Sure, a few weeks are likely to pass before the blockbuster moves. June is the month of “assessing our needs” and “waiting for our guys to get healthy” and “preliminary conversations.” Platitudes are popular now, but you can bet general managers are bracing for a frenetic run-up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
In fact, this year’s marketplace could define itself earlier than usual. As of Sunday morning, nine teams — the Blue Jays, Twins, White Sox, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Cubs and Brewers — had worse than a 5 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds calculation.
In other words, nearly one-third of major-league teams are carrying the “LIKELY SELLER” label. And of that group, only Toronto — with five straight wins — has a reasonable chance to climb back into contention.
Here’s an early look at 10 possible trade candidates whose stock has risen this month. I’m emphasizing the word possible because each player on this list is employed by a sub-.500 team. They aren’t necessarily available now, but there’s a good chance they will be if their clubs have losing records during the final week of July.
Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Brewers
Gallardo’s full-season statistics probably won’t be pretty, since his ERA stood at 5.25 following a June 5 clunker at home against Oakland. But the former All-Star right-hander hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 innings since, including Saturday’s win over the (probably) postseason-bound Cincinnati Reds. Gallardo’s velocity and strikeout rate remain well below his career norms, which will raise concern among some suitors. But Brewers GM Doug Melvin could find compelling offers, anyway, given the scarcity of alternatives.
Adam Lind, 1B/DH, Blue Jays
Barely more than one year after going unclaimed by 29 teams on outright waivers, Lind is back as a power threat in the American League East. His OPS in June is a thundering 1.109, while serving as Toronto’s primary first baseman and picking up some starts as the designated hitter. Lind is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, although the Jays have club options on him for each of the next three seasons. If the Jays fall out of the race, they could sell high on a streaky but intriguing hitter who, at age 29, should have a number of good seasons left.
Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins
A favorite of Team USA manager Joe Torre during the World Baseball Classic, Cishek has been effective this season for a team that rarely needs its closer. Since a walk-off loss against the Mets in only his third appearance, Cishek is 9-for-10 in save opportunities with an opponents’ batting average below .200. The Marlins proved last year with Edward Mujica that they will trade controllable, late-inning relievers if the prospect return is suitable. Cishek could become the low-cost alternative to Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon.
Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies
Speaking of Papelbon . . . Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told ESPN’s Jayson Stark last week that he has “no desire” to trade Papelbon, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels. I am certain that is true. But rumors will persist, because (a) Amaro hasn’t categorically ruled out the possibility of a trade and (b) the Phillies’ disappointing play (33-37) may force Amaro to consider alternatives he doesn’t desire. The Detroit Tigers already have been linked to Papelbon, although it’s not known if formal talks have occurred between the teams.
Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox
He’s probably the least likely name on this list to be moved, but the White Sox — with a high payroll, poor record and dismal attendance — aren’t in a position to declare untouchables. While concerns persist about Sale’s durability, he has a 1.18 ERA over his last five starts. The White Sox just signed Sale to a $32.5 million contract extension this spring, making a trade even less likely. But if David Price and Cliff Lee aren’t dealt, new general manager Rick Hahn could get a franchise-changing return for Sale as the top left-handed starter on the market.
Jesse Crain, RHP, White Sox
A prototypical July trade candidate — i.e., late-inning reliever in the final year of his contract — Crain has been superb in a setup role for the White Sox. Crain hasn’t given up a run in more than two months, establishing himself as a viable All-Star candidate while perhaps making GMs around the league worry that he’ll regress once they trade for him. But Crain’s been reliable dating back to his tenure with the Minnesota Twins, and his strikeout rate is up for the sixth straight season.
Mark Buehrle, LHP, Blue Jays
As you probably remember from last offseason, Buehrle’s free-agent contract with the Marlins didn’t include no-trade protection. That’s noteworthy now that he’s 2-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five starts. If the Jays surge back into the AL East race, Buehrle won’t belong on this list. But if GM Alex Anthopoulos decides to sell, he’s certain to get a large volume of calls on this former world champion. Anthopoulos could seize upon the opportunity to replenish the farm system after surrendering so many prospects last winter. Buehrle has two years and $37 million left on his contract — a relative bargain, when compared with the going rate for free agents.
Michael Young, 3B, Phillies
One of the game’s most respected players, Young is in the final year of his contract and could fill a contender’s need at either corner infield spot. (Your thoughts, Brian Cashman?) In many ways, Young brings an ideal element to the clubhouse: He has the experience of playing in the World Series and the hunger of coming within one strike of a title in 2011. Young doesn’t hit for much power anymore but has a .367 batting average this month.
Bud Norris, RHP, Astros
Norris is the likeliest trade candidate among the Astros’ top players — if only because he’s the closest to free agency. (Closer Jose Veras also has a good chance to play elsewhere before the season is done.) Norris is certain to draw interest from a wide spectrum of teams, since clubs could control his rights through 2015. He has a 2.18 ERA over his last five starts, which should help his near-term marketability. Norris doesn’t strike out many hitters, but at least his walk rate has improved.
Oliver Perez, LHP, Mariners
The Mariners are headed for another losing season, but at least they should net a prospect for their wise decision to offer Perez a chance to restart his major-league career. Perez has been one of the top left-handed relievers in the American League this year, holding right-handers to an even lower average (.170) than lefties. Perez picked up his first save of the season over the weekend in Oakland. Perhaps a really bold team will look at him as a closer.