The MLB trade deadline is on the horizon as we enter the start of July. This usually makes for some intriguing baseball moves as players say goodbye to their old teammates and hello to their new ones. Some have to travel across the country to join their new organisation, while others will simply venture to the visitors dugout.
This year’s deadline figures to see quite a lot of activity as teams hope to bolster their quest for success. With the offseason likely to bring a very thin market for starting pitchers, many contenders will be looking to add an arm mid-season rather than wait until November or December. Now let’s get stuck into a couple of bold predictions for things that may happen come August 1.
Oakland will trade Sonny Gray
As things sit, the A’s are 16.5 games out of first place in the AL West and seven games back in the AL Wild Card race. Put simply, they’re in no position to contend.
They may have Billy Beane as their GM, but it’s about time that Oakland make the most of their best trade chip and move Sonny Gray to a genuine contender. At 26, Gray is going to be the most sought after arm on the trade market and it will take a pretty good package to pry him away from the bay area.
Now in his fourth big league season, Gray hasn’t been as good as hoped so far in 2016. He had a 9.61 ERA across his four starts in the month of June and has combined to post a 5.42 ERA in 84.2 innings this year. The biggest problem has been the long ball, allowing nearly as many home runs to this point as he did all of last year.
That said, Gray’s strikeout per nine (7.1) and walks per nine (3.2) rates sit close to his career averages. In 2014 and 2015, the right-hander had 14 wins and pitched over 200 innings in each year as he put up a 2.90 ERA. With a change of scenery, there’s no reason he can’t get back towards those performances in the second half of the season.
The Red Sox are known to be interested in Gray and have a need in their rotation with both Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly both posting ERAs above 8. Might it only be a matter of time?
Yankees to Buy not Sell
The Yankees have hovered around .500 for much of the season but that hasn’t really gotten them anywhere as yet. They’re fourth in the AL East but only three and a half games back of Boston and Kansas City in the Wild Card race.
Last year we saw Toronto acquire David Price and Troy Tulowitzki while sitting eight games back in the division (the Yankees are currently seven adrift) and six games behind in the Wild Card race. From there, they went 43-18, won the division and made it all the way to the AL Championship series where they lost to the eventual World Series victors.
The Yankees may be old and a little banged up, but if there’s one team that could really turn things around in a hurry it’s hard to argue against this team. Brian Cashman has already told the media that he plans on buying and not selling, so why couldn’t it happen? Many have called him crazy for saying so, but there’s no reason the Yankees couldn’t get an injection of pitching and move forward.
This also doesn’t mean that one of their big three relievers won’t be traded, because if the Cubs came ringing and offered up Kyle Schwarber for Aroldis Chapman the Yankees would have to be crazy to turn that deal down.
New York has said from the start that they want to do better than the Wild Card game. Why should that necessarily change just yet?
Braves Clean House
The Atlanta Braves have been one of the worst teams in baseball as the season approaches its halfway point. They own the second-worst record in the game at this stage at 28-54 and are over 15 games out in the NL Wild Card race.
The team already fired manager Fredi Gonzalez in early May and look to be rebuilding the entire roster with all eyes on 2017 when they move into a new stadium.
As bad as the Braves have been, they actually have a number of attractive pieces that many teams would covet. One player that will draw quite a large crowd of bidders is first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Signed to a very reasonable eight-year, $135 million deal that ends after the 2021 season, Freeman has a lot to offer on both sides of the ball. After getting off to a disappointing start in April, Freeman hit .337 in June to boost his season average up to a very respectable .289.
He also has 18 doubles, four triples and 14 homers, though his 31 RBIs are more a reflection on the struggles that players have been having around him rather than the 26-year-old’s inability to convert with runners in scoring position.
Right-hander Julio Teheran is the other Brave likely to attract a lot of interest on the trade market. The 25-year-old was an All-Star in 2014 when he went 14-13 with a 2.89 ERA in 221 innings of work.
He’s been pretty good again in 2016 as he has a 2.72 ERA across his 17 starts. Don’t read anything into his 3-7 record though; in five of those seven losses he’s given up three runs or fewer.
