Peter Gammons: State of the league going into the All Star Break

We’ve heard the game show since mid-March, “buyers” and “sellers,” who they should be and what they should do. As the second half of the season began, by Friday the Milwaukee Brewers had a 4 ½ game lead in the National League Central with the fourth best run differential (+40) in the league.

And when asked how often he is asked whether the Brewers are buyers or sellers, General Manager David Stearns said, “every day.” Two weeks earlier, after the Twins had beaten back the Indians and were in first place, Thad Levine and Derek Falvey admitted they were drained by being asked more about whether or not they would trade off veterans like Ervin Santana than having a blossoming superstar in Miguel Sano, one of the two best defensive outfielders in the American League and what Santana might mean to Jose Berrios and other young pitchers like Stephen Gonzales moving forward into the 2018 season.

Obviously there are teams that want to get younger, move salaries and/or change the members of a tired cast. The Marlins are being pushed to continue moving salaries before Jeffrey Loria sells the team. The White Sox, Tigers, Athletics, and Giants are moving on. But when Billy Beane—who most certainly will take advantage of the varied contenders and try to turn Sonny Gray into 2018-2020 pieces—said Sunday that not one team had called to open negotiations for Gray or the valuable, low-cost Jed Lowrie—it was clear that the speculation is out on the horizon far from reality when it comes to the daily trade deadline countdowns. “The whole countdown to deadline day has become akin to stores putting Christmas decorations in their showcase windows on Labor Day,” cracked one GM.

“This is the reality: there are a lot more sellers than buyers right now,” said one club personnel director Wednesday. “What Boston traded for Chris Sale isn’t going to be traded because Sale was unique—arguably the best pitcher in the league, affordable, under 30 years old, and the Red Sox had five really good position regulars between 22 and 26. Is someone willing to pay for Gray or Jose Quintana what the Royals were willing to pay for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist when they had their window to win their first world series in 30 years? I don’t think so.”

The Astros, Yankees and Cubs have the farm systems to get a starting pitcher, but there is no Sale or David Price out there. The Cubs have called almost every team to see who might be available; they asked the Tigers about Michael Fullmer and/or Daniel Norris, but made it clear they had no interest in Justin Verlander, and as one Cub official said, “no one is going to pay $70M for him, even though he may still be a very good pitcher.”

Gerrit Cole is that kind of talent, affordable, controllable, but the Pirates aren’t going to trade him unless someone calls with a Sale offer. “We haven’t had a real conversation about Gerrit, and I don’t see us doing so,” says Neal Huntington. “We think we can be serious contenders next year, the way (Jameson) Taillon, (Ivan) Nova and (Tyler) Glasnow can develop, especially with Gerrit at the front, as well as three or four other good young pitchers. There’s no reason we can’t be better with Cole and McCutchen going into next year. Our goal is to maintain a level of competitiveness every year, and not to have to jump back and build all over again.”

The Pirates, Brewers, Twins and other small or medium markets get what it means to their fan base and attendance, to their broadcast partners, to their communities. “There is also our responsibility to the players in the clubhouse,” says Huntington. ‘we’ve had to battle through a lot this season in terms of injuries, suspensions and the Kang issue, we’ve asked our players to do a lot, and to go move Cole and McCutchen and throw up a white flag is a bad message to the players. It’s up to us to do what we can to find ways to get the right players and build a deep roster.”

When Sandy Alderson was in Oakland, he once said, “we ask our players to bust their humps every day. There comes a time when management, the front office, has to show the players that we’re playing as hard as we ask them to play.” Which is why, unless some team gives the Mets an offer for Jay Bruce that the Mets consider more valuable than what they’ll get in making a qualifying offer, there won’t be any dramatic Mets selloff. If they were good enough to think they’d be a playoff team in March, there’s no reason to think they can’t build a team that can compliment their pitching, when and if it is healthy.

Look at the four teams essentially tied for the A.L. Wild Card—the Yankees, Royals, Twins, and Rays. Right now the Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Rockies would all be in the playoffs.

So, unless they fall into the stockyards after the All Star Break, wouldn’t the Royals try to make it back to October, and the present and future revenue it would generate, then try to match what Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas gets offered in November? The Braves have shown significant progress, and with several very promising young pitchers in Double-A and international prospects like Ronald Acuna on the way, John Coppolella would like to make a couple of moves to edge up towards the wild card in 2017, he says “what we do has to be done with a focus on 2018.”

Look, Toronto has been a major disappointment, but the Jays have been wrecked by injuries, and while they are aging, what was traded out of the system to compete two and three years ago has left the organization thin, so to trade a Josh Donaldson or a Roberto Osuna might leave them on a four or five year building plane. “We still think we’re going to have a good team next year,” says Ross Atkins. “Anything we do will be done with that in mind.”

The Orioles are closer to the second wild card than the Blue Jays, and with a veteran team, even one with a thin farm system that has eschewed the international market, it is hard to trade to start a breakdown. Dan Duquette has maintained they are buyers, they now have Zach Britton back with signs that Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman can rediscover themselves, and in management’s eye, see what they were in April.

