We dissected the NL trade landscape in an earlier article, and now we’ll tackle the Junior Circuit. The Yankees and Red Sox are long thought of as the biggest spenders on the free agency and trade market, but last season it was the Texas Rangers shelling out a group of prospects for Cliff Lee, who breezed through the Rays and Yankees en route to earning the Rangers the AL pennant. What big ticket player could be on the move this year?
Boston (1.5 games ahead): The Red Sox have gotten bupkiss from J.D. Drew this season, leading speculators to believe they’ll go after an outfield bat. Lo and behold, they’re in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes. Andre Ethier could eventually want to wind up in Boston, and the team may want to expedite the process for this year’s playoff push. They could also stand to add a little starting pitching depth. Lars Anderson, now blocked by Adrian Gonzalez long-term, is an obvious trading chip. Teams could also check in on the slumping Drake Britton.
New York (1.5 games back): The team should be actively looking for relief depth and could be a player for Heath Bell. Also, the patchwork rotation seems to be coming unglued, with Bartolo Colon realizing it’s not 2005. The team would likely jump at the chance to trade prospects for an established younger starter like Ubaldo Jimenez or Anibal Sanchez if they somehow make it on the market. Could this be the season New York finally deals Jesus Montero? Don’t count on it, but the team could look to deal an actual catching prospect like Austin Romine.
Tampa Bay (six games back): The Rays seemingly would flip young starter Jeremy Hellickson for centerfielder and Tony LaRussa BFF Colby Rasmus. I wouldn’t, but they seem to know a thing or two about young talent. That deal could seemingly open the team up to shipping B.J. Upton out. If the Rays decide to become sellers during July, they should find a market for Johnny Damon and Kyle Farnsworth. If they want to buy, they have the minor league pitching depth to make a key move or two, though they seem hesitant to bring in any big ticket guys.
Toronto (10.5 games back): Another season of solid baseball not being good enough north of the border. The Blue Jays already ditched Juan Rivera, which is addition by subtraction, They have a bunch of tradeable arms in the bullpen, and one or two should find new homes by this time next month. Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch are the most likely guys to be shipped off. With plenty of salary coming off the books in 2012, the Blue Jays could also try and grab a marquee upcoming FA they feel they’d be able to sign to an extension, though that’s purely speculation.
Baltimore (18.5 games back): Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero could help contenders, while the team could cash in on J.J. Hardy’s revitalization, as a long-term Hardy extension (which is reportedly in the works) would block super-prospect Manny Machado. I’d imagine Koji Uehara would be pretty coveted in this trading season with so many teams looking for bullpen help, but he’s not really. As for targets, Baltimore should be looking for as many good, young arms as it can find for the above players.
Cleveland (tied for first): The Indians shot out of the gate on fire but were predictably caught from behind. The team has survived thanks to insane offensive production and over-performing pitching, but if they want to truly compete for a playoff spot they’ll have to make several moves. They could and should add some corner outfielders; that includes Beltran, Josh Willingham, Jeff Francoeur and the rest of the usual suspects. They should also bolster the rotation if possible. I don’t see them dealing Lonnie Chisenhall, Drew Pomeranz or Jason Kipnis, but everyone else could be fair game.
Detroit (tied for first): The Tigers first and foremost will try to address holes in the rotation and possibly in the bullpen, though word is they’re also in on Beltran. The team has recently come off Joakim Soria‘s no-trade list, and they’ve certainly had first-hand experience at the kind of help he could bring the bullpen. In the rotation, they’ve been linked to Hiroki Kuroda, but he has a no-trade clause and an owner in flux.
Chicago (five games back): The White Sox could still be in the division race with a nice two-week run in July, but they should be leaning toward selling. They should get a nice prospect or two for Edwin Jackson, who could wind up the best starting pitcher to trade teams this year. Atlanta could be in on him, or on one of Chicago’s bats.
Minnesota (six games back): Injuries have conspired to ruin the Twins’ season, but they really aren’t that far away from getting into the AL Central race. If they can’t make a push in the next two weeks, they should start selling players. Kevin Slowey has been on the block all season, and it’s hard to imagine some team not bailing him out of purgatory and giving him a rotational shot. The two top teams in the Central could certainly use him. Closer Matt Capps is another intriguing piece, one of many. Michael Cuddyer would be a nice add for the Red Sox to play right field. Jason Kubel should also have suitors. Look for the Twins to strike at the 11th hour when teams are most desperate.
Kansas City (12 games back): Everyone’s favorite pick to win the 2014 AL Pennant is back in the cellar again. They cut their salary in half coming into this season — and it shows (not that the higher-priced players were much better). Joakim Soria is an enticing piece for several bullpen-needy teams. Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera and Wilson Betemit should be easily acquirable pieces for teams in need of an offensive boost. Jeff Francis could also draw a little trade interest. It’s quite scary to think how much better the Royals farm system could get if they can find potential major leaguers for some of these guys.
Texas (one game ahead): Will the Rangers add a big-name trade piece in July for a second straight year? They’re one of many teams interested in Heath Bell. I think they could use at least one more bat to play outfield or first base, though Endy Chavez has been solid in spot duty. Tanner Scheppers has lost some of his shine, though he would still likely net the Rangers a pro hitter on an expiring deal.
Los Angeles (one game back): Even at only one game back, the Angels aren’t likely looking to buy — their payroll is already obscene (thanks, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter!). In fact, if anyone is willing to give a quality prospect for some of the Angels’ expiring guys, like Bobby Abreu or Joel Pineiro, the team could wind up cutting salary, even in the midst of a playoff race. At the very least, they should look for a cheap OF upgrade if they can, as Hunter looks nearly finished.
Seattle (7.5 games back): Seattle needs to get Erik Bedard back on the mound so they can try and trade him at close to peak value. His performance in the first half should have multiple teams come calling. Brandon League or David Aardsma was considered a likely candidate before Aardsma had to miss extended time, and League could still be on the block with the Mariners out of it. He’d certainly bring back a nice young prospect with the multitude of teams looking for quality relievers. More power to the team if they can move anyone else for anything resembling future value.
Oakland (12 games back): Brad Pitt’s Moneyball is set to hit theaters this year, and the A’s need another Moneyball-like revelation to get them back into the playoffs in the near future. Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp loom as solid outfield options for needy contenders. Rich Harden could prove a nice trading chip with a few good July starts. The A’s already have plenty of salary coming off the books this offseason, so they could set themselves up to be free agency players heading into 2012.