Unconventional Wisdom: Eight trades that make sense
CC Sabathia, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton have already been dealt in a flurry of early activity, leaving many contenders playing from behind in the race to improve their team by the trade deadline. With three top arms off the market, the list of trade targets, aside from Seattle's Erik Bedard, is hitter-heavy. Then again, the A's have dealt away two of their starting pitchers in the last 10 days, so maybe they'll move a third.
So what's left? A lot of left fielders. It's a bat-heavy market, which is a partial explanation for Billy Beane's moves of late -- he's been leveraging the value of starting pitching at a time of high demand for it.
Here are eight trade targets, six of them hitters, who will be changing locations or are strongly rumored to do so before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Erik Bedard, Mariners
Bedard's failure to be the Mariners' second ace behind Felix Hernandez was a small part of why Seattle has been such a disappointment. On a per-inning basis Bedard has been a great pitcher; he does have in-game and in-season durability issues that keep him from being one of the best in baseball, however, and those issues have frustrated the Mariners, who are in position to make a number of trades over the next two weeks.
The state of Bedard's shoulder is a confounding factor. He's been on the DL with "soreness," hasn't pitched in two weeks and isn't expected to pitch until at least Tuesday, with even that in doubt. Any team acquiring him is assuming considerable risk, as opposed to, say, trading for Joe Blanton, who isn't as good as Bedard but never misses a start. The Yankees, with a healthy appetite for risk and Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner in their rotation, would seem ready to take a chance on Bedard. Even discounting Bedard to 12 starts and maybe 75 innings, he'd be expected to allow a 3.75 RA/9, or about 31 runs.
Ponson and Rasner are replacement-level talents, five-inning starters who have allowed five runs per nine innings and who can be expected to be closer to 6 RA/9 going forward. Even if the Yankees get Phil Hughes and Chien-Ming Wang back down the stretch, Bedard would have a positive impact on their run prevention, on the order of 20 runs. That's worth two wins.
Can the Yankees get Bedard? Assuming the Mariners aren't looking for the package they traded away six months ago, yes. With Bedard not eligible for free agency until after 2009, the Yankees could better justify including an Ian Kennedy -- but not Hughes -- in a trade, and they may be ready to give up on Melky Cabrera. The Yankees' top trade chits over the winter have mostly had lousy years, which means a package that would have looked great not long ago isn't as attractive now. Then again, the same can be said of Bedard.
Jason Bay, Pirates
What a difference a few months makes. Bay, who played through a knee injury last year that helped ruin his numbers, has returned to form in 2008. He is one of the best hitters in the league, with a .288/.388/.529 line that puts him fourth in the league in Equivalent Average.
The Pirates don't have to deal him -- he's signed to a great contract that pays him $7.5 million in 2009 -- but their need to focus on long-term rebuilding makes them likely to do so.
Bay's bat would help any contender, and his favorable contract means he's not just a rental, although that value will show up in his price. Bay's defensive performance has slipped dramatically since 2006, a decline that shows up in both his BP numbers and zone-based ones. He cannot move to right field, and a team trading for him would be well-served to have a strong defensive outfield in place. Contenders in the worst shape in left field include the Braves, Mets and Diamondbacks, the latter reduced to playing Conor Jackson, a poor first baseman, in the pasture.
With the Diamondbacks in more need of a lefty bat and having Eric Byrnes' contract on hand through 2010, and the Mets still hoping for a return from Moises Alou, the Braves are the best fit for Bay. While they aren't going to trade top prospects Jason Heyward or Jordan Schafer in a deal of this sort, they could provide an immediate replacement for Bay in Brandon Jones, a low-upside player who would be a serviceable regular right now. As always, the Braves have young arms to move, led by Tommy Hanson, but backed up by considerable depth. We've seen teams take packages of second-tier prospects at the deadline, so could the Braves get Bay from the Pirates without moving any of their top three?
