It doesn't get the same kind of attention as July 31, especially this year, when there were more marquee names traded than in any season in recent memory, but the end of August is a crucial time for Major League Baseball teams fighting to make that one last move for the postseason.
The waiver trade process is also a time for teams to play games with the opposition, by putting in a claim on a player they have no intention of acquiring but simply keeping him away from someone else.
Of course, the danger in that is when a team wants to get rid of salary and just gives the player away (see: Alex Rios to the Chicago White Sox in 2009). If you're getting a player in his prime, that's fine. If he is paid an exorbitant salary and not playing up to expectations, a team can get stuck.
While it's unclear if there will be any waiver moves made over the next two-plus weeks, there is a lot to talk about in the waiver trade world.
Alex Rios On The Market, But He Must Stay Healthy
While there are no difference-making bats on the market, barring some last-minute miracle, it's not impossible to find a solid piece to put in the lineup before August 31. Alex Rios, who is hitting a respectable .293/.323/.414, looks like the best of the bunch.
According to Calvin Watkins of ESPNDallas.com, Rios cleared waivers August 7 and is free to be traded to any team if the Texas Rangers can find a partner.
However, as was the case around July 31, when he was rumored to be on the trading block, Rios has to stay healthy in order to get traded. He has battled ankle soreness in recent days and had an MRI Monday, which Anthony Andro of Fox Sports Southwest reported was just a sprain:
Rangers Alex Rios MRI showed only sprain of left ankle. Expected to play as early as tomorrow.— Anthony Andro (@aandro) August 12, 2014
The good news is that Rios did play August 12 against the Tampa Bay Rays. He didn't start the game, but he came in during the 13th inning and had an at-bat. No one, including Texas, seems likely to pick up that $13.5 million team option for next season, so you don't have to invest a lot in Rios financially or in a trade package.
Rios' ankle is critical to any impact he might have down the stretch, because speed is a key component of his game. He doesn't get on base at a high rate, nor is he hitting homers anymore, but he does have 16 stolen bases and a league-leading eight triples.
Underrated Starting Pitcher For Sale
Since the New York Mets have great depth in the starting rotation heading into 2015, including the return of Matt Harvey and eventual promotion of top prospect Noah Syndergaard, they can afford to be aggressive in trading some of their arms if it helps improve an offense that ranks 23rd in runs scored and 29th in both batting average and slugging percentage.
One pitcher who could be for sale this August is Jon Niese, who, along with Curtis Granderson, cleared waivers, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com:
Granderson clearing waivers is to be expected, but it is a bit of a surprise that Niese would go unclaimed, though it's possible teams just didn't believe there was any great likelihood the Mets would trade the young left-hander to a claiming team within the allotted two-day time frame.
There are two reasons teams should make a hard push for Niese: age and contract status. If you want to throw a third reason in there, he's left-handed. But sticking with the top two points, the Mets starter is just 27 years old and due to make a total of $16 million in 2015 and 2016, with two team options for 2017 and 2018.
Considering the market for starting pitchers, having one on the market with a proven track record that includes three consecutive seasons with an ERA between 3.40-3.70, Niese is a bargain.
Which player would have the most impact on a pennant race in September?
Even a non-contending team that needs future pitching, like the Chicago Cubs, should at least be tempted by Niese.
Of course, the Mets have the ability to stash their pitching right now and ask for whatever they want because the market figures to get even bigger in the offseason, when pitching-needy teams aren't able to make a play for top free agents like Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields.
One contending team that has shown a willingness to be aggressive in trades is the Detroit Tigers. Justin Verlander, who is in the midst of his worst season, with a league-worst 84 earned runs allowed and 171 hits given up in 158.2 innings, left a start Monday with what an MRI revealed to be shoulder inflammation.
Whether the Tigers have anything left in their depleted system that could intrigue a potential trade partner is another story. They are built to win now, and Niese is at least capable of providing solid innings for anyone, which is more than Detroit can say for Verlander this season.
Daniel Nava And The Battle For AL Central Supremacy
While it would make sense for the Tigers to get in on the starting pitching market however they can, their sights may be set on making a smaller move in August to upgrade their bench and outfield depth.
According to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, Boston Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava is generating interest from the Tigers and Kansas City Royals:
Daniel Nava has not yet been put on waivers yet but is starting to draw interest from teams like the Royals and tigers looking for a bat.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) August 11, 2014
Kansas City's interest in Nava likely evaporated Monday when the team acquired Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins.
The Tigers have had a fascinating season, though not in a good way, despite being in the thick of a playoff race. They traded Doug Fister to Washington last winter when he was still cheap and proved to be one of the better pitchers in the American League.
When Verlander's age caught up to him, Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski realized that starting pitching was a need once again, so he made the deal with Tampa Bay for David Price.
In the process, however, the Tigers gave up their starting center fielder in Austin Jackson. They are relying on J.D. Martinez's .581 second-half OPS and Rajai Davis' .629 OPS against right-handed pitching to play every day in the outfield.
Nava is having a down season after posting an .831 OPS in 134 games last year, but he's still capable of hitting right-handed pitching with a .275 average and .358 on-base percentage. His power has disappeared, with a .313 slugging percentage, but in a platoon situation, the 31-year-old can still be valuable to a contending team like Detroit.
Note: Stats and contract info courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
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