Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Buy or Sell - AL WEST

In past years, AL West teams competed with the juggernauts from the AL East for the American League Wild Card, and three of the four teams were routinely buying at the deadline. However, with the dominance of the AL Central, and the strength of the AL East, it grows increasingly unlikely by the game that two West Coast teams will make the cut. With all four teams within 4.0 games of first, I suspect two or three teams will be buying at the deadline to gear up for what has usually been an exhilarating pennant race.

Oakland: Buy

Needs: Billy Beane excels at putting together spare parts to make a solid team, while integrating new and old players to maximize production. He also is known for getting between trades and extracting talent he wants, almost as a fee for facilitating a trade. Beane could use more production from his Catcher, with Kendall underperforming his career numbers, but it isn't a priority. 1st base has also been a weakness offensively, though Johnson has been solid with the glove and is there for the long-term. Bubba Crosby has struggled in '06, though I'm not sure the A's are actively searching for an upgrade. 2nd has been a weakness with Ellis and Scutaro, and certainly would be among the easier positions to upgrade. The A's have received pretty good production from their OFers, with the exception of Milton Bradley who is playing himself out of a great contract (though he is behaving). I wonder if they would want fellow pain-in-the-a$$, Carl Everett, who will be available?

Chips: The big one is Zito, who has been solid in his contract year. Zito could probably stand to improve in front of a better defense, but Beane will not trade him for anything less than a small ransom with the Athletics positioned to make the playoffs. Kendall could go, as could any number of infielders (Chavez will be safe). Another starter could go in the right deal once Harden returns from the DL. Beane has a habit of inflating the value of pitchers by putting them in the bullpen, swapping them, and getting serious talent in return. I expect two BP members to go, though I admittedly have no idea who will go (Street will be safe). Beane is open to just about any deal, provided he gets his price (and when doesn't he?).

Texas: Buy

Needs: This team would have been even more of a beast had they been able to convince Soriano to play LF for them, instead of trading for Wilkerson, who could be upgraded at the deadline. Teixeira has suddenly lost all of his power at first, unexplainably unless he's hiding an injury or skeleton in his closet, but it doesn't make sense to replace one of the game's most promising young players. The Rangers possess a great offense and don't even need much of a boost in that department, but could certainly use some pitching with a rotation full of #3-#5 starters and an abysmal bullpen below closer Otsuka.

Chips: The Rangers had been trying to move Blalock in the off-season, and he's having a great season. With DeRosa also having a good season, the Rangers could move Blalock for pitching and move DeRosa into the IF. The Rangers have some prospects they could move for talent (pitcher John Danks has done well since arriving in Oklahoma), but don't have a particularly deep system right now. They could move a mediocre pitcher as part of a deal for an upgrade. The Rangers have a lot of OFers and guys who can multiple positions, increasing flexibility for either the Rangers or a trading partner, and one or more OFers could be packaged to improve other aspects of the team.

Seattle: Sell

Needs: Seattle is technically still in the race for the AL WEST pennant, but we all know they aren't really in it - they need to swap old bodies out for younger players. Seattle needs a complete overhaul of the rotation, short of King Felix. Sexton (.294 OBP?) and Beltre have battled all season for title of "Most Overpaid Mariner" and drastically underperformed expectations and their contracts. Both are such albatrosses, it'll be tough to swap them out for an improvement. Betancourt has a tough time getting on base. CF has been a weakness with Reed having an adjustment year offensively and currently on the DL. Guardado hasn't been an ideal set-up guy.

Chips: As sure as I am the sun will rise again tomorrow - I am sure that some pitching-hungry team will talk itself into taking some of the underperforming pitching off the Mariners' hands by assuming they just need a change of scenery. Guardado always has suitors, though his lagging numbers may make him less appealing this year (EDIT: Guardado has since been moved the Reds). Piniero and Moyer, maybe even Meche and Washburn, could go to contenders so desperate for a warm body to bolster their rotation. The Mariners would love to move Beltre, but it's not going to happen this year. Last year teams were interested in Reed, though this year that probably won't be an issue. Ibanez has been solid in the OF, and could be up for grabs for a team looking to fix a hole in the OF. Surprisingly, the bullpen has been okay and the Mariners could use some of those arms to get good talent back, should they decide that they are better off retooling for 2007 and beyond.

