It will take a perfect storm of events for a team to emerge with Tampa Bay lefthander David Price, perceived to be the prize of the trade deadline market.
All indications are it will take an aggressive approach by a team to get it done well in advance of the deadline.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin knows the feeling.
On July 7, 2008, he pulled the trigger on a deal with the Indians for CC Sabathia, knowing he had to give a little more than he wanted (in the end, he didn’t give us as much as he thought) to get it done.
Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA for the Brewers, who made the playoffs as a wild-card team but lost in the Division Series. Worth it?
“At the time the Brewers hadn’t made the playoff for 25 years,” Melvin said. “We knew we had a good team and needed one more front-line starter to help us through the season and into the postseason. We knew there wasn’t much of a chance that we’d be able to sign CC, but we felt it’s something we needed to do for our fanbase.”
Melvin said the Indians insisted on former first-round pick Matt LaPorta in the deal. Check. There were a couple of other pitching prospects in the deal who didn’t pan out, but the biggest piece was the player to be named. Melvin said that if the Brewers made the playoffs, the Indians could pick the player, and if they didn’t, the Brewers would pick.
The player turned out to be Michael Brantley, who has turned out to be one of the best players in baseball.
“We figured if we struck early we’d have him for an extra month and get more out of it, so we were willing to work with the Indians on something to make that happen,” said Melvin, who knew there were other teams competing for Sabathia, suspecting the Dodgers were hot on his trail.
The difference between Sabathia and Price is that Sabathia was a free agent-to-be, while Price has a year remaining on his deal. Price has said he would likely not immediately agree to terms with his new team, wanting to scope out his future.
Price has had an unusual season, in that he has a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.29, 144 strikeouts against just 14 walks), yet has allowed 17 home runs in 17 starts. And his velocity has fluctuated. But he is only 28 and is a battle-tested, big-game pitcher.
It’s no secret that American League teams New York, Baltimore, and Toronto are not backing down in their pursuit, going against the perception that you don’t trade a top player within your division. All indications are the Rays have invited one and all to bid.
“I was also on the other end of the spectrum when I traded Zack Greinke to the Angels,” recalled Melvin, who got Jean Segura as the primary piece in that July 27, 2012, deal. “I had teams within the division asking for him, and my approach to that is this: I had no problem doing it, but I had to get a little extra if I was going to do it. And that’s what I told them.”
Certainly, when you trade a player within your division you have to watch your rival use that player against you for years. But you also have the benefit of acquiring their prospects and watching them emerge.
It takes talent to acquire the likes of Sabathia (then in his prime) or Price. And who has it in the AL East?
The Orioles, for instance, who have to surrender Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, and a couple of positional prospects. Would they do it, and then have to find a way to sign Price, whether it be now or after this season?
What “extra” could the Yankees give? They would have to give up a catching prospect, a couple of pitchers for sure, including Dellin Betances. Do they have enough in their farm system to land Price?
Obviously, they are one of the teams capable of signing Price to a Sabathia-like contract. Just not sure the Yankees have enough of that “extra” Melvin is talking about.
The Blue Jays also would be an intriguing team on Price. They need him, but lately they seem to have their sights set more on a midrange starter such as Jason Hammel than Price or the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija.
The Jays could certainly afford Price since the resources of Rogers Communications have few bounds. And the Jays could use an anchor to their rotation, whether it’s for this playoff run or for the future.
Oakland seems to be a sleeper team on Price, never knowing what GM Billy Beane might come up with. The Athletics have gone only so far in the postseason, and now need to go that extra mile to secure further advancement.
The Marlins are also a contender, and with Jose Fernandez out for the year, they may have young players that would interest the Rays. The Dodgers and Angels could also be in the hunt. The Cardinals also have great interest, but would likely have to give up outfielder Oscar Taveras.
The Mariners and Braves have kicked the tires. The Rangers need to get better pitching for now and for the future, and like the Red Sox, they have the young trade chips and the financial resources to get such a deal done.
But none of them will get Price if they stand on the sidelines. The way Price is pitching now, it would behoove a team to strike soon.
Should established pros be rookie of year?
