MLB Trade Speculation: 5 Potential July "Fire Sales"
As a young Reds fanatic, I imagine I was pretty similar to most of my peers.
I wore a baseball cap almost everywhere (a chronology of photos exists out there somewhere, and I’m always sporting a gap-toothed grin and Cincinnati cap du jour).
Summer days would end with Reds Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s voice ambling over the airwaves, lulling me into a reluctant slumber.
Indeed, I was like lots of kids my age. I loved the game—playing it, watching it, talking about it and dreaming grandiose dreams of one day living it.
Yet amidst all the sentiment and romance, baseball also taught hard lessons.
We learned about sportsmanship. We learned about unyielding passion. And, at least for fans like myself, we learned that life is rarely fair.
I always hated the fire sale. Every season (or so it seemed), July would roll around and it would be decision time. Not for me, of course. At that age, these guys were heroes, legends among men, and I loved them all.
No, the decisions were made by each team’s brass: cold, calculating men in suits doing what they realized most fans would hate them for.
See, every baseball team starts out a winner in April. Everything looks rosy in the spring. Yet at some point, there comes a time in every team’s season where it must stare inward, do a gut check and ask: Is it really worth it?
A lot of teams stay intact at the trade deadline, their management confident they’ll make a run at the playoffs. However, by July, it’s too late for some. Competitive fires are extinguished by impartial economics, and players we’ve grown to worship are unceremoniously shown the door.
It’s a shake-up that rational adults like modern-day-me completely understand, yet one that made watermelon-pounding-wiffleball-playing-1993-me want to puke over his morning Cheerios.
The following are five teams and/or players who, despite the indignant shrieks of young fans everywhere, could be fire-sale kindling by July’s end.
1. Hunter Pence, Houston Astros
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New Houston owner Jim Crane could go one of two routes this season.
His first option would be to take inventory of his newest business venture, deem the in-house product to be as repugnant as the rotting garbage out back and pop a stick of dynamite in the whole damn thing.
In this scenario, obviously Hunter Pence (the team’s best player and best praying mantis lookalike) would be shopped to a teeming pool of motivated buyers.
After all, despite Pence’s gangly, sometimes cumbersome presentation, the dude plays hard in right field and can rake at the dish.
In scenario number two, Crane performs a similar organizational scan, identifies Pence as one of his few solid assets and markets the heck out of the kid to what surely is a dubious and somewhat disenfranchised fanbase.
Eligible for arbitration after the season, Pence is a nice player but won’t hit .325 forever. If Crane is smart, he’ll sell high here, acquire some nice pieces from a team like the Phillies (in desperate need of offense) and prepare an apology letter should Pence turn into the next Paul O’Neill.
2. Vladimir Guerrero, Baltimore Orioles
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Who CAN’T use a 36-year-old free-swinging DH who shuns batting gloves and takes fewer walks than Christopher Reeve?
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit hard on ol’ Vlad.
To be fair, the guy HAS been to nine All-Star games (including last year’s) and HAS won a MVP (2004). Yet today he’s 36, batting 36 points below his career average (.282) and relegated to a DH role in the American League’s equivalent of purgatory.
And that, ladies and gents, is exactly why he’ll be moved.
Once an elite slugger, Guerrero clearly doesn’t have much left in the tank. He does, however, have enough to help an ailing club—and for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned, his asking price should be much lower than your typical trade deadline coup.
As he's currently on a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles, contending AL teams looking for a piece for the stretch run (Yankees, Tigers, Mariners) might see Vladdy as a cheap way to bolster their lineup.
Either way, Guerrero’s probably a one-and-done in Baltimore, so the Orioles would be wise to get something for their DH. Otherwise, he’s a high-priced usher on their way to a last-place finish.
3. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
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In a New York Daily News commentary piece from associate sports editor Bill Price, the author floats the following juicy nuggets regarding his hometown team’s present situation:
“It’s a complete mess."
"We need players, not one player."
...and of course, regarding general manager Sandy Alderson:
“2011 is over, so he may as well get cracking on 2012.”
Now, these are obviously just the sentiments of one frustrated New York sports reporter. However, they were also published on APRIL FIFTEENTH, two weeks into what has become a dismal season for the Metropolitans, and more than a month before owner Fred Wilpon basically told The New Yorker that he’d rather hire Willie Mays Hayes and Pedro Cerrano than re-up the contracts of his top guys.
Of the Mets’ three most marketable stars, Wright may be the most likely to remain in New York (his injury proclivity and $15 mil price tag could see to that).
However, I think it’s safe to file any Mets player not named Johan Santana in the “For Sale: Motivated Seller” bin and move on to less obvious pastures.
4. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota Twins
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There are some players that if it weren’t for fantasy baseball, I’d never have known they existed.
Most teams have a few of these Roto darlings, guys who are dark horse utility pickups, April/May/June flare-ups or situational pegs for our rosters’ glaring holes.
Most teams have a few.
The Twins, on the other hand, have like 20.
Besides Joe Mauer (injured) and Justin Morneau (worthless currently), I am convinced the Twins lineup is held together year in and year out by an intricate system of duct tape and chewing gum.
Guys like Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla and Drew Butera get regular PT in Minnesota but wouldn’t get recognized if they left mid-inning to hit a Plaza Level hot dog stand.
Hell, the only reason anyone knows about Denard Span is because he pegged HIS OWN MOM with a foul ball in spring training. (“Thanks for everything, Ma. Here's a concussion.”)
While the smoke and mirrors approach has often worked for the Twinkies (six playoff appearances in the last 10 years), this year, well, it hasn’t.
Without the leadership (and .727 batting average) of Mauer or any contributions from Morneau (he has to still be concussed...doesn’t he???), the Twins have staggered through April/May/June and are light years behind the AL Central pack (currently 26-39 and in last place).
Despite division-leading Cleveland beginning to falter, Minnesota would do well to pack it in soon. Talent exists on the roster, so a return to the top in the near future isn’t unlikely, especially if it can swing a bit of minor league talent for a few guys who are producing.
Jason Kubel (29) and Michael Cuddyer (32) will be free agents in November, and at $5.2 and $10.5 million (respectively), the Twins would benefit from their salary relief.
5. Heath Bell and Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres
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If Minnesota has little shot at making the playoffs this year, San Diego has ZERO.
Of the regular players on the roster, none are hitting over .270.
In the starting rotation, only Cincinnati castaway Aaron Harang has more than four wins, and he’s since been shelved (assumedly after realizing he’d reached his max potential for the year).
The bullpen, however, has been stellar, leading the NL with a 2.35 ERA. Unfortunately, it also leads the league in “games we never had a shot at saving,” so its contribution is largely null and void as it pertains to this discussion.
If we’re being honest, the Padres began their rebuilding process after last season when they traded Adrian Gonzalez to one of the Evil Empires (yes, I firmly believe there are now three).
Now they have a chance to complete that venture, as contending teams will undoubtedly be eyeing Ludwick on the cheap and absolutely salivating over the dominant Heath Bell.
While Ludwick hasn’t exhibited the power or consistency he showed as a Cardinal, he’s raised his batting average 59 points over the last month. Hard to imagine a team like the Reds, Giants or even Cardinals (again) not at least testing the waters regarding his cost.
Bell, on the other hand, has been one of the premier closers in baseball over the last few seasons, saving a league-high 42 games in 2009 and another 47 in 2010.
If the right prospect package emerges, the friars of San Diego should stockpile some talent and look ahead toward contention in 2013.
Even if it does mean breaking a few 10-year-old hearts.