The GM's Office: John Buck
When the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million contract 13 months ago, it seemed like a decent enough idea at the time. Ethier had strung together a series of decent seasons punctuated by one career year, and it seemed like he would age gracefully enough to make the deal worthwhile.
But Ethier’s production has declined. Combined with the emergence of super-rookie Yasiel Puig, Ethier has become the odd man out, and his contract looks like an albatross.
As a result, the Dodgers are quietly hoping they can find a taker for Ethier, although realistically they’ll have to eat approximately $5 million per season to make any deal work. The Dodgers might have to wait to the offseason to make the Ethier deal, which will make for an awkward situation once Carl Crawford returns from the disabled list next week. Paying Ethier $18 million as a fourth outfielder is not what the Dodgers had in mind when they signed him. He has become expendable.
Likewise, several other teams are in similar situations and will soon be forced to trade expendable players in what might end up being "buyer" for "buyer"-type deals at this year’s trade deadline. Here are five situations where arrivals of top prospects could create expendable players:
Parity has really put a damper on baseball’s trade market.
Several contending teams are looking to add bats, but the problem is that there are so many buyers and so few sellers. The law of supply and demand is skewed. In my opinion there are just eight teams in baseball that should be sellers at the trade deadline, and two of those eight still are within 10 games of the playoffs.
For example, the Minnesota Twins are just seven games out of the AL Central lead and six games out of a wild-card berth. Likewise, the Seattle Mariners are just 9 1/2 back in the wild-card standings.
Thus, the market for quality bats will be limited. Non-contenders such as the Miami Marlins, Houston Astros and New York Mets, who could be trade partners, have very little proven offense to exchange. Several of these contenders might have to try and solve their offensive issues through the farm system, including the Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants.
Regardless, based on the current standings there still are a number of good hitters who could be moved from non-contending teams by the July 31 trade deadline. Here are 20 of them, broken down by position.
First basemenPaul Konerko | 1B | Age: 37
Contract status: $13.5M per year through 2013
Konerko is a free agent at the end of the year and general manager Rick Hahn already is talking about moving Dayan Viciedo to first base. He’d like to get to the postseason one more time and going to another team gives him the best chance of accomplishing that. The Baltimore Orioles or Rays could use him as a DH, while the Pittsburgh Pirates could use him at first base.
Chance traded: 60 percent
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The following five players have enjoyed success early in 2013, but what are we to make of it? Could their terrific play in the first three weeks of the season foreshadow a breakout campaign? Whether resulting from more playing time or new skills acquired in the offseason, this group is performing at a high level right now. The only question is, can they keep it up?
1. Paul Maholm | LHP | Atlanta Braves
Last July, the Braves attempted to acquire Ryan Dempster from the Cubs, but Dempster exercised his no-trade clause. So the Braves instead traded prospects for another Cubs starter in Paul Maholm. It was fortuitous for the Braves as they later used the prospects offered in the Dempster trade to acquire Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks. More important, Maholm has simply been more successful than Dempster since the trade.
Maholm is 3-0 this year with a 0.00 ERA, yielding just 11 hits in 20 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 20 and walking just five. As Senior VP and GM Frank Wren described him to me this week, Maholm “has become a top-flight command-and-control left-handed starter.”
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We thought we had seen it all with the super-blockbuster nine-player trade in August between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.
Then this happens.
Like the Red Sox-Dodgers deal, it’s a megatrade that works for both parties as one team rids itself of onerous contracts to another team that’s starving to win. Until now, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has operated with shrewdness and precision. If this deal works out, he’ll be on the short list for 2013 Executive of the Year.
Meanwhile, after the Miami Marlins endured a disastrous debut season in their new ballpark, wearing new uniforms, with a new team and a new manager, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is going back to an old technique: the fire sale.
Regardless of Loria and his track record of gutting his teams, the deal made sense for the Marlins from a baseball perspective, as well as the Blue Jays. It looks lopsided, but the Marlins did much better in this megatrade than people think. By acknowledging they simply weren’t going to win with the team they had, they cleared out almost $185 million in payroll and moved a bunch of veterans in one fell swoop.
