A team doesn’t want to make a trade just to make a trade. It must have impact, and there aren’t many players who can give you that impact who are also available.
Who would be the No. 1 guy available?
After asking the question to a couple dozen executives, scouts, and players over the past few days, the consensus was Phillies lefthander Cliff Lee.
Lee, who would have to waive a limited no-trade clause, would improve a number of teams. The Red Sox, Orioles, Indians, Angels, and Rangers are some that would really benefit from a Lee deal, but there could be many more, including the Dodgers (because they can) or the Yankees, who say they can’t but have the means to do it.
One American League executive indicated there would be 20 teams lined up for Lee. Trading Lee would mean the Phillies are truly blowing it up and starting anew.
Lee would bring a lot of young talent in return. He is 6-2 with a 2.34 ERA overall, and in his last five starts he’s 4-0, 1.15, while holding opponents to a .182 batting average, walking six, and striking out 29.
Lee is probably the last guy general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to trade, but he would bring the greatest return.
The Orioles have been searching for this type of starter for two years. They didn’t have it last season. They don’t have it this season. The Orioles would have to give up some of their young pitching, whether it be Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, to make it happen.
Would they do that? And more importantly, would they take on Lee’s $25 million each of the next two years and a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016? It doesn’t appear the Phillies would have to eat any of Lee’s salary.
The Red Sox also have the chips to tempt the Phillies. They would have to be willing to give up one of their best pitching prospects, whether that’s Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, or Rubby De La Rosa. It might require two of those guys.
The Indians need a starter and a closer to keep contending in the AL Central, but do they have enough to reacquire Lee? They would likely have to part with Zach McAllister or Corey Kluber in any deal. And again, there would be Lee’s salary coming the other way.
The Angels have Jered Weaver back from the disabled list, and that’s huge. If they’re to make a run, however, they also have to look at the front and back of their pitching staff.
The Phillies have a second interesting piece, Jonathan Papelbon. If the Phillies decide they are retooling, they probably don’t need a top closer.
One tremendous fit for Papelbon, according to several of the baseball people we talked to, would be Detroit. Imagine if the Tigers could add a lights-out closer to that starting rotation. He would also be an option for the Angels and Red Sox, but the Sox will give Andrew Bailey every chance to do the job. The Indians would also be an option with Papelbon. With Chris Perez out with shoulder tendinitis, Papelbon would solidify that spot for good, and be reunited with former manager Terry Francona.
When we talk about impact, we mean a player who turns your season in a positive direction and gets you to the playoffs. Last season, one of the biggest such players was Marco Scutaro, a slightly above-average player lacking the name recognition of the aforementioned. But he was the perfect medicine for Brian Sabean’s Giants.
“It doesn’t always have to be a big name,” Sabean said. “When we got Marco, it brought our whole lineup together.”
The White Sox have two players — Alex Rios and Jake Peavy — who could profoundly affect teams.
The White Sox, like the Phillies, don’t know which way they’ll go, but are leaning toward being sellers. Peavy could bolster a rotation as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Tough guy, battle tested. Again, a nice fit for the Orioles or Indians, or even the Pirates.
Rios could be a bat for a team like Texas, which has been looking around for a power-hitting outfielder. As we mentioned last week, the Blue Jays could probably get a lot for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion if and when they decide to abandon ship.
“Rios, Bautista, Encarnacion, and you can add Justin Morneau, are definitely the major guys scouts are focusing on,” said one American League GM. “They can be game-changers. Nobody wants to give up their prospects unless they are game-changers. Every struggling team is going to reach D-Day where they say, ‘OK, are we sticking with our personnel and hope to win with it next year or are we going to retool it?’ Toronto is going to do that. Chicago is going to do that. Philadelphia is going to do that. The Dodgers are going to do that. They may all come up with different conclusions, but the conversation will take place.”
Morneau is another battle-tested, impact player. He’ll be a free agent at season’s end, and while fans want Morneau to stay in Minnesota, the Twins are going to be tempted because teams are going to ask about his availability.
