We’re getting into the nitty gritty of trade deadline season, and some teams have already made improvements to their rosters (hello, Athletics and Yankees). But which players that haven’t been moved yet are the best possible upgrades for teams that need to get better? Good question. These are the best players potentially available on the trade market by position.
Jason Castro. The Astros got a phenomenal year out of Castro last season, but he’s taken a huge step back in 2014. He still has two arbitration seasons left after this year, and teams did inquire about Castro this offseason. I don’t know if they’d want to move him, given that he’s just one year removed from an All-Star season, but with his injury history and age (turned 27 last month), selling high might be the best course of action for Houston.
Miguel Montero. Arizona is clearly open for business, but it’s unclear whether or not they’d look to move Montero. While he’s signed through 2017, he’s also owed a whopping $40 million through those three seasons. Would you want to devote that much money to a backstop that just turned 31 and is coming off the worst full season of his career?
A.J. Pierzynski. He’s struggling with the Red Sox this year, who have sufficient depth behind the plate in the minors. The fact that Pierzynski is a free agent after the season could also interest some teams that aren’t keen on keeping him around for more than three months. If he’s moved, I’d wager it would be in August. Ryan Lavarnway, a guy who is a catcher in name only, is another guy that could have generated interest were it not for a fractured hamate bone that landed him on the DL.
Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz is a guy that I’m sure the Phillies would love to move due to his age, decent level of production, and reasonable enough salaries in the future. However, he’s currently on the DL with a concussion, and it’s unsure whether or not he’ll return before the trade deadline. If Ruiz does come back into the Phillies lineup in the two weeks between the All-Star Break and trade deadline, I think he’ll be the primary target for anyone seeking a upgrade behind the plate.
Kurt Suzuki. I have little doubt that Suzuki won’t be moved for the third straight season – he’s a veteran on a one-year deal making much less than Pierzynski, and unlike Boston’s backstop, he’s actually having a productive year. The All-Star is having his best season with the stick ever, and I’d assume he would be an option for a budget-conscious team that need a huge upgrade behind the dish.
Allen Craig. Let’s get one thing straight – I don’t think St. Louis is actively looking to move Allen Craig, especially with the disappointing performance of their offense this season. But the Cardinals have an enviable problem right now – they have too many pieces for their lineup. And while Craig will be 30 this month, his contract isn’t ridiculous (three years, $26.5 million guaranteed after this season), and he doesn’t have much of a spot with the Cardinals due to the presence of the much cheaper (and more productive) Matt Adams at first base and outfield prospect Oscar Taveras knocking at the door. So while the Cardinals might not *want* to deal Craig, he does have more value than someone like Peter Bourjos or Jon Jay, and less upside than someone like Taveras or Stephen Piscotty. It really is a complex issue in St. Louis this year.
Adam Dunn. Well, I guess Adam Dunn is *technically* a first baseman, even though Jose Abreu is obviously getting the lion’s share of playing time this year for the White Sox. Dunn’s albatross of a contract comes to an end after this season, and predictably, this has been his best year with Chicago. Maybe a team desperate for power off the bench would take Dunn off of Rick Hahn’s hands.
Ryan Howard. Hahahahaha just kidding. But seriously, if some incredibly desperate team calls Ruben Amaro about Howard, he should do everything in his power to move the former NL MVP.
Aaron Hill. Hill has been terrible this year, and is still owed $24 million over the next two seasons. But he’s two years removed from a low-end MVP caliber year, and one season removed from another great season that was ravaged with injuries. Given Arizona’s struggles this year, I’m fairly confident he’ll be moved, and the money remaining on his deal might let a team acquire him for next to nothing if they eat most of his remaining contract.
Daniel Murphy. No one really thinks of Murphy as one of the better second basemen in the league, but all the 29-year old has done in the majors is hit. He’s still got one year of arbitration left after 2014, so a team that would acquire him wouldn’t just see him walk in a couple of months. One word of warning with Murphy, though – his production is dependent on a high batting average. If he balls aren’t falling in for him, he doesn’t walk much or hit for much power, meaning that he wouldn’t exactly be some sort of cornerstone in a lineup.
Chase Utley. Ruben Amaro is stubbornly sticking to his guns and refusing to trade Utley, his best trade chip. But even if Amaro were interested in trading his second baseman, Utley has a no-trade clause, and Amaro couldn’t move him without his consent. Maybe if the Phillies continue to crater and blow their team up, Amaro will approach Utley about moving on – and that would make the trade market very interesting.
