The rumor mill is starting to churn around free agent first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales as the MLB Draft rapidly approaches. Once the draft passes us by, teams will no longer have to risk losing a pick in order to sign Morales, thus making him more appealing to prospective employers. Morales is a client of Scott Boras, so it could still be some time before he finds the deal he is looking for. Since Morales is not known for his durability by any stretch of the imagination, I expect Boras to point out that he can drive in runs and argue that at only 30, his best years are ahead of him.
Looking around the league, there are contending teams with glaring need for some infusion of offense. The Rangers and Yankees come to mind as potential landing spots for Morales. Texas’ mediocre start to the 2014 season has seen their pitching rotation decimated by injuries, and their lineup in need of a jolt since Prince Fielder was ruled out for the season due to a herniated disk in his neck. The Yankees may inquire on Morales if they don’t get more productivity out of their current lineup.
Both of the aforementioned teams have bigger needs to address in their pitching rotations. The Yankees have been ravaged by the loss of CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, while the Rangers have missed Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland dearly. They received positive news recently as Holland has begun to throw since hurting his knee earlier this year, but they will still be in the market for reinforcements to bolster their pitching, or to keep them away from other.
The Toronto Blue Jays have already crushed the most home runs in the Bigs and command the highest slugging percentage in the American League. They’re another squad that could very well go fishing for a quality arm. First baseman Edwin Encarnacion just wrapped up a monster month of May in which he blasted 16 home runs and posted a 1.132 OPS. Encarnacion has provided a jolt to the Jays’ lineup that has also been the beneficiary of productive starts to the season for outfielders Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera. With the rest of their division still struggling to find consistency, the Jays have a prime chance to take control in the AL East.
The final contender that could look to boost their pitching staff in the trade market is another offensive juggernaut, the Colorado Rockies. Their rotation is filled with inconsistent or unproven options, and they have to consider making a move for an established starting pitcher if they want to remain relevant in the National League West. They have a amassed a fine collection of offensive firepower and would be wise to move one or more of their position players for an upgrade to their pitching rotation.
So who is available? The Cubs have the league’s worst record and dwindling expectations. With three proven starters in their rotation, any would make sense to deal if the team continues to flounder. With 394 strikeouts over his last two seasons, Jeff Samardzija’s last name is as difficult to spell as he is for hitters to face. At just 29 years of age and not eligible for arbitration until 2015, Samardzija would cost an inquiring team a solid return of prospects. He would project as an above-average number two starter on any of the aforementioned contenders, and perhaps even as an immediate ace if he ends up in Colorado. The Cubs also could decide to deal Travis Wood or Jason Hammel if they prefer to hold onto Samardzija.
Other starting pitchers that have been tossed around as potential trade targets are former teammates James Shields and David Price. With both of their teams fading fast fairly early in the season, their names have come up in trade rumors. Personally, I don’t see the Royals cutting bait on Shields considering the valuable package of prospects they gave up to get him. Their lineup has been a major disappointment thus far, but I never count out a team with a strong bullpen. It just doesn’t make sense for KC to deal their most dominant pitcher when a wild card berth is still within reach.
Price is more likely to be moved as the Rays continue to falter. They’ve now lost eight straight games, and have only four wins in their last 16 games. Playing in baseball’s most competitive division, they can ill-afford to remain dormant for too long and may consider dealing Price, who will be arbitration eligible for the 2015 season, in order to improve elsewhere. He hasn’t helped his stock so far, as he’s allowed a league high 89 hits through his first 12 starts of 2014.
The moves that contending teams choose to make or not to make will decide the fate of their season. The decision to trade a high-profile starting pitcher is a difficult one for any team, but one just might if they can strengthen their lineup or acquire top prospects in doing so.
As is often the case when examining the standings across Major League Baseball at this point in the season, you will find plenty of head-scratching statistical irregularities and interesting notes. Here are few I’ve stumbled across:
– The Braves are 28th in the Major Leagues in runs scored and have been outscored by the other four teams in their division by an average of just over 35 runs, yet they lead the NL East. Freddie Freeman and Justin Upton combined have driven in a third of their runs scored. They also announced plans to build a new stadium that will feature a 90-foot roof and four levels of seating, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
– Even while playing in a division with the stacked Dodgers roster and the Rockies, who are the MLB leaders in OPS, the Giants have jumped out to an MLB-best 37-21 record, and maintain the National League’s best run differential. This is in large part due to the success of Madison Bumgarner, who posted a 5-0 record in May while allowing on 28 hits in 39 innings and posting a spectacular 5:48 K/BB ratio. On the other side of the field, Pablo Sandoval has been locked in, after clubbing six home runs and driving in 19 runs during May to the tune of a .881 OPS.
– The Cleveland Indians have both the best home record and the worst road record in the American League. They have an opportunity to turn it around as they head out on a 10-game road trip this weekend featuring stops in Texas, Kansas City, and Boston.