Expect surprises this trade season
Only one rule applies during trading season:
Don’t assume anything.
At this time last season, hardly anyone thought the Rockies would trade Ubaldo Jimenez. In 2010, few predicted that the Angels would get Dan Haren. In ‘09, virtually everyone in the sport gasped when the White Sox landed Jake Peavy – after he already had vetoed a deal the first time they tried to acquire him.
Over the next eight weeks, you will read and hear trade ideas that sound preposterous. Some of them will indeed prove preposterous. But my best advice is this: Keep an open mind.
Sure, the Cubs deny that they are trying to trade shortstop Starlin Castro – perish the thought! Teams rarely admit publicly that they’re trying to move a player. And while I don’t think trading Castro at 22 is a particularly good idea, the Cubs would be foolish to dismiss the possibility.
Their club president, Theo Epstein, like most executives, doesn’t believe in untouchables. Forward-thinking teams always weigh their options, gauge their players’ values, think five steps ahead of the rest of us.
In my Full Count video Saturday, I mentioned that the Astros’ best bet for a big return might be to trade Jose Altuve, their phenomenal 5-foot-7 second baseman. A few Astros fans on Twitter responded by saying that there was no way such a deal would happen, not when Altuve is popular, productive and under club control for five more seasons.
Well, the Astros need to at least explore it.
They aren’t likely to acquire major talent for veterans such as left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, first baseman Carlos Lee and closer Brett Myers, all of whom have burdensome contracts. What’s more, Triple-A second baseman Jimmy Paredes looks like he could be a quality major leaguer.
If general manager Jeff Luhnow could flip Altuve to the Tigers for a package that started with right-hander Jacob Turner, you think he would just reject the idea out of hand?
Of course not.
It’s true that teams are increasingly protective of young talent, especially now that they no longer can spend without restriction in the amateur market, starting with Monday’s draft. Still, that doesn’t mean big prospect deals are extinct.
The Padres got a major haul for right-hander Mat Latos last offseason. Ditto for the Astros in the Hunter Pence trade last July, and the Royals in the Zack Greinke deal in December 2010.
Trust me, something mind-blowing will happen over the next eight weeks, and probably more than one thing.
I’m not saying it will involve Castro. I’m not saying it will involve Altuve. I’m just saying that one way or another, our heads will be spinning.
Best to keep an open mind.
KW: PLAYING IT COOL
In search of some pre-deadline bombast, I placed a call to White Sox GM Ken Williams, figuring he would be good for a few bold quotes now that his team is in first place.
Alas, KW has turned as dull as his new manager, Robin Ventura.
“We’re trying to keep everything understated,” Williams said. “We’ve got so many young guys on this team, we don’t want anyone to get too far ahead of themselves. We’re focusing on today. The team is playing to win today’s game.”
So, Ken, I presume you’ll be a buyer?
“If I’m asking the players to be focused on the day’s game and do the little things to keep the focus where it should be, we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves, either,” Williams said. “We’ll see where we are in July and then we’ll figure it out.”
I can’t tell you what Williams said next. I was snoring.
Joking aside, the White Sox are indeed wise to take a day-to-day approach. Six of their 12 pitchers, including three rookie relievers, are 26 or younger. Four of their 13 position players, including second baseman Gordon Beckham and left fielder Dayan Viciedo, are in the same age category.
Williams loves the group, loves how they’re developing and showing attention to detail under Ventura. The White Sox would benefit from an upgrade at third base, where their OPS is the worst in the AL. Right-handers Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber and injured lefty John Danks have yet to pitch to expectations. But Williams indicated that he wants to keep the team’s young nucleus mostly intact.
“We don’t want to stunt that growth,” he said. “If they put you in position to where you’re winning, why not continue that development in a winning environment? There is not that obligation to make a trade to fill a need here or there. We have to be careful of the chemistry, messing it up.”
Which probably means KW is on the verge of a blockbuster.
PADRES’ HEADLEY: MORE APPEALING THAN YOUK?
