Buster Olney: trade market

Sizing up offseason salary-dump market 

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
11:56
AM ET
B. J. Upton Leon Halip/Getty ImagesIt's been another long season for B.J. Upton. Could he be on his way out of Atlanta?
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- August may be over but these are the dog days of player evaluations, the time of year when teams are ready to turn the page, ready to say something hasn’t worked and isn’t going to work. They’re looking for something different.

It’s the time of year when executives are beginning to mull over the possible salary dump in the offseason, and some are scanning other rosters for matches. “Your trash contracts for somebody else’s trash contracts,” as one official noted the other day.

Here are 16 players (and contracts) who figure to be analyzed and perhaps discussed in deals after this season ends.

1. B.J. Upton | Atlanta Braves
Owed: $46.35 million over the next three seasons

He’s batting .205 this season after hitting .184 in 2013, and he’s already posted his sixth straight season of 150-plus strikeouts. The Cubs could again have interest after trade talks that involved Edwin Jackson crumbled earlier this season. There might be a match with the Indians, as well.

Jon LesterJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesJon Lester was scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday, indicating he could be traded soon.
Memo to John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino:
I hope you have a Plan B. In fact, make sure you have a Plan B.

Because if there is no Plan B to Jon Lester for next season, you could have a whole lot of angry fans and players by Opening Day, and the narrative won't be about your team's farm system and promise or past glories. Fairly or not, the narrative in New England will be about cheap ownership. Fairly or not, the narrative will be about you.

If there is no Plan B, 2015 might make everybody pine for the warm and fuzzy days of the Bobby Valentine era.

Lester was scratched from today's scheduled start in anticipation of a possible deal, and trading Lester today or Thursday makes sense considering where you and the Boston Red Sox stand with the left-hander. He doesn't want to talk about a contract extension until the season is over, which is a polite way of saying he's going to become a free agent to solicit the highest possible offers, which is happening because it seems as if your organization has taken a semi-rigid stand against giving really long-term deals to pitchers. Trading Lester now will get the organization more value than what you would get in a compensatory draft pick. Given that you are closer to having the No. 1 pick in next year's draft than to the teams at the top of the American League East, sure, trading Lester now is the logical move.

But there cannot be any doubt: An opportunity to sign Lester was missed.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jeffery LoriaSteve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsOwner Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins are only six games behind the Nationals in the NL East.
Before you dismiss the notion that the Miami Marlins could be serious players in the market over the next few days, it's worth noting that, after their wild comeback win over Washington on Monday, they are closer to the leader in their division -- six games behind -- than the Tampa Bay Rays, who are seven games behind the Baltimore Orioles, are.

Remember, too, that for all of his quirks and odd ballpark colors and home run sculpture, Miami owner Jeffrey Loria is an optimist at heart. And despite fielding teams with minimal payrolls, his expectations have always been high for his baseball operations employees. In 2003, he watched a bunch of youngsters named Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Juan Pierre revive themselves in midseason and go on to win the World Series. After it was over, Loria ran around the bases at Yankee Stadium. Loria is a dreamer, and staffers past and present talk about meetings in which they thought they would be told to rebuild and cut their losses. Instead, they walk away having been ordered, in so many words, to find a way to win.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pat GillickL Redkoles/Getty ImagesPat Gillick and other former execs and players are looking into ways to shorten game times.
Pat Gillick reminisced the other day about an amateur baseball tournament in Kansas, in which games were started from morning until midnight, the schedule pushed along by the clock. If the hitter wasn't in the box 90 seconds from the last pitch of an inning to the first pitch of the next half-inning, well, everybody understood a strike would be called.

There was a lot of baseball to be played in a confined time frame, and the coaches and players understood that the pace needed to be pushed for the sake of the event. "Unless they got inclement weather," Gillick recalled, "they'd get off eight, 10 games in a day," with the games averaging two hours to perhaps two hours and 15 minutes.