His 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings is also a career-high and Teheran is on track to allow less than 25 home runs for the third time in the last four years.
Alongside Freeman and Teheran, Atlanta may also look to trade outfielder Nick Markakis who is in the second year of a four-year, $44 million deal.
Drew Pomeranz (Padres) Gets Dealt to the American League
When you’re looking around at the depth charts for all the contending teams (there’s still a lot of them), one thing that starts to stick out at you is that the rotations of most teams in the National League look pretty well set.
The Mets have Jacob deGrom as their number four starter so they don’t need another arm, Washington have recently called up Lucas Giolito but the rest of their rotation is very experienced, the Cubs and Cards are pretty good with veterans at the back-end and the Giants have that formidable trio of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
Injuries happen all the time of course so all it takes is for one of those guys to go down and then we’re writing a new script, but as things stand the Dodgers are the only team in need of starters. Clayton Kershaw will return soon after the All-Star break though and I think they’re happy with Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir providing depth behind their ace.
In the AL, we’ve already mentioned the Red Sox as a suitor for Sonny Gray so they may go after Pomeranz as a plan-b. There’s also a host of other possible destinations that make sense. The Orioles would like some help behind Chris Tillman, the Tigers still have Mike Pelfrey as their number three starter so they could easily make an upgrade there and Texas could really do better than Martin Perez as their number two.
The 27-year-old Pomeranz has enjoyed a career year in San Diego, pitching to a 2.65 ERA with a 7-7 record in 95 innings. He has a career-high 10.3 strikeouts per nine with a career-low home run average. The left-hander has also limited same-sided hitters to a .224 average and righties to just a .177 average.
This may only be a short track record spanning a couple of months, but right now Pomeranz looks like the real deal.
Texas Make Statement, Get Jonathan Lucroy
When you look up and down the roster of the Texas Rangers, only one glaring hole will really stand out to you: production behind the plate. The boys in blue are as good a bet as any to reach the World Series as they sit with the best record in baseball and have an 8.5 game lead over the rest of their AL West competition.
The Rangers currently use Bobby Wilson as their everyday backstop while former Tiger Bryan Holaday and long-time Ranger Robinson Chirinos are installed as backups. While Wilson is certainly no slouch, he’s spent the majority of his career as a backup rather than a regular. In 2016, he’s hit .253 with three homers and 17 RBIs in a span of 99 at-bats.
According to Fangraphs.com, Texas actually have the ninth-highest WAR among catchers, but the offence that those aforementioned players provide isn’t quite what you’d expect from a team in their position.
Up in Milwaukee, everyday catcher Jonathan Lucroy is having another outstanding season at the plate. Following an injury-troubled 2015 campaign, Lucroy has returned to the success he enjoyed during his sole All-Star season of 2014. He’s currently hitting .295 with an .845 OPS while also tallying 16 doubles, 10 homers and 38 RBIs with above-average walk and strikeout rates.
Currently in his seventh big league season, the right-handed Lucroy would seemingly thrive in a club with a win-now mentality. Having played over 270 innings at first base during his career, Lucroy could also spell Mitch Moreland when required.
The Rangers and Lucroy have been a logical fit since the start of spring training, and now that the Brewers backstop has had an opportunity to prove he is over the broken toe that caused his production to drop last season.
Blue Jays Stay Put at Deadline
It really is never out of the question for any team to make a shock move at the deadline, but this season I get the feeling that Toronto may just let a couple of deals pass them buy and hold on to the roster they’ve already assembled.
Thinking back to this time last year, the Blue Jays made the two biggest moves of anyone in the majors after they brought in David Price from Detroit and Troy Tulowitzki from Colorado. Those two gave the team a real push that led to the Toronto going 40-17 after August 1st.
As things stand, they are a mostly healthy team and have gotten themselves back into the AL East picture while only a half game back in the Wild Card race. 2015 American League MVP Josh Donaldson is having another MVP-type year hitting .289 with 18 doubles, 20 home runs and 55 RBIs.
Blue Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion is also having a good year in what is his final guaranteed season before reaching free agency. If not for David Ortiz, Encarnacion would probably be the starting DH for the American League in San Diego next week as he’s compiled 22 long balls, 19 doubles and an MLB-leading 73 RBIs.
