July has to be one of the best months to be a baseball fan. For the next 35 days, speculation and internet rumblings over what players might be moved allow us to have a child-like imagination when it comes to our favorite team. We can dream about pulling the trigger for the #1 starter that will anchor our rotation. We can fantasize about the left-handed power bat that provides that much-needed extra pop. We can even get excited for the flame-throwing reliever that will shore up our bullpen. Hope springs eternal yet again.
But don’t be surprised when the month is over if the most exciting thing that happened before the trade deadline was those daydreams themselves. With MLB now having adopted a second wild card team, many more teams (correctly or not) consider themselves contenders for a playoff push. Entering play Thursday, 25 teams were within 7.5 games of wild card berth in their league. This is setting up, once again, to be a market with a whole lot of buyers and very few definitive sellers.
The moves that are made then become that much more important for fantasy owners, especially in an AL- or NL-only league. A star player getting shipped between leagues and becoming available can shift the balance of power dramatically. Normally, I’m not one to hoard a high waiver claim or a lot of my FAAB budget until late in the season, but if you have done that, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.
Players can have their outlooks radically shifted, both positively and negatively, by a change in scenery. We might hope for a player to be moved out of a seemingly bad situation, but the grass isn’t always greener as they say. Because there are so many fewer expected sellers at this point, let’s take a look at three we fully expect to be auctioning off assets and who they might be dealing. I’ll lay out the options, then give you my best guess as to where each player ends up. Act accordingly.
We get the ball rolling in the WIndy City due in part to my belief that it will be the Cubs who initiate the serious wheeling and dealing. Ironic that the North Siders find themselves in the same situation this year as they did in 2013, with two starters on the radar of a lot of contenders. Last season, the Cubs dealt Scott Feldman to the Orioles on July 2, but that was merely a warm-up for the bigger splash they would make 20 days later when they shipped Matt Garza to the Rangers.
This time around it’s Jason Hammel who is expected to be traded sooner rather than later. Hammel (2.99 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, 91 K in 96.1 IP) is experiencing a career year after spending his first eight seasons calling either an American League park or Coors Field home. Teams that don’t plan on committing major assets for one of the two aces could find Hammel as a nice consolation prize, and there’s a whole load of teams in that category. Hammel owners would love to see him stay in the senior circuit and land with a team like San Francisco or Atlanta. If he does end up in the American League, the AL West is much more attractive than the AL East. The Angels, Mariners and Athletics have all been bantered about, as have the Blue Jays and Yankees, with Seattle and Toronto emerging as of late. I think the Jays have eyes on a much bigger prize though. Considering they also showed interest in him over the winter, I would bet that San Francisco makes a strong play for Hammel to solidify the back of their rotation. It’s a dream scenario for Hammel owners when he heads to the bay. Hammel to the Giants.
If Hammel is the appetizer, then Jeff Samardzija is the entrée. We’ve listened to this little song and dance about him being dealt since the offseason, but as of now Samardzija still calls Wrigley home. He doesn’t hit free agency until 2015 and the two sides still look worlds apart in extension talks. Most believe the Cubs plan on shipping him out before the deadline, and just about every day there’s talk of a new team in on the sweepstakes. Toronto, Atlanta, Seattle and the New York Yankees are among a host of teams linked to the Notre Dame product. But day by day there are reports that each team has no plans to give up the prospects the Cubs are looking for to swing such a deal. Now the rumors swirl around the Royals and Giants scouting Samardzija. The Royals already have a made staff and don’t plan on sending back Yordano Ventura in any deal, and the Giants don’t need to swing this big for rotation help. The more talk that surrounds Samardzija, the more it appears to be just that. I don’t think Theo moves him just for the sake of moving him when he can’t get the haul in return that he wants. Samardzija will surprisingly stay put, and although fantasy owners may grumble, there’s much worse places he could’ve ended up. Samardzija stays with the Cubs.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Not many expected to see the Rays in this position when the season started. It’s all gone wrong for the Tampa Bay this year, with injuries and poor play littering the roster. The Rays have been a savvy organization when it comes to personnel moves, knowing when to pull the trigger on a deal and when not to. This year they have multiple pieces that will be for sale, including the biggest chip of all.