How it makes senseFor the Blue Jays: Anthopoulos acquired some rotation leadership to mentor the Blue Jays' young starters in Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. Their presence will be significant for Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison as they return from Tommy John surgery as well as helping Ricky Romero bounce back from a horrendous 2012 season.
Anthopoulos also brought catcher John Buck back to the team with whom he enjoyed a career year in 2010, hitting .281 with 20 homers and 66 RBIs. Buck had lost his starting job to Rob Brantly, whom the Marlins had acquired from the Tigers. The Blue Jays now will have Buck and fellow catcher J.P. Arencibia to keep the seat warm for top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud, and trade one of them when d'Arnaud is ready for the big leagues.
I’m not sold completely the Blue Jays will win the AL East outright because of the injury history of Jose Reyes and Johnson, but they have instantly become contenders for the division title if they get reasonably healthy seasons from the players they acquired.
For the Marlins: After recognizing their team simply wasn’t going to win with the players they had, selling them off was the most logical next step for Marlins president Larry Beinfest and general manager Mike Hill. They already had begun the process over the summer, dealing Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.
They had a serious medical question mark in Johnson. For me, Johnson’s shoulder must be considered a high risk; it has hampered him since his All-Star campaign in 2010. With only one year left on his contract at more than $13 million, moving him made sense because they certainly weren’t going to re-sign him. And the worry would always be if he reinjured his shoulder, what could they get for him then?
In Buehrle they had a solid innings-eater whose best seasons are certainly behind him. And with Buehrle's heavily backloaded contract, the Marlins saw no logic in holding onto the decline for two more years when their team had little chance to contend.
Jose Reyes was the one major piece the Marlins had to give up in order to shed the other two. Reyes will immediately improve the Blue Jays at the top of the order, on the field and in the dugout and clubhouse, where his high energy and enthusiasm is priceless. He is one of the game’s best shortstops and was perhaps the one brilliant move the Marlins made last December. But like Buehrle, his deal is backloaded, so the Jays are taking on a heavy financial burden.
If the Marlins truly believe that Johnson and Buehrle's trade value will only go down from here, you can't blame them for making this deal.
What’s next for the Marlins?
Shortly after news of the deal broke, Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton sent out a tweet.
@Giancarlo818: Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple
He probably has every right to be upset. With his team gutted, he won’t sniff the postseason until at least 2015. New Marlins manager Mike Redmond probably knew this was going to happen -- that’s why he got a three-year deal.
Naturally, this got many people wondering: “What is Stanton’s fate?” With Stanton ineligible for free agency until 2017, he’s not going anywhere and eventually should share the outfield with newly acquired prospect Jake Marisnick and current Marlins top prospect Christian Yelich. However, that doesn’t mean the Marlins are done dealing.
Look for them to move right-hander Ricky Nolasco next. Either Henderson Alvarez or Justin Nicolino can take Nolasco’s place in the rotation at some point. Alvarez, with improved command and a better breaking ball, can be a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm in time. Likewise, Nicolino’s easy delivery and advanced poise and control could easily help him develop into a solid starter.
With what they acquired for Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell, the Marlins’ starting rotation could eventually looking something like this. (For those who don't know, Fernandez is one of the game's best pitching prospects who posted a 1.75 ERA across two levels of Class A this season.)
Jose Fernandez, RHP
Jacob Turner, RHP
Justin Nicolino, LHP
Henderson Alvarez, RHP
Nate Eovaldi, RHP
Another move the Marlins could make is flip shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics. In the event the A’s are unable to re-sign Stephen Drew, the Marlins could spin Escobar to Oakland and play Adeiny Hechavarria -- whom they also acquired from Toronto -- at shortstop. Hechavarria is an exceptional fielder, but his bat lags far behind. Outfielder Logan Morrison also is a candidate to be moved, but he more likely will serve as a stop-gap player until Yelich arrives in Miami.
It's true the Marlins now enjoy massive payroll flexibility and could theoretically afford to sign a free agent for other needs. However, no significant free agent is ever again going to sign with the Marlins without a complete no-trade clause after watching them deal Reyes, Buehrle and Bell less than a year after signing them.