New Rules and The Five Best Players on the Trade Market

The MLB trade deadline is a mere two weeks away. But so far, as a result of stipulations sprouting from the league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement, including the addition of an extra wild card spot in each league, the market has been quiet, too quiet. As one baseball executive told Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, “we’re all waiting for somebody else to make the first move.”

With that second wild card spot looming large, a lot more teams consider themselves contenders at this point in the season than would in years past. Eleven of the 14 American League squads are within two games of a playoff spot, and half of the NL’s 16 teams are within three.

What effect the surge in contenders will have on trade activity remains to be seen. When just about everybody thinks they have a shot at the playoffs, a lot of teams that might have been content to coast along become buyers. Just look to the Miami Marlins for your case in point. Despite currently being three games under .500, six back from that final playoff spot, and towards the bottom of the barrel in runs (28th), average (24th), on-base percentage (23rd), and slugging (23rd), they sent two prospects to the Astros for Carlos Lee. But just as many would-be sellers may be more inclined to hold on to their stars and see what comes of it.

Then there’s the new rules regarding compensatory draft picks to consider. In the past, a team that traded for a big name in his contract year knew that even if they couldn’t resign him in the offseason, they’d at least get an early draft pick for their troubles. Take the 2004 Carlos Beltran trade for example. The Astros weren’t able to sign him in the offseason, but they did get a pick in the supplemental first round of the 2005 draft (38th overall). If that trade happened today, they’d get no such selection. Teams will now only be compensated for players lost in free agency if they plays for that team the entire season, so a rental really is just a rental. Even if a player does stay in the same place all year, teams will only get draft compensation for a lost free agent if they tender him a “qualifying offer,” which is a one-year deal worth the average of the league’s top 125 salaries, or around $12.5 million.

All this means that even the best players on the trade market likely won’t command as much in return as they would have just last year. But at this point, the few teams that are looking to sell haven’t adjusted their expectations to match the new rules, which has contributed to the gridlock. However, as we get closer to the July 31 deadline, both buyers and sellers will get desperate, and the market is sure to heat up. As such, let’s countdown the five best players that just might find themselves in a new uniform come August.

5. Carlos Quentin, OF, San Diego Padres

This spot could just as easily have gone to Cubs’ righty Matt Garza, but there’s a dearth of hitting on the market this year, so Quentin’s value is skewed upward. Plus, I’m on a roll talking about guys named Carlos. Anyway, Quentin is currently hitting .266 with eight home runs and 21 RBI. Don’t discount him for that RBI total though, Quentin missed the first few weeks of the season due to injury and is the lone bright spot in perhaps the league’s worst offensive lineup  (the Padres are dead last in runs and slugging, 27th in average, and 25th in OBP). More important than any of those stats is Quentin’s.391 on-base percentage.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that at least four teams, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Miami, have expressed interest in Quentin, although it’s uncertain whether the Marlins are still in the running following the Lee acquisition. Additionally, the Tigers and Blue Jays were once believed to be targeting him, but that may no longer be the case.

4. Ryan Dempster, SP, Chicago Cubs

With a record of 36-52, which has them 13.5 games behind in the NL Central, the Cubs are one of the few definitive sellers in the league. The 35 year-old Dempster has made 14 starts this year and has a record of 5-3, a 1.02 WHIP and a major league best 1.86 ERA. Plus, after throwing six shutout innings in a win against the Reds on Friday, Dempster has now gone 33 straight innings without giving up a run. That’s the longest scoreless innings streak for a Cubs pitcher since 1969 and is the longest in the majors this season. Orel Hershiser owns the record for the longest such streak, the righty pitched 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

The Sporting News reported that as many as ten teams (including the Braves, Red Sox, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Dodgers, Yankess, and Nationals) have expressed interest in Dempster, and that a deal could be imminent. On Monday, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Red Sox have been Dempster’s most agressive suitors.

3. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

Upton is a two-time all-star and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting last season after hitting .289 with 31 home runs, 88 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. The 24 year-old outfielder’s numbers have dropped off this season, but given his youth and upside, he’s one of the deadline’s hottest commodities. Yesterday, Paul Swydan of Fangraphs discussed just how rare it is for a player who’s had as much success as Upton has at such a young age to be traded. Nonetheless, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers has stated publicly that he’s open to discussions.

The Pirates, Braves, and Rangers have all expressed interest in Upton. On Monday, Fox Sport’s Ken Rosenthal reported that if he so desired, the young slugger could use his no-trade clause to prevent being dealt to four teams: the Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, and Cubs.

2. Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Greinke is having one of the best seasons of his career, the 28 year-old righty is 9-3 with a 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 117 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched. A bad month of July and a recent announcement that he’ll be given 10 days of rest before his next start, which is now scheduled for July 24, might make some less willing to make a deal. However, a number of teams, including the White Sox and Angels have expressed interest. And why not? Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, bar one, and is smack dab in the middle of his prime. Jon Heyman reported that the Brewers were ready to offer Greinke a five-year deal worth $100 million, but were skeptical that he would accept their bid mid-season and forgo a run on the open market. If they don’t think they can resign him, it might be in the Brewers’ best interest to make a deal, considering their 42-47 record, which has them eight games back in the NL Central. The team will surely be weighing all possibilities: resigning, losing him in free agency and getting some compensatory draft picks, or making a trade for prospects.

1. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Who else could be number one? This year, Hamels is 11-4 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 125 strikeouts in 126 innings. Hamels’ situation is near identical to Greinke’s, only the stats are better and the financial numbers are bigger. The Phillies are prepared to offer the 28 year-old lefty a five-year deal worth $120 million, but like Greinke, it’s doubtful Hamels accept anything midseason and forgo a chance to test the waters of free agency, where he will command big money, like $25 mil a year big.

Scouts from seven different teams were on hand to see Hamels pitch an eight inning, six hit, one run gem in Denver on Sunday. The teams represented were the Rangers, Pirates, Tigers, Marlins, Dodgers, Giants, and Angels. But the same day, Jon Heyman listed ten teams that wanted to be Cole-powered. Four of them (Texas, Detroit, and both LA teams) were among those that sent Scouts to Colorado, but Heyman also included the White Sox, Red Sox, Braves, Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays in the list of Hamels’ potential suitors. So between those two reports, 13 teams, or nearly half the league, has expressed interest in acquiring the Phillies’ ace. It’s going to be an interesting two weeks.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

5 baseball questions with singer/songwriter Ari Hest

New York City based singer/songwriter Ari Hest has a very passionate fan base, one that helped choose the songs for his 2009 release, Twelve Mondays. Hest is back with a brand new album of new material, Sunset Over Hope Street, and as always, this prolific songwriter has delivered another set of stellar songs that can maybe best be described as alternative pop.

And speaking of passionate, Hest is a huge fan of the New York Yankees, and we had the chance to catch up with him while he’s on tour in support of Sunset Over Hope Street, to ask him some questions about the 2010 baseball season complete with predictions:

The Scores Report: So how do you feel about the Yankees’ chances this year as a whole–and where you do expect them to end up in the standings and why?

Ari Hest: I think the Yanks will finish first in the division, but I have doubts about them beating Texas in the playoffs. The pitching isn’t quite what it used to be.

TSR: What do you think about the starting rotation and do you think the Yankees can get by with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia as the 4 and 5 starters, or will that offense just bludgeon opponents anyway?

AH: Actually I think they will win around 90 games and still take the division, so neither their pitching nor offense will be anything special — only enough to win the division.

TSR: How many years do you think Mariano Rivera can effectively pitch?

AH: I think somewhere around 2046 he’ll retire. He’s only 43 now.

TSR: What are your long-range predictions for who will meet in the World Series and why?

AH: World Series this year: Phillies beat Rangers in 7 games, since both teams are stacked. Nobody can beat that Philly pitching in a short series.