Los Angeles: Buy

Needs: Conventional wisdom says that the last-place team sells, but I have my doubts about LAA, if only because the payroll is so high and they are still within a solid winning streak of first place. However, the smart move would be to hang onto their youth, even if it means not contending for the playoffs. If they can make their upgrades (and there are plenty of holes) without losing the depth of their farm, the Angels will be in terrific shape. The primary need of the Angels is hitting - without solid offensive protection of Guerrero, the line-up is much easier to get around. The Angels need better players than Rivera and Anderson, who is sub par, starting in the OF. There have been rumors about the Nats' Soriano, though renting him (he's a FA after the season) will probably cost a pitcher and top prospect. Burrell and Abreu of the Phillies could both drastically alter the make-up of the Angels, and with expensive long-term contracts, the Angels could hold onto their prospects. Kennedy has been weak at 2nd, and the Angels could stand to improve offensively behind the plate. Injuries have hurt production at 1st (Kotchman) and 3rd (McPherson), so the return of both players should help greatly.

Chips: The Angels have an exceptionally strong system, especially with infielders Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Brandon Woods (plus Morales and Kotchman at 1st base, and McPherson at 3rd). They are one of the few teams with the trading power to acquire just about anyone. Ervin Santana is another possibility for the right deal. The Angels found little in the way of value for the elder Weaver, an inning-eating veteran. Supersub and starter Figgins is a valuable trading chip to any team with an IF or OF need, but also valuable to the Angels in a playoff run - especially with so many offensive holes throughout the line-up.

Buy or Sell - AL CENTRAL

This is an interesting division with, debatably, the two tops teams: The White Sox and the Tigers. Beyond that, Cleveland and Minnesota have solid cores of young, homegrown players, with little need to pare payroll and hope for contention in the near future. Then, well, Kansas City shouldn't even count at this point; with ownership pocketing all revenue-sharing money and refusing to put anything back into the team.

Detroit: Buy

Needs: Since a hot start, Shelton has cooled down substantially, so the Tigers could use some help at 1st. They also could use an upgrade to the OF, preferably a LHH, making the DRays' Huff an ideal solution to fill both roles, as well as providing further depth on the bench. Detroit is one of the few teams with an entire pitching corps in little need of upgrading.

Chips: Detroit could trade some of its role players who provide depth in the middle infield or outfield, but this core should stay the same. Detroit could be willing to take on a salary for the right talent. Kyle Sleeth (P) is coming off of a major injury, but was a top Detroit prospect as recently as last year. Humberto Sanchez (P) and Tony Giarratano (SS) could also be used to acquire talent.

Chicago: Buy or hold

Needs: Alex Cintron has a decent average at SS, but I would be surprised to see the Pale Hose to look for a little more power available from the SS slot (Lugo? Tejeda?). Brian Anderson has struggled at the MLB level, so they could stand to upgrade their CF if possible. The Sox have one of the best-rounded squads in the league right now and need little or no help in the BP, rotation, IF or OF.

Chips: The White Sox have some available OF depth at the minor league level (R. Sweeney, J. Owens) that could be moved if need be. With the return of some BP arms, the Sox could move an extra arm in the right deal.

Minnesota: Sell

Needs: The Twins are unlikely to catch either the White Sox or the Tigers for the division, nor are they likely to be able to compete with the AL East (Toronto, Boston, and New York) or AL West (Texas, Anaheim) runners-up. However, in the event that they continue their current tear and want to keep fans coming to the park, the Twins could use some help in the rotation, as well as an upgrade at one of 3rd or 2nd. The bullpen could use some help behind the stellar Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon.

Chips: Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, Santana, Liriano and Nathan are safe. Beyond that, nothing would surprise me. It's in their best interest to move some parts and retool for '07 and '08. Lohse has been on the market, and as the deadline approaches, somebody will quite probably bite. Radke could be moved to pare payroll, as well as any number of bullpen arms. The Twins have a crew of OFers that could provide additional depth or outright improvement for several contenders weak at the position (Yankees!), so I would expect two or more of their OFers (Hunter, Ford, White, Sierra, and Cuddyer) to relocate - if not by the trading deadline, then by spring training of '07.

Cleveland: Sell

Needs: Cleveland is a team built for the future and probably outperformed expectations last year, causing premature playoff hopes for this year. Because the Indians are out of it, they don't have many needs currently for their squad, especially with the young core of players they have assembled. The Indians could use some long-term help in the bullpen and will be looking for young arms in any trade. They certainly could stand to improve their OF depth.

Chips: With prospect Andy Marte waiting in the wings, the Indians will probably move Aaron Boone before the trading deadline. There is some interest in Westbrook, but the Indians will want pitching in return for the effective pitcher. There may also be interest in Byrd. If the Indians are wise, they will move Wickman before the deadline, as closers tend to have exaggerated value for contending teams in dire need of bullpen help. Broussard should generate interest, and the Indians should sell high, especially with Garko stashed away and a catcher who may be a better fit at 1st (Martinez). The Indians have a chance this trading season to fix some impending holes for the 2007 season, so I would be surprised to see them stand pat.