Game times like that almost never occur anymore in professional baseball, but in the independent Atlantic League, rule changes will go into effect Aug. 1 that will push the pace and move the game along faster. Gillick, who was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2011, is part of a committee that agreed on these measures. Among them:

• The defensive team will be limited to three "timeouts" per game, in which mound visits or on-field conferences take place with the current pitcher. Pitching changes will not be counted as timeouts, and in the case of extra innings, one additional timeout will be permitted at the start of the 10th inning and every three innings thereafter. Umpires will enforce a strict 45-second time limit on said timeouts. If the umpire's warning is disregarded by the defensive team and play continues to be delayed, the umpire shall declare a "ball" for the batter at the plate.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Cliff Lee and A.J. BurnettMitchell Leff/Getty ImagesThe complex contracts of Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett make them tough to value on the trade market.
The trade deadline of July 31 won't apply to Cliff Lee, some officials believe, because he's so expensive and there are enough questions about his elbow that nobody would claim him if he were to be placed on waivers in August. "He'll get through waivers," one executive said. "Nobody's going to want to take that contract."

Lee is guaranteed to make $48 million through the end of the 2015 season -- that's $48 million for the next 14 months -- because of the $12.5 million buyout attached to a vesting option for 2016.

Beyond that, rival officials are wary of some of the red flags raised with Lee's time lost to an elbow injury this summer. He has been a horse throughout his career, all but free of arm problems, but with him having spent more than two months on the disabled list and having mentioned along the way that he didn't feel completely right, some evaluators are wary of a persistent problem.

But with or without arm trouble, Lee's value is much affected by his contract.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Cliff LeeMitchell Leff/Getty ImagesTeams in the playoff hunt are evaluating whether Cliff Lee would help their starting pitching needs.
There are two windows in every baseball calendar year in which small sample size really matters. In October, of course; as Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone and Dave Roberts can attest, bits and pieces of success can live forever.

The other time frame in which one game or one week can make a difference -- really good or really bad -- is just before the trade deadline. Multiple scouts were dispatched to watch Cliff Lee in his return to the rotation Monday, the 322nd regular-season start of his career. Rival executives are well aware of all that Lee had accomplished before Monday’s game, with the Cy Young Award and the four All-Star appearances and the postseason dominance, but all they wanted to know was how Lee is throwing the ball right now, in this moment of his career, as they assess whether to pursue a deal with the Phillies.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Ryan Braun's power outage 

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
10:15
AM ET
Ryan Braun AP Photo/Morry GashRyan Braun ranks 146th out of 163 qualified batters in percent of hits pulled (30.8).
An experienced and smart evaluator who has seen Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun a couple of times this year noted all the twists in his career in a conversation on Monday.

“Wins the Most Valuable Player Award [in 2011] hitting with all kinds of power,” he said. “Tests positive, [but] wins his appeal. Has another big year, with power, second in the MVP. Then, Biogenesis.”

Yes. He was suspended.

“He’s had a lot of injuries. Now he’s completely different.”

How so?

“Takes the ball to the opposite field a lot,” said the evaluator. “I think he’s more of an opposite-field hitter than almost anybody in baseball. He doesn’t really pull the ball anymore, and I don’t think he hits the ball as far as he used to.”

On home runs?

“No, in general. I don’t think the ball goes nearly as far.”

Braun is having a good season, without question, with a .354 on-base percentage. He’s on track to accumulate a respectable 63 extra-base hits -- but with 19 homers and 37 walks, very different from his 2012 totals of 41 homers and 63 walks.

The observations were interesting, so I asked “Baseball Tonight” senior researcher Justin Havens, half of the podcast Fireball Express, to look more deeply into Braun’s performance, to see how close the evaluator’s eye test is to reality.

What Justin found was amazing.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

David PriceKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDavid Price has fired 16 consecutive scoreless innings for the Rays.
ST. LOUIS -- The Tampa Bay Rays keep complicating an already wrenching decision -- by winning.

Their sweep of the Minnesota Twins over the weekend cut their deficit in the American League East to 7½ games and in the wild-card race to six games, gaps they have overcome in past seasons.

There are 10 days until the July 31 trade deadline. Ten days to mull over the trade options of their franchise pitcher, David Price. Ten days to decide whether to buy, sell or both. Ten days for other teams to try to make the same aggressive play that Oakland did when it swapped star prospect Addison Russell, among others, for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The Rays will factor many things into their decision as to whether to trade Price, including their place in the standings, how well they are playing, their need for prospects and Price's trade value, which gradually slides downward as he nears free agency. But one executive involved in the conversations with Tampa Bay believes that, ultimately, it's the potential buyers that will clarify the choice for the Rays with the quality of their offers.

"It all comes down to which team decides to be aggressive, the Dodgers, Cardinals or Mariners," said the rival official. "Maybe none of them will be."