It’s never too early
Sox must determine a lot before deadline
Before it’s time to really have these discussions, we’re going to discuss what the Red Sox will do when the trading deadline approaches. It’s a long ways off, but baseball trades are fun, so we’ll delve into a couple of things.
1. Do they need another power-hitting outfielder? 2. We wonder whether Andrew Bailey can stay healthy enough to make closer a role the Sox don’t have to worry about.
The dilemma is this: Is Daniel Nava for real, and is he someone they can depend on to maintain his performance in August and September? If they feel he is, the Sox likely won’t try to obtain an everyday player with some power.
It’s no secret the Dodgers would trade Andre Ethier in the right deal, but for the moment he doesn’t seem to appeal to the Red Sox, who like some of the things Ethier brings but not everything. If the White Sox fell out of it, for instance, would the Red Sox bite on Alex Rios? There will be temptations like that for the next couple of months. Once the draft is complete, the Red Sox can focus on what they might need.
The Red Sox’ outfield situation is also predicated on Shane Victorino remaining healthy, and Jonny Gomes picking it up at the plate, where he’s been under .200 for most of the season. Yes, they do have Jackie Bradley Jr., and could utilize Bryce Brentz, but if there’s an established veteran available, they might be tempted.
The closer issue is important. Bailey may soon wind up being the most important member of the team. If he’s the two-time All-Star he was in Oakland, the Red Sox won’t have to worry about a thing. If he isn’t, you’ll start hearing about whether they can get Jonathan Papelbon back. After all, it hasn’t been easy to replace Papelbon. The outlay of funds for Bailey and Joel Hanrahan has been close to what they would have paid Papelbon for a year. And when you think about it, Papelbon makes $13 million a season, same as Victorino and Ryan Dempster combined.
Apropos of nothing
1. Mets righthander Matt Harvey looks like 1986 Roger Clemens or Dwight Gooden.
2. The revelation that Dustin Pedroia has played with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb since the first day of the season reinforces what a tremendous player he is. Ask any medical expert and they’ll say it defies logic that he’d be able to play at this intensity level and be one of the best players in baseball.
3. Frank McCourt was in Boston recently. He’s devoting his time to planning the development of the 300 acres he owns around Dodger Stadium. McCourt said the Red Sox got two gems in Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster after he had sold the Dodgers. The Dodgers rated De La Rosa ahead of Webster, but not by a whole lot.
4. Ryan Howard now has a knee problem after spending so long recovering from a ruptured Achilles’. Through the Red Sox series, he had struck out 26 times in his last 65 at-bats.
5. Tony Pena once said it took the first 10 years of his career to really get good at calling a game. Which is why the Red Sox should think twice about Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s free agency. His power, age (28), and the fact he’s a switch-hitter are all in his favor. If they let him go based on his throwing, that would likely be a mistake because if they want to go with their young catchers, how long will it take them to get to Saltalamacchia’s current level?
6. On Tuesday night, Rick Porcello allowed the Pirates no runs and struck out a career-high 11. On Thursday night, Doug Fister allowed the Pirates no runs and struck out 12. The Tigers lost both games, 1-0, in 11 innings.
7. With Travis Wood’s grand slam off Jake Peavy on Thursday, Cubs pitchers were hitting .300 (15 for 50) in May with four home runs, six doubles, and 19 RBIs.
8. Mariners manager Eric Wedge on sabermetrics: “It’s a new generation. It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term. You know what I mean? People who haven’t played since they were nine years old and think they’ve got it figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.” Wedge later apologized.
Updates on 9
1. George Brett, hitting coach, Royals — Just a hunch, but now that Brett is willing to commit to being with a team every day as hitting coach, how long will it be before he’s the manager of the Royals? Dennis Gilbert, who represented Brett as an agent and who has fallen short in bids to purchase the Dodgers, Padres, and Rangers, would have asked Brett to be his manager had he landed one of those teams. Brett is obviously a Kansas City icon. If he brings the Royals’ offense to the next level, he could very well be Ned Yost’s eventual replacement, though there’s a lot of sentiment for Jim Fregosi, who has ties to GM Dayton Moore.