Former Japanese batting champion Ichiro Suzuki created a stir when he was named AL Rookie of the Year in 2001 at the age of 27.
Now, 27-year-old White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who played in the very competitive Cuban league, and Yankees righthander Masahiro Tanaka, 25, who played professionally in Japan, are the top contenders for the award.
Should accomplished players from top pro leagues be eligible to be named the top rookie?
There’s certainly a big difference between Abreu and Houston’s George Springer, for instance. Springer is a kid who came out of college, rose rapidly in the minors, and is now hitting bombs in the majors.
The plethora of Japanese and Cuban players dotting the landscape is certainly changing the award.
When six major league officials were asked about this subject, five said Tanaka and Abreu have every right to be eligible for the award. But one American League GM said, “I don’t think you can say with a straight face that a 27-year-old established hitter like Abreu should get the award over a 22-year-old kid who just came out of Triple A. Or a 25-year-old pitcher like Tanaka, who was 24-0 in Japan. They have a tremendous advantage. Just the fact they don’t need any minor league time is proof of that.”
The Tigers have rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos and the Angels rookie first baseman/DH C.J. Cron. The National League will be more traditional, with Cincinnati speedster Billy Hamilton and Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco getting most of the votes for top rookie.
“We all have our opinions on Cuba and the caliber of player that comes from there, and I would say and my scouts would agree, it’s a level above Triple A,” said one longtime AL scout and special adviser. “And as for Japan, these players are playing in a professional league with professional players.”
If Springer loses out to two established pros in the AL, that would be tough to swallow. Otherwise, many of the “true” rookies are having sensational years. Xander Bogaerts, a preseason favorite for the award, is now struggling.
Brock Holt hasn’t really played enough, though if he continues to play at his current level we may start thinking of him as being a victim of Tanaka or Abreu beating him out.
Hamilton and Polanco will likely battle it out for NL Rookie of the Year. Hamilton is hitting a lot better (.277) than everyone thought he would, and he’s been a game-changer on the basepaths (33 steals) and covering ground in center field.
Polanco, “a different kind of animal,” as one NL GM called him, could put up big numbers before the year is over.
“On a scouting scale of 80, he’s got 80 power, an 80 bat, 80 runner, a 70 arm, a 70 defender. He’s a faster runner down the line than [Andrew] McCutchen,” said an NL special scout.
Apropos of nothing
1. Author David Ostrowsky of Natick has a neat new book titled “Game Over or Game On?” which profiles what former pro athletes are doing in retirement. Steve Finley, Scott Brosius, Butch Hobson, and Gary Gaetti are among those featured.
2. Is it possible David Ortiz doesn’t make the All-Star team? Put it this way, AL manager John Farrell is going to have to do some creative things to get him on. First of all, Nelson Cruz leads the voting at DH, and Detroit’s Victor Martinez is having an excellent season. It would appear that Ortiz will get many player votes. And Farrell could see Martinez as a catcher, we suppose.
3. Here’s a little counter to the grind-it-out approach the Red sox take offensively: A.J. Pierzynski is hitting .356 when he swings at the first pitch, with two homers and eight RBIs in 48 plate appearances for a .918 OPS, by far his best count.
4. Word in the Pirates’ organization is that they’ll devote their resources toward one starting pitcher and one reliever rather than a hitter.
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka got beat up a little in his last start — five runs in six innings against the Pirates — but for the most part the Mets are happy with his contributions after being in the bullpen. It seems he has reestablished himself at least as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
6. Andy MacPhail told me last week he’s very interested in getting back into baseball. The former Twins, Cubs, and Orioles executive said he would be interested in the San Diego GM job if there was interest. There are some interesting and capable GMs out there who deserve another chance, including Wayne Krivsky, Jim Duquette, J.P. Ricciardi, Tim Purpura, and Ed Wade.
