The non-waiver trade deadline for Major League Baseball, as most of you probably know, is July 31st. The deadline that's typically when struggling teams offload players on expiring (or soon-to-expire) contracts to teams that fancy themselves contenders almost always for young pieces or prospects. It’s the craziest day of the season this side of the World Series. Because we’re in the early days of Spring Training, what better time to speculate on things that may or may not occur at the end of July?
To attempt to forecast deadline day, sellers must be identified. The existence of the second Wild Card and the growing league-wide parity brought on by Bud Selig makes more teams fancy themselves contenders over the course of the season. So first, we should pinpoint the teams that are almost certainly on the outside looking in.
These five teams have some pretty grim outlooks. Both the Fangraphs and PECOTA projected standings look ugly for them, and with due cause. These are old rebuilding teams without much help on the way in the immediate future. You can also make the case for a few teams that don’t have a lot of depth or impact talent. Say…
These teams have a bit of upside but major questions that can bury them in the standings. So of these ten teams, let’s identify a few key players that are likely to be flipped, why they’ll be flipped, where they’ll be flipped to, and if you’re lucky I’ll even try to envision part of the package. I spoil you sometimes, dear reader.
Glen Perkins, MIN
Perkins, 32, is a hometown hero, and he’s entering the second year of a relatively cheap extension. The Twins closer is owed $4.65 million this year, $6.3 million in 2016, and $6.5 million in 2017. There’s also a club option at that same value for 2018. While that may be a little bit of a steep deal for a reliever who started to lose a tick off his fastball last year, for a Twins team that’s not figuring to be a big mover and shaker in the AL Central, a closer of this salary level is a bit of an extravagance. There’s no immediate replacement in the relief corps, yet prospect Alex Meyer has the stuff and profile to step into the ninth inning come July and August.
The main question now, of course, is which team has the need for late-inning relief and won’t wrinkle their nose at the cost? Why the Dodgers, of course. Kenley Jansen will be back by then, but outside Jansen the primary late-inning options of Brandon League, Joel Peralta, and Pedro Baez are hardly inspiring. Perkins would provide a steady presence in the 8th inning and allow better arms to pitch earlier in games. Without any long-term arms in the Los Angeles pen beyond Chris Hatcher, Perkins is someone that Dodgers and their bottomless pockets can afford to bring in.
Perkins’ value is driven down slightly by his age, contract, and slightly diminishing velocity. Yet there’s a premium to be charged as Perkins is a Minnesota kid born and raised. Perkins is also one of the longest-tenured Twins. Predicting packages for relievers is tricky, especially with the built-in premium that’s usually paid for making moves at the deadline. However, for all Minnesota’s prospect depth they lack anything on the catching front. Kurt Suzuki isn’t getting any younger and Josmil Pinto has been disappointing thus far. Could Austin Barnes, acquired by the Dodgers in the Dee Gordon deal, be a fixture in this move?
Justin Morneau, COL
Morneau just finished his best campaign since 2010. The former AL MVP launched seventeen dingers and hit a robust .319/.364/.496, all while (perhaps more importantly) staying on the field for 550 plate appearances. It would be easy to say Morneau benefitted from some late-career Coors Field magic, but his home/road splits reveal that Morneau actually posted only a marginally better wOBA (.380 vs. .365) at home than on the road. What could be the cause of that are some inflated BABIP totals (.321 home, .342 road).
If Morneau can throw together a solid first few months, he should be one of the first Rockies out the door if and when the injury god takes its yearly wrathful trip to Denver. Morneau is even more tradeable because he’s entering his walk year. The first baseman is owed $6.8 million for 2015, and if his new club likes him enough there’s a $9 million club option they can exercise. If not, it would only cost them $0.8 million to cut him loose.
Here’s the big X-factor, and surprisingly enough it’s not Morneau’s health. I’m fully willing to buy into the aging slugger being finally past his longtime injury and concussion issues. He’ll turn 34 this season, so we can’t expect vintage Morneau to rear his head. However, for a team in need of a productive first baseman down the stretch, he could be a godsend. The main roadblock to that happening could reside in the Colorado front office. When Jeff Bridich took over as GM for the ousted Dan O’Dowd, there was a certain amount of philosophical change that was expected. O’Dowd had been notorious for being owner Dick Monfort’s yes man and maintaining a 2012-2013 Phillies-esque madness of using an injured and aging core to reach their potential and contend for a title. Unsurprisingly, this never came to fruition.
In theory, if Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez (and Nolan Arenado, Jhoulys Chacin, etc.) can all somehow stay healthy and productive, Colorado could make a bit of noise in an NL West that includes only one real sure thing. Then again, this is the team that signed Kyle Kendrick to pitch half his games at Coors Field and Daniel Descalso to be their primary infield bat off the bench. No, despite the incredible talent that may or may not be poised to take a vacation to the disabled list or the surprisingly excellent farm system, the Rockies aren’t going to do much of anything this year. If Bridich can prove he’s not the second coming of Dan O’Dowd (and since Bridich was regarded as O’Dowd’s right hand man, we’ll see about that), Morneau will be taking a hike before the deadline hits.