Other teams are monitoring Price's situation, but some rival officials view the Dodgers, Cardinals and Mariners as the teams best positioned to make a deal. There are lots of pros and cons for each of those teams as they assess the possibilities.

For the Dodgers, here are the pros: Adding Price would increase the club's chances of winning the World Series, which is the working order from the top down.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Mark Appel and Jeff LuhnowScott Halleran/Getty ImagesThe decision to draft Mark Appel is already looking like a bad call for the Jeff Luhnow and the Astros.
Perception matters, which is why the chief justice of the Supreme Court has historically worked for unanimity in decisions, and why the loser in the presidential election gives a concession speech, to legitimize the process.

Perception is particularly important in business, when you are asking potential customers to buy your product, and buy into your product. Perception is why the St. Louis Cardinals will never substantively alter their timeless logo, and why the New York Yankees will always wear pinstripes.

But the power of perception is what the Houston Astros have ignored in their machinations, including those leading up to their failure to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken by Friday's deadline. The perception of their decisions -- in the eyes of some of their own players, players with other teams, agents and, most importantly, potential customers -- may take many years for them to overcome. Evan Drellich was right in what he wrote in late May: The Astros have an enormous perception problem.

The Astros have had an incredible opportunity, having picked at the top of the draft for three straight seasons, but time and again, they have been penny-wise and pound-foolish and damaged their brand along the way.

The Astros have their own self image, but they need to know that among players and agents, they are seen as a team that tried to strong-arm the best player in their organization, George Springer, into a team-friendly extension, and then punished Springer when he didn’t agree to a new deal by sending him to the minors, again. The fact that Springer has starred since being called up April 16 has only reinforced the perception among agents and some players that the Astros were more interested in manipulating Springer than they were about winning.

Mark Appel was at or near the top of a lot of draft boards in 2013, but some rival executives were surprised that the Astros chose to take him over third baseman Kris Bryant with the No. 1 overall pick. “Taking a position player means a lot less risk,” said one high-ranking executive.

Some decisions work out, and some don’t, but the timing of how this one is playing out could not be worse. Appel is struggling badly in the minors while Bryant is wrecking his way to the big leagues, averaging a home run every 10 at-bats, and the choice of Appel over Bryant has a chance to surpass Phil Nevin over Derek Jeter in Houston draft lore as the draft decision that turned into a disaster.

The Astros are widely viewed by rival executives as a team that tanked the 2013 season, seemingly designing a team for a degree of failure that only the 1962-65 New York Mets could rival. The Astros opened the year with a $20 million payroll, and then traded almost every player making more than $1 million. You’ve heard of too big to fail? Well, Houston had so little talent and so much inexperience that there was no chance the Astros could compete.

Not surprisingly, the team went 51-111, earning the Astros the first pick in the 2014 draft; and now, in spite of all that losing, and the summerlong string of wipeouts, they failed to sign Aiken.

Only Astros officials know for sure why they reduced their offer to Aiken, and they maintain they have done nothing wrong. The perception in a lot of corners -- including that of the players' association -- is that the Astros shifted their offers around in an effort to lock up three draft picks, and not just Aiken. Anybody with a paper and pencil can figure out that the scope of the attempted reduction for Aiken almost perfectly matches the money discussed with fifth-round pick Jacob Nix and 21st-round pick Mac Marshall.

[+] EnlargeBrady Aiken
Larry Goren/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesBrady Aiken became only the third No. 1 overall pick in the MLB draft not to sign.
The problem for the Astros -- the great miscalculation -- is built around the fact that widely respected and generally understated agent Casey Close is an adviser to both players. He knows when the proposals were altered, and by how much. He is well aware how Nix arrived with his family in Houston, prepared to sign, only to be told the agreement was null and void. The perception of that stinks. He can speak firsthand to both the Aiken and Nix families about how this played out.

It stands to reason that Aiken’s family would not take the calls of the Astros on Friday because of that perception -- about the Houston offers shifting from $6.5 million to $3.1 million to about $5 million. Or maybe the Astros couldn’t get the Aikens to take their phone calls because of how the Astros’ concern over Aiken’s ulnar collateral ligament leaked out, not long before published stories about Aiken’s college eligibility being in jeopardy. As one longtime agent said, “I stopped believing in coincidences a long time ago.”

