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Who Could Be Available
We're just short of halfway through the MLB season, but it's already becoming clear who are the contenders and who may be the sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline (July 31st). With the addition of the second wild card, clubs stay in the hunt longer, but at least a half dozen teams have already indicated in one form or another that they will look to sell, and more should cross that threshold soon.
There are already some articles throwing out names that are or should be available before the deadline. Some of the everyday-type bats that could be available are infielders Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ben Zobrist, Chase Headley, Alexei Ramirez, Elvis Andrus, Aaron Hill, Stephen Drew and Daniel Murphy, catcher Carlos Ruiz and corner bats Michael Cuddyer, Alex Rios, Justin Morneau, Seth Smith, Kendrys Morales, Josh Willingham and Marlon Byrd. The rotation-type arms that could be or already are available include David Price, Cliff Lee, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, Bartolo Colon, Edwin Jackson, Brandon McCarthy, John Danks, Erik Bedard, Kyle Kendrick and A.J. Burnett. For late-inning bullpen help, team could look to Joakim Soria, Jonathan Papelbon, Huston Street, Addison Reed, Joaquin Benoit, Ronald Belisario, Neal Cotts, Chad Qualls, Mike Adams, Carlos Torres and Tony Sipp.
Who Is Available
Samardzija has been on the block for months and recently turned down a 5-year, $85 million extension, further increasing the chances he gets dealt by the deadline, with lots of teams inquiring on him all season. The Phillies haven't decided to put their big names on the block yet and most teams aren't in all-out fire sale mode of their veteran players just yet, though that may change in the coming weeks.
ESPN's Buster Olney wrote yesterday about something that most people around baseball had been suspecting was true: the Rays are ready to take offers for Price. Price responded yesterday with another great start (8.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 11 K) in a career-year at age 28, though some BABIP and HR rate misfortune obscures career best core numbers (2.59 xFIP driven by 10.3 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9 ratios).
Who Makes A Run At Price?
Price is the top player that's going to be legitimately available this year and the bidding has already begun, with one team in particular very motivated to make a deal. Earlier this week, the big market contender St. Louis Cardinals had the rest of their starting pitching depth go on the DL (Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia joined Joe Kelly) with 3/5 of their current rotation having no or limited success as big league starters (Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales).
Price's career-year while the Rays are floundering and the Cardinals sustaining some injuries to their staff are just the start of the reasons this deal would make a lot of sense. The Cardinals have trade assets in the high minors and big leagues that the budget conscious Rays will covet. Injuries and slow starts put the Cardinals a few games behind the upstart Brewers as we near the halfway point of the season. The Cards also have big market revenue to take on a salary such as Price's for this year and next. The urgency, specific needs, trade assets and money all line up for St. Louis to cash in some young talent for an ace to pair with Adam Wainwright.
Who Is In Play?
Last March, I introduced BUBBA, my system for valuing players of any age of experience with one dollar value that can also be used to construct trades. Here are the two links to the explanation of the system. I spent some time explaining in those two links a hole that systems like BUBBA still have some trouble accounting for.
The one player that this process doesn't adequately value in one number is Price. While his "correct" value is technically under $30 million (he'll provide two years of value worth $50-60 million and cost about $30 million in salary, but we're already halfway through one of those years), my system makes some adjustments for the scarcity of elite talent so my number ends up a little higher, but not high enough to capture his true trade value, due to some extenuating circumstances.
The point of the system was to point out inconsistencies in logic, normally in overvaluing highly paid veterans at the trade deadline, but the point of all this is to win the World Series and trading for a reasonably priced ace when a bunch of teams are running neck-and-neck transcends the asset-collecting mindset behind the system, to a degree.
The practical value of Price on the trade market is much higher than this, maybe as much double the figure I list below, when you factor in a reasonably-priced Cy Young candidate with 1.5 years of control is available with lots of teams on the precipice of the playoffs. This is the limitation of a system like this that looks to value the average win for the average team, rather than valuing the wins that are (potentially) the difference between winning the division and going home for a large market team.
The Cardinals have a hole at second base with the injury to a struggling Kolten Wong and the subpar Mark Ellis filling in. As such, the Rays' second-biggest trade chip, utilityman Ben Zobrist, also seems like a nice fit for the Cardinals. Packaging these two players together could enable Tampa Bay to have their pick of St. Louis' young players, akin to when they traded RHPs James Shields & Wade Davis to Kansas City for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and two others. Zobrist is good enough to "break" BUBBA, so his actual value is close to what I list below.
