As we near Memorial Day (less than a week away) and turn the calendar to June, we usually see the MLB standings start to stratify a bit with the contenders separating themselves from the rest of the pack. That may not happen in the 2011 season, at least not for a while. Right now there are just three teams who are 10+ games out two of which are the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, a pair of teams many still refuse to bury given the uncertainty of the Cleveland Indians and the expectations on those two teams coming into the season.
The other is the Houston Astros who were out of it before the season started. Only three other teams are more than five games away from .500 (Padres, Dodgers and Cubs) so there could be a dearth of sellers as trading season in the MLB heats up. Nobody really thought Seattle was going to be much of anything this year, but alas their rotation is running five deep headlined by two aces (Felix Hernandez & Michael Pineda; Erik Bedard, Jason Vargas & Doug Fister round out an impressive rotation) meanwhile Jamey Wright, David Pauley and Aaron Laffey have been nails out of the pen masking the fact that they still have a completely horrible offense. The pitching has them just one game below .500 and a game and a half out of the division lead.
Similarly, expected bottom-feeders Arizona (23-23), Pittsburgh (22-24), Kansas City (22-24) and Baltimore (21-24) continue to linger. While the league lacks a truly great team, there are still a group of contenders to be found within the 30, teams that should be focusing their attention on 2011 and doing what they can, whether internally or through trade, to get those October playoff tickets printed as soon as possible.
Today, I will go through the contenders who are ripe for a trade and identify the potential move(s) they could make. I have seven teams on the list. There are eight other contenders who I didn’t feel needed to make a significant trade because they are either getting some significant pieces back from injury and/or have the available talent in their minor leagues to fill their holes. Or, at least in one case, I simply didn’t see a move to be made. That doesn’t mean that it is a perfect team, just that their path to improvement is either a minor trade or sticking with what they have already.
Cleveland Indians (30-15)
Team Needs: 3B, SP, RP
Let’s start with the league’s best team record-wise. Wow, that reads weird when in reference to the 2011 Cleveland Indians, but you can’t deny the fact that they have the best record in the baseball after 45 games. If this team stays as is, I can’t see them holding on for 162. I just don’t buy in the pitching outside of Justin Masterson, and he isn’t without his flaws (lefties still destroy him). I think Masterson can be a solid pitcher, but their “best” pitcher to date, Josh Tomlin, will not hold up at all, in my opinion. The 1.2 HR/9 will soon bite back in a big way and the 4.5 K/9 is just too low for this kind of success.
Jack Hannahan’s hot start (hitting .284 w/.837 OPS on May 3rd) has bought Lonnie Chisenhall some time to try and iron out his issues against southpaws (.208 in 48 AB), but now Hannahan has returned to Hannahandom (.238, .691) and it is time to give Chisenhall a shot. It actually works out where they wouldn’t have to throw him in the fire right away against lefties as Hannahan is actually crushing them with a .387 average and 1.135 OPS in 31 at-bats. They could run a straight platoon and improve their lineup. Currently rated 4th or better in runs, average, on-base and slugging, the Indians lineup is performing beautifully to date, but you can never have too much offense.
To fix their starting pitching, I think they need to focus on someone who can miss some bats. With Alex White and his team-best 7.8 K/9 headed to the disabled list for up to three months with a finger injury, Masterson is the leader with a 6.7 K/9. That is barely above the AL average of 6.5 among starters, so they should call up the Astros and inquire about a trade for an arm.
TRADE: Prospects Joe Gardner and Zack Putnam to the Houston Astros for Wandy Rodriguez – A pair of upper minors arms who ranked 9th and 17th in the org. list from Baseball America for the 32-year old lefty. With two years left on his contract plus a 2014 option, Wandy won’t come cheap, but given his age the Astros should be open to trading him as he won’t be a part of their next great team. Their minor league system is disgustingly low on talent so it’s time to start replenishing in earnest via trade.
They might still need to shore up the bullpen a little bit, too. But that may be handled internally with the recent call up of Josh Judy, who struck out 20 in 17 innings at AAA prior to his call up. Elsewhere, Nick Hagadone, their #10 prospect, has recently hit AAA after striking out 24 in 23 innings at AA and he could be there to shore up the relief corps early in the summer.
