Every year you hear similar refrains about the trade deadline — “Not much going on . . . Teams don’t seem to want to give up their prospects . . . Nobody wants to pull the trigger.”
Yet, deals always happen. Because they have to.
General managers know if they don’t try to improve their teams, they may not have their jobs for long. Owners want results. They want to know that the millions they spend on the draft and farm system will pay off if they need to make a deal to improve their team for the playoff run.
Teams who do nothing get ripped by their fan bases for not trying. They are seen as standing pat, and nothing infuriates a fan base more. If you’re a lousy team, do something, such as sell off veterans you don’t want to build with for prospects you can grow with, or prospects you can sell off if you’re in a better position next season.
If you’re a contender, then do something to help your team get over the top. Do what the Brewers did when they beat the pack for CC Sabathia on July 7, 2008.
In this age of baseball parity, more than half the teams are within six games of .500. While some baseball officials think it creates gridlock on the trade front, as one GM put it, “This is the time when you have to be super-aggressive to make sure you don’t get caught with nothing.”
So ignore the rhetoric. Everybody dances the “don’t think there’s much out there” dance until closer to that July 31 deadline. And then you don’t want to be left holding nothing at the end.
So names will fly. And trade scenarios will fly.
We’re told by our major league sources that the Phillies, Marlins, Cubs, Blue Jays, and Rangers have been the most aggressive in terms of scouting other teams’ farm systems and parent teams.
It seems that needs for high-end pitching could be easier to fill than for high-end hitting.
With David Price (Rays), Jeff Samardzija (Cubs), Jason Hammel (Cubs), and Cole Hamels (Phillies) out there, you can bet there will be activity on pitchers.
“I think everyone needs pitching,” said Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
And so the competition will be stiff. While the starters will get the biggest play, the biggest challenge for teams will be to identify relievers who are available and could make an impact.
For those, teams really need to go to the Diamondbacks, Padres, Astros, Rays, and others that are truly out of the running. Or the contending Athletics could make Jim Johnson available.
“We’re meeting on it,” said Diamondbacks chief baseball officer Tony La Russa. “Figures we are sellers, not buyers.”
La Russa has familiarized himself with the Arizona farm system. He certainly knows the major league roster and has seen what everyone else has — an underperforming team that was decimated by injuries right off the bat, including to No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin.
La Russa is working with GM Kevin Towers and the rest of the staff on a plan for the future. But it sure looks as if teams can inquire about everyone except first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Bronson Arroyo would have been an attractive piece for a contender, but he’s now hurt for the first time in his career. That’s how bad Towers’s luck has been. Need a power bat? Well, Mark Trumbo might have been one, but he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot in late April. He’s eyeing a July return, but teams won’t have enough of a sample size to see how well he’s recovered.
Third baseman Martin Prado remains a name on the Diamondbacks’ roster that could attract teams at the deadline.
As for other hitters, start with San Diego, which would like to conduct a fire sale, with Carlos Quentin and/or Seth Smith sought-after. Smith is exactly the type of outfielder the Red Sox would like to land. And while Quentin has been an injury risk, if he’s producing (and right now he’s not) he’s worth the gamble for a team seeking a short-term fix.
Chris Denorfia is another Padres outfielder who could change teams. They would also listen on third baseman Chase Headley.
The Padres have had an effective 1-2 punch in their bullpen with Joaquin Benoit ($8 million next year) and Huston Street (free agent-to-be). Are they relievers who would interest contenders, or would the Padres seek to keep them for next season?
While Price remains the Rays’ biggest chip, they may be open to dealing other pieces, as well. Some major league scouts believe they would move Ben Zobrist (wouldn’t he be ideal for the Giants?), but only if they could get a haul for him. They might also have a few bullpen pieces — such as Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Grant Balfour — who could be moved.
The Cubs will likely deal outfielder Nate Schierholtz, though he hasn’t had a good year at the plate.
While they’ve had a recent upswing, the Phillies pretty much know they have to regroup with younger players. Closer Jonathan Papelbon could draw interest, but likely only if the Phillies are willing to kick in some salary. Cliff Lee is hurt, but Hamels will draw interest. Everyone loves Chase Utley, but he has 10/5 rights, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins may be more willing to waive his no-trade clause. Outfielders Marlon Byrd, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, and John Mayberry appear to be available.