1. David Price, LHS, MLB, Age: 28.8, $41.7M value for 2 years of control
He's making $14 million this year and will get $17-18 million next year in his final arbitration year before hitting the free agent market.
2. Ben Zobrist, 2B, MLB, Age: 33.1, $32.0M for 2 yrs
He can play any position on the field and only makes $7 and $7.5 million the next two years, making him an ideal Swiss Army Knife for a versatile lineup with a hole or two that may shift with other player's health.
Depending on the source, opinions on Taveras varied from scout to scout. He has been in the top 5 of nearly every prospect list out there for the last two seasons but some scouts have soured a bit, projecting him more as an above average everyday outfielder than a potential star. One exec speculated that it was due to "prospect fatigue," when a top player is projected to be a standout for so long and the scouting report on a player is so well known that scouts start poking holes in him, in part out of boredom.
Taveras was expected to go to AAA for about half a season last year before getting called up and making an immediate impact, but a foot injury ended his season. Last year and this year combined, Taveras still hasn't spent a full season worth of at-bats in AAA, but I'm now hearing things I didn't hear before the foot injury; minor but mentioned makeup questions, if he has the arm strength with accuracy to play right field, if he can hit 20-25 homers while hitting for average, etc.
I don't think he's necessarily changed as a prospect in the last year, but this is the nature of the prospecting game: Taveras' peers at the top of prospects lists before 2013 are either struggling in the big leagues (Jurickson Profar and Wil Myers) or recovering from injury and haven't made a big league impact of any kind yet (Dylan Bundy). Other consensus names from those lists include stars in Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez (though he's now hurt) along with outcomes the span the spectrum of standout (Greg Polanco, Gerrit Cole, George Springer and Xander Bogaerts) to shut down (Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Jameson Taillon, Miguel Sano, Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer, Danny Hultzen) with many of those changing status twice in a year. Taveras hasn't really changed while most of his peers have and sometimes that makes scouts start to see things that may not be there.
From surveying big league executives and pro scouts this week, it appears the industry thinks the Cardinals pipeline of young talent is slowing, but the pieces are still there to make a deal happen. There was some thought that Cardinals top prospect RF Oscar Taveras may not be on the table for a Price rental, but he would have to be if Zobrist was involved.
Here are the nine Cardinals assets that make sense as targets for Tampa Bay in a David Price deal (I left out the Cardinals' big league starting pitchers). I count this year as the first year of control, but for example with Taveras, you could leave him down the rest of the year and get six more years of control starting next year (not that even Tampa Bay would do that). The value number is the amount of performance, in dollars, they will create over their six controllable years--which start in a few years for some minor leaguers and started a few years ago for the young big leaguers.
1. Oscar Taveras, RF, AAA, Age: 22.0, $53.6M value for 6 years of control
I have a lot of thoughts on Taveras, covered in the sidebar. The basic report is he flashes a plus arm, above-average raw power and a high-effort swing with elite ability to square up almost any pitch. One exec said Taveras could win a couple batting titles.
2. Carlos Martinez, RHP, MLB, Age: 22.8, $38.6M for 6 yrs
Fireballing young arm who was brought up in the bullpen, but has been pushed to the rotation, which is where scouts hope he lands. Plus-plus fastball, plus curveball and average changeup are all there if the feel develops.
3. Matt Adams, 1B, MLB, Age: 25.8, $35.3M for 5 yrs
Unheralded late-round pick from a small college has blossomed into an everyday player, but doesn't have much more upside than as a solid everyday player.
4. Marco Gonzales, LHS, MLB, Age: 22.4, $34.7M for 6 yrs
1st rounder last year out of Gonzaga is very athletic and his average fastball-curveball combo play up with a plus changeup and above-average command. Just made his first big league start this week. The Rays were known to be interested in Gonzales in the draft; he went a few picks before their first selection last year.
5. Stephen Piscotty, RF, AAA, Age: 23.4, $34.4M for 6 yrs
1st rounder out of Stanford has slowly progressed, hitting all the way up the chain but hasn't had his above-average raw power show up in games consistently yet.
6. Randal Grichuk, OF, AAA, Age: 22.9, $29.7M for 6 yrs
Was stolen from the Angels as a throw-in in the Bourjos/David Freese trade and scouts are seeing the former 1st rounder's tools turn into skills. He has plus raw power and some think he can play center field, but his plate discipline is the concern.
7. Kolten Wong, 2B, MLB (DL), Age: 23.7, $28.3M for 6 yrs
Another former 1st rounder hit his way quickly to the big leagues out of Hawaii but has stalled a bit and is now injured. The Rays liked Kolten out of college (the Cards took him a few picks before the Rays first selection in 2011) and the Rays drafted his younger brother Kean Wong out of a Hawaiian high school last year. He's a solid hitter that can play second base, but the upside isn't huge.
