Wednesday, April 10, 2013
10 players likely to be traded by July 31
By Jim Bowden
Baseball is witnessing the most competitive balance in more than two decades. As a result, general managers of contending teams already are preparing and targeting potential trade partners for the July 31 trade deadline. All the same, non-contenders are scouting the top prospects in the contenders’ farm system and noting their own trade targets.
For that reason, even 120 days out from the July 31 trade deadline, it isn’t at all too early to be thinking about possible trades.
Thus, here are 10 players I think will most likely be traded by July 31. Early on, GMs have identified the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins as the four teams most likely to be quickly out of the race, which is why this list has eight players from those teams.
1. Chase Headley | 3B After Headley’s breakout 2012 season, the Padres and Headley engaged in a few conversations about a long-term contract. However, when Headley’s representatives compared him to Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria and David Wright, the conversation quickly died. The Padres felt Headley needed to show the same production for a longer period of time than just a single season to be paid in the range of Zimmerman, Wright and Longoria. And they were right. However, Headley fractured his left thumb in spring training and is out until at least mid-April. If Padres are in the pennant race in July, they’ll keep Headley and try to sign him in the offseason. However, if they’re out of it by the end of July, then a deal is a real possibility.
2. Matt Garza | RHP Like Headley, Garza is currently on the DL with a strained lat, and he is expected back in mid-May. When healthy, the 29-year-old is a solid No. 2 starter, and along with Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, the Cubs could have a formidable rotation.
But Garza is an impending free agent, and although Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told me it was more likely they would sign Garza long term than trade him, blaming the difficulty in acquiring top-of-the-rotation starters via trade or the free-agent market, Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein also are smart enough to trade Garza in July for a prospect package and re-sign Garza as a free agent in the offseason. Of course, Garza has to prove he is healthy and effective first.
3. Ricky Nolasco | RHP Since being acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a 2005 trade for Juan Pierre, Nolasco has been a workhorse, going 76-65 in his seven seasons with the Marlins. He’s won in double digits in six of those seasons, pitching at least 180 innings four times. Finally in his free-agent walk year, it is unlikely the Marlins will give him the long-term contract that he’s seeking. But a contender looking for a solid No. 3 starter will come calling.
Trade partners: Indians, Angels
4. Bud Norris | RHP You can be assured of two things with the Astros -- they will lose 100 games again, and Jeff Luhnow will not stop dealing his best assets, especially when he’s offered opportunities to acquire three or four players for one. The 28-year-old Norris’ stock has been rising among GMs, and if he can decrease his walks between now and July, Luhnow could get a decent haul for him. Norris was tremendous at home last year, where he posted a 1.71 ERA in 11 starts, with 82 strikeouts and only 17 walks in 73 2/3 innings pitched.
5. Justin Morneau | 1B Twins GM Terry Ryan spent the offseason trading position players for top starting rotation prospects, including both of his major league center fielders. Morneau should be the next position player dealt for pitching. The 33-year-old has spent his entire 11-year career with the Twins and he would have to approve any trade because of his 10-and-5 rights (10 years in the majors, five with one team). But as an impending free agent, he knows the Twins probably won’t sign him to another long-term contract and are far from contention, so he might be willing to accept a trade to a contender.
6. Lucas Harrell | RHP I doubt the Astros would trade both of their best starting pitchers. But with so many clubs desperate for starting rotation help, Luhnow might be offered a deal he can’t refuse. The 28-year-old Harrell finished 2012 at 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA -- quite the feat pitching for a team that lost 107 games. As his command and control improve, Harrell could have even a better season in 2013, as he has started to figure out how to get outs earlier in the count and keep hitters off balance.
7. Steve Cishek | RHP Cishek took over the closer’s role from Heath Bell last summer and delivered a 2.69 ERA and 15 saves. The Marlins were so confident in him they dealt Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason. The sinkerballer’s stock has gone up so much that contending teams believe he can get it done against the best lineups in the postseason. The fact that he’s under team control through 2017 and not eligible for arbitration until 2014 also increases value. The Marlins would be foolish not to trade Cishek while his value is at its peak.
8. Huston Street | RHP The small-market Padres have no choice but to listen to offers for their veteran players such as Headley and Street, and they have the bullpen depth in Luke Gregerson and Andrew Cashner to deal Street. It seems as though Street has been around forever, and by his age-29 season, he already has saved 201 games, including at least 20 in six of eight seasons. His club-friendly deal of $7 million per season runs through 2014, and with a team option of the same $7 million in 2015, his trade value only increases.
Trade partners: Tigers, Angels, Blue Jays, Brewers
9. Alfonso Soriano | OF Last season, Soriano experienced something of a renaissance, hitting .262 with 32 home runs. It was his most productive year since he hit 40 home runs and stole 41 bases for me in Washington back in 2006. He has as good a work ethic as any player and is a terrific teammate, especially as a mentor for young Cubs players. However, if conditions are right -- playing for a World Series, on grass with a short left field -- he’d have to at least think about waiving his no-trade clause. The problem is, there are not a lot of teams that fit those criteria. An AL team would have to be involved so he could DH.
Trade partner: Orioles
10. Jason Grilli | RHP The Pirates are hoping they contend all season and that Grilli succeeds in his new role as closer. At 36, Grilli had the best campaign of his career last season when he had an ERA of 2.91 and a WHIP of 1.14 with 90 strikeouts in only 58 2/3 innings. However, the Pirates know they aren’t good enough to win the World Series yet, so the time to deal Grilli is now, especially with Mark Melancon waiting in the wings to take over the closer’s role. Grilli could bring the Pirates a couple of decent prospects.