- 3B – Promote Chisenhall up to platoon w/Hannahan
- SP – Trade Gardner & Putnam for Rodriguez, W
- RP – Judy recently called up; Hagadone en route
New York Yankees (25-21)
Team Need: SP
The Yankees are having the exact issue that everyone thought they would back in Spring Training with C.C. Sabathia as their top starter and a giant question mark after that. Bartolo Colon has been a godsend with a strong ERA (3.77) and WHIP (1.20) and great skills (8.8 K/9, 3.7 K/BB) backing the rates up, but how long will it last for the 37 year old? A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova have been up and down while Freddy Garcia, filling in for Phil Hughes, has been better (3.12 ERA) than his skills suggest as a 34-year old journeyman.
There is nothing at the AAA level that stands to be any better than what they have and Manny Banuelos in AA has gone more than five innings just once in his eight starts so he isn’t the savior that fans want him to be after seeing him excel in Spring Training. That leaves the trade markets. And while delusional fans might think Felix Hernandez is available, he’s not. But they should venture out for a trade.
TRADE: Prospect Adam Warren to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Hiroki Kuroda – The 36-year old veteran is a free agent after this year so despite how well he has pitched since coming over to the States in 2008, he won’t net the Dodgers an overwhelming return of prospects. That said, Warren was just outside of the top 10 on org. lists and the Yankees system is a deep one so that’s not chopped liver. He has struggled with his control at AAA (27 K, 24 BB in 45 IP), but he is still just 23 years old and the Yankees have moved him aggressively (just 54 IP in AA).
The Dodgers system has a crap-ton of pitching and while you can never have too much, they might opt for a bat instead and I could see a toolsy, raw bat like Melky Mesa being dealt for Kuroda. Mesa has 16 extra-base hits out of just 30 (.204 avg in 147 AB), seven stolen bases but also caught seven times and 16 walks aiding a solid 83-point AVG-OBP split, but also 50 strikeouts (34% K rate). The 24-year old has been much better lately (.290/.372/.507 in May) after a horrid April (.129/.209/.256) which may elevate his trade stock a bit, though front offices focus more on pure talent & projectability than stats when it comes to prospects.
The Yankees might need more than one starting pitcher so they could also be in for someone like Jon Garland, Livan Hernandez, Aaron Harang or Francisco Liriano, too. Again, they have a remarkably deep system so trading for a second level arm like one of the above (can you believe Liriano is now regarded as a second level arm?!) as well as a bigger impact arm would be doable.
- SP – Trade Warren or Mesa for Kuroda
- SP2 – Trade David Adams for Harang
Detroit Tigers (24-23)
Team Need: RP
Relief pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2011 Tigers after signing super-setup man Joaquin Benoit and pairing him with Jose Valverde at the back end of the bullpen. The constant stream of power arms drafted and traded for recently was supposed to fill any gaps from starter to Benoit with guys like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth, specifically. Al Alburquerque has been a pleasant surprise with a 15.3 K/9 in his 15 innings, but walks have been a problem (11) for the rookie.
Chance Ruffin is doing well in his debut season as a pro, but he is just 22 and in AA, so the chances of him as a savior are slim. Plus, the bullpen is young enough already. Charlie Furbush was just called up from AAA and thrown right into the fire on Monday night after a Phil Coke injury in the fourth inning left the Tigers scrambling. He responded admirably with 3.7 shutout innings striking out three and walking one.
He has been huge strikeout guy as a starter in the minors (9.5 K/9 career, over 10 the last two years) and he has a legitimate shot to keep those kind of rates in short stints out of the pen. But with no reliever toting a sub-3.00 ERA, the Tigers will need more than one arm to cure those bullpen woes.
Thankfully for the Tigers, relief pitching is usually one of the most plentiful items in the trade market year in and year out. And oftentimes, it is the cheapest commodity to acquire, too. The Padres seem like a great trade partner as I count five arms that could (and should) be up for trade ranging from ace closer Heath Bell to the reborn Pat Neshek.
TRADE: Bruce Rondon and a throw in C-rated (or lower) prospect to the San Diego Padres for Mike Adams – Rondon is a 20-year old flamethrowing reliever (14.6 K/9), but control is a big time issue right now (8.6 BB/9). He is allowing next to nothing when it comes to hits (1.6 H/9), though, so he has a 1.62 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Adams is 32 years old and a free agent after this year. Plus he comes with loads of injury risk having never put together back-to-back full seasons.
As such, I’m not sure the Padres could really ask for too much from a prospective trade partner even given how great he is when he does pitch, especially this year with his otherworldly 10.5 K/BB in 22 innings. His 8.7 K/9 is pretty good, but it’s the disgusting 0.8 BB/9 that is powering his insane season.
