Welcome to the Trade Deadline edition of the Triple Play. With only a handful of games for each team since the All-Star Break, we will resume our usual trio of Who’s Hot, Who’s Not, Playing the Name Game and Random Thoughts will return next week. This week, we take a look at some baseball trades that would be fun to see by the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Some are more realistic than others, but all would make for a more interesting summer around MLB. Off we go:
Incidentally, you won’t see David Price or Ben Zobrist on the list below. My gut feeling is that they aren’t traded. With the Rays playing so well the past month or so, I’m not counting them out in the AL East. None of the other teams are strong enough to pull away (barring a major trade in the next several days). Yeah, I realize they are still in last place in the division, but entering Monday, Tampa sat six games behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot. They have hurdled multiple teams to reach the postseason before. I’m not saying “write it down” or any such thing; just that it’s possible, particularly given how down the division is compared to normal. If they struggle in the next week and lose the ground they have gained, then next week could get mighty interesting. But for purposes of this column, Price and Zobrist are not included.
What you will notice in the below list is a certain fallen Eastern powerhouse. The Phillies theme wasn’t intentional, but the fact is they have several veteran players who could be flipped for prospects as Philadelphia may be ready to initiate a long-overdue rebuilding job.
1) Cliff Lee to the Cardinals – assuming he proves healthy Monday night in his return from the disabled list, Uncle Cliffy would slide right into the rotation behind Adam Wainwright and give the Cardinals a fantastic 1-2 punch. The Cardinals have sustained multiple injuries to their rotation so far this season (Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia) and have had to thin their bullpen by moving Carlos Martinez into the starting five. Lee would dramatically ease that burden. A rotation of Wainwright, Lee, Lance Lynn, Kelly and Martinez would look mighty nice. If Wacha is able to return by September and offer the same sort of boost he did in 2013, well, look out. You might notice that the odd-man out in the above scenario is Shelby Miller, who was only one of the best rookie starters in the league last year before being shut down in September. Should fans and fantasy owners be alarmed about the recent demotion to the bullpen? Would they consider trading him for Lee? Hmmmm.
2) Chase Utley to the Blue Jays – He seemed like a perfect fit for the Giants, but they went the low-hanging-fruit route and signed Dan Uggla on Monday. Utley, who at 35 is no longer the middle-of-the-order force he was in his prime, has still pretty decent this year. Most importantly, he’s healthy, and he has loads of playoff experience. Toronto definitely could use a guy like Utley as they try to climb back in front in the AL East. It also would keep him away from the rival Orioles, who are in need of a second baseman as well. The Phillies will probably ask for top pitching prospect Marcus Stroman (can’t see the Jays going for that), but perhaps a package of lesser prospects would get it done.
3) Jimmy Rollins to the Tigers – I’m somewhat surprised this one hasn’t happened already. After breaking Mike Schmidt’s franchise hits record, Rollins said he would be open to a trade to a contender. Detroit might be the most shortstop-needy team in baseball. They passed on Stephen Drew and have resisted making a deal for anyone else, insisting that Eugenio Suarez is the right guy for the job. Given GM Dave Dombrowski’s history for aggressive deals, it seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? The Tigers are a strong contender to reach the World Series again this year; not acquiring Rollins would seem to be a missed opportunity for Detroit. Speaking of Rollins and the Tigers, did you see Jon Heyman’s suggestion of a Rollins-Jonathan Papelbon package deal? Certainly an intriguing idea, but I have another destination for the loudmouth Phillies closer (see below).
4) Steve Cishek to the Mariners – Fernando Rodney might have made the All-Star team, but there he was Sunday, blowing a save to the division-rival Angels in spectacular fashion and watching them mock his idiotic bow-and-arrow shtick. He has history of melting down in high-pressure moments dating all the way back to the 2006 World Series. If you are the Mariners, do you REALLY trust Rodney in September when your team has a realistic shot at the postseason for the first time in over a decade? Or do you deal from some of your minor-league depth and shore up your bullpen? Seems pretty easy to me. Cishek is a terrific closer and would be more highly recognized were he not pitching in Miami.
