Trade deadline preview: AL East
With the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline exactly two weeks away, we continue our roll through the six divisions to see which teams are buying, which are selling and what moves they can — and should — make. Next up, the American League East, where all five teams are at or above .500 at this writing. (NOTE: All teams ranked according to current standings; playoff odds data supplied by Baseball Prospectus.)
New York Yankees (55-34, 9 games ahead)
Playoff odds: 95.3% Division/3.1% Wild Card/98.4% Total
Top need: Leftfield
Despite myriad injuries — most notably to Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Brett Gardner, all currently on the 60-day disabled list — and subpar half-seasons from Russell Martin, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have the game’s best record, and the highest chance at winning their division according to the BP odds. The mainstream media may be eager to spend the team’s money in pursuit of a big-name acquisition such as Cole Hamels, but that hasn’t been general manager Brian Cashman’s modus operandi at the trade deadline, at least since the Cliff Lee trade fell through in 2010. Blame the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would deprive the team of a draft pick if Hamels (or another pending free agent) departs, and which has onerous penalties in place for exceeding the luxury tax threshold down the road. Not helping matters is a minor league system whose top pitching prospects, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, have been either injured or erratic, and whose top bats are a ways from the big time.
With CC Sabathia back from the disabled list as of Tuesday, and Pettitte due back from a broken ankle in early September, Cashman appears convinced that the team can scrape by with Freddy Garcia or David Phelps in the fifth starter spot, and the bullpen could get boosts not only from Joba Chamberlain (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery) but possibly from Rivera, who was thought to be lost for the season back on May 4 when he tore his ACL shagging fly balls; the pitcher may have an outside chance at a September return. Meanwhile, with Gardner suffering yet another setback as he rehabs from a right elbow strain and bone bruise and their leftfielders delivering a combined .234/.305/.435 performance, the primary focus is on adding an outfielder. With the Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton able to block a deal to the Yankees, the Phillies’ Shane Victorino is the top available option; even in a down season (.251/.316/.389), he’d be a massive defensive upgrade over Raul Ibanez. Oakland’s Coco Crisp is another player New York has reportedly scouted; toiling in a tough environment for hitters, his his .232/.294/.313 line isn’t pretty, but should lower his asking price, particularly given that he has around $10 million remaining on a contract that runs through next season.
Baltimore Orioles (46-43, 9 games behind in division, 1/2 game behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 1.2% Division/10.6% Wild Card/11.8% Total
Top need: Prospects
If you told the Orioles at the outset of the season that they’d be in this position two weeks before the trade deadline, they might have leaped at the possibility, particularly given the franchise’s 14-year sub-.500 streak. Even so, recent weeks have underscored the likelihood that the team’s won-loss record thus far has been a mirage. Over the past month, the Orioles are an AL-worst 7-16 while being outscored 139-69; with a −55 run differential, their overall Pythagorean record is a non-contender-like 39-50. As ever, their biggest problem is starting pitching. The team is 12th in the league in rotation ERA (4.75) and quality start rate (43 percent), while the closest thing they have to an ace, Jason Hammel, just underwent arthroscopic knee surgery that will sideline him into late August.
Furthermore, the trove of young arms that once looked so rich — Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton — has combined for a 5.58 ERA in 195 innings, with Arrieta banished to Triple-A and Britton mired there in the wake of spring shoulder troubles. Given that and an offense that ranks 11th in the league in scoring at 4.13 runs per game, the Orioles have no hope of outslugging the competition or getting by with a back-end patch, and they’d be silly to trade blue-chippers Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado for a Zack Greinke rental.
Baltimore would better off continuing to fortify their rebuilding efforts, even if the returns won’t be grand. Pending free agent Mark Reynolds is hitting just .213/.340/.396, but in a thin first base market, he makes for a reasonable buy-low option, as would fellow all-or-nothing hacker Chris Davis (.262/.305/.454). J.J. Hardy is due less than $15 million for 2013-2014. Wilson Betemit is an affordable bench bat. Kevin Gregg is an experienced closer and… well, that’s about the best thing that can be said about him. There may be value in the Orioles finishing at or above .500, but the danger of overestimating their progress this season remains significant.
Tampa Bay Rays (46-44), 9 1/2 games behind in division, 1 game behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 1.2% Division/22.0% Wild Card/23.2% Total
Top need: Offense
The Rays still have a puncher’s chance at making the playoffs, but they’re just 31-36 since Evan Longoria hit the disabled list with a hamstring strain in late April, managing a bare 4.00 runs per game since then in a league where 4.48 is average. Indeed, offense is a problem in a lineup capable of fielding six players with on-base percentages of .306 or lower: Will Rhymes (.306), B.J. Upton (.305), Desmond Jennings (.298), Sean Rodriguez (.274), Luke Scott (.261) and Jose Molina (.253). The return of Matt Joyce, who has missed four weeks due to an oblique injury, will help (Rhymes was optioned), but Longoria has yet to start another rehab stint after suffering a setback on June 18.
