Normally we examine 10 position battles around the league, but this week, let’s instead look at each league’s bottom-five teams and think about how their depth charts could be affected by the decision to sell as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. There may be more teams in either league that begin to sell the next few weeks, and some of the teams below may decide to stand pat (or buy) rather than depart with their more valuable properties.
Carlos Pena, Erik Bedard, and Ronny Cedeno comprise the organization’s free agent class of 2014, and Edgar Gonzalez and Jose Veras will follow in 2015. Bud Norris, who will not hit free agency until 2016, could fetch a better package of prospects than any of those guys.
If the Astros do decide to deal Norris, Bedard, and/or Lucas Harrell, that could re-open a rotation spot for someone like Brad Peacock. It would probably be too soon for the Astros to recall Jarred Cosart, who has struck out 68 batters in 63.2 innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Pena’s departure would guarantee playing time at first for Chris Carter, and it would avail the DH slot (Brandon Laird, maybe?)
The Mariners made a lot of moves this past offseason. The sum of those moves has not been a winning record, and they do not have control over many of those players after this season. Their 2014 free agents include Mike Morse, Joe Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Oliver Perez, Kelly Shoppach, and Jason Bay. Brendan Ryan would also hit the market, and Aaron Harang and Franklin Gutierrez both pend options.
Carlos Triunfel, who has received a little time at second this year, could move to short on a more regular basis if Ryan departs. Robert Andino could also be an option in the middle. A trade involving Morales could hasten Jesus Montero’s return from Triple-A Tacoma, but the Mariners appear to be in no rush to deal him. Carlos Peguero could return from Triple-A Tacoma if those outfielders leave, as could Eric Thames. A trade involving one of the Mariners’ starting pitchers could allow Blake Beavan to enter the rotation, but the Mariners could also be aggressive and promote Erasmo Ramirez, Danny Hultzen, or James Paxton.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have signed a lot of free agents to long-term contracts in recent years, which means they have few properties that would be attractive in a trade. Scott Downs, Jason Vargas, and Ryan Madson are the club’s only 2014 free agents, and Alberto Callaspo, Jerome Williams, and Brendan Harris are the only players hitting the market in 2015. Nearly everyone else is either signed for a bunch of years and a ton of money, or is Mike Trout.
Vargas has proven his worth as an adequate innings-eater since coming from Seattle, so it is conceivable a contender with a back-end rotation need would come calling. His rotation spot could go to someone like Barry Enright or Garrett Richards. Luis Jimenez and Chris Nelson would be the most logical in-house candidates to play third if the team deals Callaspo.
Toronto Blue Jays
Their only three 2014 free agents are Josh Johnson, Darren Oliver, and Rajai Davis. Additionally, Adam Lind has a trio of team options for 2014, 2015, and 2016, and Casey Janssen has a team option for 2014 before becoming a free agent in 2015. Other 2015 free agents include Mark DeRosa, Colby Rasmus, Emilio Bonifacio, and Melky Cabrera.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox lost a pair of potential trade chips when Gavin Floyd (Class of ’14) and Jake Peavy (Class of ’15) went down with injuries. Other 2014 free agents include Paul Konerko, Jesse Crain, and Dewayne Wise. Matt Thornton and Matt Lindstrom would become free agents in 2015 if the White Sox pick up their 2014 club options. Adam Dunn’s contract ends after 2014, but the White Sox would have a hard time moving his contract until he hits above .200 on a more consistent basis.
Dunn would take over at first on an everyday basis if Konerko does move, which could open the DH slot for a mix of players like Dayan Viciedo, Casper Wells, and Conor Gillaspie. Trading away Crain, Thornton, or Lindstrom would force Nate Jones and Ramon Troncoso into more high-leverage, non-save situations.
Like the Astros in the AL, what’s left to deal? Ricky Nolasco, the team’s most expensive player, will be a free agent at the end of the season. As will Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Chad Qualls, Miguel Olivo, Casey Kotchman, and Austin Kearns. Giancarlo Stanton has yet to hit his first arbitration year, but his name will surely be on the block. Bullpen arms like Ryan Webb could also be on the move.