TSR: What are your predictions for AL and NL MVP?

AH: AL – Josh Hamilton and NL – Ryan Howard

Bonus question, TSR: Do you think the NFL labor situation will be settled before September?

AH: I really hope so. It’s so lame. And the fans get hurt the most.

For more information on Ari Hest music and tour dates, please visit www.arihest.com. And maybe we’ll check back with Ari at the end of the season to see how things shook out.

11 MLB Players and Personnel We Would Not Want to Be in 2011

Ah, the week where pitchers and catchers report to camp. It’s scheduled around Valentine’s Day for a reason, you know. It’s the time of year where hope springs eternal and love conquers all, and even if your favorite team doesn’t have a prayer of making the playoffs, it’s still all right to believe that they might make the playoffs. Faith, even blind faith, is a powerful thing, and it is never stronger for a baseball fan than it is right now.

For the people who actually play and manage the game of baseball, however, it is a much, much different story. Some have contract issues to deal with; others have to try and deliver the same numbers they racked up the previous year even when the lineup around them is depleted. Managers have to talk to reporters about taking baby steps with young players, while telling their shrink that they just can’t bear the thought of losing another 95 games. General managers have to find a way to fill that hole, and they all have a hole. Of the hundreds of players, managers, and baseball personnel currently working in the majors today, though, these are the ones we pity the most. (Thanks to the good people at Baseball Reference for their meticulous, endless stream of statistics and bread sticks.)

Vernon Wells

His contract (seven years, $126 million) was considered to be one of the most untradeable contracts in baseball, and his sub par performance after inking said contract only made it seem like an even bigger albatross. (Sports writers like using the word ‘albatross.’ It makes them look well read.) Granted, he broke his wrist in 2008, and dealt with the lingering effects of it in 2009, but no one remembers that; they just remember the numbers, and Wells was once again confirming his reputation as the “Star Trek” movie franchise of baseball players. Last year, wrist fully healed after surgery, Wells had a nice bounce-back year (he ranked 16th among outfielders in one of our points-based fantasy leagues), so you can see why The The Angels Angels of Anaheim, after missing out on Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford, would view Wells as a worthwhile gamble.

Having said that, Wells is positively boned if he turns in a season less than, or even equal to, his 2010 numbers. Anaheim is taking on nearly all of the money remaining on his contract (a whopping $86 million), and given that the Angels traded Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli in order to get him, Wells will be expected to perform at astronomical levels for the remainder of the contract. Good thing he has his stellar defense to fall back on during the rough patches.

Michael Young

Poor bastard. When the Rangers asked Michael Young to move from second base to shortstop to make room for Alfonso Soriano (who’s now a left fielder, by the way), Young did so. When the Rangers asked Young to move from shortstop – where he had just won his first Gold Glove – to third base in order to make room for Elvis Andrus, Young did so, though a bit more reluctantly than he was the first time. Now the Rangers have signed Adrian Beltre, and they’re asking Young not to play at all; just grab a bat every couple of innings. This is not in Young’s DNA, and Young, understandably, has requested a trade. The Rangers, however, are having a hard time finding a suitor for Young, thanks to his backloaded contract (three years, $48 million), which will make for one awkward clubhouse in a few days.

It’s hard not to feel bad for the guy. He merely signed the contract that the Rangers offered him, and his batting numbers have remained relatively consistent (save for his nine home runs in 2007, though he did knock in 94 runs and steal 13 bases that year). The Rangers are trying to grant his trade wish – they’ve reached out to Colorado and Florida – but everyone in baseball knows the Rangers are stuck, and they’re telling the Rangers they’ll take Young if the Rangers eat the vast majority of his contract. As it stands, it looks as though Young will be a DH and part-time first baseman. As selfless as he’s been in terms of doing what was best for the team, it has to sting that this is how he’s rewarded for his selflessness.


Read the rest after the jump...