To where? Two AL teams immediately come to mind. The Oakland Athletics are set to roll with some mixture of Ike Davis, Mark Canha, Nate Freiman, and Billy Butler at first base. This is less than ideal on paper; yet we’ve seen Billy Beane’s wizards work magic with less than this. Should the spell not take and Oakland, as they’re wont to do, find themselves in the heat of a division race that may have just been narrowed down to three teams, Morneau would like awful nice in green and gold. Then there are the Yankees. Mark Teixeira looks fantastically trim after embarking on his gluten-free "no fun" diet. He could stay healthy and swat thirty into the short porch, and no one would bat an eye. His balky wrist could also act up again and sideline him, and once again no one would bat an eye. Should this second scenario occur, Brian Cashman could easily opt to give Morneau the job rather than letting Garrett Jones play every day or giving top prospect Greg Bird a premature call-up. The good news for both teams is that an aging first baseman on an expiring contract shouldn’t require more than a couple C-grade prospects.
Marlon Byrd and Mike Leake, CIN
Walt Jocketty had himself an interesting offseason. While trading away starters Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, a typical "we’re not contending this year" pair of moves that brought back little of value beyond Anthony DeSclafani, he acquired aging outfield slugger Marlon Byrd to replace aging outfield "slugger" Ryan Ludwick. It would seem that Jocketty is relying on Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips to get (and stay) healthy, while also looking for a bounce-back season from Jay Bruce. He’ll also need Homer Bailey to be effective after he returns from flexor tendon surgery on his elbow. Does this all sound strangely familiar? Did I mention there’s little to no help on the way from the farm?
It sounds remarkably like something out of Colorado or Philadelphia. Could Votto and Phillips stay healthy? Sure, but there are so many things that need to go perfectly right for the Reds to contend. Even if Phillips does stay healthy, his fWAR totals have been steadily trending downward ever since his 5.6 win peak 2011. This will be his age 34 season, and it’s difficult to imagine just how much he’s got left in him.
The contracts of Votto and Phillips are nearly untradeable, so it’s Byrd and starter Mike Leake that look appetizing. That’s to say nothing of Johnny Cueto, whom Matt Goldman covered here. These three players are on expiring deals and are therefore perfect candidates to be moved for spare parts. Everyone with a shred of a dream of contending will be in on Cueto, and very few teams will say no to acquiring a reliable pitcher like Leake. Only pitching-rich teams such as the Nationals, Mets, and Padres will have little incentive to pursue him. Expect the Giants, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, and White Sox to be in on him. One good B-grade prospect may get it done. The Indians acquired James Ramsey for a beleaguered Justin Masterson last year, so something a step above Ramsey could be the working point barring a huge year from Leake.
As for Byrd, I think a return to the Mets may be in the cards. Raise your hand if you think Michael Cuddyer will play a full season for the Amazins. I certainly don’t. Cuddyer is fragile and can’t be given half days off at DH because he’s playing in the National League. It’s also going to be difficult to give him some time at first base because Lucas Duda exists. When Cuddyer inevitably gets hurt, the Mets are going to be staring at replacements like John Mayberry Jr., Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Eric Campbell. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are still a long ways away, so if the Mets are really going to go for it this year they’ll need a bat. Byrd fits the bill perfectly. This may be where Dillon Gee finally gets moved, too.
David Price, DET
Wait, the Tigers aren’t on that list! No they’re not, because they’ve still got a pretty darn good shot at contention. Miguel Cabrera still exists, as do Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, and Ian Kinsler. The Tigers have been winners for a while, and they can do it again. Their division has just gotten a lot harder, though, and Miggy and V-Mart are aging and starting the season on the mend. And I don’t need to go on and on about the woes of Justin Verlander and a terrible bullpen that once again went unaddressed. Things could head south in Detroit very quickly this year.
Jose Iglesias is already banging up his legs again. Alex Avila has been the victim of quite a few concussions and minor league heir-apparent James McCann is an unknown. Alfredo Simon is the fourth starter and also the world’s biggest regression candidate. Let’s say injuries strike some of the aging players on this club and Verlander continues to get worse. That alone is trouble, given that the Indians and White Sox will be much stronger. If Detroit were suddenly to find themselves in trouble, would it not be smart for Dave Dombrowski to re-stock his depleted farm by utilizing his biggest trade chip? Price could bring in some serious talent, as could Yoenis Cespedes. Imagine if they’re packaged together. That could turn a contender into a favorite.
Is this likely to happen? Probably not, no. It’s been well publicized that owner Mike Illitch wants to see a World Series victory before he passes, and Dave Dombrowski will continue to operate on that mandate. Yet let’s look at the Jon Lester trade from last year. Lester, a lefty ace on an expiring contract like Price, brought back Major League talent. Price could fetch the same kind of package and those players could be put towards building a winner in 2016. It would be a truly bold move, but that may just be the lifeline the Tigers need if they want to keep winning.
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Nicolas Stellini is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and a member of the IBWAA. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.