MLB Trade Rumors: Ideal Destinations for Top 5 Players on the Market

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 11, 2015

MLB Trade Rumors: Ideal Destinations for Top 5 Players on the Market

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    Where does Cole Hamels fit best?
    Where does Cole Hamels fit best?David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    For the next few days, it'll be All-Star season in Major League Baseball. And that'll be fun.

    But after that comes the really fun part: trade season. The July 31 trade deadline is fast approaching, so we should see the top players on the market start flying off the shelves in the very near future.

    Our purpose here is to ponder the ideal destinations for the five best players on the market. That means establishing a profile for each player and narrowing his suitors down to the best possible fit.

    Another thing: When we say "five best players on the market," we mean realistically on the market. As fun as it would be to talk about destinations for guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gomez and Aroldis Chapman, a careful study of MLB Trade Rumors leads one to believe they're likely staying put.

    We'll start with the least desirable of our five players and work our way to the most desirable player. Step into the box whenever you're ready.

Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago White Sox

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    With the White Sox fading fast in the AL Central, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that free-agent-to-be right-hander Jeff Samardzija could be the first big starting pitcher moved this summer. And right now, he's certainly more attractive than he was before.

    After getting off to a painfully slow start in his first dozen outings, Samardzija has rebounded to the tune of a 2.40 ERA in his last six outings. He's done so with the help of a ratio of 39 strikeouts to eight walks, and has also been collecting ground balls at a better rate

    To call Samardzija an ace, however, is pushing it. Rather than a good fit for a team that is looking for a right-handed No. 1, he's more of a fit for a team that is looking for a good right-handed No. 2 or No. 3.

    According to the Cafardo report referenced above and an earlier report from him, the list of teams interested in a pitcher like that isn't short. In no particular order, it includes the Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Naturally, Samardzija could help any of these teams. But he's not the ace-type pitcher clubs like the Royals, Twins, Blue Jays and Orioles need, so he'd fit better on any of the others.

    And of the bunch, the Tigers and Astros stand out as particularly good fits. Because the Tigers have David Price and the Astros have Dallas Keuchel, either club could slot him in as a solid right-handed No. 2 starter for the stretch run. 

    Between the two, the Astros could probably go further with Samardzija. They offer a home ballpark that ESPN.com says is leaning pitcher-friendly and a defense that Baseball Prospectus rates as the fifth-most efficient in MLB. Both things would help them get the most out of a half-season investment in Samardzija.

    There's also the fact that the Astros are a complete enough team as things stand now. As much as any other team in MLB, they might only be one good starter away from truly taking off.

Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland A's

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The latest from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports is that the A's are in a holding pattern regarding their approach to the trading deadline. But with their 39-50 record putting them well off the pace in the AL West, chances are we'll see them sell off their pending free agents.

    One of those is Scott Kazmir, who's in the middle of an excellent season. The 31-year-old left-hander owns a 2.49 ERA in 17 outings and is notably benefiting from an improved strikeout rate, more ground balls and one of the smallest hard-hit rates in the American League. This is coming after a solid 3.55 ERA in 2014, so Kazmir fits the bill as at least a good left-handed No. 2 and arguably a left-handed No. 1. 

    It's thus no wonder that many of the teams mentioned in the Samardzija slide have been connected to Kazmir at one point or another. There's also the Boston Red Sox, whom Nick Cafardo was mentioning as a possible suitor for Kazmir as far back as May.

    If we go off rotation ERAs, it's the Red Sox who need Kazmir's help the most, as their rotation's 4.72 ERA is fourth-worst in MLB. Then it's the Blue Jays at 4.45, the Royals at 4.35 and the Tigers at 4.33.

    On the Tigers, Kazmir would be redundant alongside Price. He'd help the Royals, but Kazmir is not really the innings-eater their rotation sorely needs. And while he could help the Blue Jays a whole bunch in theory, being a lefty pitching at a park that really caters to right-handed power wouldn't help him.

    That leaves the Red Sox. Their rotation's ERA says they need Kazmir's left arm the most, and it would indeed suit them well. Kazmir would look good as a left-handed complement for Clay Buchholz (health permitting), and his increasing tendency toward ground balls would fit well with a rotation that's in the top 10 in MLB in ground-ball percentage.

    Mind you, a 31-year-old rental like Kazmir doesn't mesh with WEEI.com's Rob Bradford's report that the Red Sox would prefer to add a young starter they can control beyond 2015. But alas, those will be in short supply. So if they do have to choose a rental, Kazmir would suit them best.

Ben Zobrist, UTIL, Oakland Athletics

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    If the A's do indeed break out of their holding pattern, Kazmir won't be the only prized rental player they'll have to offer. They'll also have Ben Zobrist.

