MLB Trade Rumors: Updating the Latest Hot Buzz Surrounding the Deadline

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

MLB Trade Rumors: Updating the Latest Hot Buzz Surrounding the Deadline

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    Matt Kemp is nowhere near the asset he once was, but a few MLB teams are still reportedly inquiring about him.
    Matt Kemp is nowhere near the asset he once was, but a few MLB teams are still reportedly inquiring about him.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    MLB teams looking to add one last piece to the championship puzzle better act fast. Little time remains before Thursday's trade deadline passes, yet several big names continue to float around the rumor mill.

    The Tampa Bay Rays probably ruined some of the fun by storming back into postseason contention with a nine-game winning streak. Their recent hot stretch has thrown a wrench into trade talks regarding stars David Price and Ben Zobrist.

    Maybe they'll reconsider if the Milwaukee Brewers sweep them before the deadline, but let's move on for now. Plenty of other impact hitters and pitchers remain on the market. There's no one baseball player who can carry a club to glory, but every roster manipulation counts for something.

    Fans and pundits alike tend to talk about deadline deals as if an asteroid is heading to Earth directly after the World Series. The wheels will keep turning next year, and a couple of these rumors bear future ramifications that may prevent an immediate execution.

    Before we can kick back and enjoy the wild scrap for playoff spots, let's run through one more batch of trade rumors.

Yankees Targeting Josh Willingham

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    The New York Yankees are interested in Josh Willingham's patient approach and past power production.
    The New York Yankees are interested in Josh Willingham's patient approach and past power production.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The New York Yankees refuse to give up. Despite losing four of their starting pitchers and receiving lackluster gains from their newly hired offensive mercenaries, they trail the Baltimore Orioles by four games in the American League East.

    Their minus-28 run differential ranks 10th in the AL, but that’s not stopping them from gearing up for a pennant push. They’ve already acquired Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, both of whom have paid early dividends. Now they have their sights on another unassuming veteran.

    According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, Minnesota Twins outfielder Josh Willingham is New York's top target over some fellow position players currently enjoying more success.

    The Yankees, perhaps as concerned about their offensive issues as their rotation, are looking at outfielder Josh Willingham and some other bats.

    The Yankees may actually prefer Willingham to Marlon Byrd or Alex Rios, perhaps partly because of Willingham's reasonable $7 million salary and status as a free agent after the season, though Byrd and Rios haven't been ruled out.

    Although Willingham is hitting just .219, the 35-year-old makes up for it with a .361 on-base percentage. A proud slugger as recently as 2012, when he belted 35 homers, he provides a powerful punch that would respawn in Yankee Stadium.

    He'd fit in with the team's slew of trades that have worked well so far. Like McCarthy and Headley, he's in his 30s and on an expiring contract. Headley's average has waned drastically, but he still provides excellent defense. Despite a poor ERA, McCarthy has harnessed a higher strikeout rate with his pinpoint command.

    For Willingham, his 16.5 percent walk rate is the unheralded skill that will generate sneaky value. Stuck in last place in the AL Central, the Twins have little incentive to keep him around, so an incoming move makes sense on both ends.

Mets 'Want In' on Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez

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    The Colorado Rockies have two massive trade chips in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.
    The Colorado Rockies have two massive trade chips in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    In a shocking twist, a big-market team about to extend its playoff drought to eight seasons is interested in chasing two star hitters to improve its middling offense.

    As reported by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, the New York Mets have told the Colorado Rockies to keep them in mind should they decide to shop Troy Tulowitzki and/or Carlos Gonzalez.

    As a symbol of where they are in their rebuilding effort and the growing strength of their farm system, Mets officials have told their Rockies counterparts if Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez are ever made available, they want in on the action.

    Rockies ownership has strongly stated it does not want to deal CarGo and, especially, Tulowitzki. But the extended run of poor play by the franchise, the growing contracts of the two players and the teeming disenchantment of the fan base has moved many within the industry to believe that decision could change, if not now, then this offseason.

    This move is a long shot at any time, but don’t hold your breath on anything materializing this week. Tulowitzki has once again found himself on the disabled list, this time with a left hip flexor strain that forced him to visit surgeon William C. Meyers over the weekend.

    The Mets also aren’t gearing up for a playoff push of any kind, although they’re rightfully reticent about surrendering any major pieces with 2015 in mind. At the least, this rumor highlights their intent to transition out of their long-lasting rebuilding phase.