Washington will find a closer or two relievers. The Dodgers will find a lefthanded reliever and count on Brandon McCarthy being healthy, and wait to see if Walker Buehler ends up throwing two inning stints in September.

The Rockies and Diamondbacks will try for pitching depth, as will the Brewers and Twins. The Cardinals will trade to build for the next 14 months, be it Marcell Ozuna or someone less.

The Astros are in a terrific position. They can trade Francis Martes or Joe Musgrove, they can move Derek Fisher or Colin Moran, who has 17 homers and a .902 OPS in 71 triple-A games. Their system is deep; one evaluater thinks their Carolina League Buies Creek team has the best power rotation in the game, starting with 19 year old Garrett Whitley; the former no. 1 pick, Franklin Perez, Hector Perez and Framber Valdez are all high-90’s guys with k/9 IP rates between 8.6 and 16.2. So if they’ve convicted on Gray or Quintana, they can likely get one or the other.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have to wait past the Break. They have to see if they have longterm depth pieces in Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero, whose defense on the left side of the infield have been major factors in the last three weeks. They always thought Marrero would hit, but until the last fortnight he tended to change his stance and approach three times a game. Lin got $2M as a teenager in Taiwan, but the last three years has harnessed his elite athleticism, seen his OPS at Portland go from .534 to .580 to .870 and jump off to an 11 game Red Sox .419/.481/,900 slash and an opening of the coaching staff’s eyes. John Farrell talks of “Linmania.”

Brock Holt is playing at Portland, so one direction might be to use Holt, Lin and Marrero at third base. They will have a clearer idea of what Pablo Sandoval or Jhonny Peralta offers. Or they can see if 20-year old Rafael Devers is ready. Or they can trade for a rental.

The emergence of Drew Pomeranz has not only justified Dave Dombrowski’s trade, but held the staff together as David Price gets back to normal—his 25-8 lifetime September record is significant—and Rick Porcello rediscovers his mix. They don’t know what they have in Eduardo Rodriguez, which might necessitate a filler starter trade, or they could try Jalen Beeks, who has struck out 99 in 87 innings at Pawtucket. It’s clear they’d like relief depth, be it Carson Smith, the lefthanded Beeks, Jamie Callahan or Brandon Workman. “We may have some answers in our system,” says Dombrowski, whose trades brought the no. 1 starter (Chris Sale) and the league’s best closer (Craig Kimbrel) around whom they can build.

The Yankees can do whatever they wanted if they’re convinced a Quintana or Gray can possibly get them into October. One contending GM looking for pitching warns that Gray’s record against sub-.500 teams is deceiving; his ERA against them is 1.65, against teams over .500, 5.02.

There may be fancy names. The Tigers may pay $40+M for a prospect or two in a Justin Verlander deal. Then again, others may look at the All Star rosters—and additions—and see four name that were trade deadline acquisitions, beyond Price.

On July 31, 2010, the Indians traded Jake Westbrook in a three way deal and got Cory Kluber from the Padres.

On July 31, 2014, the Red Sox traded Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez.

On July 31, 2015, the Tigers traded Cespedes to the Mets for Michael Fulmer.

On July 31, 2015, the Dodgers engineered a three team, multi-player deal (starting with Hector Olivera) and got Alex Wood, who will be pitching Tuesday night.

“This process makes for good discussion,” says Falvey, “but it involves a lot more gray area than people make it sound.”

So if, Tuesday night, Kluber and Wood are matched up at the same time, go back and find all the names in the deadline deals that landed them in Cleveland and Los Angeles. A lot of gray area, red ink and future department store Santas.

Comments

  1. Scott Langlois says:

    Love your Stuff as always. Your only typo is the trade of Cespedes it says the Tigers traded him to the tigers

  2. RunningRed says:

    How about Sandoval straight up for Verlander?

    • Ghost of Fenway says:

      love the idea, but I think they would only do the deal if we agreed to take on the balance of both contracts, and restock food in the clubhouse for the entirety of Pandas’ stay.

    • haha, i had a dream about that!!!!

  3. Every team in the league wants Fulmer.

  4. The Red Sox should promote Holt and Workman from Pawtucket (he of the under 2.00 ERA), give Holt time at first and third, demote Travis and Marrero so they can get regular at bats until the September callups, and cut Panda loose. Eat Panda’s money and stay in house for the 3rd base and bullpen issues to keep costs down.
    Or go get Sean Doolittle and his awesomely cool fiance. He can set up for Kimbrel on a winner.

  5. Tom Pitt says:

    It wouldn’t make sense to simply cut the Panda loose, because his salary is guaranteed. If the Sox have to pay it, at least trade him for some lower level prospect or as part of a package and simply agree to continue paying his salary while he plays (or doesn’t!!) for another team.

  6. David Shafman says:

    Thanks for all your great columns, I am 60 and have enjoyed them since I was a young man. All the best

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