With Major League Baseball’s All-Star break quickly approaching, front office general managers are beginning to view their clubs in one of two ways– as either buyers or sellers. Contending teams like the Yankees (52-35), Red Sox (54-35), Rangers (50-41) and Phillies (56-34) will start looking to patch their club’s holes in hope of holding off their division rivals and making an honest playoff run. Basement dwellers like the Dodgers (40-51), Cubs (37-54), Twins (40-48) and Athletics (39-52) will begin to showcase their veteran talent and will look for a contender to offer them some young prospects via trade. In light of the Red Sox designating former Silver Slugger winning outfielder, Mike Cameron, for assignment, the Dodgers’ well-publicized financial struggles and with the Mets (possibly) willing to trade Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and/or David Wright, we’ll start to take a look at some Hot Stove rumors.
Though their 54-35 at present and atop the AL East, the Red Sox have little breathing room and are just 1 game ahead of the Yankees for the division lead. While it’s likely that they’d still take the AL Wild card if they lost the division, Tampa Bay (49-40) and Los Angeles (49-42) won’t roll over in the season’s second half. With the release of Mike Cameron, and the struggles of JD Drew and Carl Crawford, the Sox are almost definitely looking for an outfield bat. Saddled with struggling Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Hideki Okajima in the bullpen and three of their five opening-day starters– Matsuzaka, Buchholz, Lackey– either on the disabled list or floundering, GM Theo Epstein could also look to add a useful arm. Here are some possible options:
Theo Epstein has said that the current trade atmosphere is light on sellers and that the club’s maxed-out payroll probably won’t be able to support another big-money addition. So in all likelihood, club won’t be adding the Mets Carlos Beltran, the Dodgers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier or even the Twins Michael Cuddyer.
With their offense floundering and their club unable to climb out of the AL West basement, the Athletics will surely be one of the deadline’s biggest sellers. Josh Willingham, who’s making $6,000,000 this season, could be a nice fit for the Red Sox. The team is in need of a corner outfielder and the career .830 OPS and .207 ISO that Willingham has posted while spending much of his time hitting in pitcher’s parks like Sun Life, RFK and The Coliseum suggest his power could flourish at Fenway. He’s adept at getting on base and his weak defense would be protected by Fenway’s shallow outfield.
If Epstein would rather a cheaper option, he could pursue Conor Jackson. After a nasty bout of Valley Fever took the sparkle out of his promising young career, Conor Jackson has been trying to get his game back on track with the A’s this season. Oakland’s massive ballpark hasn’t allowed Jackson to fully recover his stroke, but he’s still flashed a .300-hitting bat and solid outfield defense at times this season. He isn’t the player he used to be, but Jackson’s line drive stroke would suit the Green Monster well, and his plus defense in the outfield corners won’t hurt his value either.
While he’s never lived up to the explosive start to his MLB career in 2005, Francoeur’s production has returned to respectability after a tough stint in New York. With Kansas City, the cannon-armed right fielder has continued to offer some of the best outfield defense in the game. He lead’s American League rightfielders in Range Factor per Game, and his 10 outfield assists rank second. The .751 OPS he’s posted while playing half of his games at Kauffman Stadium and while hitting in the middle of an anemic Royals lineup isn’t took shabby either. While he still has trouble getting on base– he has a career .310 OBP and he strikes out in 19% of his at bats– his $4,000,000 price tag is fairly affordable. Similar to Francoeur, Ludwick is a power-hitting righty with a solid glove and poor on-base skills. Despite playing his home games in Petco Park– arguably the toughest park on hitters– Ludwick has hit 10 homeruns and driven in 51 so far this season. He’s posted a .903 OPS against southpaw starting pitchers this season and he has experience as a platoon player. He’s an adept pinch hitter who’s hit .260 (20/77) with four home runs and 9 RBI in situations with a 1.25 Pinch Hit Leverage Index (high-stress situations) and he could end up being a nice tool off of the bench for Terry Francona’s club in the playoffs. His $6.75 million dollar salary isn’t cheap but
The market is rife with expensive, big name relievers this year. However, effective more-affordable options are very scarce. The Mets have reportedly made relievers from both categories available for trade. K-Rod, one of the most expensive closers in the game has been on the trade block for quite some time while Jason Isringhausen– a veteran whose career has seen a resurgence this season- has also been made available. In a trade with the Red Sox, GM Sandy Alderson will probably make lefty specialist Tim Byrdak available as well. However, if the Red Sox are unwilling to spend more than a few million on a semi-everyday outfielder, it’s unlikely they’d really open their wallet to improve on of the AL’s most expensive bullpens. Because K-Rod has a messy and expensive clause in his contract that could drive his 2012 salary up to a whopping $17.5 million, it’s difficult to envision the Red Sox making an honest run for him.Without K-Rod included in a deal, it’s also unlikely that the Mets would pony up value arms Jason Isringhausen and Tim Byrdak unless they could get a bundle of cash and/or a mid-level prospect in return.