8. Rob Kaminsky, LHS, Lo-A, Age: 19.8, $16.1M for 6 yrs
The Cardinals second 1st rounder last year came from a New Jersey high school doesn't have any projection (5'11/195), unlike most elite prep arms. He sits 90-92 and hits 94 with a potential plus curveball and an above average changeup, so there's 3/4 starter upside if everything keeps coming along.
9. James Ramsey, OF, AA, Age: 24.5, $15.5M for 6 yrs
One more Cardinals 1st rounder makes the list, though Ramsey wasn't a consensus first rounder since many scouts saw him as a 4th outfielder out of Florida State. Still still see that, but he keeps hitting, has above-average speed and average power with the makeup to get the most out of his tools. Some scouts think he should be 5 spots higher than this and some still have him lower than this.
Here are some secondary options for the Rays to target in a deal, likely the 3rd and/or 4th guys included. The asset values in this group range from $5-10 million and each of these players were brought up by scouts who have seen the Cardinals' affiliates this season.
Peter Bourjos, CF, MLB: This could be a nice buy-low opportunity for a guy that derives much of his value from speed, defense and base running: things the Rays value more than other clubs.
Alex Reyes, RHP, Lo-A: Talented young arm signed for $950,000 out of the Dominican and flashes above-average stuff and projection, but is still raw
Stephen Bean & Carson Kelly, C, Lo-A: Bean is a defensive standout that's showing signs of life with the bat while Kelly is a bat-first player that's taken well so far to a conversion behind the plate.
Tim Cooney, LHS, AAA: A finesse-type back-end starter whose velocity has ticked up a bit this year, but cost him some command so his value remains the same.
Sam Tuivaiala, RHR, Hi-A: Power reliever has hit 100 mph with an above-average breaking ball, but the feel and command can really wander at times and analytical clubs like Tampa Bay don't often trade for relievers.
Vaughn Bryan, OF, Lo-A: Raw athlete flashes everyday tools but still has a long way to go as far as feel for the game.
Edmundo Sosa, SS, RK: 2012 July 2nd signee out of Panama isn't a toolshed but makes a lot of contact and can play up the middle.
The Cardinals drafted a solid crop earlier this month in the draft, with the top five incoming prospects to the system all being pitchers: Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Ronnie Williams, Bryan Dobzanski and Austin Gomber. None of them can be traded for another 6 months.
What Scouts Think
An AL exec shared his thoughts on a Price-only deal: "The Cardinals would do their best to hold together their current ML players so as not to hurt their playoff chances. They have lots of OF depth: big leaguers Matt Holliday, Bourjos/Jay, Allen Craig, Shane Robinson, with strong minor leaguers who are ready to contribute now: Taveras, Piscotty, Grichuk. I'd think that Taveras and/or Piscotty would have to be in any deal...Maybe they deal Matt Adams and move Craig to 1B, freeing up an OF spot...Maybe the Cardinals float Adams + Piscotty and the Rays ask for Adams + Taveras."
Another AL Exec assumed Taveras wouldn't be on the table for just Price: "Assuming they are going to keep Taveras, I would ask for one of Adams or Craig. Piscotty, Wong and Marco Gonzalez would be on my list with Cooney and Ramsey as throw ins. Not much below that unless you dig down to Kaminsky. I'm assuming STL not going to subtract ML assets, especially pitching."
A third AL exec didn't see the impact talent to get Price if Taveras isn't involved: "I don't there's a real standout guy to front a deal. They have other interesting pieces though, and maybe if you put a few of them on the table something could get done. Maybe some combination of Ramsey, Grichuk, M. Gonzales, maybe Kaminsky or Piscotty."
A fourth AL exec threw out some Price-only proposals, with his preference from the Cardinals side to deal either Ramsey or Piscotty with a couple of Wong, Kaminsky, Martinez and Kelly on the table, with a Taveras-Kaminsky combo being the most he would give up.
The odds of a deal this obvious actually happening aren't that big in the scheme of things, with Tampa Bay valuing players a little differently than most clubs and GM Andrew Friedman notorious for holding out for the best deal possible while over a dozen teams are circling Price. I think Price gets dealt and if it's the Cardinals, I would guess Taveras heads the package (like Wil Myers in the James Shields deal) and Tampa either gets one more player I've mentioned above, or Tampa Bay hits the reset button, includes Zobrist and gets to choose a couple more players from that group.
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