Padres third baseman Chase Headley, 28, is five years younger than the Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis and $8.525 million cheaper this season. Youk also plays first base, but Headley – a popular trade target, according to major-league sources – might be the more attractive commodity.
Headley, the Padres’ best offensive player, produced a 121 OPS-plus last season and has followed it with a 124 OPS-plus thus far. (OPS-plus is a particularly useful measure for hitters who play 81 games at hitter-hating Petco Park. The statistic is OPS adjusted to league and ballpark; the average is 100.)
The Padres, who are in the process of getting sold, might want to keep Headley and sign him long-term before he becomes a free agent after the 2014 season. But Headley, who currently is earning $3.475 million, might be too expensive for any Pads owner by then, and his potential replacement, Jedd Gyorko, is now at Triple A.
Gyorko currently is splitting time between second and third. The Padres want to keep their options open; Gyorko will play third if they trade Headley, second if they keep him.
THE MONTERO SIGNING: GOOD MOVE OR BAD?
I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea for a team to give a player big money as a last resort. But that’s sort of how the Diamondbacks got sucked into signing catcher Miguel Montero to a five-year, $60 million extension.
The D-Backs do not have a quality minor-league catcher behind Montero. They explored the trade market for young catchers, but the price for the Blue Jays’ Travis D’Arnaud or Yankees’ Austin Romine would have been a package that started with Double-A left-hander Tyler Skaggs. The D-Backs understandably did not want to compromise their pitching depth.
More veteran catchers such as the Blue Jays’ J.P. Arencibia, Reds’ Ryan Hanigan and Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli also would not have come cheaply, if they even were available at all. And the coming free-agent market offered little in the way of solutions.
Montero, who turns 29 on July 9, is preferable to A.J. Pierzynski, Chris Iannetta, Russell Martin, et al (Pierzynski’s current .850 OPS would be a career high, but he will be 37 next season). And the D-Backs figured that 10 to 12 teams – and perhaps five or six high-revenue clubs – will be in the market for catching this offseason.
So in the end, the D-Backs chose to bank on Montero. Did they overpay? Probably. Will they regret the deal? Perhaps. But the scarcity of catching forces teams into difficult decisions. Montero was a classic example.
WHICH WAY, JAYS?
For all the talk of the Blue Jays making a big trade, the team is just 28-26 and tied for last in the AL East – though their plus-22 run differential is exceeded only by the Yankees, who are plus-23.
Some executives say that the Jays need to seize the moment while the Yankees and Red Sox seemingly are down, reasoning, “If not now, when?” But the Jays are not a team with one hole, and frankly might be more ready to win next season than they are right now.
By then, three Jays prospects at Triple-A Las Vegas – center fielder Anthony Gose, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and catcher Travis D’Arnaud – could play prominent roles.
Gose, a speedster, is batting .302 with an .814 OPS with 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts for Las Vegas. Hechavarria, another brilliant defender, leads the team with 39 RBIs. D’Arnaud, batting .322 with a .956 OPS, might be the best prospect of all.
Meanwhile, the Jays are short at least one hitter and one starting pitcher. Right-handers Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez appear to be cooling off, though righty Drew Hutchison looks like a keeper, touching 95 mph in each of his last two starts with good command and an above-average breaking ball.
So, as my colleague Jon Paul Morosi recently wrote, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos faces a number of interesting decisions as the deadline approaches, the biggest being the direction of his team.
One rival executive reports that the Jays are “sniffing all over” Cubs right-hander Matt Garza – a move that would make some sense, considering that Garza is under club control through 2013. But the Jays also have needs in first base and left field, and a long-term question at second base, with Kelly Johnson only on a one-year deal.
This isn’t a team that appears one move away.
ORIOLES FADING QUICKLY
The Orioles recently started playing their top offensive prospect, shortstop Manny Machado, at third base, thinking perhaps that Machado could jump from Double A in the second half and fill their void at the position.
Such a move, though, would make sense only if the team stayed in contention, and the chances of that happening appear increasingly remote.
