Posted July 30, 2013

Trades for Lee, Pence and Rios that should happen, but probably won’t

Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Trade deadline
Cliff Lee, Phillies

Cliff Lee is no stranger to deadline deals, having been dealt in both 2009 and 2010. (AP)

I’ve spent most of this month covering the trade deadline from many angles — top targets at given positions, potential destinations, credible rumors about trades under discussion. As the July 31 non-waiver deadline draws near — it’s at 4 PM Eastern on Wednesday — here are three trades that should happen, but probably won’t, for one reason or another.

While the urge to get fanciful isn’t easy to resist, I’m not coming entirely from leftfield on any of these. At least as far as the headliners go, all have been discussed by the teams involved to one degree or another.

JAFFE: Where things stand with top targets: Position players | Pitchers

Cliff Lee to the Orioles

At 58-48, with a +30 run differential, the Orioles are for real, but they’re five games out in the AL East race and clinging to the second AL wild-card spot, a half-game ahead of the Indians. They’ve done this with a rotation that ranks 12th in the league in ERA (4.65), 11th in innings per start (5.8), 10th in quality start rate (49 percent) and 10th in overall run prevention (4.43 runs per game), numbers that will need to improve if they’re going to advance. While Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen have all pitched well when available — they have just 50 starts between them — none of them is anything close to a number one starter, and nobody else who’s started more than one game for Baltimore has an ERA below 4.76. The O’s need an ace, and Cliff Lee is the only one who’s even remotely available.

Though he’s become a bit more homer-prone over the last two years, the 34-year-old Lee is still an outstanding pitcher, with a 3.05 ERA, 8.5 strikeouts per nine and a 6.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year. He’s certainly being paid like an ace. He’s owed $25 million a year through 2015, with a $27.5 million club option and a steep $12.5 million buyout for 2016; that option can vest if he remains healthy and durable. So at the very least, he’s owed around $70 million including the remainder of this year. While the Phillies (48-56) haven’t marketed him aggressively, they’re listening to offers, and they want top prospects in addition to freedom from the remaining financial burden. The Orioles, who began the year with the game’s 16th-highest payroll at $92.3 million and who have just one significant financial commitment beyond 2014 — Adam Jones through 2018 — can afford to take on that salary. If they did, they’d also prevent the competition, particularly the Red Sox (63-44), with whom they’re competing in both division and wild-card races, from getting him.

The question is whether Baltimore has the appetite to deal multiple top prospects, or the depth to come up with enough good ones to suit the Phillies. In this case, it would almost certainly mean including either Kevin Gausman, who has been knocked around in his 33 1/3 innings with the big club, or Dylan Bundy, who’s out for the year with Tommy John surgery. It would probably also include infielder Jonathan Schoop, who missed two months of this season with a stress fracture in his lower back and is hitting just .268/.327/.399 at Triple-A Norfolk, though he has hit .400/.466/.820 in 58 PA (11 at Norfolk) across three levels since returning to action. Such a deal would almost certainly need to include more than that, and given what the Orioles have, there may not be enough to make Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. do a deal. Furthermore, Lee has a no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to 21 teams. In other words, there are no shortage of reasons this won’t get done, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

Hunter Pence to the Rangers

With David Murphy hitting an abysmal .222/.279/.373, Nelson Cruz among the players who could be disciplined for Biogenesis connections and Lance Berkman mulling retirement, the Rangers need offense, particularly given that they’ve averaged just 3.52 runs per game while going 23-29 since the calendar turned to June. Meanwhile, the Giants are 46-58, 10 games back in the NL West and 11 1/2 back in the wild-card race; they need to start planning for next year.

Pence, who’s 30, is making $13.8 million and can be a free agent at the end of the year. He’s hitting .277/.320/.457 with 14 homers, numbers that look better when you account for San Francisco’s ballpark; his 124 OPS+ ranks seventh among all rightfielders with at least 300 PA. The Giants have told teams they’d rather re-sign him than trade him, and they plan to make him a qualifying offer at the end of the year so they can at least net a supplemental first-round draft pick if he leaves.

Though they just sent five players (including two still to be named) to the Cubs for Matt Garza, the Rangers have the organizational depth to make a deal, particularly when it comes to position prospects, an area where San Francisco is lacking. Given general manager Brian Sabean’s longstanding predilection for veterans, the two sides could explore other avenues as well. With Joakim Soria back from Tommy John surgery and Neftali Feliz working his way back as well, the Rangers are willing to deal closer Joe Nathan, who’s 38 and in the midst of a strong season (32 saves in 34 attempts, a 1.73 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine) and who just happened to be drafted by Sabean back in 1995; he’s got a relatively modest $9 million club option for next year, though he could void it by finishing another 16 games.

Another alternative would be for the two sides to explore moving Ian Kinsler, who has $62 million remaining on his deal through 2017 but who’s blocking Jurickson Profar from taking over second base. In that case, Texas would probably have to eat salary and the Giants would need to figure out what to do with Marco Scutaro, who’s signed through 2015. Scutaro’s versatility would make him an attractive trade target for any contender — particularly the Red Sox and Yankees, neither of whom should be as hot and heavy for Michael Young (.277/.342/.402, -0.6 WAR) as they’ve reportedly been.