Ben Zobrist. If the Rays don’t keep up their winning ways and fall back to the bottom of the American League standings, Zobrist will more than likely be moved. He’s still an incredibly valuable, versatile player, and the Rays aren’t going to move him for the sake of moving him. With just a $7.5 million club option on his deal for next season too, he wouldn’t be a rental, either. Out of all of the hitters that could hit the market, I think Zobrist offers the best value for a team.
Elvis Andrus. His contract is huge, and although the Rangers stink, they’ve said they want to hang on to him. I think last winter’s trade of Ian Kinsler made Andrus’ short term future at least a little safer in Texas, but they’re going to need to make some sort of move down the line after the emergence of Rougned Odor this year.
Everth Cabrera. Does Cabrera even have any value anymore? Last year, he was an All-Star. This year, he’s one of the worst every day players in baseball and has been tagged with the PED red mark after his Biogenesis suspension. He’s also currently on the DL with a strained hamstring, not a good piece of news for a player who relies solely on his speed. He’s another guy that has a better shot at being an August waiver trade candidate than a trade deadline guy.
Jimmy Rollins. Rollins also can’t be moved without his consent due to his ten and five rights, and he’s got a fancy option for 2015 that seems destined to vest sometime this month. Rollins nearly isn’t as good as he was in his prime thanks to his age, but given the state of shortstops across the game today, he’s still solidly in that middle tier across the league.
Troy Tulowitzki. Despite the onslaught of articles in recent days urging the Rockies to trade Tulowitzki, I don’t think they will. He’s having the best year of his career, but is a notoriously frail player with one of the worst teams in baseball. I honestly think that a trade involving Tulowitzki would be the biggest possible blockbuster that a team could pull off this summer, and it seems like a remote possibility, maybe some team will back the truck up to Coors Field and start dumping young talent off on the doorstep.
Pedro Alvarez. I don’t think it’s likely that Alvarez gets moved, but patience in Pittsburgh is wearing thin – despite Alvarez posting the best walk and strikeout rates of his career. With the way that Josh Harrison has played this season at multiple positions across the diamond, the Pirates might at least consider moving Alvarez as part of a trade to upgrade their rotation – but I highly doubt it.
Adrian Beltre. Beltre would be the grand prize for a team looking at third basemen. Even though he’s 35, Beltre is still raking down in Texas. His contract, which looks a bit pricey at $18 million in 2015, is actually a bargain given his production level. Furthermore, the Rangers may be even more motivated to move Beltre thanks to his age, contract, and the team’s struggles this season.
Chase Headley. Remember when Chase Headley was a really popular trade target, and then the Padres didn’t move him or give him an extension, and Headley started to stink? Well, here we are. Headley is a free agent after this season, plays for an awful team that has their highest payroll ever, and has struggled so much over the last two years that he might not even get a qualifying offer this winter. I think it’s a near certainty that Headley gets moved somewhere this summer, and he’s going to be very popular as a rental, given the success he’s had in the past.
Casey McGehee. Miami signed McGehee on a whim this year, and they’ve gotten a surprising amount of production from him. At 31, he’s obviously not part of the long-term solution for the Marlins, so why shouldn’t they at least try to cash in and sell high on their investment? He’s not going to hit .322 forever.
Luis Valbuena. Chicago’s third baseman was reportedly almost part of the megadeal between the A’s and Cubs, and sources are indicating that Oakland and Chicago may revisit a deal for Valbuena. He doesn’t have the versatility that Zobrist does, but he can also play second and can add some decent pop to a lineup. I almost get an Alberto Callaspo vibe from him (and not in the wife beating way, thanks).
Domonic Brown. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. As Brown’s career is moving on, his breakout 2013 is looking like the high point rather than the start of something great. He’s been terrible this year for the Phillies, and a fresh start might be the best thing for both parties.
Marlon Byrd. Unlike Brown, Byrd hasn’t been bad for the Phillies this year. On the contrary, actually – he’s been very good. I’d imagine Byrd will be a popular target this month, considering how many teams lust after right-handed power. His contract is affordable, and even though he turns 37 at the end of August, he’d be worth a flyer for a team that has a hole in their outfield and a brief window of contention.
Seth Smith. I can’t believe the Padres signed him to an extension and then said they wouldn’t trade him. Absolute lunacy.
