American League West—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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We can tick Edwin Encarnacion off the board of potentially available players as the Blue Jays signed him to a 3-year, $29 million extension. I’ll discuss that in an upcoming post. Now let’s have a look at the AL West and which teams should buy, sell or stand pat and what they should be looking for.

Texas Rangers

They’re heavy buyers.

I’m not discussing any Cole Hamels rumors from now on. He’s going to be the hot topic and used as an easy “news” story designed to garner webhits. But the Rangers are absolutely going to pursue him and will make the decisive move to get a starting pitcher from somewhere. Roy Oswalt’s had two bad starts and two good starts; Neftali Feliz is on the 60-day disabled list. It’s no wonder they’re pursuing Hamels, Zack Greinke and will undoubtedly be in on Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and anyone else who’s available or not available like Felix Hernandez.

The Rangers will get a starting pitcher.

They’ll also try to bolster their bullpen with an extra arm or two like Grant Balfour, Jose Mijares or Joe Thatcher.

Los Angeles Angels

Talk of another starting pitcher, on the surface, sounds like overkill. But it was put logically recently (I’m not sure where I read it) that since Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have club options at the end of the season and neither have pitched very well, they’ll have the money free to go after Hamels or Greinke. The Angels like pitching.

If I had to guess now what they’re going to do at the end of the season, they’ll decline Santana’s option and exercise Haren’s if he’s healthy.

Since they’re 8th in the American League in runs scored, the on-the-surface suggestion would be that they’ll need a bat. But the early season horrible hitting cost coach Mickey Hatcher his job and they began to score once Mike Trout was recalled and Vernon Wells got hurt. The Wells situation will have to be resolved when he returns from the disabled list. I would think the last and possibly only resort is to eat the $42+ million remaining on his contract and dump him.

They could use a lefty specialist like Mijares or Thatcher and if the Brewers make Francisco Rodriguez available, a reunion with his former team would be a positive for both sides.

Oakland Athletics

Who would’ve thought the A’s could legitimately consider being buyers at mid-season? Certainly not me. Credit goes to Billy Beane for getting solid youngsters from the Diamondbacks and Nationals in off-season trades. Yoenis Cespedes is another matter since he’s supremely talented and injury-prone.

They’re not going to buy and they’re not going to clear the decks of everything from the roster to the light fixtures to the sinks.

Balfour will be in demand; perhaps they can get a couple of minor leaguers for a team that needs a back-end starter in Bartolo Colon (how about the Mets?). I’d probably find a taker for Daric Barton. It’s not going to happen for him with the A’s and he does have some attributes.

Seattle Mariners

According to Geoff Baker in The Seattle Times, “…the Mariners do not appear to be gearing any efforts towards contention before 2015.”

Jeez.

Baker’s column was in reference to the suggestion that they pursue Justin Upton, but if they have no intention of contending until 2015 they not only shouldn’t buy, but they should look to trade Hernandez. What good is going to do them if they’re not going to contend for another two years?

Whether it’s ownership interfering with GM Jack Zduriencik or not, it can’t be ignored that the Mariners’ offense is historically awful with four regular players batting .203 or below and all four—Brendan Ryan, Miguel Olivo, Justin Smoak and Chone Figgins—were brought in by Zduriencik.

2015? The Mariners have a loyal fanbase, money to spend, a horse at the top of the rotation and young pitching on the way.

If this is true, then they should sell any player making significant money and that includes King Felix. As it is, they’ll look to move Brandon League and listen on Jason Vargas. Anyone want Figgins? I thought not.

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Jason Vargas

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Name: Jason Vargas—Seattle Mariners

Tale of the tape: Left-handed pitcher; 29-years-old; 6’0”, 215 lbs.

Contract status: $4.85 million in 2012; arbitration eligible for 2013; free agent after 2013.

Would the Mariners trade him and what would the trading team be getting?

They would trade him. They don’t have to trade him and might be better served to gauge the market and decide whether he’d be more valuable to trade this winter.

Vargas is a decent, mid-to-back-rotation lefty who gives up a lot of home runs (22 so far this season), eats some innings, and needs a big ballpark and good defense behind him to be successful. He has a mediocre fastball, an array of off-speed pitches and good control. Vargas is deceptive and throws across his body with the ball difficult to pick up out of his hand—he’s sneaky fast.

Jayson Stark wrote that the Braves are looking for an “impact” starting pitcher and have scouted Vargas extensively.

If the Braves are thinking of Vargas as an impact starter, then their criteria for that adjective is misplaced. An impact starter is someone that can start one of the first two games of a playoff series. With this current Braves club with their injuries, Vargas probably would start a game 3 behind Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson, but that’s more of a reflection on the Braves than it is on Vargas.

He’s not an impact starter; he’s someone who’s obtainable for a reasonable price and can be useful.

The Mariners have wrung about as much as they possibly can from him on the field and with the young pitching they have on the way to the big leagues, they’re not going to need to pay the Vargas the $6 million+ he’ll make in arbitration next season, nor are they going to overpay to keep him as a free agent after next season. He’s worth more in a trade than he is to keep whether they do it now or after the season.

What would they want for him?

The Mariners need hitting. Presumably they’d want a shortstop and an outfielder. The shortstop needs to have a good glove and an offensive attribute—speed, some pop, a good eye. The outfielder either has to be able to run and catch the ball or is a pure slugger for a corner spot or DH. They won’t get can’t miss prospects, but they’ll be able to get a couple of good prospects who are currently in Double A.

Which teams would pursue him?