Kansas City: Sell (not much to sell, though)

Needs: Is it fair to say they need everything? Kansas City needs to put a ton of revenue sharing money into their farm system, because they can't compete by going after free agents. Kansas City needs to trade for minor leaguers, and may need to take some chances on fringe prospects for any serviceable MLBers they can move. KC has swung and missed on some trades capable of bringing substantial talent into the system - maybe new GM Moore will be able to use his Braves' experience to build from the bottom up.

Chips: KC needs to move former ROY Angel Berroa, especially with German doing well in limited innings at short (and 2nd). Grudzielanek could help a contender; Graffanino, Mienkiewicz, Sanders, could solidify someone's bench. Sweeney is the biggest chip that could be moved to someone in need of a bat. The Royals better get something back for him if they ever want to be out of the basement.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Buy or Sell - AL EAST

Boston: Buyer

Needs: The Sox could use another quality starter, rather than relying on Johnson or Snyder down the stretch, especially with the injury concerns of several starters. Clement could take a role as a 5th starter when off the DL, but don't expect anything from Wells. The Sox could use a back-up 1b who can possibly fill in the OF, which explains the rumors that the Sox have renewed interest in CO's Ryan Shealy again (after the botched Shoppach trade of '05). My gut feeling and everything the FO has said leads me to believe they will stick with the young guns, for better or worse, in the BP. I think the Sox will stick with their current IF and will call up Pedroia if there are middle IF injuries. WMP will help with our OF and bench depth, and Murphy has been on fire in AAA, so could be a call-up if we have any banged up OFers.

Trading Chips: Expect to see rumors about scapegoats Matt Clement (P), Julian Tavarez (P), and Rudy Seanez (P) if the young guys prove capable of pressure situations in the next month. Abe Alvarez (P) and Jermaine Van Buren (P) could be helpful as a starter or longman for some teams. It wouldn't be an off-season without Manny rumors, though the only feasible trading partner now is LAA or maybe surprise contender DET (who would rather a LHH). The Sox could move Clay Buccholtz (P), Edgar Martinez (P) or Michael Bowden (P) for the right piece, but they are unlikely to. David Murphy will be one of our biggest available chips.

New York: Buyer

Needs: The Yankees need pitching - both starting and relief. Their starting rotation has multiple injury and age concerns and without Mussina, would be among the worst corps in starting ERA. The bullpen is a sub-par veteran core anchored by Rivera. After possibly season-ending injuries to Matsui and Sheffield, as well as an injury to back-up Crosby, the Yankees are desperate for OF help - thus, the interest in former Yankee Soriano.

Trading Chips: The Yankees would be wise to hang onto Cano, but sell Cabrera while his stock is high (provided they can get an OFer). Because the Yankees have such a weak farm system, expect most trading partners to demand Philip Hughes, the highly touted pitching prospect. Duncan, a popular trading target in 05, has had his stock drop in '06. There aren't too many appealing or moveable contracts with the big club.

Toronto: Buyer

Needs: With a fragile A.J. Burnett in the rotation, Chacin on the DL, the awful Towers as the #4 pitcher, and the rookie Janssen in the rotation - the Blue Jays could really use some pitching help. The Blue Jays have a weak defense, particularly in the middle infield, where a solid defensive shortstop with even an average bat would be a marked upgrade and allow the Jays to platoon to their strengths at 2nd. Like all contenders, the Jays could stand to add some solid BP arms to put behind lights-out closer BJ Ryan and solid Speiers. Lastly, a starting-caliber OFer to start next to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios would be helpful, though the Jays certainly have more than enough players to cover all outfield slots with room to burn.

Chips: Toronto still has a weak farm system, particularly after trades for Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay (both of whom have worked out well for the Jays). While the Jays need a better starting OFer, they have several OFers (and IFers) capable of boosting depth for other teams as a back-up. Reed Johnson, Frank Catalanatto and Eric Hinske often are dangled at this time of year; don't expect this year to be different. Russ Adams or Aaron Hill could be dangled. The biggest change for the Blue Jays is now they can afford to absorb a bad salary to acquire talent, much like division-mates the Red Sox and Yankees.

Tampa Bay: Hold/Lateral moves

Needs: Tampa has a glut of valuable OFers, and a solid middle infield, while suffering from an extreme lack of pitching. They need starters to put behind Kazmir, as well as BP arms.

