With so little starting pitching likely available at the Aug. 1 trade deadline (Jose Fernandez and Chris Sale will not be available), teams may try to bolster their offenses in the hopes of creating high-scoring lineups that will help take the sting out of average starting rotations, as the Red Sox did in April and May.
While there will also be bullpen-building with the dearth of starting pitching, offense will be foremost on the minds of contenders, who will try to obtain hitters with track records they can depend on in big situations.
We asked a few scouts and baseball executives to come up with a list of who these hitters might be. Here are a few of the interesting ones:
1. Jay Bruce, OF, Reds — Bruce, 29, is having a very good season and would be a high-end acquisition. Some believe he’s got Giants written all over him, and perhaps he does as the Giants pursue a bat with Hunter Pence out for a while. Bruce has a .281 average with 16 home runs, 55 RBIs, 17 doubles, and 6 triples. He has scored 43 runs and is third in the National League with a .585 slugging percentage. He’s also just four home runs and three doubles shy of becoming just the 11th player in major league history to collect 20 homers, 20 doubles, and 6 triples prior to the All-Star break. Of the previous 10, eight are in the Hall of Fame. Not to mention, Bruce plays good defense. The one thing some scouts worry about is a second-half dropoff. Over his career, Bruce has hit .255/.805 in the first half, and .241/.765 in the second. It’s not uncommon, but must be factored in if you’re going to give up a lot to get him.
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers — Braun was linked to the Giants last week, but the major obstacle with him heading anywhere is his contract. With four years left at an average of $19 million, the Brewers would have to be willing to eat some of it, and any team would have to give up two top prospects and a mid-range prospect. In terms of performance, scouts think Braun would be a difference-maker. He also has been slightly better over his career in the second half (.307/.921) than the first (.303/.905).
3. Matt Kemp, LF, Padres — His reputation precedes him, and you’d have to swallow hard on his defense, but he can hit. The Padres would love to move him, but they still haven’t received a lot of inquiries.
4. Josh Reddick, RF, Athletics — Reddick is very close to returning after fracturing his left thumb. So, he should be back in time to show everyone he’s OK. Nobody can see the A’s holding on to Reddick, who will be a free agent. Once he shows he’s healthy and back in the flow, Reddick is likely to receive a lot of attention.
5. Joe Mauer, 1B/DH, Twins — Of course, he’s Mr. Twin and has no-trade protection. He’s got two more years at $23 million per after this season. But for anyone needing a pure hitter? And would Mauer himself like a more competitive situation? Would the Twins even consider dealing the face of the franchise? The likelihood is no, but it was a fun name to include.
6. Carlos Gonzalez, RF, Rockies — Teams wrestle with whether he’s a product of Coors Field, where he’s hitting .325/.988 for his career. Of course he is. But that doesn’t mean Gonzalez can’t excel elsewhere. “He can play anywhere and in any league,” said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. “He’s a special talent, bro. The man can really hit.” Gonzalez is having a typically outstanding year — .310, 15 homers, 38 RBIs, .896 OPS. He’s hitting .293 with a .792 OPS on the road and a .331/1.019 at home. The other issue is his contract, as he’s owed the remainder of $17 million this year, and $20 million next season. Actually not bad for a hitter of this caliber.
7. Nick Markakis, RF, Braves — There’s been little activity on Markakis, probably because of the contract (two years left at $11 million per) and because he’s not having a good season. But he’s a guy with a track record, a good fielder, and someone many scouts believe could ramp it up a notch. Kansas City would be a good fit if the Royals got some salary relief.
8. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates — We believe the Pirates, who tell us he’s not going anywhere. He’s certainly having his poorest season (.238), but nobody thinks this is a guy on the decline. We mention him because you never know.
9. Khris Davis, OF, Athletics — Even people within the Oakland organization have been surprised with Davis’s 17 home runs. He’s controllable through 2020. With the A’s, you never know if they’ll part with a player if they receive a package they can’t refuse. As a power righthanded bat, teams are interested.
10. Jon Jay, OF, Padres — One of the Padres who is getting a lot of attention as a top-of-the-order hitter (.345 OBP) and good center fielder. He’s fighting an arm injury, but his .296 average is a plus. The Royals seem to be in on every lefthanded hitter.
11. Wil Myers, 1B, Padres — Myers, at 25, seems to finally be getting it, with 16 homers and 45 RBIs. He’s playing first base but could easily go back to the outfield. Our scouts think he’s finally found a place where he’s comfortable with no pressure. If he’s transferred back into a high-intensity environment, how will he respond?
