Just when you think it's safe to assume nothing major will happen prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, one pitcher gets scratched from a start and everything gets blown up.
This trading season has been a perfect storm of events, even with deals that have already happened. There are big-name players in the final year of their deals, teams getting weary of handing out long-term extensions to players at 30 years old, and so much clutter in the wild-card races gives everyone hope.
As the last 24 hours tick away, expect the speculation to get amplified by 10. Some of these deals seem to have a shot at happening, which is not often the case this time of year with rumors. Here's the latest buzz floating around the Internet.
Lester Market Emerges
In case you haven't heard, Jon Lester is the aforementioned pitcher who was scratched from a start. The left-hander was due to take the mound on Wednesday against Toronto, but Boston manager John Farrell told reporters, via Boston.com, after Tuesday's game that wasn't happening.
While no trade has been agreed upon yet, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported on Twitter that the market for Boston's ace has come into focus:
One National League GM handicaps the Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers And mariners as Lester suitors entering Wednesday.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) July 30, 2014
The most interesting part of that is most of Lester's suitors are in the National League. You would think, given how muddled the American League is, more teams would step up their efforts.
However, the problem also becomes finding a team with the prospects and willingness to make a deal that will satisfy Boston. St. Louis and Pittsburgh were in the top six of Baseball Prospectus' preseason farm system rankings.
Los Angeles, which is certainly no stranger to making deals with Boston, has three top-20 prospects (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias), according to MLB.com.
Seattle is the one team fighting a losing battle because its top prospects are in the low minors (Alex Jackson, Gabriel Guerrero, Austin Wilson, Edwin Diaz), have regressed or been injured (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton) or don't have the kind of ceiling needed to make a deal for someone of Lester's caliber.
St. Louis has the most immediate need for an impact pitcher. Beyond Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn there's not much depth. Michael Wacha is hurt and likely wouldn't be ready until September, at the earliest, according to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Shelby Miller has 55 walks in 115.2 innings; Jaime Garcia is out for the year.
Pittsburgh is intriguing just because it would be fun and fascinating to see the Pirates go all-in to build off last year's successful postseason run. The Pirates also have great depth in their farm system, more than St. Louis, so it can afford to pay a high price without bankrupting the future.
David Price Still Available
Tampa Bay's remarkable run back to .500 (or close to it) and into the thick of the playoff race would seem to make David Price's short-term future abundantly clear. Why would the Rays trade their best pitcher now?
According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, the Rays' surge over the last six weeks hasn't prevented the front office from talking about a potential Price trade with other teams.
Colleagues suggest Friedman has the guts to deal Price when the team has rallied from nowhere to the cusp of the AL pennant race. A few even suggest that he may prefer to pull the trigger.
However, it will take some kind of courage to send away the team's best player when the team is playing its best baseball.
To his credit, Price is taking all the trade talk in stride, even trolling fans on Twitter prior to his Wednesday start against Milwaukee:
This is my last start for the Rays....IN JULY!!! 😂😂😂 been up and been ready!!!— David Price (@DAVIDprice14) July 30, 2014
Which player would benefit most from a change of scenery?
This is a game the Rays have to play because their market and budget doesn't allow for a lot of big free-agent deals. Price will have more value than Lester because he's got another year of control and is 20 months younger.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today suggests the Cardinals could build a package for Price around Miller, top prospect Oscar Taveras and a 2015 compensation pick.
However, that deal doesn't sound as good as it might have last year. Miller's control problems were already touched on and Taveras is the prize piece at 22 years old and boasting a world of potential.
All of this seems moot, though, because the Rays are winning, and even their front office isn't going to move one of the best pitchers in the thick of a playoff race. I think.
Alex Rios Market Eroding
One of the dangers teams out of playoff contention face when looking to make deals is seeing contenders fall out of the race, shrinking the market for a potential trade piece and lowering what you can ask for.
That's the scenario facing the Texas Rangers, whose season was over before it got started due to all the injuries suffered by key players, and what they want to do with outfielder Alex Rios.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, a lot of teams interested in Rios' services are falling down the standings:
Talks for Rios could go to end. Several of interested clubs - CLE, CIN, KC, SF - fading of late. #Rangers willing to include cash in deal.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2014
Kansas City is 3.5 games out of a wild card spot with three teams ahead in the standings, while Cleveland is chasing five teams and is five games behind Toronto for the second wild card slot.
Cincinnati has lost eight of its last 10 games and is four games out of the second wild card spot in the National League. San Francisco is still very much in the race at one-half game behind Pittsburgh and three behind the Dodgers in the NL West.
A six-game losing streak for the Giants is only going to increase their sense of urgency to make a deal, even after acquiring Jake Peavy to stabilize a rotation that has been hit by injuries. They desperately need help on offense, ranking 20th or worse in runs, average, on-base and slugging percentage.
Rios isn't a game-changing talent but is hitting .305/.334/.431 with 16 stolen bases. That is a bit misleading because his numbers against left-handed pitching (1.046 OPS) are substantially higher than against righties (.686 OPS).
That essentially makes Rios a platoon player, which lowers his value for teams looking to make a deal. The fact Texas is willing to kick in money will help a deal come together, but one of these contenders has to believe this is the year to make a move.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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