The Orioles have lost seven of their last eight games and 10 of their last 13, and their injuries are mounting. Right fielder Nick Markakis is out 2 to 4 weeks with a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist. Center fielder Adam Jones had an MRI on his right wrist Monday that turned out to be negative. Seven other players, including left fielder Nolan Reimond, remain on the DL.
Meanwhile, the team’s rotation is showing cracks, with right-hander Jake Arrieta in the most notable slump. Arrieta is 0-5 with a 7.96 ERA in his past six starts, and one rival executive actually believes that he would be better as a reliever, citing the “roughness” in his delivery.
WHY ASTROS’ LEE MIGHT SAY YES TO TRADE
Astros first baseman Carlos Lee went on the disabled list Sunday with a strained left hamstring, but still could return in time to generate attention at the non-waiver deadline.
As previously detailed, Lee made an unusual trade of his own when he signed his six-year, $100 million free-agent deal with the Astros in November 2006. He waived his future 10-and-5 rights in exchange for a full no-trade clause for the first four years and partial no-trade protection in the last two.
Lee, now in the final year of that deal, maintains the right to block deals to 14 teams. Almost all of the clubs on his list are high-revenue clubs that possibly could afford his $18.5 million salary, according to a source with knowledge of the details. Among the teams Lee can veto: The Dodgers, who could possibly be interested in him at first base.
Which isn’t to say that Lee would be opposed to a deal.
Friends say that he is keenly aware of how a trade helped boost his value the last time he was eligible for free agency, leading to his $100 million contract with the Astros.
On July 28, 2006, the Brewers sent Lee and outfielder Nelson Cruz to the Rangers for reliever Francisco Cordero, outfielders Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench and a prospect. Lee produced an .895 OPS for the Rangers, then got his big contract.
MYERS: THIS YEAR’S K-ROD
Remember how a vesting option based on games finished affected Francisco Rodriguez’s trade market last season? The same thing could happen with the Astros’ Brett Myers this season.
The Astros reworked Myers’ vesting option when they converted him from a starter to closer in spring training. Under his initial deal, he needed to make only 25 starts and not be on the DL at the end of the season to guarantee his $10 million option for 2013.
The exact number of games that Myers needs to finish for his option to vest under the reworked terms is not known, but the degree of difficulty is comparable to what it was for him as a starter, according to a major-league source. The best estimate, then, is that the number is between 40 and 50.
Well, Myers currently projects to finish 57 games, which only adds to the Astros’ motivation to move him. A team that acquired him to be a setup man would not need to worry about his vesting option. But if Myers had a chance to close, his new team might want to rework his deal again, similar to what the Brewers did with Rodriguez.
Myers, who is 13-for-14 in save opportunities with a 1.86 ERA, also receives a $500,000 bonus each time he is traded and a $3 million buyout if his option is not exercised.
AROUND THE HORN
• If the Phillies sell, they most likely would try to move potential free agents such as left-hander Cole Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino.
Their big contracts – Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay – all include the same no-trade language, according to a major-league source.
Each of those players submits a list of eight teams each year to which he would accept a trade, the source said. The players can block deals to the other 21.
• Dodgers scouts are telling their rival counterparts that new club president Stan Kasten told his front office, “Get what you need and send me the bill.”
Kasten said he wouldn’t go that far, but added, “If that’s the word on the street, I kind of like that. I want fans to understand we’re going to be aggressive – aggressive, but not reckless.”
• It isn’t a complete given that the Padres will move right-hander Edinson Volquez, who is 2-5 with a 3.42 ERA and .665 opponents’ OPS.
Volquez, earning $2.2375 million this season, is not eligible for free agency until after next season. The Padres might prefer to keep him for stability at the top of their rotation.
• Don’t be surprised if Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain recovers from ankle surgery in time to contribute in the second half.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild told manager Joe Girardi that he has never seen a player with higher pain tolerance than Chamberlain.
Before Chamberlain injured his ankle, the Yankees believed he might return from Tommy John surgery by May 15 – an 11-month recovery from an injury that normally requires 12 to 18, though sometimes less for relievers.