The buyers will include the Giants, who have dipped lately. Watch for the Braves, Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Royals, Brewers, Marlins, Dodgers, and Angels to be looking for pitching. The surprising Mariners may be looking for a bat to augment their good pitching.
The Dodgers will be an interesting team to watch. They have excess outfielders and need a pitcher with Chad Billingsley out for the year. Matt Kemp doesn’t play center field anymore, so that makes Andre Ethier more valuable. Nobody wants Carl Crawford, so Kemp could go with a little salary assistance from the Dodgers.
With more than a month to go before the deadline, teams will continue to reassess.
“There was always pressure to make a deal,” said one former GM who is now a special assistant for an American League team. “Always pressure to improve the club.”
Ortiz believes Sox could use some help
When asked about whether the Red Sox should make a deal, David Ortiz was willing to say, “It’s up to them [management]. I just don’t know if they make a deal. The good hitters in the game are locked in for a long time. It’s tough. Last year, everybody on our team did well. You don’t see that. One player complements the next one. When a pitcher had to face a lineup like we had last year, it was a headache. Right now, the pitcher feels comfortable because they don’t face me with two men on base like they did last year. It’s different.”
Players are often reluctant to answer a question like that on the record for fear their words will be interpreted by management or players in a negative way.
Anything other than “I think we have enough to win it with the guys in this room” or “That’s a decision for our front office” is met with trepidation.
Prominent Red Sox players came around to the fact that they would welcome a deal that would improve the team, especially offensively.
“We’re not playing the way we want to, but that happens,” Ortiz went on. “We have to find a way to fix it. We’re not going to win all the time. You always want to play at the level of last year. Winning the World Series doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be on top of your game. It’s been pretty bad.
“Pitching has been good this year. The one thing I noticed is they’re not making as many mistakes against us. We killed mistakes last year. Look around the league, there are not too many guys killing it. Everybody is throwing 95 with three offspeed pitches.”
Apropos of nothing
1. One scout who recently spent time with the Brewers’ team in the Southern League was astonished by some of its arms. And most of them were older, high-round draft picks throwing in the mid to high 90s. They included closer Tanner Poppe and fellow relievers David Goforth and Tim Dillard. Starter Tyler Cravy went 8-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 0.85 WHIP before being promoted to Triple A Nashville.
2. Flying under the radar in the Red Sox system: 2B/DH Sean Coyle (.352, 10 for 10 in steals at Portland); outfielder Zach Kapstein (349./.407 OBP/.838 OPS at Greenville); and second baseman Reed Gragnani (.318, 33 RBIs, .414 OBP at Salem).
3. David Ortiz was wrong to publicly scold official scorer Bob Ellis for a decision last Wednesday at Fenway, but seriously, hasn’t Ortiz built up a reservoir of good will with three championships and being one of the greatest clutch hitters in Red Sox history?
4. Next hurdle for the Athletics, getting to and winning a World Series. Billy Beane is a superb GM, usually ahead of the trends. But will his platoon mastery get them over the hump?
5. Speaking of the A’s, what you hear a lot of is the possible embarrassment they may face if they should host playoff games in a stadium with numerous glitches, such as toilets not flushing properly, elevator breakdowns, etc.
6. Don’t get this: The Nationals are 9-30 against the Braves and Cardinals the last two seasons.
7. Odd that the Red Sox would completely embrace Manny Ramirez and completely diss Wade Boggs.
8. The Joel Hanrahan deal was looking like a bust for the Red Sox, until Brock Holt became relevant. The Red Sox gave up Mark Melancon, who has had two excellent years in Pittsburgh, and also unloaded Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus, whom they acquired in the blockbuster with the Dodgers. The Sox also gave the Pirates Stolmy Pimentel. Sometimes, you have to wait.
