Thursday, July 4, 2013
AL trade deadline preview
By Buster Olney
The Cubs were unlucky at the deadline last year. Matt Garza could make up for it in 2013.
Rival executives strongly believe that at most, Matt Garza has four to five starts remaining with the Chicago Cubs -- but probably fewer than that, because he has quickly developed into the most marketable, most sought-after starting pitcher, with a handful of American League teams involved in the chase. Garza had another strong outing Wednesday night against Oakland, and in his past 30 innings, he has allowed 3 runs, 19 hits, 8 walks and racked up 28 strikeouts.
Some teams view Garza warily, knowing that he was taken down by injury at the end of 2012 and at the outset of 2013. But as one AL official explained Wednesday, you have to assume that because Garza has so much at stake this year as a pitcher headed into the free-agent market, he will do everything possible to succeed. He has tens of millions of dollars at stake in the last half of the season -- and perhaps in October if his next team advances into the postseason.
Last year, the Cubs’ efforts to trade Garza were sabotaged when he got hurt. But this year, a dream scenario is developing for them: In a lukewarm market of starting pitchers, Garza has become The Target, because of how well he’s throwing and because of his history of pitching in the AL East and his past success.
Yesterday I took a look at the NL. Today, a rundown of where the AL teams stand, with just 27 days before the July 31 trade deadline:
They moved on Scott Feldman to ensure that they get somebody among the group of available starters, and in his first start for them Wednesday, he provided exactly what they paid for: six solid innings in a win against the White Sox.
The Orioles rank dead last in batting average from their designated hitters, at .205, and so they have some room for improvement, and some flexibility. I’ve thought (and this is pure speculation) that if the Phillies decided to move Chase Utley that there would be a perfect fit for him with the Orioles. He could play some second base, he could serve some in the DH role, and give them one more excellent grind-it-out hitter for an already deep lineup.
Given the ongoing issues with Jon Lester and the injury concerns for Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox are not only believed to be a possible fit for bullpen help, but also for their rotation. Garza would be a great pickup, having earned his AL East stripes with Tampa Bay, and they have the minor league depth to do it, for sure -- but the Red Sox would have to weigh the acquisition cost for a player who would walk away at the end of this season. At this time of the year, relationships between general managers is such an incredibly important and underrated factor, and while Boston’s ownership may still bear a grudge against Theo Epstein, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington would certainly be in a unique position to negotiate with his old friends in the Cubs’ front office.
Do you remember how the Cubs were so unlucky before last year’s trade deadline, with Ryan Dempster rejecting a deal to the Atlanta Braves and Garza getting hurt? Well, the same sort of thing has happened to Chicago: Jesse Crain was placed on the DL Wednesday with a shoulder strain, and they really can’t pinpoint an exact timetable for Jake Peavy’s return -- which means that their best chance to trade him may come when the waiver period begins in August.
Alex Rios has drawn interest from some teams, as one of the few attractive outfield options in the market, but his $12.5 million salary may tamp down some aggressiveness. One of the most-asked questions these days is: What happened to Alexei Ramirez’s power?
They went all-in during the winter, with the hiring of Terry Francona and the signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Now that they’ve charged toward the top of the AL Central and appear poised for a second-half challenge of Detroit, rival execs expect they will continue to be aggressive in looking for help. They could use Garza, in theory, although they may have concerns about his health.
They are beginning to run out of time to add the type of bullpen piece that they need, and really, there aren’t a lot of great options, especially now that Crain has landed on the disabled list. The relief market is currently comprised of a lot of second-tier guys such as Kevin Gregg, Brandon Lyon and Joba Chamberlain.
They’ve got pieces available, according to rival officials, from reliever Jose Veras to starting pitcher Bud Norris, who has a more-than-respectable 3.22 ERA. The Astros have so few players well known to their followers that they will have to weigh the value of any offer for Norris against the value of his fan identification.
They are sitting in no man’s land at the moment, five games out of first place in the AL Central -- not quite close enough to say they’re serious contenders, but not quite far enough away to say they’re out of it. If they decide to make a push, then a push for Utley would make a ton of sense. If they decide to sell off before the end of the month, then Ervin Santana would immediately become one of the most attractive starting pitchers in the market, with his 2.84 ERA.