Chips: Teams will try to pry Crawford away from the DRays, but it's unlikely the Rays will trade one of their cornerstone players, especially since he's locked in at a reasonable price for the future. Teams will try to acquire Lugo, though that is unlikely to occur if Tampa keeps insisting on top prospects for an average-to-above-average SS on the brink of free agency. Huff is widely rumored to be coveted by Detroit - expect him to switch uniforms. Hendrickson will also draw eyes and I wouldn't be surprised to see him move by year's end. Largely, though, Tampa isn't in a position where making moves will give them a chance at the AL East (though they could be contenders in several other divisions), and they don't need to pare payroll to the point that trades make financial sense, so their roster should stay about the same with some lateral moves that replace players approaching free agency with some younger talent.

Baltimore: Seller

Needs: It's hardly fair to point out ONE need when the entire team needs a revamping. Other than SS, 2nd and RF - they could use a lot of help

Chips: Everything has got to go! If the Orioles are smart, they will realize the futility of the team as currently composed, and trade their biggest chip - Tejeda. They are more likely to receive a good deal in return, however, if they move him during the off-season. The O's should be willing to move any and all of their pitchers, with the exception of Cabrera. Trading away their meager pitching will only make the team worse in the interim, but should net them some prospects, if done correctly. This is a blow-it-up team if there ever were one with little hope on the horizon due to a weak minor league system.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Sox Needs - Back-up First Baseman

To honor my favorite time of the season, I’ll be going over the Sox biggest trade needs in the approaching weeks, as well as analyzing some possible solutions. Keep coming back – I’m really going to try and keep this blog up-to-date.

Back-Up 1st baseman – Not a top priority, especially since the Sox may end up with Snow back on the roster if nobody takes a flyer. However, it would be nice to have someone available to give Youkilis or Lowell a day off (b/c Youkilis fills in for Lowell). One might argue you can skate by with Ortiz as a back-up, especially when Wily Mo Pena returns. However, my concern is in the later innings of a close game where Francona would be unable to pinch run for Youkilis because nobody could take over first without a steep defensive AND offensive dropoff during high-leverage innings. Ideally a second 1st baseman would be a solid bat off the bench – a better option than Harris or Mohr had been, perhaps better than Kapler. A bat isn’t needed, especially when Pena returns, but it would be ideal, especially since the Sox do not need a defensive replacement for late innings.

Internal Possibilities – Choi isn’t the answer. He has struggled in the minors this year and doesn’t give us a whole lot to work with. Snow could very well be back if there is no interest in him by other teams.

External Possibilities – I know analysts are convinced Huff is going to Detroit, but he would certainly fit the bill here, as well as giving us a guy capable of playing all over the diamond. Perhaps Craig Wilson (yes, he plays 1st too) would work, as he's having a solid season. Unfortunately there are starters available, but not solid offensive guys who will likely be content as back-ups. In an unusual twist, the Sox do not need a defensive wizard on our bench, as our starter is quite possibly one of the top defensive 1b in the league. The Sox could use a guy who plays 1st and 3rd, or a guy who plays 1st and the OF to maximize roster flexibility, and I think Huff fits the bill. Perhaps LeCroy or Fick from Washington as they have all types of depth in the OF and at 1b and a GM desparate to make a good impression on new ownership.

Final Word: This may be a waiver-wire trade later in the season, but the Sox really need somebody to spell Youkilis on occasion - be it Snow or someone we are not yet aware of. Acquiring a back-up 1b shouldn't cost much talent from our roster and should be a relatively easy move to make, but it's not a top priority.

Sox Needs - Effective Lefty-Killer

Effective Reliever against Lefties – Notice, I did not say LOOGY. The Sox like the flexibility of having relievers than don’t need to be restricted to one specific set of circumstances – thus putting an unneeded burden on other members of the BP. Lopez was acquired as a possible option, but the Sox probably would prefer a veteran and I would imagine this will be a top priority as we approach trading season.

Internal Possibilities – Lopez could prove himself. Abe Alvarez is a lefty, but hasn’t been used in the BP. Also, he puts far too many runners on base to be relied upon to face lefties (and righties) in key situations, as I would expect the Sox are looking for in this relief role. The Sox, if they can’t acquire a lefty-out-machine, could just opt to try and improve their overall BP by giving the younger arms (Delcarmen, Hansen) a chance – especially since championship teams have had all-righty BP and succeeded b/c of depth, more than specialization.