Updates on nine
1. Kendrys Morales, DH, Twins — While the Twins signed Morales for just the remainder of the year, don’t be surprised to see them try to re-up him. According to a major league source, the Twins like his switch-hitting bat and his influence on the younger Twins. In a short time, Morales has made an impact in the clubhouse. The Twins could also trade him off at the deadline and then re-sign him in the offseason.
2. Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore — His Tommy John surgery may be a blow the Orioles can’t overcome. Wieters was not only having a good offensive season, but in the eyes of one team official, “He was invaluable to that pitching staff. He is to the Orioles what Jason Varitek was to the Red Sox. That’s hard to replace.”
3. Josh Outman, LHP, Indians — Clearly one of the strangest designated for assignments of the year. Outman is a reliever who had posted a 4-0 record with a 3.28 ERA. Not so bad, right? Lefties were hitting .180 against him. Not so bad, right? So why was he DFA’d. Basically, they needed a spot to activate Zach McAllister off the disabled list. They also like rookie lefthander Kyle Crockett more, so they wanted to protect him. Lefties who get lefties out don’t grow on trees, so Outman should be in demand.
4. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs — Theo Epstein can look forward to a power-hitting third baseman at some point. There aren’t many of those guys, and Epstein has one. In his first start with Triple A Iowa last week, Bryant hit an opposite-field two-run homer in the seventh inning of a victory over El Paso. The second pick of the 2013 draft, it hasn’t taken him long to move up. At Double A Tennessee, he was basically winning the Triple Crown — .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs in 68 games. I would say this kid is going to be a keeper.
5. Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals — The Nationals are expected to get inquiries on Espinosa now that Bryce Harper is scheduled to return from the DL shortly. They will likely use Anthony Rendon at second base with Ryan Zimmerman returning to third. Espinosa will be the odd man out. Uncertain whether the Nationals would make him available to teams such as the Blue Jays or Giants.
6. Matt Kemp, LF, Dodgers — The Red Sox, who need to improve their righthanded hitting, spent significant time watching Kemp last week. But Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told me he’s not moving him. Colletti feels righthanded power is too hard to come by, and after Kemp went 11 for 24 with eight RBIs on a recent homestand, and 8 for 20 on a road trip before that, it reinforced to Colletti that he needs Kemp.
7. Christian Vazquez, C, Red Sox — One major league scout informed me that in any package of young players the Red Sox would have to give up in a major deal, Vazquez would likely be atop every team’s list. “If they wanted [Jeff] Samardzija, Vazquez would be one of the prospect the Cubs would ask for,” said the scout. “That would be across the board, even for a major hitter. He’s major league-ready right now offensively and defensively. We also think he’ll hit for some power in the majors. Because they have Blake Swihart, who a lot of teams will ask for as well, they probably would reluctantly give up Vazquez.” Asked which of the Sox’ catching prospects he would keep, the scout said, “Swihart. Rare athleticism for a catcher. He’ll be the complete package.”
8. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — When Sizemore cleared waivers at 1 p.m. on Friday, there were already several teams interested in the former Red Sox, according to his agent, Joe Urbon. The Sox expected this would be the case. Sizemore’s last hurdle, he said, was getting his legs completely in shape. He said they felt heavy at times, a result, he thought, of simply not playing baseball for a long time. One major league scout said, “Whoever gets him next will probably get a better player than what Boston had. He needed more time, and with that problem offensively up there they couldn’t wait. Ben [Cherington] had to pull the trigger on it.”
9. Edwin Jackson, RHP, Cubs — One Epstein would love to have back. Jackson, a four-year, $52 million blunder, has been horrible. In his last six starts, he’s 2-4 with a 7.20 ERA. If he were pitching well, Epstein would be able to send him off to another team. But unless Jackson, a former All-Star, turns it around, no chance. Jackson, of course, has always been durable but rarely dependable. He’s gone through good stretches in which his stuff dominates, but those have been few and far between this season.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Tony Gwynn had one three-strikeout game in his 2,440-game career. Gwynn, who died June 16, struck out three times on April 14, 1986, against Bob Welch of the Dodgers, who died June 9 . . . Also, “Justin Upton and George Springer each have 11 games in which they have struck out at least three times this season, to lead the majors.” . . . Happy birthday, Willie Harris (36).