Mikey’s MLB power rankings

The regular season is almost over, and we have an almost anti-climatic AL East race going on, with just playoff positioning to determine. In the NL, the Phillies and Reds are in but the Giants, Padres and Braves are battling for the final two spots. The Rockies sure flamed out fast, didn’t they? I guess this will be our final power rankings for the year, and it’s time to focus on our NFL MVP, Coach of Year and Rookie of Year power rankings. Thanks for reading, folks and enjoy the playoffs!

1. Philadelphia Phillies (96-64)—As a Mets fan, it pains me to say this, but I can’t see anyone beating these guys at this point. They had their rough patch the first half of the season when the Braves and Mets battled for first place and they sat back and watched, but here they are.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (94-66)—It’s going to be a photo finish in the AL East.

3. New York Yankees (94-65)—I feel like NY will wind up with the wild card, and they may want it that way so they can face Minnesota instead of Texas, if only to avoid Cliff Lee.

4. Minnesota Twins (93-67)—One win this past week, but it doesn’t even matter having clinched a while ago.

5. San Francisco Giants (91-69)—No champagne yet, guys. But this team is looking mighty strong heading into the postseason. However, like I said, no champagne…

6. Atlanta Braves (90-70)—Tough luck drawing the Phillies this weekend, and their lead in the wild card is just one game over San Diego. At least we have some tight races to look forward to in the NL.

7. San Diego Padres (89-71)—A good thing they didn’t trade Adrian Gonzalez. Wow, what a shame it would be for these guys to miss the postseason at this point, but it might happen. Then again, see Giants above….and don’t count the Braves out from collapsing either.

8. Cincinnati Reds (89-71)—They could be dangerous this month because of three words. Joey Freaking Votto.

9. Texas Rangers (89-71)—Cliff Lee and that Murderer’s Row lineup could make noise too, but I’m not banking on it.

10. Boston Red Sox (87-72)—Tough division, but it’s likely the Sox will finish with a worse record than any of the 8 playoff teams.

Mikey’s MLB power rankings

Things have shifted a lot in MLB since I took a hiatus last weekend. Wow, have they ever shifted. The Rockies have now lost 5 in a row and are fading out of the race. The Phillies have won 11 in a row to take over the top spot. The Rays are ahead of the Yankees now in the AL East and the Twins are as hot as the Phils. The Braves are whopping 7 games back of the Phillies now. Damn, this is getting fun.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (93-61)—Peaking but maybe too soon. Still, when you have Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, it’s not really fair. And everyone else is getting healthy now.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (92-61)—They finally overtake the Yanks, but have company up here. Still, they’ve been consistent all year and they have David Price at the top of their rotation.

3. Minnesota Twins (92-61)—Even without Justin Morneau, this is a very dangerous team. But are they peaking too soon as well?

4. New York Yankees (92-62)—When I heard the New York sports talk guys being all gloom and doom after a split with the Rays this past week, I didn’t understand it. But when you look at the remaining schedules of both teams, you get it. A loss to Boston last night probably didn’t do much for Yankees fans’ confidence.

5. San Francisco Giants (87-67)—Making for one of the most compelling pennant races, because the winner will move on while the loser may not even take the wild card.

6. San Diego Padres (86-67)—Looking back, that long losing streak came at the right time, and the wrong time, at the same time.

7. Cincinnati Reds (86-68)—The magic number is 3. I wonder if Brandon Phillips will get a Christmas card from the Cardinals’ organization this year.

8. Atlanta Braves (86-68)—Now trailing in the wild card race by a half-game. This is another compelling race that shouldn’t have been so compelling, but seriously, how do you hold off the Phils and that pitching staff?

9. Texas Rangers (85-68)—Magic number is 2, will they be the second team to clinch?

10. Boston Red Sox (85-68)—I don’t think they’ve officially been eliminated yet, but it’s getting very, very late. And what a shame for a team that really is as talented as most of the teams on this Top 10 list.

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