The trade market is pretty hard to predict. As a Rays fan currently living in Arizona, if you told me last year's trade deadline acquisition was going to be Chad Qualls and that's it. . .I'd probably have punched you in the kidney out of both anger and disbelief.
GMs have their own way of thinking and in this post-Moneyball era, predicting where a GM is going to go is harder then before. You can see, basically, where a team needs help, but this massive world we live in has so many players with so many upsides, downsides, and intangibles, and baseball itself relies on so many factors when deciding a W or an L in the standings, that trying to find that one player to fit a specific need is tough.
Baseball relies on faith a lot more then people think. Younger generations see the Red Sox as a two-time champion and continuous contender. Older fans know that money and trades alone don't just buy a trophy though, as the Red Sox previous 80+ years indicated.
So trying to figure out who a team needs or who a team wants, while not impossible, is pretty demanding on a writer. However, seeing WHO is available, is far easier and, frankly, more fun.
The MLB trade market focuses less on budgets and expiring contracts (like, say, the NBA) and more on futures. Teams will trade for, on the surface, 'nothing' in order to build for the future. But teams don't want to just give away the cows and the land they need to graze.
Finding a trade chip demands give and take. The player has to have flaws that the team doesn't want but has enough upside that other teams, however, do. It's a strange business when you say to a competitor, 'well, he stinks for us but he'll be great for you. . .and we want those other guys you don't want'. BJ Upton, of the Tampa Bay Rays, is the epitome of this belief system. So much talent you can't NOT have him but so many detractors you might not want him. Confusing!
With that in mind, here is a look at the AL East's trade chips (or, rather, a few of them).
*all stats are updated as of 6/28/11
Position: Center Field
Stat Line: .294/.339/.488, 15 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 46 RBI, 5 for 5 SB (100%), 18 walks and 56 Ks
Why The Orioles Can Let Him Go: The former Gold Glover is on pace, if all stays the same, to have his best statistical year in his short career.
And for an everyday player who happens to be second on the Os in batting average and slugging percentage, his price tag is sure to go up come arbitration time at the end of the season.
Yes, he is one of the Orioles best players and the Orioles certainly need him, however, the Os need more then just Adam Jones as they look to finish last in the tough AL East. . .again.
Getting something for him now, perhaps in the 'futures' category for example, may be the best thing if the Orioles are looking to rebuild. Because unless they have a renaissance like they did at the end of '10 and ever so briefly at the beginning of 2011, Jones will remain the shiny diamond shining in piles of, well, you know the analogy.
Position: Relief Pitcher
Stat Line: 36.0 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1-1 record, 46 K (compared to only 7 walks)
Why The Orioles Can Let Him Go: Even though he is only in his third major league season, Uehara is 36 years old. The upside: he doesn't play everyday and probably will only pitch, at the most, 70 innings for the year.
Despite the lack of 'experience', he is an expensive acquisition (1 year, $3 million), and with an arb year coming up (and great stats to back up an argument), and money invested in Kevin Gregg and up and comer Jim Johnson, it might be feasible to see what the Orioles can get for the solid, if not overpaid, reliever.
Stat Line: .278/.352/.419, 11 2B, 3 3B, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 34 walks and 37 Ks
Why The Blue Jays Can Let Him Go: The Blue Jays are a high scoring, slugging team and while Escobar doesn't necessarily have the potent slugging percentage as say Jose Bautista or Adam Lind, he is a consistent source in just about everything.
While Escobar's contract is not small by any means (he stands to make $13 million plus in the next three years), his contract is small enough compared to the 'stars' on the team, and his talent and patience is desired enough that the Jays could let him go and get a LOT in return.
Escobar is probably the Jays most consistent player but he is kind of surplus to requirements. The Jays 'slug or go home' mentality is keeping them just below the .500 mark so Escobar isn't exactly helping despite his best efforts.
It might be wise for the Jays to shred the contract, get some future in return or, at the very least, a player with a different style to offer to a one dimensional, if not effective, Toronto team.
Stat Line: .260/.294/.420, 17 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 9 walks and 28 Ks
Why The Blue Jays Can Let Him Go: He never gets on base and has underperformed with the long bombs. That's the bad. But he does offer a solid average and can hit extra base hits (if not homers) fairly well.
