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Deal or No Deal: The 2014 Trade Market

July 16, 2014

Now that the All-Star Game is over, and the American League once again earned home field because of an exhibition game, baseball fans' attention will turn to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline -- one of the most exciting times of the baseball season.

The trade deadline can be akin to Christmas for many fanbases. Only a couple of teams will make a big move and get the nice shiny present under the Christmas tree. Some teams may choose to rebuild -- and should -- but it could mean losing a franchise player -- not too dissimilar from getting a nice lump of coal in your stocking. Of course, long-term that piece of coal could turn to gold, but it still can be disconcerting to lose your favorite player.

With a little less than half a season to play, we can safely eliminate a handful of teams from legitimate World Series contention. Barring a miraculous comeback, the Rays, Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Astros, Rangers, Phillies, Marlins, Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks will not win the World Series. Sorry -- it's just not happening unless we see something historic.

Those 11 teams can still make a profound impact on the 2014 pennant race. Not only will they face playoff contenders throughout the rest of the season with an opportunity to play spoiler, each team's general manager has parts he can move to contending teams, shaping the playoff race.

Let's take a look at what three of the 11 teams could deal to contenders -- and if they should.

Texas Rangers -- The Rangers enjoyed the greatest run of success in franchise history between 2010-12, winning back-to-back pennants in 2010 and 2011, though ultimately losing the World Series to the Giants and Cardinals. Texas lost the first-ever Wild Card game to the Baltimore Orioles in 2012, before missing the playoffs altogether in 2013.

Now in 2014, the Rangers own the worst record in the league and have used a major-league record 50 players prior to the All-Star break. Nothing has gone right for Texas. The team has been ravaged by injuries, most notably, Prince Fielder's season-ending injury.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is a smart person, and one of the best general managers in baseball. He's in a tough spot, though. The Rangers should have been one of the better teams in baseball, but injuries decided otherwise. Do the Rangers want to win in 2015? Probably. Can they? Probably. That's what makes this a bit trickier -- especially since the Rangers can spend a lot of money, unlike the Rays. Unlike the Red Sox, the Rangers have assets under club control past this season.

There's an argument to be made for dealing Adrian Beltre, though. Beltre's contract runs through the 2015 season, and has a vesting option for 2016 at $16 million. The All-Star third baseman is having a monster year -- he's hitting .337/.383/.534, with 13 home runs and 20 doubles in 309 at bats.

Beltre, though, is 35. A decline is going to come. The Rangers do have Joey Gallo, who, admittedly, needs more time in the minor leagues, but could be one of the best power hitting players in all of baseball within a couple of years.

Is there a big market for Beltre right now? Given that offense is down throughout baseball, you'd have to think so. The Cardinals and Dodgers could both use another bat in their lineup, and both have farm systems that could get a Beltre trade done. What the Rangers receive in return for Beltre would have to outweigh 1.) the production that they believe they'll receive from Beltre in 2015, and 2.) the potential compensation pick in free agency for the 2016 draft, along with the bonus pool money.

If Texas can land a package featuring Stephen Piscotty, Rob Kaminsky, Alex Reyes and James Ramsey, should they pull the trigger on a Beltre deal? Debatable, but, Piscotty is a top 50 prospect, while Kaminsky and Reyes are likely to grace top 100 lists this winter. Ramsey was a Future's Game participant, and is having a nice offensive season -- but his ceiling is limited.

Texas could also move Alex Rios or Joakim Soria. Both lpayers have options for 2015, and both could easily help the Rangers contend next year. Again, Daniels has to weigh whether or not the return will be worth losing the impact over the full 2015 season and then the potential impact on the 2016 draft bonus pool.

Verdict -- Deal: Beltre, No Deal: Soria, Rios. This may hurt Rangers fans to read, but capitalizing on Beltre's value when offense is nearly at historic lows seems to be wise. I don't think the Rangers could yield enough of a return to justify trading Soria or Rios if they are serious about contending next season, but I do believe a team could overpay for Beltre. Trading Beltre this season could yield a franchise-altering return -- just like the Rangers did when they traded Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves.

