hitting .316 (25-for-79) when he takes the ball the other way, per splits over at FanGraphs. Don’t be surprised if the Chicago White Sox trade their right fielder.

     

    5. Alex Rios (101 wRC+)

    Thanks to the injury-induced struggles of the Rangers, right fielder Alex Rios may end up getting moved in the next few days.

    True, Rios isn’t hitting as many home runs this year as he has in the past, but thanks to eight triples and 21 doubles, he is still quite productive from an offensive perspective. And if he goes to a club that can offer him more protection in the lineup, there is no telling how effective he could be.

    One more thing to keep in mind is that Rios has a $13.5 million team option ($1 million buyout) for the 2015 season.

     

    4. Alexei Ramirez (99 wRC+)

    Trading Alexei Ramirez may not be part of White Sox general manager Rick Hahn’s plan this season, but if he were presented with an offer that included a top outfield prospect and a well-regarded pitcher, he might reconsider.

    After all, the club has more than one option in the minor leagues to take Ramirez's place on the 25-man roster. And even if someone wasn’t immediately promoted, it’s not like the club couldn’t make do with Leury Garcia, considering that making the playoffs is unlikely.

     

    3. Josh Willingham (120 wRC+)

    Josh Willingham has 40 hits in 183 at-bats for the Minnesota Twins, which is good for a .219 batting average. Thanks to 38 walks, 10 home runs, five doubles and a triple, however, he has a .361 on-base percentage and is slugging .421. So while the average may not be where anyone would like it to be, he is creating runs, which is what matters.

    At last check, the Yankees were interested in acquiring Willingham, per CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman. A free agent at the end of the season, the right-handed hitter would “likely end up in right field” for the Bronx Bombers, according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com.

     

    2. Ben Zobrist (122 wRC+)

    As Heyman noted in a separate article, it is “hard to see the [Tampa Bay] Rays moving” Ben Zobrist, but if they did, “he would fit any of 20 teams.”

    To be sure, there aren’t that many teams looking to add Zobrist, but he would certainly help a club like the San Francisco Giants. True, his output at the plate is down from years past, but he still brings a .767 OPS to the table. That said, don’t expect general manager Andrew Friedman to move the talented second baseman.

     

    1. Marlon Byrd (121 wRC+)

    Thanks to a myriad of circumstances, Marlon Byrd will probably get shipped off in the coming days. What team Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. trades him to is another story altogether.

    See, Byrd has a limited no-trade clause that will end up playing a factor in where he goes, and upon last report, he would acquiesce to a trade to one of those teams only if his 2016 vesting option is guaranteed, according to Jason A. Churchill of CBS Seattle. In essence, he is limiting the options of an already sluggish GM.

    As of game time Monday, the right-handed hitter had a .266/.316/.478 slash line with 20 home runs, 60 RBI and 22 doubles. Needless to say, he is the type of offensive infusion several teams need on their 25-man roster.

Starting Pitching

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    What was once a saturated market for starting pitchers is drying up following the trades of Jeff Samardzija, Jake Peavy, Jason Hammel and Brandon McCarthy.

    Not that there aren’t viable options remaining, of course. It's just that the cost to acquire one of these pitchers will be hefty.

     

    8. John Danks (4.63 FIP)

    Chicago White Sox left-hander John Danks has a significant amount of value. To be sure, he won’t fetch a top-tier prospect, but for a team like the Yankees, he would be a nice addition. To that end, the Yankees are expressing serious interest, per CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.

    On the season, the Texas native is 9-6 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 starts. He has pitched better than his raw numbers indicate, however, and appears fully recovered from shoulder surgery.

     

    7. A.J. Burnett (3.95 FIP)

    Unlike some of his colleagues, Philadelphia Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett actually has a chance of being moved. One potential landing spot for him is the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Now, the rumor that he will end up with the Pirates has been making the rounds, but this past weekend, it gained a bit of steam thanks to former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden. He told Sirius XM’s Bob Pompeani that the two teams “continue to work on a deal that will bring Burnett back to Pittsburgh and I do think that this is going to happen,” via a report from CBS Pittsburgh.

    Burnett would be a nice pickup, too. He can work deep into games and is capable of putting the rotation on his back for extended stretches.

    Any club that trades for him had better be prepared to have him around next season, however. He has a player option worth $7.5 million that he could exercise when his $15 million team option is assuredly declined.

     

    6. Bartolo Colon (3.50 FIP)

    New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon (9-8, 4.03 ERA) doesn’t know when to quit. At the age of 41, he is averaging almost seven innings per start and has only walked 19 batters in 20 starts. Simply put, Colon would be a fine addition to almost any contender, and the Mets are making every attempt to get something done.

    Andy Martino of the New York Daily News recently cited sources when he noted “that the Mets are willing to eat approximately $2 million [of] what remains on Colon’s two-year, $20 million contract ($11 million next season).”

    Considering the amount of viable starters the club has on the 25-man roster and in the minor leagues, a trade is likely.

     

    5. Ian Kennedy (3.10 FIP)

    Ian Kennedy (8-9, 3.66 ERA) is having a very nice season for the San Diego Padres. In 22 starts, he has a 1.219 WHIP with 143 strikeouts in 135.1 innings pitched. He has easily done the most with the least support in the National League. Most recently, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald noted that the Marlins have been looking at a potential acquisition.  

    One thing to keep an eye on is the fact that Kennedy was scratched from his next scheduled start due to an oblique strain, per a report from The Associated Press pulled from ESPN.com. That will certainly give some teams pause and could push any trade into August as clubs assess his health.