12. Melvin Upton Jr., OF, Padres — Having his best year since leaving Tampa Bay, both offensively and defensively. The Padres would have to provide salary relief, as they did in the James Shields deal with the White Sox. But scouts are impressed.
13. Eduardo Nunez, SS, Twins — His average is coming down (.316), but he’s hit nine homers and knocked in 26 runs. He’s not a great defender anywhere in the infield, but for a righthanded bat with some pop teams have inquired about him.
14. Trevor Plouffe, 3B, Twins — He’s battling a groin injury, but Plouffe has always been intriguing for his potential to be an offensive force. He hasn’t been what the Twins had hoped, but he’s still a threat from the right side.
15. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Lucroy is a .305 hitter with 10 homers as a catcher. While a few teams have inquired, no one has stepped up yet for the 30-year-old righthanded hitter. The asking price, according to one executive, has been “a little on the high side” in terms of prospects. But you can’t blame the Brewers for holding out for the best deal. He’s one of their few assets that could bring back a decent haul.
Reyes finds a home after suspension
The reason for his suspension is bad enough, but the perception of diminished skills didn’t help Jose Reyes in his quest to move to another team. But it only takes one, and that team was the Mets, who signed the 33-year-old Reyes as a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic and brought him back Saturday on a minor league deal after he cleared waivers.
Reyes, who served a 51-game suspension for violating baseball’s new domestic violence policy, was designated for assignment by the Rockies — who now have Trevor Story — and eventually released.
There was speculation of interest by a few teams, including the White Sox. But their general manager, Rick Hahn, indicated he’s very happy with rookie shortstop Tim Anderson after parting ways with veteran Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins may handle whatever opportunity awaits him better if he knows his role is that of a bench player, as opposed to reportedly brooding if he wasn’t in the White Sox’ lineup. Hahn, however, said Rollins was never a problem.
Meanwhile, Mets manager Terry Collins has always liked Reyes. Reyes could be used as a utility infielder, playing shortstop, third, and second. He’s still an effective hitter with reasonably good speed. The Mets know Reyes and are comfortable with him, though they have received pushback from groups who don’t want someone involved in domestic violence on the team. Reyes was accused of assaulting his wife in Hawaii in the offseason, but the charges were dropped. Major League Baseball, however, did its own investigation and found enough evidence of Reyes’s guilt.
Reyes was traded by the Blue Jays last season in the deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki from Colorado to Toronto. The Jays have been pleased with Tulowitzki’s defense, but his offense has been less than expected. Reyes hit .259 in 47 games for the Rockies last season.
Apropos of nothing
1. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn laughed when asked about the growing rumors that Chris Sale will be available in trade. “I’ve learned to just tune those out completely,” Hahn said.
2. Red Sox pitchers have hit 35 batters, most in the majors. Does that mean they’re pitching inside more than any other staff or have no idea where it’s going? The Indians have hit the fewest batters (14) and have been hit the least (12).
3. The more you look into the Home Base Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is a Red Sox Foundation charity, the more you see how valuable it is for veterans who come back and need help reacclimating. There are some heartwarming stories of vets who have regrouped after some tough times.
4. There’s renewed hope that the Braves can land a deal with Collier County, Fla., (Naples) on a new spring training facility ready for the 2019 season. Braves president John Schuerholz, who lives part of the year in Naples, has reopened talks with county officials. A team in Naples would give that area three teams, with the Red Sox and Twins in Fort Myers. And the Rays are less than an hour away in Port Charlotte.
5. The Padres are really bad, so why do teams want to acquire so many of their players?
6. USA Today’s 10 best ballpark foods: 1. Parmageddon, Progressive Field, Cleveland; 2. Campo’s Philly Cheesesteak, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia; 3. Ceviche, Marlins Park, Miami; 4. Crazy Crab’z Sandwich, AT&T Park, San Francisco; 5. Mahi Mahi Tacos, Petco Park, San Diego; 6. Buffalo Cauliflower Poutine, Rogers Centre, Toronto; 7. Burnt End Basket, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City; 8. Brisket Mac & Cheese Balls, Globe Life Park, Arlington, Texas; 9. Bisbee Tamale, Chase Field, Phoenix; 10. Sweet Potato Waffle Chicken Sandwich, Minute Maid Park, Houston.
