There are a few things we can confidently predict heading into the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline. When the dust settles, Heath Bell will no longer be in the Padres' bullpen. Carlos Beltran will be gone from the Mets' outfield. But this year's otherwise unpredictable market provides an opportunity for teams to get creative in the pursuit of a championship—whether in 2011 or beyond. Here are some trade ideas that make sense for everyone involved. These deals might not happen, but they should.
Rays trade RHP James Shields and RHP Kyle Farnsworth to Reds for 1B/LF Yonder Alonso and C Devin Mesoraco
Tampa Bay may be one of the six best teams in baseball. That's not good enough in the AL East, and having fallen 6½ games behind the Yankees in the wild-card race through Sunday, the Rays should be looking to 2012 and beyond. Shields (below), 29, is their oldest starter and, this year, their best, with a 2.53 ERA and a 151/40 K/BB ratio in 156 1/3 innings. But Tampa Bay's pitching depth makes him expendable, and he has team options for 2012 ($7 million) and '13 ($9 million). Those reasonable salaries would fit nicely in Cincinnati's budget and allow the Rays to ask for high-quality prospects in return. The Rays can use Shields—and throw in Farnsworth, who's been surprisingly effective at closer—to fill two franchise holes: Alonso would give them a middle-of-the-order bat who can DH or play first base, while Mesoraco has become one of the game's top catching prospects. Cincinnati would get the best starter to change hands at the deadline, bolstering its chances in the weak NL Central.
Rays trade CF B.J. Upton to Braves for LHP Mike Minor and RHP Billy Bullock
Having recalled prospect Desmond Jennings—who doubled, tripled and walked twice last Saturday in his first taste of the majors since last fall—the Rays can part ways with their incumbent centerfielder. The disappointing Upton (he's on pace for his lowest full-season on-base percentage but did have 15 home runs through Sunday) would still be an upgrade for the Braves on both sides of the ball over Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer. Minor, a top prospect as recently as this spring, is being passed by a wave of power arms in the Braves' system, yet he still projects as a major league No. 3 starter. Bullock is a Double A righthanded reliever with a big fastball, big body and big strikeout rate. He also has big problems finding the catcher's glove, but his potential would make him attractive to a team focusing on the future.
Astros trade LHP Wandy Rodriguez to Tigers for 3B Nick Castellanos
Detroit's veteran roster, high payroll and first-place standing give it license to mortgage the future a bit. Castellanos is the team's No. 2 prospect. A first-round pick a year ago, he's playing well in Class A ball at age 19, with a .775 OPS in 95 games this year. In Rodriguez, though, the Tigers would get a proven No. 3 starter with a reasonable contract ($11.3 million per year through 2013) to balance a righty-heavy rotation. The Astros aren't going to be good before Rodriguez's contract ends, and Castellanos would immediately become the best prospect in a middling system, helping the rebuilding process under new owner Jim Crane.
Cubs trade RHP Ryan Dempster to Indians for 2B Cord Phelps
Cleveland's Opening Day payroll of $49 million is one of the lowest in the majors, and its surprising push for the AL Central title is boosting attendance and giving the team room—and reason—to take on salary. By prying Dempster from a dying Cubs team, the Indians could improve their rotation and their chances of beating out the Tigers without trading the top guys in their farm system. Chicago would certainly be happy to shed Dempster's $14 million player option for 2012. The righthander would become the Tribe's No. 2 starter at a time when a young rotation is spitting the bit: Cleveland starters have a 4.93 ERA in July. Phelps is a B-level prospect, but the real value in this deal for the Cubs would be financial.