Remember just last week when Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said the baseball trade market hadn’t quite developed yet? Oh, it’s developed.
Late last week, the Cubs and A’s kicked off what could be a flurry of deals this season, with the non-waiver trade deadline approaching in only 24 days. Oakland (clearly in “going for it” mode this year) dealt 2012 first-round draft pick Addison Russell, 2013 first-rounder Billy McKinney, and pitcher Dan Straily to Chicago (clearly in retreat mode, despite their recent sweep in Boston) in exchange for starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who are a combined 9-12 on the season, but both with sub-3.00 ERAs.
In his first start with the A’s on Sunday, Samardzija was nasty against Toronto, hurling seven innings, allowing four hits and one earned run in Oakland’s 4-2 win, completing a four-game sweep of the reeling Jays – now two games behind the first-place Orioles, winners of two out of three at Fenway over the weekend. Hammel is slated to go for the A’s, who are 55-33 – the best record in baseball – on Wednesday.
On Sunday, the Yankees basically traded for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ version of Clay Buchholz in Brandon McCarthy, who is 3-10 with a 5.10 ERA this season, except McCarthy does come with solid strikeout, walk, and ground ball ratios that New York hopes will translate to more wins in his move to the AL East. The Diamondbacks received lefty Vidal Nuno, 3-7 with a 4.78 in two years with the Yankees.
Based on the wild card standings, there could be more deadline deals this year than in the recent history of the second wild card, making teams believe they still have a shot, as a number face such long climbs ahead of them that it makes more sense to sell. That includes the Red Sox, 39-49, a season-high 10 games under .500, and nine games out in the AL East and wild card standings. The Rays, Rangers, Twins, Rays, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Phillies, Cubs, Mets, and Padres also may have parts to sell over the next three-plus weeks, perhaps making it an active and competitive trade market. We’ll probably know what the Astros plan to do before many in the front office are informed, as well.
If the going-rate for a package with a soon-to-be free agent pitcher (Hammel) includes one of the game’s top prospects in Russell, Cherington should be smiling about what he has to offer. No, Jake Peavy isn’t going to land the likes of Oscar Tavares from the Cardinals, but find the right team, in just the right striking position (Orioles, Tigers, Brewers, Angels, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals), a team that feels it needs that one added piece to put it over the hump, and you can sometimes find a GM willing to do some harried, silly things. The return for a package that includes Peavy and fellow free-agent-to-be Jon Lester, Boston’s lone 2014 All-Star representative? Well, now you’re talking about getting the farm for a pair of pitchers most likely to be pitching elsewhere in a year’s time anyway.
Then again, a handful of teams may be unwilling to unload any prospects for one big reason: Giancarlo Stanton.
It’s highly unlikely that Peavy, Felix Doubront, Burke Badenhop, A.J. Pierzynski, and Koji Uehara will be here one month from now, and probably about 50/50 whether Lester and John Lackey get dealt, as well. Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks sits in limbo in Pawtucket, unclear if he is part of the Red Sox future – at third base or as part of a deal down the road that could land the Florida outfielder.
CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported over the weekend that the Red Sox have recently received inquiries about Middlebrooks’ availability, but that Boston is wary of surrendering the third baseman just yet, both because of the paucity of young power hitters in the game, as well as the potential that the Marlins might still be interested in him. It was just last offseason that Florida asked about Middlebrooks, hitting only .220 with one home run during his extended rehab assignment in Triple-A, and the thought is that if he can put up a strong second half, they might call again this fall, when the Stanton sweepstakes is likely to begin.
The Marlins’ All-Star outfielder, hitting .308 with a league-leading 21 home runs and 62 RBI to go along with a .972 OPS, isn’t going anywhere this summer with the Marlins still hanging onto their playoff hopes, 5 1/2 games back in the wild card chase. In the midst of his monster season, Stanton could be on his way to an NL MVP award, and even though free agency doesn’t loom for another three years, the arbitration numbers this offseason aren’t going to be as kind as the $6.5 million the Marlins, they of the $47 million payroll, are giving him in 2014. A realistic haul, recently suggested by SB Nation, would potentially have the Red Sox dangling Mookie Betts, Matt Barnes, Garin Cecchini and Blake Swihart. Yes, please.
The A’s weren’t going to be in the running for Stanton’s services anyway, so if they’re making their run this season, it made some level of sense to deal off a pair of chips to strengthen their starting staff. But franchises with higher payrolls keeping one eye on Stanton might not be so willing to sacrifice the future for 2014. That might mean teams interested in giving up players for Lester could be limited to smaller markets willing to take a gamble on a big second-half from the lefty in exchange for a higher prize. Milwaukee, 4 ½ games up on the Pirates in the NL Central, could be a destination and has proven in the past it’s willing to trade prospects (Tyrone Taylor? Nick Delmonico?) for pitchers with free agency on the horizon as it did in the CC Sabathia deal in 2008. Would Kansas City, 2 ½ games back for the wild card, be willing to discuss outfielder/shortstop Raul Mondesi, Jr., third baseman Hunter Dozier, or outfielder Jorge Bonifacio? Probably.
It’s possible that Lackey, who took the loss in the second game of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader, has pitched his last game for the Red Sox in Fenway Park, just as it could be that Lester makes his final appearance Thursday against the White Sox. It’s off to a showdown in Houston for a weekend of last-place teams, then the All-Star break, when Cherington will likely either start making moves or laying the groundwork for them. Uehara would be a nice fit in Detroit or with the Los Angeles Angels. Pierzynski might be wanted by either Baltimore or Toronto. Hell, Harold Reynolds said on the Fox broadcast Saturday night that Stephen Drew might draw some interest if you can possibly, in any way, take that with the tiniest grain of salt you can possibly muster.
The market has indeed developed. Now it’s time for the Red Sox to face reality and deal with it.