Updates on nine
1. Mark Melancon, RHP, Pirates — With the Pirates falling helplessly out of it, Melancon, who becomes a free agent at the end of the season, is on the radar of a few teams looking for bullpen help. Melancon was the subject of trade talk this offseason but it never materialized. Don’t count out the Red Sox. The Astros, Giants, and Mets could also be players. Melancon hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 15, 14 straight appearances. He has 20 saves and has blown only one.
2. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Pirates — The Orioles and possibly the Marlins have interest in Liriano, who is not having his best season. The Orioles are in search of a lefthanded starter, so this makes sense. The Marlins’ interest could be coming from pitching guru Jim Benedict, who is credited with straightening out Liriano when the lefthander first got to Pittsburgh.
3. Ervin Santana, RHP, Twins — Santana is seen as perhaps the most viable trade deadline pickup on the market. The veteran can help a team immediately, perhaps not at the front end, but “he’s the one guy out there who could be a sure thing in the middle of the rotation. Teams like Boston, Toronto, Baltimore need that guy,” according to an American League assistant GM. Santana had some rough starts in early June, but on June 19 against the Yankees he went 7⅓ innings and allowed just two earned runs, looking more like himself. Santana is making Clay Buchholz money, $13.5 million a year through 2018.
4. Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Brewers — The 27-year-old has been able to gain some traction with Colorado Springs, the Brewers’ Triple A affiliate. He is up to .271 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 218 at-bats. Middlebrooks has struggled mightily the past three years, but it appears he’s on the upswing and is hitting righties (.296) better than lefties (.212). Also, former Red Sox farmhand Garin Cecchini, getting time at third, first, and DH for Colorado Springs, is also on the upswing, hitting .281.
5. Mike Napoli, 1B, Indians — Napoli has made a nice comeback and has been a huge part of the Indians’ offense with 15 homers. He’s also up to his old tricks in terms of seeing a lot of pitches, leading the majors with 4.63 per plate appearance, way above the average of 3.88. Napoli also has been huge for team chemistry. The Indians are desperately searching for another bat to supplement Napoli but would have to give up some of their good young pitching to get it.
6. Danny Valencia, 3B, Athletics — Valencia is yet another player teams such as the Royals and Indians are looking at to fill a void. Valencia, who briefly played for the Red Sox, has been really good hitting with two-strike counts, a league-best .316 with the average only .179.
7. Fernando Rodney, RHP, Padres — Sometimes the name and past failures make you cringe, but facts are facts. Rodney could be one of the most sought-after relievers at the deadline. He’s 16 for 16 in save opportunities and has a 0.33 ERA. Can’t get much more dominating than that. As one special adviser to a National League team pointed out, “When he’s right, he’s so confident on the mound. He’s not afraid of anyone or anything. He comes right at you. If you pick him up, you just have to hope he doesn’t go the other way, but I don’t think you’ll have to give up much to get him.”
8. Derek Norris, C, Padres — After a slow start, Norris is starting to pick up, but some time soon the Padres will want prospect Austin Hedges to be their primary catcher. Norris is only 27 and he has 10 homers. He’d be a cheaper version of Jonathan Lucroy for teams looking for a catcher.
9. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Yankees — The Yankees are working their way back into the race, so trading Chapman isn’t in the cards at the moment. Chapman can be a free agent after the season and the Yankees have been impressed with the flame-throwing lefthander and may try to re-sign him. The Yankees believe in their three-headed monster at the end of games and have no reason to break it up now.
In the 100th regular-season game of his major league career, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager went 3 for 4 with a solo home run in a win over the Nationals. Through 100 games, Seager was batting .301 with 20 home runs and 64 runs. According to Elias, over the last 60 years only four other players had at least a .300 batting average with at least 20 homers and 60 runs in their first 100 games in the majors: Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda (.316, 20 HRs, 61 runs in 1958); Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk (.301, 20 HRs, 60 runs from 1969-72); Wally Joyner (.313, 21 HRs, 60 runs in 1986); and Ryan Braun (.323, 30 HRs, 78 runs in 2007) . . . Happy birthday, Greg Blosser (45) and Mike Myers (47).
Ichiro Suzuki passed Pete Rose’s record hit total of 4,256 this month, when combining his 2,983 major league hits with his 1,278 hits in nine seasons in Japan. Rose has argued his 427 minor league hits should be added to his totals if Ichiro’s Japan League totals are going to be counted. By whatever method, the two hit kings have had remarkably similar careers (entering Friday).
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.