Denard Span. This is a name that I never would have expected to list before the season, but it makes more sense now, especially as Ryan Zimmerman’s skills at third base continue to erode. Trading Span would allow the Nationals to move Zimmerman to left field, Bryce Harper to center (to keep him from complaining nonstop), Anthony Rendon to third base, and Danny Espinosa to second base. Span’s offensive production remains middling for the Nationals, and he might not be worth his $9.5 million club option next season. So why not at least dangle him on the market and see if a team would be willing to bite?
Dayan Viciedo. At 25, Viciedo is still a young buck in the baseball world. But I think he’s been miscast in Chicago – he’s not an every day player, and he’s not an outfielder. Viciedo has murdered left-handers over the course of his career, and he’s got that sexy right-handed power that teams lust over. I think he could be a solid bench bat or platoon player for a team that needs someone like him.
A.J. Burnett. Burnett needs surgery for a hernia, so in one sense, he’s damaged goods. But in another sense, he’s not signed long-term, isn’t making a completely absurd amount of money, and has pitched pretty well for a miserable team. There’s just that pesky limited no-trade clause, but given Burnett’s age, I wouldn’t be shocked if he waived it to go to a contender.
Cole Hamels. It would shock me if the Phillies traded Hamels, but stranger things have happened. He’s a fantastic pitcher, and has been the beacon of consistency throughout his major league career. Shoulder issues popped up in the spring, but they clearly haven’t affected him much this season. However, his contract will still have $96 million guaranteed after this year, and that’s a ton of money for a pitcher. He also has partial no-trade protection.
Cliff Lee. I’ll say this right off the reel – Lee *also* has partial no-trade protection in his contract. He’s a better pitcher than both Hamels and Burnett at the top of his game, but his health is more of a question, as Lee hasn’t pitched since May 18th thanks to elbow soreness. However, his guaranteed money is less than half that of the money coming to Hamels. Trading for Lee is a tantalizing prospect for a team, but it could end very badly for them.
Jake Peavy. Peavy is reportedly on the cusp of being dealt, with the Cardinals and Braves apparently involved in the bidding process with the Red Sox. I think Peavy is just about out of gas in his career, and isn’t more than a fourth starter at this point in time. Peavy is also owed a sizable amount of money considering his current talents, and it probably wouldn’t take a whole lot to pry him from Boston’s grasp.
David Price. Price is, without a doubt, the grand prize among starting pitchers on the trade market this summer -and he might not even be available if the Rays keep winning. If a team were to acquire Price from Tampa Bay, two things are certain – they’d be getting a Cy Young caliber pitcher for a year and a half, and they would need to give up a tremendous amount of value in return. You’re not getting Price for two dimes and a nickel.
Joaquin Benoit. Benoit is a mercenary of a reliever, a guy who seemingly gets multi-year, multi-million deals whenever he hits free agency and somehow lives up to the contract he’s given. With the Padres stinking up the NL West and Benoit continuing to dominate, he’s going to be one of the more popular relief options on the market – as he should be. He’s also signed through 2015, so this wouldn’t be a two month rental.
Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon’s velocity has fallen off a cliff, but he’s still an effective pitcher. He’s still owed an unfathomable amount of money for a reliever, but with one less year on the contract than at the trade deadline last year, maybe a team with a substantial payroll would be willing to swallow part of the deal and give less talent to the Phillies.
Joakim Soria. Texas suffered through a hot and cold season with Soria last year and are reaping the benefits this year. Soria has a club option on his contract for next year which will likely be a reasonable $8 million, and he’s looking like his old dominant self from his Royals days. Unlike Kansas City, which never was able to sell high on Soria because of his Tommy John surgery, the Rangers should pull the trigger on dealing their closer.
Huston Street. Street is having a typical Huston Street year in 2014 – lots of strikeouts, a limited amount of walks, and more than a couple home runs. The same thing that’s true for Benoit is true for Street – the struggling Padres don’t need high-priced relievers. San Diego has always done a good job at cashing in on these guys, and I’d hope they do it again this year.
Koji Uehara. The final name on our list is one that you wouldn’t expect. Uehara was a dominant monster in the ninth inning for Boston last year, and his run through the playoffs was historic. But Uehara is 39, his velocity has dropped a tick this year, and he’s been slightly less dominant. At his age, he’s not a guy that will be a cornerstone of the Red Sox for years upon years in the future – so why not strike while the iron is still at least a little warm?