Their only key injury has been to outfielder Jose Bautista who landed on the disabled list on June 17th with turf toe and hasn’t been seen since. Even without Bautista the Blue Jays offence has been one of the best in baseball, averaging 4.73 runs per game.
The issue as it always has been is on the other side of the ball however the pitching staff has currently averaged about 4.29 runs per game, good for 10th best in the majors.
The projected ace of the rotation Marcus Stroman currently has a 5.08 ERA in 17 starts thanks largely to a tough run in the month of June when he allowed 23 runs in 26.2 innings. Toronto added veteran right-hander Jason Grilli to the bullpen from Atlanta in May, and he’s largely fared quite well pitching to a 2.31 ERA in 11.1 innings since the trade.
With so few issues facing the Toronto organisation, it’s hard to see them making a headline move in the next month that would be anywhere near the magnitude of what they did a year ago. Lots of contenders could make an argument to address one particular need, but for the Blue Jays their success this year has come on the back of a real team effort all around the clubhouse.
The Mets Bring in Depth at Third Base
If you take a look at how the Mets depth chart looks, you’ll see that both corner spots are a position of need but particularly the hot corner. Wilmer Flores is only 24 and he could turn out to be a solid major league player, but right now he’s hitting only .224 with ten extra-base hits and 14 runs batted in. He’s getting his fair share of opportunities having started 39 games this season, but the Venezuelan really hasn’t done anything to convince the organisation that he could be more than a backup infielder.
The Mets made quite a bang when the signed Jose Reyes to a minor league deal in the hope he may pan out to be a dangerous hitter atop their lineup, but he’s averaged only .178 in the 28 minor league at-bats he’s registered as part of the Mets organisation. He’s been used exclusively at third base in all seven games Reyes has played thus far, but this experiment doesn’t look as though it’s going to prove fruitful.
If there’s one area of need the Mets have, it’s at third base. The good news is there are a number of options in the market that could help them. David Freese seems to be the most likely of those and he comes with the bonus of being able to play both corner infield spots.
Freese was signed to a one-year, $3 million deal by Pittsburgh during the offseason and has gone on to hit 15 doubles, seven homers and 33 RBIs with a .286/.360/.442 slash line. He’s a solid defender at both spots and has played over 5700 career innings at third base, mostly as a member of the Cardinals organisation.
The right-hander can typically be a free-swinger having registered at least 100 strikeouts each of the last four years. There was a time in 2012 when he was an All-Star who also had a career-high 57 walks, though he’s not the same hitter as the one that blasted a memorable home run in game 6 of the 2011 World Series against Texas.
Danny Valencia is another who might be considered by New York to help their stocks at third base. Like Freese, Valencia is skilled at both corner infield spots though he can also be utilised as a corner outfielder if required. This year, Valencia has been plying his trade as a member of the Oakland Athletics organisation having signed a one-year, $3.15 million deal last offseason.
Throughout his seven-year career the now 31-year-old Valencia has been quite a journeyman having played for six MLB organisations, all of which were part of the American League. In 2016 he’s hit .313 with 10 doubles, 11 long balls and 33 RBIs across 61 games.
He hasn’t started more than 81 games in a season since 2011 when he started 146 at third base while with the Minnesota Twins. This year Valencia is on track to do so, thus far starting 61 games at the hot corner with Oakland. The right-hander has generally been a capable defender all across the field though he has committed 11 errors in 520 innings this campaign.
The Mets will no doubt assess all their options, but if they want to strive towards returning to the World Series it would be in their best interests to find a replacement at third base until David Wright’s return.
Once the heartbeat of this organisation does take the field again, his team would be equipped with a decent bat off the bench who can give the 33-year-old Wright a few days rest if required.
Things to Look Quite Different Come August
Whatever the outcome of these predictions, you can bet that it’s going to be a busy trade deadline. The Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres already got us kicked off with Fernando Rodney going to Miami in a deal on June 30th. Much more will be on it’s way in the coming weeks, and there’ll no doubt be a hive of activity later in the month as teams start to decide whether or not they’re going to be buyers or sellers.