Luke Gregerson is five years younger, but also a free agent after the season. He might draw a little more in return than Adams, but he hasn’t been the Gregerson from 2009 and 2010 so far this year. His strikeout rate has seen a precipitous drop from 10.2 to 6.0 and he has become a lot more hittable allowing 10.3 H/9 (after 5.4 last year).
I can’t see the Tigers trading for Bell as the cost would be too much and Valverde isn’t going anywhere while Neshek would be too much of an injury risk having pitched just 34 innings since 2008 including his 12 this year.
- RP1 – Promoted Furbush
- RP2 – Trade Rondon + PTBNL for Adams, M
Oakland A’s (22-25)
Team Need: Bats… about nine of them.
I covered the A’s a good bit last week specifically tied to them addressing their need of a bat (or several!) so I won’t do an entire re-hash. Internally, I think Jemile Weeks should be called up soon because he is healthy for once and hitting really well in AAA while Mark Ellis is not. Ellis had a stretch where he had multi-hit games in three out of six (10-for-24) and it moved his average up to a blistering .208. That wouldn’t cut in 1968 much less now (OK, it might cut it in ’68… but it really doesn’t in ’11 even with the down hitting).
If they don’t want to try Weeks out just yet, then they should look to Adrian Cardenas, who continues to hit well having raised his batting average yearly since 2007 up to .357 this year while finally adding some pop, too, with a career high slugging percentage of .478. He has shown a strong eye at the plate throughout his career as well, especially at the high minors with 136 walks to 150 strikeouts in 306 games at AA and AAA. One of the two prospects deserves a look to jumpstart their anemic offense if they want to realistically contend this year. I also think a trade is in order as they match up really well with another team in contention.
TRADE: Andrew Bailey to the Cincinnati Reds for Yonder Alonso – I covered this in great detail in this piece about Bailey a week ago. Assuming he comes up back healthy and as good as we’ve seen him, this is a great fit for both teams involved. Alonso doesn’t really have a future in Cincinnati being blocked by Joey Votto, Chris Heisey and Jonny Gomes and the Oakland bullpen is stocked. Alonso can move directly into Daric Barton’s spot at first or into the outfield which would allow Josh Willingham to take Barton’s place. Either way, Barton’s vomit-inducing .280 SLG has to get out of the everyday lineup. They just can’t expect to win with that lack of production at a power position. Hell, you can’t really take it on at any position, but especially first base.
The A’s could make another move closer to the deadline, but it would hinge on Brandon McCarthy and Tyson Ross coming back from their recent injuries to pitch like they were before getting hurt and recently returned Josh Outman to pick up where he left off in 2009 (which he showed he might do on Monday night with 7 strong innings). That would give them some rotation depth which they could flip for another bat.
TRADE: McCarthy to the Detroit Tigers for Brennan Boesch – Starting pitching isn’t a primary need for the Tigers, but you really can’t have too much and the back end is tenuous with Phil Coke (who left his last start injured) and Brad Penny, meanwhile their outfield has developed some depth with Casper Wells and Andy Dirks joining the club. Plus Magglio Ordonez will be back at some point which would give them six outfielders plus Don Kelly for three spots (DH is locked up by Victor Martinez most days). This one would really be contingent on McCarthy’s health, of course.
Boesch isn’t tearing the cover off of the ball or anything, but David DeJesus has been awful and Boesch has at least shown the capability for some power in his time as a major leaguer. McCarthy was a million dollar flier for the A’s and netting a 26-year old outfielder with some potential would probably be much more than they truly expected when they took the gamble on the former top prospect pitcher.
- Bat1 – Trade Bailey for Alonso
- Bat2 – Trade McCarthy for Boesch
That covers the American League contenders. I left out the Rays, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels, all of whom are contenders in my eyes, but don’t have an obvious trade scenario for a high-impact move. The Rays, Red Sox and Rangers have pretty deep systems to attack needs or can be expected to play better once their current set of 25 begins to meet expectations (Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford; Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning from injury).
Meanwhile the Angels don’t have a glaring flaw they can attack via the market. There aren’t any major first basemen available that would be a huge upgrade over Mark Trumbo. If Vernon Wells performs anything like expected upon his return from the DL, he will help their power woes and they could shore up their pen via trade, but Scott Downs, Rich Thompson and Jordan Walden give them a solid trio and they can probably manufacture one more reliable arm without having to make a move.
Next up, the National League contenders.