He's a free agent next year but the team can exercise an option on him if they want. But the Blue Jays have a lot of the same types of players (and Encarnacion can hit homers; he averages about 24 per 162 games) and it may be time to shed the slugging mentality.
A lot of teams need bats, like the White Sox or Rays, and Encarnacion is a solid batter that could benefit many teams and plenty of teams will give up something for him.
Position: Center Fielder
Stat Line: .222/.308/.385, 12 2B, 11 HR, 41 RBI, 20 for 24 on SB (83%), 34 walks and 79 Ks
Why The Rays Can Let Him Go: It's all in the numbers. Despite a terrible batting average and an even worse on-base percentage, BJ provides youth, power, athleticism, and the great elixir of GMs everywhere: untapped potential.
Right now the Rays need consistency and BJ's either consistent in all the wrong ways (striking out more then two times as many times as he walks) or not consistent at all (his batting average with Tampa has gone from .246 to .300 to .273 to .241 to .237).
I think the Rays may miss aspects of him but can get so much for him. He makes for picture perfect trade bait.
Position: Starting Pitcher
Stat Line: 7-5 record, 4.32 ERA, 43 K
Why The Rays Can Let Him Go: No one expected the Rays bullpen, or any part of their rotation after David Price, to do anything worthwhile.
Yet the Rays pitching has been their saving grace. The bullpen is untouchable and Kyle Farnsworth is having a career renaissance.
But the one weak spot is young starter Wade Davis. As a Rays fan, I get that 'Chad-Qualls-I-Don't-Really-Know-What-I'm-Going-To-Get-and-It-Scares-Me' factor with Davis.
Oddly, the rookie Jermey Hellickson, who people are praising, has similar, or worse, stats then Davis. However, Hellickson is a rookie. Wade, though young, is not.
Getting rid of Davis may be a business only decision. Davis is expensive and I'm sure others feel the same way I do about him. We'd just have to see if there are any takers. If so, the ever seductive 'upside' and youth works in his favor, even if his 'stuff' does not.
Stat Line: .270/.319/.403, 11 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 14 walks and 38 Ks
Why The Red Sox Can Let Him Go: Lowrie is a solid player at shortstop for the Sox but he is out-shined enough by other young rising stars (Saltalamacchia for example) to make him expendable.
He's never played a full season yet but he has shown potential. That potential, while being realized this year as the shortstop topping the depth chart, could be good trade bait. He hasn't shown a ton of experience yet has excelled with what little he has.
The future is unknown but, from what we've seen, not necessarily a quality considered risky.
Position: Relief Pitcher
Stat Line: 49.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 3-1 record, 28 K
Why The Red Sox Can Let Him Go: Fun little fact about Aceves. During the Yankees 2009 championship run, Aceves was fifth on the team in wins (his record was 10-1) and he was a middle reliever pitching 83 innings.
Aceves has kind of been a quiet presence both on the Yankees and now the Red Sox. He's got a lifetime 3.33 ERA and, as a reliever, has a lifetime record of 17-2. He barely walks folks, striking out more then double those he walks, and he hardly lets a ball exit the park on his watch.
He's quiet, but valuable, and his arb year is coming up. He definitely has a case for raise. The Sox might want to see if he can get it somewhere else and get some value in return for a trade.
Position: Relief Pitcher
Stat Line: 31.1 IP, 1.15 ERA, 1-0 record, 50 K
Why The Yankees Can Let Him Go: After three random seasons, it appears four is the lucky number for Robertson is pitching like an absolute stud.
With only a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings (the most used reliever), Robertson has value. And at only 26, he's still got potential.
And while it would be great to see Robertson stay, he may have to go. Joba Chamberlain, another trade chip candidate, was having a great season as well before injury set in. And the eventual return of Rafael Soriano from the DL, who is being paid a fortune and is locked in for the future, added with the final years of Mariano Rivera, will define Yankees relievers for years to come.
Hold off on Robertson and you definitely have a solid future ahead. But, playing at an all time high, Robertson has the skills to be excellent trade fodder.