It would be hard to imagine any of the impending free agents, other than Nolasco, bringing back any sort of actionable package. Nolasco’s departure could avail a rotation spot for guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, and Alex Sanabia, all three of which could return from the disabled list by the end of the month. If the Marlins move Juan Pierre, then they could have an outfield spot open for Chris Coghlan/Justin Ruggiano to play alongside Marcell Ozuna and Stanton.
New York Mets
Again, there isn’t much to deal here. Their impending free agent class consists of John Buck, Frank Francisco, Shaun Marcum, David Aardsma, LaTroy Hawkins, Brandon Lyon, and Marlon Byrd. Johan Sanatana will also be a free agent unless the organization accidentally activates his $25 million club option. Danny Murphy, and his NL-leading 19 doubles may be the most attractive bat the Mets have to offer, especially since he is under team control through 2015.
The Mets may be even more encouraged to trade Murphy if they decide the time is right to recall Wilmer Flores from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he has a .303/.348/.476 line in 231 at-bats. Otherwise, Jordany Valdespin, Justin Turner, or Omar Quintanilla could fill in at second. John Buck’s time in New York could come to an end if/when Travis d’Arnaud returns from his broken foot and is ready for a promotion.
Only three Brewers are free agents after this season – Corey Hart (to start a rehab assignment since undergoing knee surgery in January), Yuniesky Betancourt, and Mike Gonzalez. The Brewers’ two biggest trade chips are likely Aramis Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo, both of whom are signed through 2014 and have options for 2015. Guys like Kyle Lohse, Rickie Weeks, Tom Gorzelanny, John Axford, and Francisco Rodriguez may also be on the block.
The newly-acquired Juan Francisco could play third base everyday if Ramirez departs. Francisco and Betancourt have been sharing first base with Hart still on the DL, but Hunter Morris, who has slugged .500 at Triple-A Nashville, could get a look later on in the season. Tyler Thornburg would be the most likely candidate to join the Brewers’ rotation if Gallardo gets shipped out.
The Cubs have a slew of pitchers on the precipice of hitting free agency. Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Carlos Marmol, Scott Baker, and Shawn Camp will all hit the market come November, as will backup catcher Dioner Navarro. Four of the team’s primary outfielders – Alfonso Soriano, Nate Schierholtz, Scott Hairston, and David DeJesus – become free agents the following offseason, as well as Carlos Villanueva. Bullpen arms like Kevin Gregg and James Russell may also be on the block.
If the club does jettison a starting pitcher or two, there are not many attractive options at their upper minor league affiliates. Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley, and Alberto Cabrera are minor league starters on the 40-man roster. Barret Loux and Nick Struck are Triple-A guys unlikely to have success at the major league level (their K/BB rates are 1.6 and 1.1, respectively), but could be warm bodies if needed. Carlos Villanueva could shift back over to the rotation from the major league bullpen.
As far as outfielders go, former top prospect Brett Jackson continues to struggle to get on base at Triple-A Iowa. Dave Sappelt and Brian Bogusevic are other options from Iowa. Matt Szczur has a .363 OBP and 15 steals for Double-A Tennessee.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Of all the NL teams listed here, the Dodgers are the least likely to blow things up. Rumor has it they are aggressively shopping Andre Ethier, but 2014 free agents Ted Lilly, Juan Uribe, Matt Guerrier, Jerry Hairston, Ramon Hernandez, J.P. Howell, and Nick Punto probably aren’t going to be traded away for future considerations. A few may be placed on waivers or designated for assignment as others on the Dodgers roster return from injury, but a sell-off is unlikely.
If/when Ethier does leave LA, look for the Dodgers to use the spare outfield spot to ensure Yasiel Puig receives everyday playing time alongside Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford (when those two return from the DL).
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