    Should Colorado decide to exchange one of its star position players to bolster the pitching staff, which has allowed the most runs this season, the Mets would make for a solid trading partner. Either would likely command Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard to start the conversation, but the Amazins can also entice them with Jonathon Niese, Rafael Montero, Steven Matz and perhaps even rookie sensation Jacob deGrom.

    Sherman said the Rockies "think highly" of their prospects, most notably Syndergaard, Matz, outfielder Brandon Nimmo and second baseman Dilson Herrera. Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan noted that the Mets are willing to part with Syndergaard in a package for Tulowitzki,

    Before he got hurt, the star shortstop accumulated a .340/.432/.603 slash line with 21 homers and a 5.1 fWAR. The game's premier shortstop will command a massive return, even though he turns 30 in October and hasn't played at least 150 games in a season since 2009.

    Gonzalez has labored through a down year, batting .248/.298/.444 with a 0.1 fWAR. He's hitting a dreadful .175 on the road, which presents another major concern anyone should have about acquiring a Colorado slugger.

    The outfielder sports a career .758 OPS on the road compared to a .986 OPS at the hitter-friendly Coors Field.

A.J. Burnett Going Back to Pittsburgh?

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    A.J. Burnett could return to Pittsburgh as the Pirates stay alive in the playoff hunt.
    A.J. Burnett could return to Pittsburgh as the Pirates stay alive in the playoff hunt.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    After leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1992, A.J. Burnett figured to follow his sensational 2013 campaign by staying put or retiring. Instead, the 37-year-old found a team willing to hand him two years of job security.

    That team, of course, was the Philadelphia Phillies. What other team would double down on pricey veterans to complement their roster of pricey veterans playing for fourth place?

    A few months later, the Phillies finally realized that stockpiling players in their mid-30s isn't an ideal rebuilding strategy. According to ESPN's Jim Bowden, the Pirates are trying to reacquire the righty in hopes of replicating last year's spark.

    One of the most underrated pitchers in baseball last season, Burnett registered a 2.80 FIP, 56.5 percent ground-ball rate and 209 strikeouts. He now holds a 3.86 ERA and 7.40 K/9 rate, both unspectacular numbers that are at least good enough to make a team in Pittsburgh's position curious.

    Curious, but not desperate. Heyman labeled the Pirates' interest as "mild at best" due to a looming player option for next season. Burnett is on the books for $7.5 million this year, but he'll almost certainly receive a raise in 2015.

    Either both parties can agree to a $15 million extension, or a player option kicks in based on how many starts he makes in 2014. He'd make $8.5 million with 24 starts, $10 million for 27, $11.75 million for 30 and $12.75 million for 32.

    He has taken the mound 22 times already, putting him on track to collect more than $10 million next year. The Pirates won't cough up a major prospect in return, but Ruben Amaro Jr. may take whatever he gets to cash out of an unwise move.

Jonathan Papelbon Drawing Little Interest

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    Philadelphia might struggle to find a taker for Jonathan Papelbon.
    Philadelphia might struggle to find a taker for Jonathan Papelbon.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    A last-place team loaded with big league veterans, the Phillies have a busy week ahead of them. Even if they keep the big guns (Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins), they have other talent to barter, most notably Burnett, Marlon Byrd and Jonathan Papelbon.

    The 33-year-old closer is the biggest name of that trio. He has locked down 311 career saves with a 2.36 ERA and 4.50 K/BB ratio, making him one of this decade's elite relievers. With Huston Street and Joakim Soria off the market, Papelbon is the next top closer in line to change homes.

    One problem: Nobody really wants him. While the previous trades took two competing relievers off the table, they also removed two suitors (Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers) hungry for an extra arm with money to spend.

    Heyman said the Phillies would consume some of his salary for whichever team takes him off their hands:

    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 with most things in life, it boils down to money. Heyman laid out the bulky contract that has teams slowly backing away from the enigmatic reliever:

    The issue is the $50 million four-year contract that pays him $13 million this year and next and also provides for a vesting option for 2016 for another $13 million provided he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 combined in 2014 and '15. Vesting options can be sticky for acquiring teams.

    Even though he currently holds a 1.83 ERA, concerns also exist about deteriorating skills. His velocity and, as a result, strikeouts, continue to annually tumble, amounting to a career-low 8.1 K/9 rate this season.

    Some argued that Papelbon didn't deserve that hefty salary during his prime due to a reliever's limited workload. A declining Papelbon certainly doesn't command $15 million, and a smarter league is no longer willing to overlook that because of his brand name and glossy saves tally.