 Tampa Bay Rays -- Perhaps no team in baseball will make a bigger impact on the second half than the Rays. Tampa Bay has former Cy Young award winner David Price squarely on the trade block -- but will the Rays move him?

The Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's, and in return received Oakland's two best prospects, including Addison Russell, a consensus top 5 prospect in all of baseball. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer received an excellent return for Samardzija, setting the price quite high for Price.

Price is simply a better pitcher than Samardzija, and like Samardzija, is signed through the 2015 season. Price will cost a lot in terms of dollars in 2015, as he enters his final arbitration season. The Rays will undoubtedly ask for the sun, the moon and the stars for Price, and there aren't many teams that can offer that.

Though the Dodgers have a stacked rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett and Hyun-Jin Ryu, they could be seen as players for Price. The Dodgers could offer a package including Joc Pederson, Zach Lee and Julio Urias, which would certainly get Tampa Bay's attention.

The Cardinals are another team with enough to land Price, but it's possible the Rays would insist upon landing Oscar Taveras if they deal with St. Louis. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is smart enough not to give in -- Taveras isn't moving. The Cardinals could still offer Stephen Piscotty, James Ramsey, Marco Gonzales and Anthony Reyes, which would have to get Tampa Bay's attention.

With uncertainty atop St. Louis' rotation aside from stalwart Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals could be inclined to make a splash.

Aside from Price, the Rays could deal Jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist. Like Price, Zobrist's contract will expire after the 2015 season. Zobrist is having a pretty Zobrist season -- he's hitting .266/.352/.401, with 44 walks and 50 strikeouts. Now 33 years old, Zobrist makes perfect sense to trade in a season where offense is down. Zobrist can play all over the diamond, making him an ideal player for many teams to land.

If Tampa gets a crazy-good offer for Price, they should take it. But with another year left on his contract, and more opportunities to trade him, the Rays should only trade him if they are absolutely sure of the return that they're getting.

Zobrist, on the other hand, should be dealt, as it is likely that the Rays will receive more value in return now than they will next year, when Zobrist is 34 and likely declining.

Verdict -- Deal: Zobrist, No Deal (for now): Price.

Boston Red Sox -- How the mighty have fallen. It's been a roller coaster in Boston the last few years. 2011 saw the Red Sox collapse in historic fashion. The 2012 season was the worst Red Sox season in recent memory, and of course, the Sox went worst-to-first and won the World Series in 2013. Now at the All-Star Break in 2014, the Red Sox find themselves in last place in the AL East.

Boston general manager Ben Cherington has already started to put the white flag up. The Red Sox designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment, likely symbolizing the beginning of a youth movement in Beantown.

Who could the Red Sox dangle for the next two weeks? Pitchers. Lots and lots of pitchers. John Lackey and Jake Peavy could yield a decent return -- but Cherington should consider listening on offers for Jon Lester, too. Lester, last year's World Series hero, is set to become a free agent after this season. The Red Sox weren't willing to offer him an extension in excess of $100 million -- and it's going to take that to re-sign him this winter.

True, the Red Sox would receive compensation picks, and increased spending as a result, in next year's draft if they keep him and let him go through free agency. But the return at this time of year for half a year of Lester is likely going to exceed the value that the Red Sox would receive with a compensation pick and additional spending in next year's draft.

It may also make sense to just clean house entirely. Jonny Gomes? Yeah, if you can get a prospect for him, why not? Koji Uehara? Folklore legend, but Koji will be a free agent following this season. Certainly a team like the Angels could use bullpen help, and may pony up an interesting prospect or two.

Verdict -- Deal: everybody whose contract is set to expire after this season. Peavy, Lackey, Lester, Gomes, Uehara. At this point, the Sox may as well just buy into the youth movement.

The next two weeks will be fun, and they'll shape the future of multiple franchises -- and this year's season.

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