5) Jorge De La Rosa and LaTroy Hawkins to the Orioles – Buck Showalter has been cobbling together a starting rotation of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, bailing wire, chewing gum and duct tape. They seem reluctant to trust top pitching prospect Kevin Gausman, and they have had rumored interest in the Rockies “ace” for some time now. Whether De La Rosa would represent a significant upgrade is a valid question, but he has pitched well lately after a rough start to the season. Although Hawkins is 41, he has pitched well this season and would help stabilize the O’s bullpen, which has been used heavily this season. The Rockies, on the road to nowhere yet again, have no incentive to keep either pitcher. If they can get a decent prospect in exchange for them, they would be wise to do so. Seems highly unlikely, but if the Orioles are down on Gausman, maybe the Rockies could pry the Colorado-raised righty away from Baltimore?
6) Jonathan Papelbon to the Dodgers – Despite their terrific starting pitching, the Dodgers’ bullpen could use a bit of help. Kenley Jansen seems pretty set at closer, but perhaps he gets moved to a setup role. Or maybe the former Red Sox relief ace would accept an 8th-inning job if it means a good shot at winning. Given the Dodgers’ deep pockets, Papelbon’s $13 million salary shouldn’t be much of a hindrance. In fact, if they are willing to take on the entire salary, they probably wouldn’t have to give up much in exchange. You may wonder why Los Angeles (or any team) would want a loudmouth headache like Papelbon on its team. Well, the Dodgers have already proven they aren’t opposed to employing mentally disturbed relief pitchers *coughBrianWilsoncough*….
7) AJ Burnett and Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates – It was somewhat of a surprise when Burnett signed with the Phillies for the 2014 season. After all, Burnett said in 2013 that he would either stay with Pittsburgh or retire. The Pirates miss the veteran right-hander, who would give a beleaguered rotation a shot in the arm. Gerrit Cole is on the DL. Francisco Liriano has been wildly inconsistent after often being dominant in 2013. Edinson Volquez? He’s either chicken salad or chicken….you know. Burnett is a more reliable option. Bastardo would also be a coup for the Buccos, whose bullpen depth was weakened due to Jason Grilli’s decline and eventual trade. Ernesto Frieri hasn’t been the answer. Tony Watson has been great this year, but will he fade due to overuse? Bastardo would deepen Pittsburgh’s pen, which has been critical to its success this year. Maybe someone like Jose Tabata and one of their numerous pitching prospects would be satisfactory.
8) Joaquin Benoit to the Brewers (or Cardinals, Braves, Mariners, Giants, Pirates, Indians, or Tigers) – The Padres, who have already dealt Huston Street, could elect to keep Benoit as their closer for the balance of the season, but, as with Hawkins, where is the incentive to do that when a bullpen-needy team is likely to offer a prospect or two? Enter the Brewers. Francisco Rodriguez was an All-Star again this year and has notched 28 saves, but he also has allowed eight home runs in 46 1/3 innings (entering Monday). His FIP rating of 3.77 is just over a run worse than his 2.72 ERA, which indicates that he has been at least somewhat lucky so far this season. Benoit would provide some much-needed support. Of course, Benoit would provide that to any one of the teams in contention. Seeing him traded might be the least surprising move of the next 8-9 days.
9) Adrian Beltre to the Reds – Beltre would be the bigger surprise, as he has become the Rangers’ anchor and one of the last links to their 2010-11 World Series appearances. But he is 35 and Texas is going through a nightmarish season (they’re behind Houston, for heaven’s sake!). Perhaps it’s time to see what their best player would fetch on the open market. The Reds could simply slide Todd Frazier over to play first until Joey Votto returns from the DL, and then Frazier could play left. It would be a significant upgrade to their offense; plus, if Votto is able to return and be effective, a middle of the order featuring Votto-Beltre-Frazier-Devin Mesoraco hitting behind Billy Hamilton would cause heartburn for any team Cincinnati would face.
For the record, I place no odds on any of these deals happening, but, if nothing else, they would really spice up the races in each league – and they are already fascinating. The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is just over a week away, which means the next several days will be filled with rumors, suggestions and innuendo. Typically, it’s much ado about nothing, but every few years, there are some blockbuster deals that transform the races. New contenders emerge or existing favorites get stronger. The next several days will be worth watching to see how 2014’s trade deadline will be remembered.
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