They’re playing a lot better, and at 8 1/2 games out of first place they’re far too close to back off now. The perception among rival organizations is that the Angels don’t have much to offer from their farm system, so presumably, any upgrades would be on the smaller scale.
Teams are circling the Twins, waiting to see if they will ever decide to at least weigh offers for closer Glen Perkins, but to this point, they have been told: He is not available. If the Twins altered course and made him available, he would be at the center of perhaps the most aggressive bidding war of the trade deadline. The knee injury to Josh Willingham took him out of play, and while there is a lot of speculation about Justin Morneau’s availability, his high salary ($14 million), his history of concussions and his lack of home runs (four this season) would mitigate his trade value to the degree that the Twins would have to wonder if dealing him would be worthwhile.
They’ll continue to monitor the market for minor acquisitions, such as Luis Cruz, whom they signed as a temp fill-in at shortstop Wednesday. But with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson all expected to rejoin the Yankees lineup by the end of this month, they aren’t really in position to buy aggressively, because they don’t know exactly what they need, and where they need it. And the folks within the team’s hierarchy must go through this reality check and ask: Is this a club that’s really good enough to invest in, or are we betting on a losing horse? Because it may be that the smart play is for the Yankees to hang onto their prospects and start preparing for 2014.
Because of the impending return of Michael Pineda, they are expected to weigh offers for Phil Hughes, who is headed into free agency in the fall and would be a perfect fit for the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers because his fly ball-inducing stuff fits their parks better. And they are very likely to trade Joba Chamberlain, who figures to be on the move to a team like Atlanta or Detroit.
They have asked around about relief depth, and about starting pitching, and it figures they will add somebody. But keep in mind that they have top prospect Sonny Gray in the minors, and Brett Anderson is expected back sometime in the second half. Garza would give Oakland exactly what it needs: A veteran starter who gives them some protection against second-half regression by Bartolo Colon (or a suspension, if he’s winds up getting nailed again, in the Biogenesis investigation).
But it’s not really the Athletics’ style to use assets to grab would-be free agents like Garza -- unless part of their rationale was to work to keep him away from Texas.
They are viewed as a potential source of pieces and parts by rivals, but for the Mariners, the issue of when to sell off is prickly. Kendrys Morales, who is eligible for free agency in the fall, could be an interesting DH option for a team such as the Orioles, Rays, Athletics or Rangers, although managers have increasingly liked using the flexibility provided by the DH position to rest regulars. He’d fit the Yankees, too, but again, the Yankees would have to weigh the acquisition cost against what they believe to be their actual chances for making the playoffs. Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse could also be a fit for those aforementioned teams, along with the Giants; Morse could be attractive to the Cincinnati Reds, if they develop doubts about Ryan Ludwick’s return.
Their two biggest upgrades in the second half could turn out to be David Price, who returned to their rotation with a strong outing Tuesday, and Alex Cobb, who remains on the disabled list. Their offense continues to be a strength: They are sixth in the majors in runs.
They believe that Alexi Ogando is coming back to rejoin their rotation, and a best-case scenario for them would be for him to rejoin Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez to form a core of their rotation, with Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm competing for the fifth spot. But they continue to look around for starting pitching, and Garza may be the only starter available in the market who represents a major, worthwhile upgrade over what they have.
They signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal Wednesday, and really, they have nothing to lose. He’s making a minimal amount of money in the minors, and if he climbs to the majors, he’ll earn a prorated portion of $500,000, without bonuses. If he doesn’t hit, or if he’s a problem in any way -- and the Rangers are confident that he won’t be a problem -- then they just cut him. If he hits well, they might have something.
The issue of whether he’s using performance-enhancing drugs is completely out of their hands. He’ll be tested under Major League Baseball’s program, and if he’s caught, well, that will be his third strike.
After their mad rush toward the top of the standings, the Blue Jays have fallen back again, to 10 games behind the Red Sox. If they decide to sell off anybody the next 27 days, the pitcher who will be drawing a lot of attention is Josh Johnson, who had thrown the ball better right after being activated from the disabled list -- but has had a few rough starts since, including a loss to the Tigers Wednesday, when he made two errors.