The most difficult task facing any general manager this time of year, regardless of whether he is buying or selling at the trade deadline, is trying to figure out the proper value to build his team.
If a team is trying to win now, is it responsible to trade potential future assets in the hopes of winning a championship? If a team has fallen out of contention, can you afford to sell a player hoping that prospects will carry you to a title in the future?
These are the challenges facing every team right now and why there is always more speculation than activity when the time comes to pull the trigger on a move.
Since the rumors are often more fun than what actually happens, here are the most notable deals being discussed.
The Underrated Jon Lester Suitor
While there are plenty of teams generating buzz for their interest in Boston left-hander Jon Lester, Juan C. Rodriguez of the Miami Sun Sentinel reports that the Miami Marlins are not to be forgotten:
The demand is such that the Red Sox seem poised to acquire at least one top-shelf prospect in return. Though the Marlins aren't willing to deal a young gun like Andrew Heaney for two months of Lester or anyone else, an American League source in contact with the Red Sox said the Marlins are "not completely" out of the sweepstakes.
There are two things that immediately jump out in that report. First, the fact Miami is even in position to be a buyer at the deadline, after getting crucified for trading away all those big contracts two years ago, speaks well of the team's development staff.
Second, with top prospect Andrew Heaney being off the table, the odds of Lester going to South Beach become low because there's not a lot of star power in the upper levels of Miami's system right now.
Tyler Kolek, the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, has the highest ceiling in the system, but he's years away from being anything close to MLB ready. Colin Moran, Justin Nicolino, Trevor Williams and Avery Romero are high-floor players without elite potential.
Miami may not be dead, but with Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reporting that St. Louis and Los Angeles are pressing hard for Lester, it will be hard for the Marlins to make a viable offer unless a third team gets involved.
The Other Boston Pitcher On The Move
In the span of one week, the starting rotation Boston had on Opening Day could be missing three pieces by 4 p.m. ET on July 31. Jake Peavy has already been traded to San Francisco. Lester is constantly being talked about.
Then there is the other member of the trio, John Lackey. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the right-hander doesn't seem long for Boston:
Source: “Very good chance” that #RedSox trade Lackey along with Lester.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2014
Lackey's trade value is one of the most interesting for any player on the market. He's in the final guaranteed year of a five-year deal signed prior to the 2010 season, but former general manager Theo Epstein structured the contract in such a brilliant way.
Factoring in team records and future potential, which pitcher needs to be dealt before the July 31 deadline?
There is a team option for 2015 at the league minimum, roughly around $500,000, if Lackey missed any significant time from 2010-14 due to an elbow injury.
It just so happens the 35-year-old had Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss the 2012 season.
So instead of getting a two-month rental player, teams that go after Lackey will have him for the rest of 2014 and at the league minimum for next season. Considering he's still pitching at a solid level with a 3.60 ERA, 3.56 FIP and 3.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 137.1 innings.
On the open market, a mid-rotation starter like Lackey wouldn't be out of line asking for $15 million per season.
With the extra control and limited salary for 2015, Boston general manager Ben Cherington can ask for a lot more than what a pitcher Lackey's age would normally get in a trade. Lester will still net a better deal because he's a much better pitcher, but Lackey's trade value is nothing less than fascinating.
Dodgers Raiding San Diego's Bullpen
Even though the Los Angeles Dodgers may be exploring bigger trade options right now, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal also reported they are keeping an eye on San Diego reliever Joaquin Benoit:
One thing that's never made sense is when teams say they don't want to make trades in the division. Cutting yourself off from four potential trade suitors, especially if they can make a better offer than another team, is completely illogical.
That only gets magnified in this case because we are talking about a 37-year-old reliever who will make $8 million next season with a vesting option for 2016.
The Padres are in third place, eight games under .500, in the National League West. What need do they have for an expensive reliever at this point in the game? They don't have the budget Los Angeles does, so Benoit's salary looks even worse.
For the Dodgers, who have invested $10 million Brian Wilson and $2.3 million in Chris Perez, money is no object. They can absorb Benoit's salary without batting an eye, as they have done with a lot of their recent investments.
There's also a need for bullpen depth in Los Angeles. The relief corps currently ranks 22nd in ERA and 28th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Benoit would immediately improve both categories with a 1.88 ERA and 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 43 innings.
If the Padres can get a usable, cost-controlled part in exchange for Benoit, who cares where it comes from?
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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