It may be that the Astros boxed themselves in, negotiating the signing bonus with Nix while assuming that eventually Aiken would capitulate and agree to their reduced terms. It’s possible that by the last hours, they weren’t in position to give Aiken the $6.5 million initially promised because that would have ended any chance of them revitalizing the Nix deal.

But in the end, the Astros had a $5 million-ish offer on the table to Aiken, a rollback of $1.5 million over the initial agreement, which tells us that while they still had concerns about Aiken’s medicals, the UCL issue was hardly a deal-breaker. At some moment in this process, the Astros should’ve stopped obsessing over the numbers and instead taken a step back and assessed the potential for damage to the perception of the organization if the worst-case scenario happened, that Aiken and Nix failed to sign.

This is because the fallout from that outcome could linger for years, hanging over the team like a radioactive cloud. For the sake of $1.5 million.

If the Astros could have navigated their way out of the Aiken mess somewhere along the way -- before their concerns about his medicals leaked out -- the savings in how they’re perceived, the protection of their brand, would’ve been worth a whole lot more than $1.5 million.

The surcharge for their recent actions is already in place, and figures to cost them even more going into the future. Last winter, Scott Kazmir -- a Houston native -- opted to sign a two-year deal with the Oakland Athletics instead of following up on the Astros’ overtures.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

CC SabathiaAl Bello/Getty ImagesCC Sabathia might be worth more to the Yankees if he doesn't return.
David Ortiz recently recalled a time when CC Sabathia drilled him intentionally. There was nothing to do but drop the bat and jog to first base, Ortiz said, because Sabathia has so much credibility and accountability that if he hit you on purpose, well, there was no question that it meant circumstances compelled him to do so.

No one in Cleveland will forget Sabathia’s time with the Indians, when he had great successes and took the blame for his failures. In Milwaukee, they will always remember how, with his free agency looming, he repeatedly took the ball on three days’ rest. After retiring, he will forever be invited back to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers’ Day and be introduced as a leader of the team that won the 2009 World Series.

Sabathia has won many admirers among players and fans during a career that includes 208 victories, nearly 3,000 innings and a Cy Young Award. But the simple fact is that, moving forward, he might be worth more to the Yankees if he never comes back from the knee trouble that is likely to end his 2014 season.

This is because of the regression in his performance, with a 5.28 ERA in eight starts this season after posting a 6.08 ERA in the second half of 2013, and his contract. Sabathia is set to earn $23 million in 2015, under the terms of the deal he signed with the Yankees after the 2008 season, and $25 million in 2016, given the mini-extension he got in the fall of 2011 because of an opt-out clause in his deal. In addition, Sabathia has a $25 million vesting option for 2017, with a $5 million buyout, that kicks in under three conditions during the 2016 season built in because of concerns about his shoulder.

A) That the season does not end with him on the disabled list because of a shoulder condition
B) That he does not spend more than 45 days on the disabled list because of a shoulder injury
C) That he does not make more than six relief appearances because of a shoulder problem

At most, the Yankees could owe Sabathia $73 million over the 2015 to 2017 seasons. At the very least, they will have to pay him $53 million, in salary and the $5 million buyout.
[+] Enlarge CC Sabathia
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesSabathia's days as a big-game pitcher are over, and maybe his career is too.


Sabathia is facing the possibility of microfracture surgery on his knee, and as doctors, Grady Sizemore and many other athletes will tell you, this is no sure thing. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. In Sabathia’s case, even if his knee is OK, it will still be uncertain that he could actually come back and be effective. His fastball velocity has dropped significantly in recent seasons, from 94.1 mph in 2009 to 89.6 in 2014.

The Yankees have insurance on Sabathia’s deal, a record-setting contract at the time when he agreed to seven years, $161 million. Whether the policy covers 50 percent or more, their potential for savings could be substantial if Sabathia never pitches again.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Jeff SamardzijaBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesJeff Samardzija is one of few "commodities" on a clear seller. But even the Cubs haven't budged yet.
The volume of calls and text messages between general managers is growing as teams look to improve through trades, through adding help from outside of the organization.

But as has been noted many times since Major League Baseball expanded its playoff field from eight to 10, the extra wild-card team reduces the field of potential sellers, because more teams have hope and reason to wait to break up their teams.

There is another factor depressing the trade market as well, according to some executives who have taken the pulse of rival evaluators: parity.