Given that and the fact that once again, fans are staying away from Tropicana Field in droves (the team’s attendance ranks 13th in the AL), there’s talk that the team could instead go against the grain and become sellers, particularly if their fortunes don’t reverse in the next week. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Rays are open to moving any of their right-handed starting pitchers, namely James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, or starter-turned reliever Wade Davis. Though not a Hamels or a Greinke, Shields would occupy a tier with the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster and former Ray Matt Garza; like the latter, he’s cost-controlled, with club options of $9 million and $12 million for the next two years. The 30-year-old is extremely durable, averaging 33 starts and 220 innings per year since 2007, and as in 2010, his high ERA (4.44) is being driven by a stratospheric BABIP (.347, third in the league), while his strikeout and walk rates remain strong (8.3 and 2.7 per nine, respectively). Hellickson, who won Rookie of the Year honors last year, has seen his home run rate spike to 1.6 per nine; there’s no urgency to deal him, but a mid-rotation starter who’s cost-controlled through 2016 could fetch a significant haul. Beyond the rotation, pending free agent Upton is underachieving yet again (.244/.305/.376), but teams still covet the 27-year-old’s athleticism and dream on his upside.
Boston Red Sox (46-44, 9 1/2 games behind in division, 1 game behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 2.4% Division/21.3% Wild Card/23.6% Total
Top need: Starting and relief pitching
With the returns of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford over the past few days, and Dustin Pedroia later this week, the Sox appeared on course to field their A-list lineup for the first time all season, only to watch David Ortiz — the only one of their 13 highest-paid players who has been worth the money thus far — hobble off the field with a right Achilles injury on Monday night. Early indications are that the tendon is neither ruptured nor torn, and he may avoid a DL stint.
Despite so many injuries, the offense ranks second in the league in scoring at 5.00 runs per game, and the real need is on the other side of the ball. The rotation’s 4.71 ERA ranks 11th in the league, their 48 percent quality start rate ninth, and save for fill-ins Franklin Morales and Aaron Cook (3.34 ERA despite just two strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings), no Sox starter has an ERA below Felix Doubront’s 4.41. The Sox are said to be heavily in pursuit of Dempster, but they’re reportedly one of 10 teams interested; they’ve also been linked to Francisco Liriano, though why they’d settle for another enigma with so many on staff is less clear. As for the bullpen, with Daniel Bard lost in the weeds and Andrew Bailey not yet throwing off a mound, they’re said to be interested in the Rockies’ Rafael Betancourt, perennially one of the majors’ top setup men, and as of this year, an able-bodied closer as well. With the returns of Ellsbury, Crawford and Ryan Kalish, the Sox suddenly have a glut of outfielders to deal, with Ryan Sweeney or Daniel Nava both representing useful role players, and Cody Ross an inexpensive starter. Furthermore, the farm system, which was depleted by the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has enviable depth, with ESPN’s Keith Law suggesting it’s one of the game’s most improved this season, so a Dempster-level acquisition should be possible.
Toronto Blue Jays (45-45, 10 1/2 games behind in division, 2 games behind in Wild Card)
Playoff odds: 0.0% Division/3.5% Wild Card/3.5% Total
Top need: starting pitching
While the Blue Jays aren’t far out of a playoff spot, their odds are getting longer by the day; not only are pitchers Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Luis Perez and Sergio Santos out for the season due to surgery, but slugger Jose Bautista hit the DL after sustaining a soft-tissue injury to his wrist on Monday night, one whose severity has yet to be determined at this writing.
Even so, the Jays have yet to throw in the towel; they’re said to be focused on upgrading their pitching and have been scouting the likes of Garza and Liriano. Ever in the market for a value play, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has also expressed an interest in Justin Upton; the Jays do have the prospects to make such a trade. If they do move into selling mode, battle-tested lefty reliever Darren Oliver, shortstop Yunel Escobar and catcher J.P. Arencibia will draw interest; the latter pair are blocking prospects Adeiny Hechevarria and Travis d’Arnaud. Another potentially intriguing target is Travis Snider, who was bypassed for promotion from Triple-A in favor of Anthony Gose when the team sent Bautista to the DL. Snider hit just .248/.307/.423 in 877 major league plate appearances from 2008-2011, but the former blue-chip prospect is still just 24, and is batting .322/.415/.548 at hitter-friendly Las Vegas.