     

    4-3. Cliff Lee (3.06 FIP) and Cole Hamels (3.02 FIP)

    Cliff Lee (4-5, 3.78 ERA) and Cole Hamels (5-5, 2.72 ERA) will be treated as one entity here because the likelihood that either of them is moved in advance of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is remote. There are simply too many obstacles, not the least of which is their GM's stubbornness.

    As recently as last week, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that Amaro Jr. is “telling other teams” that Hamels will not be traded. And while it seems the Yankees will forever be linked to Lee, the chances of him being moved are slim. 

     

    2. David Price (2.96 FIP)

    David Price (11-7, 3.08 ERA) is the prize target on the trade market right now. After all, the Rays left-hander is having one of the best seasons of his career. Look no further than his 1.039 WHIP and 8.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio for evidence.

    The reason the Rays would part ways with such a talented pitcher is purely monetary. That is to say that his salary will soon reach levels that are untenable for the club. But with the Rays playing some of the best baseball in MLB recently, the chances that he gets moved appear to be slim.  

     

    1. Jon Lester (2.62 FIP)

    The conversation regarding Jon Lester (10-7, 2.52 ERA) has rapidly gone from his contract status with the Boston Red Sox to how well he would fit in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation. To that end, ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes cited "a club source” when he recently reported that the “Red Sox are considering making a move for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp.”

    Make no mistake, Lester will come at a steep cost for the Dodgers, but he would legitimize an argument that they are the favorites to win the World Series. The Cardinals also have the talent in the minor leagues to make a play.

    Is there a consolation for the Boston faithful? Lester has stated that returning to the only franchise he has ever known next season is his “ultimate goal,” per WEEI’s Alex Speier.

Setup Men and Closers

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    There have been a few trades already this season involving relievers. Most recently, the Detroit Tigers acquired Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers for pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel.

    Soria joined the likes of Huston Street and Joe Thatcher as established relievers who now find themselves on contending teams after dominating for underachieving clubs. And while the demand for bullpen help has diminished, solid options remain.

     

    7. LaTroy Hawkins (1.200 WHIP)

    Colorado Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins is pitching fairly well in his age-41 season. Following Sunday's action, he'd blown just one save and had issued only nine walks in 35.0 innings over the course of 37 appearances. That said, he has a 1.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 3.68 FIP, driving his value down.

    The fact that Hawkins will likely not demand very much in the way of prospects will help the Rockies move him. He would probably fit best on a club that is a few games out of the second wild-card spot and doesn’t necessarily need a closer, but could use an upgrade in the bullpen nonetheless.

     

    6. Oliver Perez (1.160 WHIP)

    After a shaky start, Oliver Perez is doing everything he can to help the Arizona Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, the club has been decimated by injuries and has received inconsistent performances from some of its key players, making this season a lost one.

    One team that could be interested in Perez is the Atlanta Braves. According to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, the Braves will be targeting “relievers, specifically the left-handed variety,” making the 32-year-old an ideal fit.

     

    5. Brad Ziegler (1.142 WHIP)

    Brad Ziegler, also on the Diamondbacks, is having a mixed bag of a season.

    On one hand, he is pitching to the tune of a 2.79 ERA over the course of 53 outings. On the other, he is issuing 3.1 walks every nine innings and has a low 2.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He would be a nice setup man to have on the roster, though.

    One thing that needs to be considered when discussing any trade involving Ziegler is his contract. He has one more year and a team option for the 2016 season, meaning that a club could control him for some time but would be responsible for a $1 million buyout should it decide to sever ties after 2015. The situation will certainly impact the way any deal is structured.   

     

    4. Chad Qualls (1.056 WHIP)

    Chad Qualls has been dealing this year for the Houston Astros. On the season, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA and has a rather nice .243 batting average against. While his production is unquestioned, the same cannot be said about his availability.

    Last Wednesday, for example, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman posited that Qualls was one of “the most likely trade pieces” on the roster. The next day, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart noted that general manager Jeff Luhnow made it pretty clear that his closer was unlikely to go anywhere at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

    We shall see what happens.

     

    3. Jonathan Papelbon (0.880 WHIP)

    Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon is having a fantastic season. If we look at raw statistics, actually, this is the best season he’s had since 2009. True, the year isn’t over, but there is no doubt that the right-hander is at the top of his game.

    With one year and $18 million remaining on his contract, he will be hard to move, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is doing what he can to strike a deal, per Heyman.

     

    2. Joaquin Benoit (0.857 WHIP)

    Joaquin Benoit is more than earning the two-year, $15.5 million deal he signed with the San Diego Padres this past offseason.

    Heading into Monday, he was 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA, 49 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 42.0 innings. Talk about dominance. There is no doubt that he would be a fine addition to a contending team’s bullpen.

     

    1. Koji Uehara (0.755 WHIP)

    Now that it appears that the Red Sox are on board with the idea of unloading talent, one has to wonder how much longer Koji Uehara will be on the roster. After all, he is one of the best closers in the American League, isn’t making all that much money and is a free agent at the end of the season.

    Even if a club isn’t looking for a lockdown closer, Uehara could serve as an excellent setup man. Expect him to be moved if the Red Sox are presented with an adequate offer. There's really not a reason to keep him around.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs and are accurate as of game time on Monday, July 28. Transaction, injury and game information are courtesy of MLB.com. Contract information was pulled from Cot's Contracts.

    Follow @MatthewSmithBR

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