There are only nine full days left until Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline. That means nine days left until the ever-spinning hype machine builds to an almost unbearable fever pitch — and then throttles back a little bit until the divisional races really start tightening up. Every day between now and then I’ll be taking a look at some aspect of trade deadline talk that’s circling around the league and examine just how likely it is to come to pass. We’ll start with the three biggest names that may — or in one case, may not — be on the market.
Price (3.06 ERA, 155.2 IP) remains the big get of the trade deadline, with the most buzz attached to the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Seattle Mariners as destinations. One of these three is not like the others: the Mariners’ organization has graduated so many prospects (and those prospects have performed so tepidly) that Seattle no longer has a credible package to send Tampa without including Taijuan Walker, whom the team has repeatedly indicated they are not willing to trade. Even if Seattle did include him, that still might not be enough to win a bidding war with other teams; Walker’s injury earlier in the season might compel the Rays to go with, say, a Cardinals package instead should St. Louis offer Oscar Taveras and Tampa’s choice of a young arm under team control in the system.
The Cardinals and the Dodgers remain the most likely landing spots for Price at the moment, but the Cleveland Indians also have an outside shot. As I’ve mentioned before, the conversation may have to start with a package composed of elite shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor and one or two other pieces — but should the other teams show reluctance to part with their trade chips, the Indians might be able to come away with the rotation anchor they need in their quest to catch Detroit in the AL Central.
Prediction: Price to the Cardinals, with the Indians stepping at the 11th hour if St. Louis balks at Tampa Bay’s demands.
Lee (3.67 ERA, 73.2 IP) is a substantial step down across the board from Price this year: he hasn’t been healthy, he hasn’t been consistent, he’s far older and taking him on requires either Philadelphia to eat a lot of money or win what should be some very challenging negotiations. Cliff Lee’s contract contains one remaining guaranteed year at $25 million and a club option for 2016 at $27.5 million, but that’s a bit misleading: the buyout of Lee’s 2016 option is an insane $12.5 million, meaning that in effect, if a team acquiring Lee does not intend to pick up the option up, they’ll be paying $37.5 million for Lee’s 2015.
There’s one team that can credibly pull those finances off without an issue: the New York Yankees. They’ve been suitors for Lee multiple times in the past, first in the trade market when he was a Texas Ranger and then later in free agency. Starting pitching is such a need for New York both now and for next year that it seems unlikely they’d even decline Lee’s option. While the Blue Jays have also been attached to Lee, they would likely require the Phillies to eat some portion of his contract to make the money work — not the case in New York. The budget in the Bronx isn’t constrained by anything except ownership’s willingness to make discretionary exceptions to its planned spending limits, and Lee seems like the definition of a guy that the Yankees would make an exception to acquire — a proven, talented veteran with playoff experience that fills a need on the team now and for the immediate future.
Prediction: Lee to the Yankees or staying put, if the Phillies are asked to eat too much money.
The Miami Marlins still say they’re not interested in trading Stanton (424 PA, .945 OPS, 23 HR), but that doesn’t mean teams aren’t going to continue to make plays for him hoping that the Fish will bite. The big reason everyone assumes that Stanton is actually in play is Miami’s apparent reluctance to sign Stanton to a big extension ever since the fire sale that sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and others to the Toronto Blue Jays. For his part, Stanton wants to see his team commit to building a winning roster, but it’s still unclear on whether the franchise and their star player will ever be on the same page.
A Stanton deal would likely clean out the farm of whichever organization acquires him. The Dodgers might be able to get it done with Joc Pederson plus two other prospects of Miami’s choice; St. Louis might be able to get it done with Taveras, Carlos Martinez, Shelby Miller and a minor piece; Baltimore might have the most convincing package, offering the same sort of deal they might give in a Troy Tulowitzki trade — pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and first baseman Christian Walker. But outside of those three teams rich with young talent with the means and motivation to make a move, it’s hard to think of any franchises that would be a match. Stanton will probably start next year in a Marlins uniform — but if he hasn’t been extended by then, all bets are off.
Prediction: Stanton stays put – Cardinals fans get their hopes up for nothing.