At this point, it might be a shorter list to name all the teams that haven’t been linked to David Price. Just about every contending team has had a rumor or two floated out there about acquiring the gem of the 2014 trade season. And for good reason, too. Price, despite a 3.63 ERA and an apparent case of gopheritis, is almost universally agreed to be pitching the best he ever has. His ridiculous 10.29 K/BB rate leads all of baseball and he hasn’t allowed more than 3 ER in a start in over a month. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a top-3 starter in fantasy the rest of the way, especially if he makes his way out of the AL East. But don’t be so quick to assume a trade takes him out of the division. Too much has been made of the Rays unwillingness to send Price to a division foe. If they did, they’d have to face him probably no more than five times a year in the future, all while taking prized prospects away from said team and having them at their disposal for at least the next five or six years. The Rays might very well require division counterparts to up the ante to get Price, making a deal that much sweeter. Because of the moves they’ve made the last couple years, Toronto finds itself in win-now mode and could very well pony up to acquire Price. It’s not the greatest move for Price’s fantasy outlook, but getting out of TB and landing on a contender could be a benefit in its own right. Price to the Blue Jays.
Another player who has been at the heart of Tampa’s success the last few seasons has been the versatile Ben Zobrist. The 33-year old has had a disappointing season, slashing just .247/.332/.375 with 5 HR and 4 SB. But a fair number of teams could use middle infield help and Zobrist, one of the most attractive names on the market, has a very reasonable $7.5 million option for next year that many teams would be more than willing to pay. The Giants, Braves, Reds and A’s could all make a play for the Zorilla. Even teams like the Dodgers and Nationals have been rumored to be in on the action. But I think it’s Detroit who ultimately steps up and makes the swap. Although Eugenio Suarez has played well out of the blocks, I think the Tigers would prefer a more proven commodity at SS than a 22-year old rookie. Zobrist would be yet another bat into that formidable lineup and make facing Detroit that much harder for any pitcher down the stretch. Zobrist’s stock gets a definite uptick should he find himself in the Motor City. Zobrist to the Tigers.
San Diego Padres:
The Padres have been bad on offense. Historically bad. So bad that I think bad isn’t a bad enough word to describe just how bad they are. Tim Lincecum just no-hit them. Again. Find me a starter you don’t feel comfortable streaming against them. And now they’re looking to sell off a few of their hitters? Not like the guys they’re shopping have been world beaters so far, but is it possible this actually gets worse? If you happen to be planning way ahead for the stretch run, just know that in September the Padres have home and away series with the D-backs, Rockies and Giants (7 of their final 10 games). File that little nugget away.
As for the here and now, any conversation about who the Padres might deal has to include Chase Headley. Seems like forever ago since we saw Headley put up 31 HR as he now has a .199/.286/.328 line with 6 HR and 23 RBI. But a ticket out of Petco has to be considered a strong positive for any hitter. Teams with holes at third base would be wise to kick the tires on a deal for the 30-year old, but the recent news of his herniated disk is a potential red flag. The obvious team that should make a play for Headley is the Yankees. Yangervis Solarte has done an admirable job manning the hot corner for the Bronx Bombers, but they could use a more established bat. Enter Headley, whose owners or prospective owners should jump at the chance to see the switch-hitter take aim at that short porch. This one just makes too much sense not to happen. Headley to the Yankees.
As much as any hitter might love the idea of getting out of San Diego, pitchers might not feel as strongly. Especially in the case of Huston Street, who mentioned two weeks ago his desire to remain in a Padres’ uniform. The need for bullpen help as well as his reasonable contract will outweigh Street’s personal preferences and I see him getting dealt as well. The Tigers, Orioles and Angels all have big questions at the back-end of their bullpen and would be wise to slot Street into the ninth inning if they get him. Others such as the Brewers, Blue Jays, Yankees, Indians and Marlins could simply use another reliable arm in relief. His value almost entirely hinges on what side of the fence he lands on. The big winners here could be Alex Torres and/or Dale Thayer, who stand to inherit at least a share of the closer role if and when Street is dealt (assuming fellow reliever Joaquin Benoit is traded as well, also a good bet). It’s a crapshoot at this point, but when forced to choose, I lean towards the Halos coming out of the fray with Street’s services. Street to the Angels.
I’ll be providing analysis on major trades we see come down the pike for the next month in my weekly discussion. If there’s any other players you care to discuss, hit me up @sharpshot3ball and I’ll give you my take.