The Padres are poised to have a bullpen fire sale and the Red Sox– along with the Yankees and other contenders– are ready to talk trades. But will the Sox be willing to offer the big package to secure Padres set up man Mike Adams or closer Heath Bell? Both pitchers are the prizes of this year’s deadline and the Padres have made it clear that they won’t let these shut-down relievers go on the cheap. Especially because the willing-to-spend Yankees are preparing a lucrative bid for one of these guys, it’s unlikely that the Red Sox will be willing and able to meet San Diego’s asking price.
If the Sox are going to pursue a lefty reliever, they’ll probably end up with either the Cubs’ John Grabow, the Nationals’ Sean Burnett or the Mets’ Tim Byrdak. There’s a good chance that the Mets are looking to include Byrdak in a deal to pawn-off K-Rod’s wallet-busting contract, but if not, the Sox could probably grab the southpaw for little more than cash and a low-level prospect. The Cubs’ John Grabow has an ugly overall statline this season, but because he holds lefties to a .638 OPS, his $4.8 million dollar contract doesn’t keep him from having trade value at the deadline. He’s nowhere near as cheap as Tim Byrdak ($900,000 this season) but Theo Epstein would be plenty happy if he had the trusty Grabow in his ‘pen come playoff time against the lefty-heavy Yankees, Ranges and Phillies lineups.
Per usual, the demand for starting pitchers this summer is sky-high. Boston’s current rotation woes exemplify the scarcity of quality, durable starting pitching. With injuries to Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and the ineffectiveness of John Lackey, Boston will make starting pitching a priority this July. Epstein could dangle prospects like third baseman Will Middlebrooks, infielder Yamaico Navarro and catcher Ryan Lavarnway for a pitcher like the Astros’ Brett Myers. Houston will almost certainly be a seller, and with $28,000 remaining on Myers’ contract over the next three seasons they’re more than prepared to unload the veteran. While his ERA has jumped from a career-best 3.14 last season to 4.88 this year, Myers is has been a workhorse lately and he’s pitched over 340 innings over the past season and a half. Especially if Clay Buchholz doesn’t return full-strength, Boston should be willing to pay for Brett Myers. With Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at the corners for the time being, and the weak stock of third baseman around professional baseball, Epstein could offer up Will Middlebrooks, Yamaico Navarro and even Jed Lowrie to the Astros. If Boston would rather a southpaw in the rotation, they could also ask for Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez. Because Rodriguez is left-handed and because he keeps an ERA under 4.00 while pitching in a bandbox and with a shoddy defense behind him, his services will be significantly more expensive. It’s possible that Houston will pass on Boston’s offer unless it contains a package of A-level and B-level prospects.
With the franchise’s financial problems and with two of the club’s biggest stars, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp preparing for free agency, the Los Angeles Dodgers will surely be heavy sellers at the deadline. It’s highly likely that they’ll be pushing Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billingsley on a contender for some cheap talent in return. Trade-wise, the Red Sox certainly match-up with the Dodgers perfectly. Los Angeles needs a catcher, third-baseman and second baseman of the future while Boston needs pitching help. Boston’s Jed Lowrie could be a nice fit for Los Angeles, while catcher Ryan Lavarnway could be as well. Because Lilly, Billingsley and Kuroda will all make at least $10.5 million (each) per season for the next couple of years, the Red Sox will have to be prepared to add a big contract to their payroll if they want these pitchers. If the Yankees are indeed in the market for a starter, then Boston will have to be prepared to offer up big money and big names to get anything from the Dodgers– or from the Astros for that matter. If this is the case, the Red Sox might have to look a couple of tiers lower toward Oakland’s Rich Harden or Colorado’s Aaron Cook.
The Red Sox have reportedly looked into a trade with the Cubs that would center around righthander Matt Garza. Because Garza has pitched well against the Red Sox in his career– they have a .718 OPS against him– and because he’s pitched relatively well against other lefty-heavy lineups like the Yankees and Rangers, Boston would probably be willing to spend big on Garza. In fact, they would probably be more apt to spend on Garza than any other deadline option. The righty is in his age-27 season, he’s a former ALCS MVP, lefties have managed a flimsy .698 OPS against him during the past four seasons and his career 4.00 ERA and 1.32 WHIP are all major reasons for Theo Epstein to offer up Anthony Ranaudo and a package of their top prospects. Of course, all of these reasons are also motivation for Cubs GM Jim Hendry to keep Garza around for at least the next couple of seasons.