2011 National League Trade Deadline Discussion
Now that the 2011 All-Star Game is in the books, it’s time to start thinking about baseball’s second season. No, not the pennant race. There’s another very important time in the baseball year, one that can at the same time make or break teams with championship aspirations while setting organizations up for dynastic runs in future years. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Trading Season.
The importance of July moves cannot be overstated. Last year, the Rangers shipped a haul to the Mariners to land Cliff Lee, who struck out 21 Tampa Bay Rays in two Divisional Round wins before shutting out the Yankees in the ALCS (another 13 Ks in that start) and taking the Rangers to the brink of their first championship. It was the second straight championship run for Lee, who was also acquired by the Phillies in 2009 and brought them to the World Series.
While several teams are looking for a Lee-like push to the next level, others want to trade established stars for prospects that could potentially be part of the team’s next title run. That’s what the Indians were thinking nine years ago when they traded Bartolo Colon to land Lee, as well as Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips.
More recently, the Astros sent signature player Lance Berkman to the Yankees at last year’s trading deadline. They were able to land their current closer, Mark Melancon, in the trade. Perhaps the best pitcher dealt last July will end up being Tyler Skaggs, a key reason the Diamondbacks were willing to deal ace Dan Haren to the Angels.
Which players could make for October heroes this year and franchise players down the road? Let’s preview the National League in what’s likely to be a flurry of activity right now. The American League rundown will come in a second article.
Philadelphia (3.5 games ahead): The Phillies are in the market for bullpen help, though getting Brad Lidge back without trading anything should provide the team a big boost. The team could also use a righty outfielder to pick up some of the slack of lefties Raul Ibanez and Domonic Brown. They could go after Ryan Ludwick or Josh Willingham. Teams will likely try to kick the tires on prospect pitcher Jarred Cosart and hitter Jonathan Singleton.
Atlanta (3.5 games behind): Injuries have stretched the Braves thin in the outfield, and although they have limited payroll flexibility, they could find enough room to add a guy like Willingham. Brandon Beachy comes up as a potential piece that could be moving in a deal, but I would expect they want a better player for Beachy, who should be a quality rotation guy for years. Teams trading hitters with expiring deals could go after Sally Leaguer Carlos Perez, who’s sporting an ERA over 5.00 right now.
New York (11 games back): The Mets didn’t want to sell out on 2011 if they had a shot at contention — as I was writing that sentence, news broke that the Brewers acquired Rodriguez from the Mets for a couple PTBNLs. The team should also make a concerted effort to shed Carlos Beltran, picking up enough of his contract to get a quality prospect in return. Beltran could be a great add for the Rangers, allowing Josh Hamilton to slide to left field. The Giants are known to have interest. I don’t anticipate Jose Reyes going anywhere (even when healthy), as the team will likely make every effort to lock him up long-term or get draft pick compensation if they can’t.
Washington (11.5 games back): It’s doubtful the Nationals can add any key prospects with any of their expiring guys, unless a team falls in love with Livan Hernandez (they won’t). Laynce Nix should bring them back a decent minor leaguer. Ivan Rodriguez could latch on with a team desperate at the position.
Florida (14 games back): If the Marlins want to shed a little salary, they could potentially make Ricky Nolasco available. While he would likely take at least one can’t miss prospect close to the majors to deal, he could be a worthwhile gamble for teams intrigued by his great peripherals despite mediocre ratios. Would the Cardinals trade a guy like Carlos Martinez for a couple years of Nolasco? Could he land someone like Martin Perez from Texas?
Milwaukee (tied for first): The Brew Crew fired the first big shot of the July season by acquiring Rodriguez, who should move into a setup role for the team (at least until John Axford suffers a meltdown or two). Expect the Brewers to look for a utility bat as well — maybe Omar Infante’s versatility (if not his numbers) could intrigue them.
St. Louis (tied for first): While the Cardinals are obviously set up to be buyers at the deadline, speculation has come about that they could be open to moving young centerfielder Colby Rasmus. They’ll definitely be looking for bullpen help, and if the Padres could somehow turn one or two of their relievers and a middling prospect into Rasmus, they’d feel like they hit the jackpot.