    The 34-year-old switch-hitter is showing with a .766 OPS and more walks than strikeouts in 55 games this season that he can still handle himself at the plate. And though the metrics don't like his defense, he has a long track record as a guy who can play quality defense at several positions.

    As for Zobrist's best positions, those would be shortstop, second base and either right field or left field. Knowing this, it's no surprise to see him linked to the following clubs:

    The Yankees and Royals badly need upgrades at second base, as well as a guy who can spell Carlos Beltran and Alex Gordon, respectively, out in the outfield. The Nationals, meanwhile, have had all sorts of issues with the middle of their infield and are also in need of a guy who can play the outfield with Denard Span and Jayson Werth both out with injuries.

    It's the Mets, however, who really need Zobrist.

    Mets general manager Sandy Alderson made waves in late June when he said that he was "prepared to overpay" for a hitter, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post eventually reported that Zobrist was the guy Alderson had in mind when he said that. And knowing their needs, that makes perfect sense.

    The Mets rank second-to-last in the National League in runs per game and dead-last in OPS, so they need a bat, period. And with Daniel Murphy having to cover for the injured David Wright at third base, Zobrist could be an everyday upgrade over Ruben Tejada at short or Wilmer Flores at second. He could also spell Michael Cuddyer, who is dealing with a bad knee, in left field.

    The Mets darn well should be willing to overpay for Zobrist. They need him.

Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The Phillies haven't yet traded Cole Hamels, but it still seems inevitable that they will. Or, to use the word of interim manager Pete Mackanin, it's at least "probable."

    In the meantime, Hamels' stock is doing just fine. His ERA has risen to 3.63 from 2.46 last year, but he has a better strikeout rate and entered Friday with a superior ground-ball rate. He's also among the league's best at inducing soft contact. The 31-year-old is still very much top-of-the-rotation material.

    Of course, a lot of teams could benefit from adding a pitcher like that. But with ESPN.com's Jayson Stark having recently reported that the Phillies' asking price for Hamels is still high, there are really only a few teams that can actually afford him. It'll take both prospects and, given that Hamels is still owed at least $76.5 million over the next three years, money to get him.

    Among the teams that have both prospects and money are the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, who have all been linked to Hamels at one time or another over the last year or so. But while he could help any of the three, he makes a good deal of sense for one in particular.

    The Dodgers.

    They need another dependable starter in their rotation with Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu out for the year with injuries, and Hamels would also give them a dynamite trio if he were to be slotted behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. With a trio like that, the Dodgers might finally capture the World Series title they've been chasing for the last couple of years.

    And more than anything, that's the big difference between them and other clubs in the mix for Hamels.

    Because of Hamels' age and his contract, any team that acquires him had better be ready to win now, lest it risks wasting what could be Hamels' last good year and watching him become an overpaid albatross. His controllability has the potential to be a curse.

    But not for the Dodgers. They're too rich to worry about future albatrosses and good enough in the present to get the most out of Hamels in what could be the final season of his prime.

Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    With a 16.5-game deficient in the NL Central, the Reds' season is pretty well over. And every fifth day, we now find ourselves wondering if Johnny Cueto's latest start for the Reds will prove to be his last start for the Reds. He is a free-agent-to-be, after all, and one the Reds can't possibly afford to re-sign.

    When Cueto does hit the market, the Reds will have quite the trade chip on their hands. The 29-year-old right-hander has posted sub-3.00 ERAs in four straight seasons and is on his way to yet another with a 2.61 ERA this year. His K/BB ratio is his best ever, and he's holding batters to a .187 average.

    A pitcher like that could help any team, so it's no wonder that many of the same teams that have been linked to Samardzija and Kazmir have also been linked to Cueto. And he is indeed the ace that some of those teams, most notably the Blue Jays, Twins, Orioles and Yankees, are seeking.

    But the team that needs Cueto the most? That's the Royals.

    We know courtesy of Jon Morosi that the Royals have Cueto on their radar, and the likes of C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com have highlighted him as a perfect fit for Kansas City. Obviously, yours truly agrees.

    One reason Cueto would fit so well in Kansas City is because the rotation needs an ace, as nobody it has tried this year has been able to fill the departed James Shields' shoes. But with the AL's lowest innings count, the Royals rotation also needs an innings-eater. Cueto fits the bill, as nobody has lasted at least seven innings more often than he has since the start of 2014.

    In addition, a move to Kansas City could make Cueto even better than he already is. He'd be trading in a really good defense for the league's best defense and a home run bandbox for a stadium that, according to Cork Gaines of Business Insider, has more fair territory than any other American League park.

    The Royals have managed to be the AL's best team without Cueto. Just imagine how good they could be with him.

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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