Every contending team can use pitching. The Yankees are waiting out CC Sabathia’s and Andy Pettitte’s injuries with Freddy Garcia and their minor leaguers. I wouldn’t put Vargas in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

In fact, any bandbox is a bad idea and that eliminates the Orioles and Camden Yards.

The Blue Jays, Tigers, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals and Pirates have good venues for him to pitch and the prospects to trade.

What will happen.

I get the feeling the Mariners aren’t going to trade Vargas at the deadline and they’ll wait until after the season when they might have a new GM replacing Jack Zduriencik to make the move.

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Talk of the Phillies’ Demise and Fire Sale is Premature

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Too much is being read into random comments from invisible sources as to the Phillies’ intentions at the trading deadline. If indeed the Phillies have yet to send scouts to have a look at any players they might have interest in—Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Zack Greinke, Huston Street, Francisco Rodriguez—it doesn’t indicate that they’re not open to adding any of those players. The truth is that much of the scouting that goes on for name players is done to make sure they’re healthy. How much information that they don’t already have is going to be gleaned by following Greinke around for the next month? Not much.

So too is it silly to interpret the rumor that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is calling around to see what the market is for Cole Hamels as a definite sign that Hamels will be traded. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are expected back within the month and Chase Utley is just getting back into the big league swing.

They’re 11 games out of first place. That’s hard to make up. But they’re only 6 ½ games out of the Wild Card lead and there are two Wild Cards to shoot for in a mediocre National League. Unless they’re trailing by double digits in all three playoff possibilities at the end of July and their veterans aren’t performing, they’re not going to unload Hamels and Shane Victorino for the sake of it.

For a veteran team with an already gutted farm system, it makes little sense to start building for the future when they’re locked in with heavy contracts for Howard, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There will not be a full housecleaning in Philadelphia no matter the circumstances.

Just for the record, understand this: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

If they’re asking for the moon in a trade for Hamels, they’re going to have a hard time getting it with the pitching that’s likely to be available in Greinke, Ryan Dempster, the under-team-control Matt Garza and Jason Vargas. The talk that Amaro let it be known that he wants four to five prospects—four to five!!!—is tantamount to calling the Nationals and asking for Bryce Harper and the Angels for Mike Trout. There’s no harm in asking, but it’s not going to happen.

Given their poor season and the new draft rules that limit the amount of money that can be spent in the draft, the Phillies might be better-served to keep Hamels and Victorino and take the draft picks after the season if they depart. A bad year for the Phillies—say 75-87—would net them somewhere between the 8th and the 12th pick in the 2013 draft. Combine that with the compensation picks for other teams signing Hamels and Victorino and they’re in position to bolster their flagging farm system and have money to improve the big league club.

Don’t be so quick to think the Phillies are dead and that a fire sale is pending, because it’s not.

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Cespedes Has One Month

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As talented as Yoenis Cespedes clearly is, that talent is raw. He’s increasingly become a feast or famine hitter with trouble hitting breaking balls. His defensive liabilities in centerfield only exacerbate the limited level of his current game.

That’s not to say that the 26(?)-year-old doesn’t have his attributes. He’s shown a propensity to hit in the clutch and has displayed unbelievable shows of power. The Mariners’ Jason Vargas threw a mediocre fastball right down the chute and Cespedes—in his most impressive show of strength—hit a towering homer that he stood and admired for a length of time that drew the ire of Vargas and the Mariners.

If pitchers make the mistake of firing a fastball in a location where the free-swinging Cespedes can reach it, he does damage; but without noticeable plate discipline, teams are learning that Cespedes is the equivalent of Major League’s Pedro Cerrano: don’t throw him a fastball in a hittable location if you can help it.

His slash line is down to .238/.316/.436. After hitting 3 homers in his first 4 games of the season, he’s hit 2 in the 23 games since.

He’s not completely ready for the big leagues.

The laudatory comments for Billy Beane’s decision to sign him (“smarter than the average bear”, etc) have died down in correlation with Cespedes’s dwindling production. The signing was always a strange one for the rebuilding A’s. Following the winter decisions to clean house of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, Beane was setting the foundation for a future that was contingent on the A’s’ proposed new ballpark in San Jose. With the project still in limbo, Beane followed the trades of the above-mentioned pitchers by signing Cespedes and Manny Ramirez; he re-signed Coco Crisp to play centerfield; and traded for Seth Smith.

To his displeasure, Crisp’s position was usurped by Cespedes and he’s now on the disabled list with an inner ear infection.

Ramirez’s suspension for failing a PED test is up on May 30th; the A’s have said that the plan is for him to go on a 10 game conditioning assignment before then and be recalled. They’re going to need a spot in the lineup for him and the obvious baseball move is to send Cespedes down, move Crisp back to centerfield, play Smith in leftfield and DH Ramirez.

Crisp’s bat has been non-existent, but he might regain his comfort zone if he’s playing his preferred position. They signed Ramirez and it would be silly for him not to play. Cespedes needs more seasoning.

It’s an obvious move…unless the A’s and Beane continue to be more concerned with perception and the desperate attempts to maintain the veneer of genius for Beane than with doing what’s right for the player and the team. Beane’s portrayal has become increasingly ridiculous with each subsequent maneuver he makes not to improve his team, but as a means to an end for peripheral benefits that can’t be gained by looking at facts. They’re clinging to a “future” that may never come and the absurd narrative of Moneyball.

Unless he starts hitting, Cespedes needs to go down the minors. Whether or not that actually happens is another matter entirely.

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