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox — The Sox are resisting converting Bogaerts to another position. They really want him to be a shortstop, but they also recognize the benefits of having him at another position and the fact they have an abundance of shortstops in their system, some of whom are better defensively. What the Sox have decided is they will not mess with him while he’s at Double A Portland, but once he gets to Triple A, they will start to move him around just to see if there’s another position, whether it be in the outfield or at third, that would be a good fit. And even then, playing shortstop in the majors wouldn’t be out of the question. When will he come up to Pawtucket? That depends on whether Jose Iglesias is demoted again when Will Middlebrooks is ready to come off the disabled list. If Iglesias stays with the major league team, Bogaerts could be elevated soon.
3. Chien-Ming Wang, RHP, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — Wang can opt out of his minor league deal with the Yankees at the end of any month. May came and went, and while there was interest from six teams, none could offer a major league deal, so Wang stayed put. He entered the weekend 3-4 with a 2.65 ERA, and opponents were hitting .258 against him.
4. Ryan Westmoreland, former Red Sox draft pick — Westmoreland, who retired last month, will continue to undergo a series of small operations to correct facial and vision problems as a result of the cavernous malformation in his brainstem that cost him his career. After the surgeries, Westmoreland hopes to return to college and major in physical therapy. He’s considering about a dozen schools, including Vanderbilt, Northeastern, and Springfield. Westmoreland received a schooling allowance from the Sox for $200,000.
5. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox — Immediately after Ellsbury stole five bases Thursday night against the Phillies, it started to dawn on people — including some in the Philadelphia organization — wouldn’t Ellsbury be a nice piece in the Phillies’ lineup next season? Ben Revere hasn’t been what the Phillies had hoped since they acquired him in the Vance Worley deal. Ellsbury would be devastating in that ballpark and add a spark the lineup desperately needs. However, then he hurt his groin, and the injury question popped up.
6. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — It shouldn’t be long before a long list of teams start to inquire about Sizemore. He’s begun baseball activities after missing all this time with knee surgeries, and so far he’s had no setbacks. Sizemore was once one of the great talents in the game, and it appears he’s working his way back and could help teams needing outfield help (Mets?) for the second half of the season.
7. Jesus Montero, C/1B/DH, Mariners — Montero has been so brutal behind the plate that he’s with Triple A Tacoma playing first base. He was one of two players demoted by the Mariners, the other second baseman Dustin Ackley, who wasn’t hitting, either. It has been a terrible start for the Mariners as tension keeps growing in Seattle, where both GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge are under fire. So far, the Montero-for-Michael Pineda deal with the Yankees hasn’t worked out for either team. At least Pineda’s lack of production was because of an injury, and he appears to be coming back.
8. Mark Melancon, RHP, Pirates — Caution: Melancon pitched in 29 of the Pirates’ first 54 games, covering 29 innings. Closer Jason Grilli entered Saturday with 27 appearances, going 24⅔ innings. The question is, will they wear down later in the season, and bring the Pirates down with them? Twenty-four of the Pirates’ 34 wins were by one or two runs, and both pitchers have been performing at an All-Star level.
9. B.J. Upton, CF, Braves — Half of the brother act isn’t working. Upton entered Saturday hitting .145. “He’s going to lead the league in broken bats and broken helmets,” said one special assistant to a GM. “His swing is all messed up. He’s very frustrated right now.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “Justin Verlander’s batting average (balls in play) for the last three seasons: 2011, .237; 2012, .275; and 2013, .368.” Also, “The major league average when a batter has two strikes on him is .180, which makes Brandon Phillips’s .333 so impressive.” . . . Happy birthday Mike Stanton (46).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.