External Possibilities – Epstein usually goes for smaller names in his relief acquisitions, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone we haven’t heard much about. The higher-recognition names fetch handsome ransoms, ransoms I am not sure these eyes-on-the-future Sox will be willing to pay for the short-term.

Final Word: We will see a trade for someone to fit this role if Lopez doesn’t excel within the next couple of weeks. While I believe Epstein has the intestinal fortitude to stick it out with an all-righty pen, with the instability of Foulke's health, we need somebody capable of coming in and systematically sitting down lefties. Like a speedy base stealer, the lefty-specialist is something the Sox have spoiled themselves with in the past – I bet they are incapable of kicking the habit.

Sox Needs - Starting Pitching

Starting Pitching – The Sox always like to see what other options there are out there, especially when forced to employ a Royals castoff (Snyder) for a spot start – even if he bears a striking resemblance to former-Sox Arroyo.. The Sox have Schilling, Beckett and Wakefield firmly established in the rotation – though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Beckett have some DL concerns as we approach the summer. Wells will not be back – call it a gut feeling, perhaps even a fairly substantial gut feeling. Clement has had a rough season, but certainly can be an effective #4 or #5 pitcher provided he is both physically and mentally ready to pitch. However, the Sox would probably move him if there were any takers (I wouldn’t expect there to be without a solid chunk of money thrown in).

Internal Possibilities – Lester seems to have a lock on a rotation slot until he proves he isn’t ready for MLB, yet. While I expect growing pains, I also hope that he can pitch us to a .500 record in his starts. Abe Alvarez is a possibility, but he just puts far too many people on base right now to trust him in MLB against patient hitters who aren’t trying to pad their individual stats to get to The Show, but rather, are trying to win ballgames. Pauley could be helpful, especially with our defense behind the sinkerballer. The Sox simply want to get him some stability right now, so don’t expect another call up just yet. Then there is Snyder. He’s never put it all together, possibly due to injuries. Could he be this year’s Aaron Small? He kept the Sox in the 1st game of his Red Sox career for a win.

External Possibilities - As always, the price will be high for pitching. There will be several current or former studs possibly on the market in Hudson, Mulder, Zito, Willis and Schmidt. All will have big asking prices, and equally big question marks. The Sox are a team that could possibly afford the talent, though many would simply be rentals. Of those players, I could see the Sox having the most interest in Hudson or Willis – both of whom are locked into contracts for good dollars. Unlike Willis, however, Hudson has proven himself in the AL. I could see the Sox being concerned about Willis’ overuse and NL-to-AL transition in response to the Josh Beckett experiment (and similarly, the Redman experiment, Penny experiment, and Burnett experiment other teams have run to varying degrees of failure). Atlanta will be selling, and because they want to pare payroll, I could see the asking price for Hudson being manageable and costing some young arms (Like Bowden and Bucholtz, not Lester). If nothing else, Hudson is relatively cheap for a man with a solid MLB track record and he eats innings for a team.

After the big names, you have the retreads – which I could see going to teams with lesser farm systems. That list includes Jeff Weaver, Odalis Perez, Kip Wells, Jamie Moyer, Russ Ortiz,, Kyle Lohse, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox acquire a store-brand pitcher if the asking prices are overly extravagant for the name-brands – granted I won’t be happy because none of these players are likely to be improvements and are more likely to turn out like the ill-fated Suppan trade of 2003. For those focusing on our friendly competitors to the South, I fully expect a pitcher of this caliber to end up in pinstripes – the Yanks simply do not have the prospects to acquire a bigger name without taking on a salary dump – and the teams selling better pitchers don’t have too many unmanageable contracts.

One name I’d be interested to see on the market is Greinke, who has hit a wall in Kansas City and is rumored to be ready to leave baseball. I would trade for him now as a project for the future, but I suppose that is neither here nor there. Expect a random AAA pitcher to be claimed off waivers by the Sox, as always – possibly Greinke as he only has 5 days on his DL stint until he needs to be optioned.

Final Word: I doubt the Sox will acquire one of the bigger names, but they certainly have the prospects to make a move, or at least raise the asking price for other teams (ahem, Yankees). I could see Hudson arriving in Fenway, but his career record when playing in front of the Monster is less-than-inspiring. I see a lesser-pitcher acquisition as a waste, but I wouldn’t be surprised, depending on how Clement comes back after his DL stint. The Sox best option for now and the future may simply be sticking with what is already in our system. If we can get to the playoffs, the 5th pitcher won’t matter.

EDIT: The Sox just picked up Jason Johnson from Cleveland - a groundball-inducing veteran. He's more likely to get starts than Snyder at this point.