If they do, it would have quite an impact. Matt Diaz and Greg Norton failed to extend their late-career surges into '08, leaving left field to the effective, if unexciting, Gregor Blanco. Whether Bay replaces Blanco or Mark Kotsay (with Blanco playing center) doesn't matter; you can expect him to generate 20 to 25 additional runs down the stretch as compared to either player, while giving back five or so on defense. Adding Bay would be worth about two wins to the Braves, closing the gap on the Mets and Phillies by a third. As long as they can get him without dealing Heyward, Hanson or Schafer, it's worth the move.
Adrian Beltre, Mariners
If you look at Beltre's career without the 2004 season, he appears to be one of the most consistent players in the game. That year, in which he hit 47 homers for the Dodgers before signing a $65 million contract, skews the perception of him. Add in that he has played his entire career in two great pitchers' parks and that his defense is legitimately great, and you have a player who has become a bit undervalued. Given where the market has gone, the $19 million or so left on his deal through 2009 isn't a daunting commitment.
The leaguewide depth at third base is impressive, but one contender has spent the year trying to patch a gaping hole there. The Twins have used seven players at the hot corner, and only the empty .300 average of Brian Buscher has been of much use. Their third-base defense has been terrible as well.
Beltre would add value on both sides of the ball, one of the few trade-deadline targets who can make that claim. His .272 EqA would make him one of the better hitters in the Twins lineup, at least a 15-run upgrade over Buscher for the rest of the season. His glove would save at least five runs over the last 70 games. That's a 20-25 run gain by trading for Beltre.
For the Twins, the best part is that they might be able to get him for just a willingness to assume the contract obligation. The Twins have a raft of pitching prospects in the minors to go with their homegrown major-league rotation. Two second-tier ones and, effectively, $19 million would probably be enough to get Beltre. It is unlike the Twins to make that kind of trade, but they can certainly afford it -- every team can afford that kind of investment -- and it's a move that would go right to their win column. That Beltre is such a good defensive player, the kind of player the Twins have always wanted around, could be the deciding factor.
The Twins can't count on an anomalous performance with runners in scoring position to continue. To win the AL Central, they have to improve the roster.
Trading for Beltre and swapping out Livan Hernandez for Francisco Liriano would change the story in the AL Central immediately.
Milton Bradley, Rangers
On a per at-bat basis, Bradley has been the best hitter in the AL this year, leading the circuit with a .345 EqA. Making just 19 appearances in the field has no doubt helped him stay in the lineup, so the list of teams to which he could be dealt is fairly short.
Would Rangers GM Jon Daniels make this move, trading one of his All-Stars, one of his great off-season acquisitions? It seems like a no-brainer; Bradley is 30 and has had considerable problems staying healthy. The Rangers have a flood of hitters in their system, and will need their DH slot available soon, even now.
Daniels has to know that this is a peak for Bradley, and that he's not a player to get invested in over the long term, and that his team, while a pleasant surprise, is not likely to make a postseason push. Dealing Bradley at the height of his value fits with the Rangers' organizational needs.
The news that Hideki Matsui is going to miss most of the season opens up a huge hole in the Yankees' lineup. However, the Yankees appear set to sign Richie Sexson to be part of their first base/DH mix, so perhaps they are not a destination for Bradley. The Tigers, however, have disappointed at the plate in part because their left fielders and DHs have been so unproductive. Gary Sheffield has been alternately hurt and unable to hit. Jacque Jones was a disaster before being released. Bradley, a switch-hitter with a complete offensive game, could decline from his first-half numbers and still be an upgrade, taking some DH at-bats away from Sheffield, pushing Marcus Thames to the bench against right-handers and even playing center occasionally against southpaws so that Curtis Granderson doesn't have to.
It's not easy to calculate the gain that the Tigers would get by adding Bradley, because his playing time would come from a number of sources, and it's not easy to peg Bradley's expected level. We can say that adding a high-OBP switch-hitter would have value for a team that is SLG-heavy and a bit right-handed, adding a few runs on the margins. A 15-20 run boost is a reasonable expectation.
The Tigers' top-heavy farm system, depleted by the winter's moves, is a barrier to a deal, although Daniels would be well served to add quantity in a Bradley deal, especially pitchers, rather than a top-tier prospect that is unlikely to be offered.
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