The Oakland Athletics have been a great team this season, with the best record in the majors at 44-28 and a run differential of plus-132. The Giants own the second-best run differential -- 85 runs less, at plus-47. Twenty-six of the 30 teams have run differentials ranging between the Giants' plus-47 and the minus-40 of the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The market for Jeff Samardzija 

May, 17, 2014
May 17
10:07
AM ET
SamardzijaJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJeff Samardzija, a free agent after the 2015 season, could be dealt sooner by the Cubs.
The playoff field expanded from eight to 10 teams for the first time, giving more teams more chances at trying to make it to the postseason, making it less likely that clubs would become sellers before the July 31 trade deadline. Generally speaking, the market moved slowly.

But the rebuilding Chicago Cubs distinguished themselves last summer in their willingness to discuss trades. First, they moved Scott Feldman to Baltimore after the right-hander got off to a good start. They then swapped Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers and received what was generally considered to be the best package of the trade season: high-end pitching prospect C.J. Edwards, third baseman Mike Olt and right-handers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez.

Edwards was hurt earlier this season in Double-A, but the 20/20 hindsight perception of that trade within the industry is that Chicago did very well -- so well, in fact, that some rival executives believe that this trade helps frame a working model for what the minimum price will be for right-hander Jeff Samardzija.

“So you have an idea of just how expensive it will be,” one evaluator said.

Yes. Very.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Starters who could hit trade market 

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
9:27
AM ET
David PriceJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe Rays may trade David Price before he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
The Astros traded away Lucas Harrell on Monday, but he won’t be the last pitcher traded this season, of course. The market is a long way from fully developing, from being fully defined by failures and successes.

A long-time executive said last week that he hasn’t received a single trade call yet because a lot of teams won’t know for many days whether they will be buyers or sellers.

But an early forecast of what may develop based on the first results of this season would probably include some of these names:

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay decided to keep David Price for the outset of the 2014 season because the Rays didn’t find an acceptable offer for the left-hander over the winter, and because they had reason to believe they could win the AL East. But the Rays' context changed significantly when Matt Moore blew out his elbow and Alex Cobb went on the disabled list. Tampa Bay will be relevant in the playoff races only if its rotation is effective, and as of this morning, the Rays rank 25th in overall rotation ERA, and 24th in innings pitched.

The Rays may well hang on to Price throughout the entire season, in keeping with their history of contending; Tampa Bay has its problems, for sure, but there does not appear to be a powerhouse team in the division, either.

But rival officials continue to believe that Price will be traded some day, given his spiraling salary, and the Rays figure to do their due diligence, at the very least, and answer the phone if interested teams call.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The plight of 'The Draft Pick Five' 

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
7:43
AM ET
Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz, Ubaldo JimenezGetty ImagesErvin Santana, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez -- members of "The Draft Pick Five" -- still wait.
TAMPA, Fla. -- An AL executive drew an analogy the other day between the situation facing "The Draft Pick Five" free agents -- Nelson Cruz, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales -- and the sale of a house.

“If the price on the house is set and it just sits there and nobody's buying at that price,” the executive said, “isn’t there a time when the reality of the market sets in and the price comes down?”

Players are reporting to spring training all over the baseball landscape, and those five players -- five veterans tied to draft-pick compensation -- remain unsigned, fueling the most-asked question in the industry these days: Where will those players land

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Early picks for every division 

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
9:38
AM ET
David PriceAP Photo/Chris O'MearaWith David Price remaining in Tampa Bay, the Rays boast one of MLB's best rotations.
There are still some front-line free agents who will sign before the start of the regular season, and the inevitable spring training injuries to come, so it's too early to lock in predictions for 2014.

But right now, this is what I'm looking at:

Division winners for the AL -- Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics
Wild-card teams -- Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees
Division winners for the NL -- Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild-card teams -- Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres

With David Price still in Tampa Bay, the Rays could have an extraordinary rotation. The Tigers may lack thump in the middle of their lineup, but they should be significantly better defensively with more speed and Joe Nathan will stabilize their bullpen. Oakland loses Bartolo Colon, but the Athletics will have Sonny Gray at the outset of the season with what could be an overpowering bullpen. Xander Bogaerts should help the Red Sox get back to the playoffs.

Washington added Doug Fister to an already strong rotation, and I bet the Nationals will be fueled by what they didn’t accomplish last year. Atlanta has growing money concerns with its young core, but has enough depth to get back to the playoffs. St. Louis looks capable of running away with the NL Central if its young pitching continues to manifest.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES