Houston’s trade for Scott Kazmir last Thursday may have been the official kickoff to the 2015 trade deadline, but Sunday’s Johnny Cueto blockbuster announced it with authority. The defending American League champion Kansas City Royals netted the top pitcher on the market by sending three young lefties to Cincinnati, and announced their intentions loud and clear in the process: they weren’t satisfied just making it to Game 7 of the World Series last year, and they’re here to finish the job. With the first major domino now fallen, the rest of the league is free to open up the floodgates. Here’s a preview of what we might see go down before Friday’s 4pm deadline. More likely, this is a list of predictions that will be obsolete an hour from now.
New York Yankees- Hisashi Iwakuma, Dustin Ackley, Jim Johnson
Toronto Blue Jays- Jeff Samardzija, Jay Bruce, Jonathan Papelbon
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has been attempting to lower everyone’s expectations for the Yankees deadline, claiming he is not the least bit inclined to trade top prospects Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. While that could be nothing more than a smokescreen (these are the Yankees, after all), Cashman has done a nice job finding cheaper, quality pieces in the trade market in the recent past (Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley in 2014, for instance). I suspect the Yankees opt to go the same route this year, making smaller upgrades and moves for depth, rather than empty the farm for a major acquisition.
The Blue Jays, on the other hand, are 6.5 games back of the Yankees and have an ability to patch several holes with an active deadline. With Cueto off the market, Samardzija makes a lot of sense as a rotation upgrade, and it feels like Papelbon has been linked to the Jays since the beginning of time (Aroldis Chapman would be another possibility here). Bruce would further bolster what is already the best offense in baseball and put an end to Toronto’s rotating door in left field.
The Orioles and Rays are still in contention, but reports have indicated that at this point it appears just as likely that they could decide to sell as buy. The O’s are the more likely of the two to become buyers, but GM Dan Duquette has generally been more of a tinkerer than an overhauler, so any upgrades Baltimore makes would most likely be in that vein.
Kansas City Royals- Johnny Cueto, Dan Haren, Martin Prado
Minnesota Twins- Mat Latos, John Axford
Detroit Tigers- Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit
With Kansas City having locked up the top arm on the market with five days to spare, most of the pressure is off. Another upgrade to the middle of their rotation would suit them well, and it’s hard to imagine a better landing spot for flyball-prone Dan Haren than in front of the elite Royals outfield defense. Martin Prado plays for the same team as Haren and has experience at both second base and the corner outfield. Prado could serve as a fill-in for the injured Alex Gordon in the near-term and then supplant the struggling Omar Infante at second base upon Gordon’s return. The team could really push their chips in the middle with a move for Ben Zobrist, but a world where the Royals have the best record in the AL and are snatching up all the best players on the trade market still feels too strange.
Nobody seems to be taking the Twins very seriously, but with a three-game lead in the second wild card spot at this point in the season, they’re most definitely a contender. The moves (or non-moves) they make this week will go a long way to determining just how seriously the Twins take themselves. Minor upgrades to the rotation and bullpen are likely, but a blockbuster deal for a Carlos Gomez, for instance, would be a loud statement to the league that the Twins are not messing around.
I wrote at length about the Tigers yesterday, so I won’t delve too deep here. I don’t think they’ll wind up selling. If they buy, a low-rent starter/reliever combo like San Diego’s Kennedy and Benoit would seem to make some sense for them.
Los Angeles Angels- Carlos Gonzalez, Chase Utley
Houston Astros- Scott Kazmir, Carlos Gomez, Francisco Rodriguez
The West looks like it’s going to be a dogfight into September with the Angels and Astros desperately trying to banish the other to the coin-flip game. The Astros already struck with the Kazmir trade, but I will gamble here and say they make one more blockbuster before the week is out. Gomez seems a perfect fit for Houston in centerfield and would be a massive boon to their chances both this year and next year. A player that can help the Astros for multiple years would seem to be the type of guy GM Jeff Luhnow might splurge for. The Angels, meanwhile, could use the left-handed slugger in the middle of their order they thought they were getting when they signed Josh Hamilton two years ago. With no top prospects to speak of, the Angels could resort to flexing their financial might and absorb the $37 million left on Carlos Gonzalez’s contract through 2017. And with Chase Utley essentially being cast aside in Philadelphia and the Angels having suffered through replacement-level play from Johnny Giavotella at second base, there would seem to be a match there as well.
The Rangers are one of the more interesting teams at this year’s deadline because they appear to be both actively buying and selling simultaneously. On one hand, reports indicate Yovani Gallardo is certain to be sold. On the other hand, the Rangers are one of the premier players in the Cole Hamels market, and may be interested in lower-cost, rental options as well. The former makes some sense, as Hamels would be as much a move for the next few years as a win-now acquisition. But if they lose out in the Hamels sweepstakes, it’s unclear what they’d gain by swapping out Gallardo for a Mike Leake-type.
Washington Nationals- Aroldis Chapman, Marlon Byrd
New York Mets- Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson
There are so many quality relief arms available this year that predicting where each one ends up feels like a crapshoot. That Washington has had their name attached to just about all of them doesn’t help. If the World Series-or-bust Nats are going to make a move to upgrade their bullpen though, they might as well grab Chapman, who is the clear cream of the crop.
The Mets acquired a couple of utility players in Uribe and Johnson on Friday, and at the time of this writing they appear to be closing in on Oakland’s Tyler Clippard as well. They shouldn’t stop there. Just two games behind the Nats in the NL East and 3.5 out in the wild card race, the Mets have their first real shot at the postseason since 2008. With the most exciting young pitching staff in the league, the Mets urgency is clear. They need bats, bats and more bats. The team could still be players in the outfield market (Gomez, Bruce, Justin Upton), but the recent call-up of prospect Michael Conforto makes Zobrist a more likely and more fitting target.
St. Louis Cardinals- Adam Lind, Steve Cishek
Pittsburgh Pirates- Yovani Gallardo, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Aramis Ramirez
Chicago Cubs- Justin Upton, Andrew Cashner, Craig Kimbrel, Jedd Gyorko
Few players fit a team better than Adam Lind fits St. Louis. The Cards have struggled to find production at first base since Matt Adams went down with a torn quadriceps in late May. Lind has quietly slashed .285/.365/.500 over the past two seasons and has been one of the most efficient RHP-killers in the league. Already having bought low on Steve Cishek to help bolster the bullpen, Lind would be a perfect compliment to a team that already owns the best record in baseball.
Pittsburgh has had their name attached to major markets like Upton and Zobrist, but GM Neal Huntington’s M.O. has typically been to be subtler than that. Lind would probably be a better option for Pittsburgh than Napoli based on how righty-dominant the Pirates lineup already is. Boston, however, can offer the Pirates Victorino as an alternative to the struggling Gregory Polanco in right field, and perhaps even Koji Uehara as a bullpen upgrade as well. Beyond that, I’d look for the Pirates to add a mid-tier starter, and Gallardo’s ground-balling ways seem to fit the bill there.
Dave Cameron speculated about a potential Cubs-Padres matchup in his own trade predictions piece yesterday, and I haven’t been able to shake the thought of it since. Chicago’s offense has been worse than all but three National League clubs so far, and the Mets, Marlins and Phillies aren’t exactly the type of teams you want to be keeping company with in that regard. That said, the Cubs are unlikely to pony up the prospects for a two-month rental of Justin Upton when they’re best case scenario seems to be the Wild Card game, not to mention the fact that they’re at just the very beginning of what they hope will be a very long contention window. If San Diego were to dangle Cashner and Kimbrel though, to provide the Cubs some future value as well? That might make a blockbuster realistic.
Los Angeles Dodgers- Cole Hamels, Kevin Jepsen
San Francisco Giants- Mike Leake, Gerardo Parra
Maybe it’s because he’s from southern California. Maybe it’s that L.A. is one of the few teams that has the prospects, money and need to get a deal done. Maybe it’s just the surfer hair. But Cole Hamels has felt destined to put on the Dodger Blue ever since it became apparent that Philly would need to deal him. Hamels, added to Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, would give the Dodgers as dynamic a top-three as any team in baseball, and would serve as insurance for Greinke’s probable opt-out into free agency this winter.
A mid-rotation starter isn’t the best fit for San Francisco, but the team has been mentioned heavily in the Cole Hamels and David Price (potential) markets, and have been mentioned as sniffing around Leake as well. It’s questionable how much of an upgrade Leake would be over the many rotation options the Giants already have, but it’s clear they’re at least interested in adding some starting pitching depth. Parra, on the other hand, would seem to fit the Giants quite well as a player who juggles a variety of skills and could enter an outfield rotation with Nori Aoki and Angel Pagan, as well as serve as Hunter Pence injury-insurance.
I probably predicted way too much action for a deadline that often comes and goes without a whimper. Last year’s fast and furious trading season was an anomaly, and it probably spoiled us all. Chances are good that many of the big names I listed above don’t wind up getting moved at all, and come 4:01pm Friday, we’re all furious. Then again…what’s that? The Red Sox just traded for David Price and Cole Hamels? A.J. Preller traded the Padres starting rotation for a pair of Steely Dan tickets? Whee!!