7. Junichi Tazawa is a very underrated pitcher, isn’t he?
8. Funny walking by the batting cage in Seattle the other day and seeing Jackie Bradley Jr. batting righthanded.
Updates on nine
1. J.D. Martinez, OF, Tigers — The Astros have good prospects, but good enough to give up on Martinez? He has nine homers and 32 RBIs in 131 at-bats with the Tigers this season after seven homers and 36 RBIs in 296 at-bats with the Astros last season. Martinez said, “Jeff [Luhnow, the Astros’ GM] told me, ‘We have all these minor league guys who we have to get playing time, and we don’t think we can get you any playing time in Triple A, so we don’t want to hold you up and [want to] give you an opportunity somewhere else.’ I respect that instead of being buried in Triple A or waiting for an injury without even playing.”
2. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — There have been no contract discussions, but Martinez, a free agent-to-be who is having one of his best years (.328, 20 homers), would love to remain in Detroit, according to a source close to the 35-year-old. Question is, how long of a contract is suitable for Martinez? A three-year deal for someone who can hit from both sides of the plate doesn’t seem unreasonable. The Tigers have to assess how long Miguel Cabrera can play in the field before he needs to DH. All of Martinez’s homers have come when the difference in the game is three runs or fewer.
3. Mike Hazen, assistant GM, Red Sox — Hazen, who hadn’t interviewed for the San Diego GM job as of Friday, has a working relationship with Padres president Mike Dee from their Boston days, and he comes from a Red Sox program with which Dee is very familiar. There’s been a lot of talk about Kevin Towers returning, but if the Diamondbacks don’t let him out, Hazen could emerge as a top contender in San Diego.
4. Marlon Byrd, OF, Phillies — Byrd remains on the fringe for a few teams that need a righthanded-hitting outfielder. The Royals and Red Sox are certainly in that boat. Byrd, who has a .791 OPS, has been steady for the Phillies, and since 2013 has hit the third most extra-base hits in the NL behind Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew McCutchen.
5. Alex Rios, RF, Rangers — Listening to offers on Rios and actually trading him are two different things. The Rangers and Red Sox could make beautiful music together, if they were so inclined. The Red Sox need a righthanded-hitting, steady, run-producing outfielder, while the Rangers need pitching depth. I’m think Felix Doubront to the Rangers. Again, this is just my trade fantasy. Rios makes $12.5 million as part of that seven-year, $69.835 million deal he signed with the Blue Jays. There’s a club option for $13.5 million next season, which rises to $14 million if he’s traded this season.
6. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — After this season, he has four years and $90 million remaining on his deal. That seems like a number the Red Sox would love for an elite lefthanded starter. It was part of Hamels’s six-year, $144 million deal, the numbers that seem to be attached to Jon Lester and his impending free agency. Taking the Red Sox out of the equation, the Phillies seem to be torn between trading Hamels and getting shiny new pieces or building around him. In June, he’s got a 1.23 ERA, and he’s gone at least seven innings in 10 straight starts. Hamels has a limited no-trade clause, and it says here he remains a Philly.
7. Koji Uehara, RHP, Red Sox — If the Red Sox wind up being sellers, it would be hard to imagine them selling Uehara. In fact, it would be a long shot. While the Red Sox haven’t officially talked to Uehara about next season, they feel he’s still an effective closer, even though he will be 40 in 2015. The Red Sox would love to go year to year, and Uehara would likely want to do the same, but likely for more than the $4.75 million he currently earns. Uehara does make his home in Baltimore and the Orioles have a need, so that bears watching.
8. Jason Hammel, RHP, Cubs — Hammel, 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.013 WHIP, has gone from one of last offseason’s afterthoughts to a guy who could land a huge payday in free agency. One major league source said, “You could argue that Hammel is the most sought-after player, positional or pitcher, in the trade market right now.”
9. Jonathan Herrera, INF, Red Sox — Herrera is drawing some interest around the league. As Brock Holt proves he can play anywhere, the Red Sox are less concerned about who can back up at shortstop, especially with Xander Bogaerts on the roster and Deven Marrero having a nice year at Double A Portland.
From the Bill Chuck files — “No pitcher has more saves (18) than Jonathan Papelbon without giving up a homer.” . . . Also, “The Rangers’ Joakim Soria leads the majors with 12 saves in which no one reached base.” . . . Happy birthday, Peter Hoy (48).
Related:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.