The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still more than six weeks away. While that is ample time for teams to come to a final determination of where and, more importantly, what they are, parity, injuries and complacency have left the entire league wide open for teams that would otherwise have been obvious sellers or were in the middle of a retooling, to go for it.
Even the high-flying Houston Astros are not guaranteed a ticket-punch to the World Series. Apart from the Philadelphia Phillies, even teams that are struggling could make a coherent argument to hesitate before embarking on a full-blown summer cleaning and just wait and see what happens.
Let’s look at the top-five players (in no particular order) whose value has increased in 2017 and the circumstances surrounding potentially trading them.
- Yonder Alonso, 1B – Oakland Athletics
As cynical as it sounds, to think that Alonso stopped being stubborn in refusing to try and hit the ball out of the park just in time for his free agency after the 2017 season, any argument to the contrary is difficult to believe.
Regardless, Alonso’s OPS is above 1.000 and he’s already doubled his career high in home runs. He’s stated his willingness to sign a contract extension with the A’s, but at age 30 and with the A’s’ situation, it makes little sense for Billy Beane to explore that with any level of seriousness unless Alonso takes a severely below-level contract to do it.
The risk that the A’s run in dismissing an extension is that Alonso isn’t pulling a Joe Mauer and having that one season in which a spray hitter with occasional pop hits 25-plus home runs and falls back into the 10-homer netherworld, but is Daniel Murphy and is actually a different hitter than he was before.
The draft pick compensation that teams will receive for losing a free agent has been drastically reduced with the new collective bargaining agreement. That increases the motivation for the club to trade the player at midseason and for the player to explore the market without clubs being afraid of the double-hit of a team signing him and losing a high draft pick.
Beane will not panic; he will be deliberate and smart in making a move one way or the other.
Greg Bird’s setback with the New York Yankees, the feast or famine of Chris Carter, Alonso’s newfound power, Yankee Stadium’s appealing right field porch and the Yankees’ prospect depth make Alonso an appealing option for the Yankees.
- Ervin Santana, SP – Minnesota Twins
The Twins are in first place in the American League Central largely because of the Cleveland Indians’ starting pitching woes. There’s a sense of trepidation that once the Indians get straightened out, they’ll run away and hide. However, here the Twins sit, a year after losing 103 games, replacing their longtime front office led by Terry Ryan and abandoning their longstanding adherence to the “Twins way,” even as it was diametrically opposed to the new template that almost every team was using to construct their rosters and run their organization, and they’re a moderate contender.
In his first offseason, new chief baseball officer Derek Falvey did not make large, expensive acquisitions. Apart from Jason Castro, they acquired no recognizable names. Nor did they clean house, preferring to keep what they had and wait to see. They did listen to offers on star second baseman Brian Dozier, but it was not to trade him, per se, but to maximize him while he was signed through 2018 and had blossomed into a top power hitter. Interested teams – namely the Los Angeles Dodgers – would not meet Falvey and GM Thad Levine’s asking price, so they retained Dozier.
Santana is a different case. Signed in what was an apparent last-ditch effort on the part of Ryan’s regime to boost the starting rotation, he was immediately suspended for half the 2015 season for a failed PED test. When he pitched, he was effective in both 2015 and 2016. In 2017, he’s been masterful, leading the majors in complete games and shutouts with an excellent 56 hits-allowed in 95 innings. Even if a team is dubious that he will be able to retain that level of production – as they probably should be – he’s a veteran arm who knows how to pitch and gobbles innings.
The problem for the Twins is that they are currently contending and are trapped in the dead zone between long-term planning and the real-time standings. Compounding the conundrum is that Santana will be 35 in December, is signed through 2018 with an option for 2019, and the Twins can ask for – and get – a lot for him via trade.
For the fans who are watching a team that is in contention, it can be a gut punch if the team’s relatively new front office essentially punts the season by trading its ace. But is it better for the team now to go for it when they’re probably not legitimate contenders, or is it better to strike now when his value will never be higher in a pitcher-hungry market?
- Zack Cozart, SS – Cincinnati Reds
Cozart has always been a good-fielding shortstop with pop. He’s had knee injuries in the past. For 2017, he’s been healthy, hit for power, and increased his selectivity at the plate to the degree that he’s approaching a career-high in walks with more than half the season remaining. The Reds listened to offers for Cozart as they moved forward with their rebuild, but held onto him. As the trade deadline approaches, that might end up as a major boon to them if and when they sell. The Boston Red Sox are an appealing location as a rental to move either Cozart of Xander Bogaerts to third base for the remainder of the season.
The Reds are loitering close to first place in the National League Central, largely due to the inconsistency of the Chicago Cubs. Given their pitching woes, they do not have a great argument to hold off on trading Cozart if a strong offer is made for him.
- Marcell Ozuna, OF – Miami Marlins
Recently, it was floated that the Marlins will listen to offers for Ozuna, Christian Yelich and just about anyone else on the roster. The logistics of the Marlins’ handling of the roster is not just about their position in the standings, their lack of attendance at Marlins Park and the financial parameters under which they operate. The team is for sale. In the past, owner Jeffrey Loria could be counted on for a ruthless and predictable consistency of brief spurts of trying to win and gutting the place if they were losing. Now, the landscape is different. On one level, he is under no obligation to alter his standard method of operation, despite the team being on the market. On the other, should he make such franchise-altering moves as to trade star players in their prime and hand that to the new owners when the people who are making the decisions might not even be with the Marlins after the sale?
The shortsightedness of drastic changes with the organization’s direction in flux does not involve non-extreme baseball moves such as trading Ozuna. Ozuna has long been one of baseball’s biggest enigmas, a gifted talent who is notoriously streaky, is prone to extended slumps, and has been bandied about as a trade possibility several times. In 2017, at age 26, he’s posted an OPS close to 1.000, is near the National League lead in home runs, has 30 extra base hits and has a lightning arm in the outfield. He’s better suited to a corner outfield spot, but can play center field if necessary. Under team control through 2019, he’s the one player for whom it makes sense for the Marlins to trade because his value will never be higher, especially in the likely waning days of Loria’s ownership.
- Jason Vargas, SP – Kansas City Royals
Like the Twins, the Royals are in a place where they can either hold on to what they have and see if they can hover around contention, or go into sell mode. Unlike the Twins, the Royals have a lot more to sell, and it’s a more drastic decision if they pull the trigger as they’re breaking apart a team that won two pennants and one World Series. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar could all go. The one who will be retainable at a reasonable price for the team that acquires him as a pending free agent is Vargas. In his return from Tommy John surgery, Vargas has been excellent in 2017. Based on his career history, his current production is not what any team will get for the long or even the short term. But he’s an experienced veteran who will do well in a big ballpark for a team with a solid defense. And he could function as a relatively durable, mid-rotation cog whose return for the Royals could equal or surpass what the A’s received for Rich Hill one year ago.
- Bernhardt | Yankees should be deadline’s biggest buyer
- Inside Baseball | Potential deadline buyers and their needs