Even though we haven’t reached the unofficial midway point of the baseball season – the All-Star break – the 2014 season is more than halfway in the books with the vast majority of major league teams having played at least 82 games. It’s a good time for teams to take a look at their lot in the standings and start to plan for the dog days of summer.
As we enter play Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants are in the lead in their respective divisions. The Braves have a one-half game lead over the Washington Nationals with the Miami Marlins hanging in there five and one-half games out. The Giants also have a one-half game lead in the NL West over the Los Angeles Dodgers. All the other teams in the division are behind by double digits. If the Dodgers get their act together at home (on the road they are ten games over .500 but just playing break even ball at home), they could really make some hay in the standings. The Brewers are the biggest surprise of the three division leaders with a six and one-half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and the best winning percentage in the National League. In fact, only the Oakland A’s have a better record than the Brew Crew in all of baseball.
Teams now have a pretty good idea whether they are pretenders or contenders. The pretenders will be looking to set themselves up for the future by adding prospects, trimming salary, or both while the contenders will be looking to add that final piece or two for the run to October. In this regard, both sides will find something they can come together on. What remains to be seen are which teams will be willing to deal and which will be willing to make any additions. Either way, there are some options that might be available for the frontrunners that I will go through. Many times, this is a crapshoot to try to predict, and more often than not, most names we think could be moving wind up staying put but it’s fun to speculate.
Ryan Howard is in the middle of a contract extension he signed in 2010 that will take him through the 2016 season plus a club option for 2017. The first baseman will make $25M through the end of 2016 with the 2017 option being another $23M with a $10M buyout. Ryan’s contract gives him the right to block deals to 21 teams, but with the Phillies getting long in the tooth (Howard is 34) and their window now closed, he might be willing to go someplace else for a playoff run.
In the same boat with Howard but a year older is Cliff Lee. The big left-hander has been nursing a strain to a tendon in his throwing elbow but seems set to start a minor league rehab assignment. Naturally, anyone coming off an injury – especially a pitcher with a hurt throwing arm – has an uphill climb when it comes to possibly being dealt. But Lee isn’t just anyone. He’s the type of pitcher who could make a huge difference in the battle for the playoffs. The southpaw is under contract through the end of 2015 for $25M each year and a $27.5M club option for 2016 with a $12.5M buyout. Like Howard, Lee’s contract enables him to block any trade to 21 teams.
The Chicago Cubs aren’t going anywhere fast and could be willing to unload some pieces. One of those pieces is Jason Hammel. The 31-year-old is having a nice year with seven wins and a 2.98 ERA for the lowly Cubbies. He’s in a contract year as Chicago signed him to a one-year deal this January that will pay him $6M for the season with an additional $1M in performance bonuses possible. Due to the contract, he would be very attractive to other teams looking to add someone without having to take on a huge amount of salary for multiple years. If President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein is willing to part with Hammel, there could be a bidding war involving several teams.
Another interesting chip the Cubs have is right-hander Jeff Samardzija. Although he only owns a 2-7 record, the big starting pitcher has a 2.83 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 108 innings with only 31 walks. Just as attractive as his peripherals is the 29-year-old's contract – one year for $5.345M. The suitors will be lining up at Theo’s doorstep for the services of Samardzija.
Going out west, the San Diego Padres have a couple pieces of their own that other teams might be interested in. First is 30-year-old Huston Street. The closer is having a superb year with a 0.77 WHIP, 0.90 ERA and 32:7 K:BB ratio in 30 innings pitched. The veteran right-hander has converted 22 of 22 save opportunities in 2014. Street is affordable at $7M for 2014 with a club option for 2015 at another $7M.
Moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, we come upon right-hander Ian Kennedy. The 29-year-old doesn’t have eye-popping numbers (3.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), especially considering he pitches in Petco Park, but his peripherals are pretty darn good. First off, Kennedy’s velocity is up almost 1.5 MPH over 2013 with a reduction in BB/9 and increase in K/9 which gives him a K:BB of 4.14 – an 86% increase over last year’s 2.23 mark. His BABIP is .338 compared to his career .299, which may signify he’s been a little unlucky. Further evidence of this is Kennedy's 2.97 FIP. Finally, he is third in the National League in strikeouts. With a contract of $7M for 2014 with a club option for $7M in 2015, Kennedy is certainly affordable as well. Definitely someone some teams wouldn’t mind having in the middle of their rotation.While this is certainly not a complete list of who might be traded as we approach the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, it at least whets the appetite. There are sure to be many other names bandied about between general managers over the next few weeks and, as is usually the case, the talk of trades will vastly outperform the actual consummation of trades. But it gives me something to write about and baseball fans in general something to talk about as the dog days of summer set in.