Pittsburgh (one game back): The Pirates surprisingly find themselves in the thick of a pennant race (at least for now), but don’t expect them to deviate from their long-term plan and start selling potential franchise pieces for an ill-fated playoff run. If they do, they have plenty of offensive holes to fill. If I were in the management’s shoes, I’d be looking to sell high on Paul Maholm, who’s shaved over two full points off his ERA this year. If some team comes calling on Jeff Karstens, I would certainly listen as well.
Cincinnati (four games back): The Reds may be thinking about trading Yonder Alonso as a package for some pitching help — they reportedly have their eyes on Ubaldo Jimenez. One of the catching tandem of Devin Mesoraco or Yasmani Grandal could also be on the table. At that price, the Rockies would certainly have to listen. If the team decides to sell, Ramon Hernandez could net them a decent haul, and Francisco Cordero could pick up a solid prospect.
Chicago (12 games back): Another promising season appears down the tubes for the Cubs, who could make Carlos Pena’s trip in the Windy City a short one. The Giants and Rangers could certainly use an upgrade at the position, and the Cubs would likely be willing to eat salary to get a nice prospect in return. Kerry Wood should be on the move, especially with several contenders in need of bullpen help. Aramis Ramirez could bring back a very nice haul if the team makes him available. Reed Johnson is a cheap fourth outfielder for a potential contender.
Houston (19 games back): The Astros aren’t likely to make many moves with a pending change in ownership. Brett Myers and Jeff Keppinger could find themselves the target of multiple teams. If anyone is crazy enough to take some of the rest of Carlos Lee‘s deal off Houston’s hands, they’d rejoice.
San Francisco (three games ahead): The Giants need some kind of spark on offense, as they rank 13th in the National League in scoring, ahead of only San Diego. They could really use help at every offensive position. Carlos Beltran would be a major add, as would Aramis Ramirez. Even lesser names like Ramon Hernandez or Wilson Betemit could help. The Giants could consider making Brandon Belt or other top prospects available in an effort to win now.
Arizona (three games back): The Diamondbacks will be on the lookout for bullpen help, and with a little bit of payroll flexibility (they’re almost $20 million under last year’s payroll), they could be serious contenders for anyone on the market. Don’t expect them to deal top pitching prospects Tyler Skaggs or Jarrod Parker, even with the haul they got in the first round of this year’s draft. However, Paul Goldschmidt’s emergence could make them consider dealing a first basemen for a reliever. The Rays would certainly jump at the chance to solidify the first base position by dangling Kyle Farnsworth if they feel a Wild Card run is out of grasp.
Colorado (8.5 games back): The Rockies are likely on the outside looking in this year, unless they make a nice July run before the deadline (not out of the question). It would take a serious platter of blue-chippers to consider moving Ubaldo Jimenez, under team control for two more option years. Only Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are safe from a potential Colorado fire sale. Ty Wigginton’s power and versatility would definitely help a contender like the Brewers.
Los Angeles (11 games back): Like the Rockies, the Dodgers had high aspirations for this year, with a solid offensive lineup and a great rotation looking to lead them to the playoffs. At 10 games under .500, they’re all but out of it. They did, however, kick off trading season with their acquisition of Juan Rivera, who is likely nothing but a bench bat at this point. With their ownership problems, it isn’t likely they’ll be too much more involved in the feeding frenzy. However, Hiroki Kuroda would likely be plenty attractive to teams as one of the top starter’s on the market. Aaron Miles has been a killer in spot-duty, so he could grab the Dodgers a middling prospect.
San Diego (12 games back): We save the best (bullpen) for last. Heath Bell is the jewel of the trading deadline right now. While casual baseball fans likely fell in love with Bell during the All-Star festivities thanks to his hi-jinx, playoff contenders have been falling over each other trying to add Bell to their bullpens. Ryan Ludwick is also getting some interest as an affordable outfield bat, while the Padres could also conceivably trade elite setup man Mike Adams for a very good prospect or two. The Padres restocked their farm system over the winter by dealing Adrian Gonzalez — look for them to be major players in July as well.