Will Matt Kemp Stay or Go?

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    Kemp is drawing interest across the league despite providing below-replacement-level production.
    Kemp is drawing interest across the league despite providing below-replacement-level production.Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    There's some conflicting news on the Matt Kemp front. The former MVP candidate sounds content with leaving Los Angeles, and other teams are interested for some reason. It makes all the sense in the world for the Dodgers to trade him, yet they're hesitant to jettison the fading star.

    According to Heyman, a market exists for the soon-to-be 30-year-old outfielder despite his humdrum .277/.343/.432 slash line.

    "Five teams are said to have shown interest," Heyman wrote, "or at least talked to the Dodgers, and you can be sure L.A. will keep in touch with those teams."

    Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan identified the Seattle Mariners as one such team, tweeting that "their interest is very real," but they'd plan to slide him into a designated hitter role. 

    Even agent Dave Stewart supported a move, telling Heyman in the above report, "Sometimes change is good. This might be the time to change." Considering they have Yasiel Puig locked in one outfielder spot and highly paid veterans Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford vying for the other two, the Dodgers should move Kemp while some value still evidently exists.

    They'd probably love to rid themselves of two or all of those three expensive players and promote Joc Pederson, who is hitting .322/.455/.592 with 22 homers and 25 stolen bases in Triple-A. The 22-year-old prospect could provide an immediate upgrade while introducing a future deadly duo alongside Puig.

    Yet dealing Kemp is not a sure thing. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal indicated on Twitter that some reluctance still exists within the organization to depart with a player who once came one long ball short of capturing a 40/40 season.

    That, however, was three years ago. A slower, rusty Kemp no longer offers plus power or speed and has accounted for a horrendous minus-21 defensive runs saved in the outfield this season. In 167 games played dating back to last season, he has amassed a minus-0.7 fWAR because of his defensive woes.

    If Seattle, or anyone else, is willing to take Kemp—who has another $85.5 million over five years left on the ledger after 2014—off the Dodgers' hands, Los Angeles should jump at the opportunity.

Red Sox Not Done Maneuvering

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    Jon Lester may be on the move amid a Cy Young-caliber season.
    Jon Lester may be on the move amid a Cy Young-caliber season.Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images

    When the Boston Red Sox dealt Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants last week, it wasn't a sure sign of approaching the deadline as sellers. After flailing around with a 4.72 ERA—and one win, for those of you who still care about that stuff for some reason—he wore out his welcome in Beantown.

    The moves are unlikely to stop there. Although they momentarily regained life, the Red Sox promptly plummeted back into last place with a five-game losing streak snapped on Sunday. Per's Gordon Edes, shipping out Peavy is now just the beginning.

    With five days remaining before the non-waiver trade deadline, however, a Sox source acknowledged “we’re working on a lot of things,” and with the team sinking fast in the AL East, Boston’s willingness to part ways with other players on the big-league roster is increasing exponentially. 

    Red Sox ace Jon Lester on Friday night sounded as if he is prepared to be dealt, saying GM Ben Cherington has to do what’s right for the organization and adding that he would bear no hard feelings. Lester said he would consider re-signing with the Sox as a free agent even if they traded him. 

    Putting Lester on the market tremendously amplifies the stakes. The 30-year-old lefty is enjoying his greatest output in years, posting career bests in ERA (2.52) and FIP (2.63). His 2.01 BB/9 rate also represents the lowest mark of his nine-year career, and he's maintained a superb 9.38 K/9 clip in the process.

    His 4.5 fWAR trails only Felix Hernandez for the highest tally among all hurlers. Even with the risk of him becoming no more than a brief rental, Lester will attract a hearty package from a contender, perhaps one spurned in Boston's attempt to land Price.

    Jonny Gomes could be of use to a team seeking a cheap, right-handed bat. Two weeks ago, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick identified the Kansas City Royals as such a team. 

    Andrew Miller is an especially interesting name to monitor. After failing to meet the massive hype in the rotation, he has found new life in Boston's bullpen, compiling a 2.45 ERA and 65 strikeouts through 40.1 innings. Lefty relievers are in high demand at the deadline, so the former first-round pick will appeal to several clubs.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's David O'Brien confirmed Miller's availability as well as the Atlanta Braves' desire to acquire him. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Biertempfel threw Pittsburgh into the discussion as well.


    Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. Contract information obtained from Cot's Baseball Contracts.