Alex Rios to the Pirates

At 62-42, the Pirates have a firm handle on a wild-card spot, and they’re just a half-game back in the NL Central, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t withstand fortification. As I’ve noted several times, rightfield has been a particular problem for Pittsburgh; between Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, Garret Jones and others, the team has gotten just a .226/.290/.359 showing, by far the worst in its lineup aside from shortstop, and in fact the worst in the entire league in terms of OPS or OPS+.

Rios, who’s currently hitting .272/.324/.428 with 12 homers, isn’t a middle-of-the-order hitter, but he would fill that gaping hole and could help out defensively, given that the Pirates are seven runs below average in rightfield according to Defensive Runs Saved. Jones could continue to serve as the long half of a platoon with Gaby Sanchez at first base. The hitch is that the 32-year-old Rios is owed around $5 million for this year, $12.5 million for next year and $1 million for a buyout of a $13.5 million option for 2015, and Pittsburgh has shown a reluctance to take on such a commitment even given that its $66.8 million payroll ranks 26th in the league.

Additionally, the White Sox are said to be asking for two top prospects plus a lesser player in return. That’s more than they’ll get unless they eat a significant amount of remaining money, but the Pirates do have prospects to deal; they came into the year with five players on the Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus Top 100 Prospects lists, including current rotation staple Gerrit Cole. He’s obviously untouchable, as is righty Jameson Taillon – or is he? — but that still leaves centerfielder Gregory Polanco, righty Luis Heredia and shortstop Alen Hanson, any one of whom could be a potential starting point for a deal. It won’t be painless, but neither have the last 20 years of Pirates baseball.

10 comments
Joe_Basiaga
Joe_Basiaga

Cliff Lee for scrubs and injured players? You're insane at proposing that lopsided trade.

Zak
Zak

Man, I could find better stuff on Yahoo!

Don't waste your time, baseball fans.

moorland5115
moorland5115

Cliff Lee-He’s owed $25 million a year through 2015, with a $27.5 million club option and a steep $12.5 million buyout for 2016; that option can vest if he remains healthy and durable. So at the very least, he’s owed around $70 million including the remainder of this year.

 I can't believe there is a team in baseball that would take this contract , certainly not the O's. Somehow the team that gets to pay him all this money  is also supposed to give up 3-4 blue chip prospects.

Jesse11
Jesse11

Good that Jay now writes on the Bleacher Report level. Pence for Nathan? Keep up the fabulous work, Jay. SI should be embarrassed.

Aguilas
Aguilas

Okay, the Boston Media Circus pushing for It Makes Sense To Trade Cliff Lee!?!?  Understandably, the Phillies need bats, youth, etc.  Uh, w/o Lee on the Mound who wins games defensively??  Still need pitchers!!!

vanitas
vanitas

Agree with Paul9. but from the Giants' side.  This is ridiculous, you have the Giants trading for two players they don't need. A 38-year old closer at $9 mill? Giants have Sergio Romo, plus there is a great chance Nathan voids the club option and the Giants are left with exactly what for Pence? Equally ridiculous is Ian Kinsler -- he would be a clear downgrade at 2B, especially because what is left of Kinsler's power (which is not much at this point)won't play in AT&T Park, and the Giants have several potential 2B prospects to take over for Scutaro after 2014, including 1st rounder Joe Panik. Do some some homework.

Paul9
Paul9

No way will, or should, the Rangers trade Nathan or Kinsler for a 50-55 game rental.  If Pence was signed to a longer term deal, then it might make sense.  But no way John Daniels gives up that much for a rental.  They did give up 5 players for a rental in Garza, but ...   The Rangers had given Olt several chances in the show and he just wasn't panning out, plus they are set at 3rd with Beltre for the next few years, and have someone that they believe is even better than Olt in AA. So Olt was expendable.  Justin Grimm was given a chance for a while, but was getting worse and worse as a starter this year, so they thought he was expendable as well.  Neither Nathan or Kinsler is in the same ballpark as far as being expendable - they're both vital parts of this year's team.  Kinsler is one of the few bats on the Rangers that is having a good year, so why give him up if you're trying to improve offense?  Makes NO sense.  Nathan has been insane this year, and when playoffs come around (if they get that far this year), a great closer is a necessity.

eww21
eww21

If my buccos are gonna trade Polanco, Hanson, Heredia or Taillon (or some combination thereoff), They better be doing so to get a Stanton type bat, not a Rios. As a lifelong fan, who's last memory of playoff baseball came when I was 5, i'm kinda terrified of this belief that we should overpay for a right fielder because this season is going well. Do i think we need an upgrade in right? definitely, but trading away one of our top prospects at the 2 positions we are weakest (SS:Hanson, OF: Polanco), as well as one of our top pitching prospects (who will be needed soon, as Burnett is probably going to retire, Morton shouldn't be in the rotation, and Wandy won't be here too much longer) for a slightly above middle of the road outfielder is just too much. I was iffy when the rumors were Polanco, Heredia, and someone else for Stanton, theres no chance I can stomach giving them up just for Rios...

Skins'Fan
Skins'Fan

@eww21 As a longtime suffering Jays fan with 20 years of no playoff ball (and counting) Rios is not the answer and I would NOT mortgage any future assets for him. He's a hot/cold bat with overrated defense... He's not someone that gets you over "the hump" from playoff team to contender, he could go ice cold on a moments notice, for like 2 seasons... Trust me!! I saw it ALL the time watching the Jays. He has the tools but can't put them all together for any reasonable length of time.