You can tell that Major League Baseball's trade deadline has reached its apex when there is buzz over a pitcher not making a start. There isn't a deal agreed upon, but you can practically see every analyst's ears perk up when that announcement gets made.
Even if nothing happens before July 31, this has already been one of the most interesting deadlines in recent memory because of the names involved. Jeff Samardzija has already been traded from Chicago to Oakland.
Now there is talk about Jon Lester, David Price and Cole Hamels—guys who can actually make a significant impact on the playoff race and in October if they get dealt. We don't see these kinds of marquee talents on the block very often, let alone in the same year.
With so much news floating around, here are the latest updates and predictions on what will happen prior to Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
National League Contenders Hot for Lester
While the Lester market has yet to produce a clear favorite, we can tell that the Boston Red Sox have something brewing or else they wouldn't have scratched the left-hander from his scheduled start against Toronto on Wednesday.
Even though we have to wait and see where Lester is going, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the two teams most aggressively pursuing the 30-year-old are the same two teams that met in the National League Championship Series last year:
The Cardinals and Dodgers, two NL powers, appear to be the teams most aggressively competing for the market's top pitchers, Jon Lester and David Price, people familiar with the situation suggest.
St. Louis and LA seem fairly determined to land another front-line starter and word is both teams have remained in on both big pitchers.
Take Price out of the equation, at least for purposes of this discussion, because he's still making his scheduled start on Wednesday and Tampa Bay is just 4.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot.
Lester is the big domino waiting to fall. The Red Sox have every incentive to move him, given his age and impending free agency. Contract talks between the two sides went nowhere during the season, eventually leading to them agreeing to break them off until the offseason.
Heyman doesn't say anything about which players would be talked about going back to Boston in a potential deal. It's safe to assume the Red Sox would ask the Cardinals for a package starting with Oscar Taveras. They could also try to build a deal with the Dodgers around one of their big three prospects (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Julio Urias).
The question becomes which team has more incentive to make a move and the willingness to part with its prospects. While the Cardinals fit the first criteria, as they are in need of another starter with Shelby Miller struggling and Jaime Garcia out for the year, they don't seem like the kind of team to move future pieces for a rental player.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, have gone all-in to win. They are spending $229 million on a roster that is starting to pull away in the National League West and has the best record in the NL.
While they aren't going to just give away prospects in order to acquire Lester, they do seem like a team that wouldn't mind giving up one or two of its best minor leaguers if it enhances their chances to win now.
Prediction: Lester gets traded to Dodgers
Cole Hamels Available for Hefty Sum
The most active team at the trade deadline should be the Philadelphia Phillies, who are adrift with expensive contracts tied to aging stars and sitting in NL East cellar. Whether general manager Ruben Amaro decides to get in on the dealing is another story.
According to another report from Heyman on CBSSports.com, the Phillies will trade Hamels if you have a vast fortune and are willing to part with every bit of it:
The Phillies have to at least listen on Hamels considering their issues in dealing other big-salaried players and the clear need to begin to retool. But they obviously aren't eager, based on asking prices being heard.
If you want a concrete idea of what "the world" constitutes for Amaro, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported the Phillies GM was approached by the Dodgers about Hamels and "were told the price would be three of their top prospects - center fielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed pitcher Julio Urias."
For perspective on how rich that deal is, MLB.com recently re-ranked the top 100 prospects in baseball. Seager, Urias and Pederson were all ranked consecutively at Nos. 17, 18 and 19. Good luck getting anyone to bite on that package, Amaro.
It's not unreasonable to start trade discussions by shooting for the moon, especially for a pitcher like Hamels, who is under contract through 2018, but if those talks start and end with the moon, no one is ever going to make that deal.
Prediction: Hamels remains in Philadelphia
Red Sox Like Matt Kemp, Regardless of Other Potential Moves
There were reports that the Red Sox and Dodgers were talking about a one-for-one deal involving Lester and Matt Kemp. Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com had the initial report on July 27 before noting it wasn't imminent:
With the Sox in need of more offensive production in the outfield, the right-handed-hitting Kemp could be the major piece in a trade for Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester, especially with the Dodgers reluctant to part with top outfield prospect Joc Pederson.
Edes later followed up that report by noting on Twitter that whatever happens with Lester doesn't impact Boston's interest in Kemp:
This whole scenario seems odd because it would be the inverse of what happened two years ago, when the Dodgers took the big contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett off Boston's hands.
Kemp, while we have seen what he can be when healthy and producing at the peak of his powers, hasn't been an elite player since the first half of 2012 (1.163 OPS). He's just 29 years old—so he's not exactly old—but has been banged up for most of the last two years prior to 2014.
However, he is hitting much better lately with a 1.145 OPS since the All-Star break, and he is making $107 million from 2015 to 2019.
The Dodgers would likely have to absorb a lot of money to make Kemp a worthwhile investment for the Red Sox, though that becomes problematic because the more dollars Los Angeles kicks in, the better prospects general manager Ned Colletti can ask for in return.
Ultimately, while a Kemp deal seems likely at some point, the better bet would be in the offseason, when more teams have incentive to get involved and Kemp has the rest of 2014 to produce at a high level to prove that talent is still in his body.
Prediction: Kemp remains in Los Angeles
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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