We're more than a fifth of the way done with the season (seriously!), and every day that passes brings us closer to trade time. Although there haven't been many deals in recent years, 2014 could be different; if it is, these are some of the players that could be on the move.
For this, I looked at players on teams that FanGraphs projects as bottom-ten-level. Some of these players are veterans who have rebuilt their value; some are younger players whom their current team just doesn't need. All of them share one characteristic: Come September 28th, they may have moved on.
Team: Chicago White Sox
Position: 1B/OF (ha!)
Free Agent: After 2014
The White Sox have done pretty well for themselves in 2014, in spite of preseason pessimism; their .514 winning percentage is the second-best mark in the AL Central. According to FanGraphs's projections, they'll finish with a .465 figure — fifth-worst in the majors — so they will probably sell for the second straight year. If they do, Dunn will probably be one of the first to go, assuming he holds with this late-career revival.
When Dunn arrived at the South Side following the 2011 season, he was a useful player, having come off a three-win season for the Nationals. In his first year there, however, he was anything but useful, as he cost his team three wins in one of the worst seasons in modern history. In 2012 and 2013, he still played poorly (just not historically so), compiling 1.6 WAR over that span.
This year, though, he's brought back the Adam Dunn of old...sort of. He's currently sporting a 149 wRC+ (the highest of his career), fueled by a .351 BABIP (the highest of his career as well); this latter number comes despite mediocre line drive and ground ball rates (19.4% and 41.9%, respectively), meaning it's probably just a fluke. At 2.7 runs below average, his defense still nauseates, so any trade value he could have would be derived from his bat. If he can maintain this newfound offensive prowess, he might fetch a healthy return in a midseason deal.
Team: Chicago Cubs
Free Agent: After 2014
As with Scott Feldman last year, the Cubs didn't expect Hammel to bring them a postseason run when they signed him to a one year deal; they simply wanted him to rebuild his value so they could flip him to a team with legitimate October dreams. The North Siders have lived down to expectations — they have the second-worst record in the majors now, and they should at the end of the season too — and dumping Hammel would serve to further their plummet.
Although he put up a putrid 2013 (4.97 ERA, 0.7 WAR), he impressed in the preceding year (3.43 ERA, 2.6 WAR). Which season represents his true talent level? Given that he put up 3.7 and 3.8 WAR in 2009 and 2010, respectively, many think the latter; however, poor luck in those years (.327 BABIP, 69.1% LOB%) inflated his ERA to 4.57. This past "failure" undoubtedly led to him signing a meager one-year deal in the offseason — teams just weren't sure which Hammel they'd be getting.
For now, it appears that the Cubs inked the better Hammel; a 3.55 SIERA and a 3.54 xFIP underscore an exceptional 2.43 ERA. If Hammel keeps this up, he'll pitch his way right out of Chicago (which, let's be honest, is what every Cubs pitcher wants, amirite?).
Team: Cincinnati Reds
Free Agent: After 2015 (Option)
Apparently, the Reds were so busy celebrating their NL Wild Card berth, they forgot to do anything in the offseason. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that they've lagged behind thus far (their .455 winning percentage is the eighth-lowest in MLB). Cueto, however, must not have heard about his team's poor performance, as he's excelled to start the year, to the tune of a 1.31 ERA, the best in the majors.
On the one hand, Cueto's been incredibly lucky this year — his 1.9 FDP-Wins this year are the most in the majors. On the other hand, he's always been lucky — his 7.5 FDP-Wins since his 2008 debut are the second-most in the majors. His BABIP and strand rate are off the charts (.153 and 100% [!], respectively), but that's nothing new (.278 and 76.5%, respectively, for his career). Prospective teams would definitely be buying high, but how high is the question. Then, of course, there's the ever-present threat of injury; for a player like Cueto, who's pitched 200 innings once out of his six years in the show, durability will always be a question mark.
Luck and health notwithstanding, Cueto should be a good investment for a team with a vacancy in the rotation; his extra year after 2014 (team option) gives other clubs another incentive to pull for him. Of course, he might not be the only Cincinnati starter on the block — Mat Latos and Mike Leake can also leave after 2015. For now, though, he's the best of the three, and with the Reds circling the drain, he could exit for brighter pastures.
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Free Agent: After 2014
As bad as Cincinnati's start has been, they're still better than the Pirates, whose .412 winning percentage bests only the Cubs in the suddenly-weak NL Central. Should Pittsburgh's reprehensible play continue — and according to FanGraphs, it will — some players might be shipped out, and Martin is a pretty good candidate for this.
Following some middling (1-2 WAR) seasons in the Bronx and the Ravine, Martin signed a two-year deal with the Bucs. Last year, he played a key role on the first playoff Pirates squad since the 90s, as his 4.1 WAR was the third-best mark on the team (and of his career). This year, the team hasn't done nearly as well -- their .412 winning percentage is the second-worst in the NL Central, and their projected finish (.488) isn't much better.
Martin, unfazed, has continued chugging along; he's already accrued 0.6 WAR, and ZiPS sees him as a three-win player for the year as a whole. His bat (103 wRC+, down from 122 in 2007) has certainly seen better days, but his defense (2.2 Def this year, 22.7 last year) has made him a valuable player. There are more than a few catchers with zeroes behind the dish, and a trade for Martin will happen if he and the Pirates keep this up.
Team: San Diego Padres
Free Agent: After 2015
Could Kennedy become the next Ryan Ludwick — traded in two straight seasons? He's resurrected his career for an abysmal Padres club, so now seems like as ripe a time as any. The Friars fancied themselves contenders prior to the year, but injuries have done them in (as they always seem to do); Kennedy's 3.43 ERA must look pretty tantalizing for starter-hungry teams, so the Padres might send him off before the season concludes.
In 2011 — when Kennedy was at his best — he kept the walks down (6.1%) and got a good amount of strikeouts (22.0%), which compensated for few grounders (38.6%) to give him a formidable 4.9 WAR. This year, he's blown all these marks out of the water; his 25.6% strikeout rate, 5.2% walk rate, and 44.8% walk rate have combined to give him a 2.95 SIERA, good enough for 16th in baseball.
Now that Kennedy's rediscovered his stroke, he could be trade bait for teams in need of a good starting pitcher. His success this year is hardly predicated on luck; moreover, he's under contract for next year as well, so this wouldn't just be a half-season rental. San Diego might spiral downward, but for the first time in a while, things might be looking up for Kennedy.
Team: Arizona Diamondbacks
Free Agent: After 2016 (Option)
If the misery persists in the desert (.351 Winning%, third-worst in the majors), heads will roll, and players will roll...out the door in trades, that is. There are more than a few players who could be eligible for this — Cody Ross, Aaron Hill, Trevor Cahill — but unlike them, Ziegler isn't awful and/or hurt, so I see him as the most likely to depart.
The main factor working against Ziegler is age: He turns 35 in October, and pitchers at his age can fall off the cliff in the blink of an eye. For the time being, he seems like a solid asset; he won't sustain his 1.00 ERA, but a boatload of ground balls (career GB% is the best ever) should keep it under 3 for the fourth straight year. He's also got two (2) additional seasons after this one before he hits the free-agent market.
For a pitcher with four one-WAR seasons (an impressive accomplishment for a reliever) under his belt, there's no reason why 2014 can't be the fifth; if it is, he might achieve this in another town.
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All data courtesy of FanGraphs, as of Thursday, May 8th, 2014.
Ryan Romano is a featured contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He's also written on the FanGraphs Community blog and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports and live tweeting about Veep, Sundays at 10:30/9:30c on HBO. Boldly running for president. Proudly standing for everything.