By Pat Ouellette, Baseball Focus Staff Writer
MLB trade deadline discussion is beginning to intensify and it’s never too early to take a look at who is most likely to be traded before July 31. Baseball’s second Wild Card spot will add a wrinkle to the usual split between the “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to buyers and sellers. Some teams are already sellers (Cubs), some will likely be buyers (Dodgers) and a few are stuck in between (Red Sox).
However, this list isn’t about where these teams are right now. There aren’t many playoff spots that look like they’re decided (with the possible exception of the Yankees). It’s where they’ll be about a month from now and whether they think they have a shot to get into the postseason. Remember, neither the Giants nor the Cardinals were exactly World Series favorites in 2010 or 2011, respectively.
Here are five of the most intriguing, potentially available 2012 free agents:
Zack Greinke (unrestricted free agent) – FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that the Brewers are resigned to the idea that Greinke will be dealt. While he has top-flight numbers (8-2, 2.81 ERA), Greinke hasn’t proven much beyond being a 15-game winner and No. 2 or 3 starter on a good team. Most big markets wouldn’t trust him to be their ace because of his past issues with anxiety. How much a team is willing to part with for him is probably the trade deadline’s biggest question at the moment.
James Shields (team option) – The Rays (40-34, third in the AL East) have a $9 million option on Shields, and where they are in the division or Wild Card races shouldn’t have too much of an impact on whether he’s sent packing. In the instance a team is offering a huge bounty (think what the A’s got for Gio Gonzalez), the Rays has shown throughout the years that they would be tempted to take the deal. Even at the cost of a very good No. 2 pitcher, bringing in young, controllable players is a top priority in Tampa. Unlike Greinke, Shields is battle tested in the AL East and has pitched in the postseason three times.
Cole Hamels (unrestricted free agent) – The Phillies have underperformed so far in 2012, but Chase Utley is close to returning to the Philadelphia lineup and Ryan Howard isn’t far behind. How much of an impact those two have on the Phillies is the variable here because Hamels is undoubtedly the most polished pitcher on the market. If Howard’s Achilles hasn’t healed, Utley is the same banged-up shadow of himself that he’s been the past few years and Philadelphia (36-40) is still well below .500, this could get interesting. When considering Matt Cain’s huge contract, what to do with Hamels (10-3, 3.03 ERA and 106 strikeouts) come July becomes that much harder to decide for the Phillies.
B.J. Upton (unrestricted free agent) – Surprise, another Ray on this list! Upton is well past living up to the seemingly limitless potential many saw in him 4-5 years ago, but he remains a great outfielder and base runner who can contribute at the plate. Keeping in mind that Upton is right next to Rajon Rondo in popularity of trade discussion, the Rays wouldn’t necessarily need a lot in return for a player who likely won’t back in 2013. His best fit would be a contender with a good lineup (where he wouldn’t be the focus) and that is in need of another piece.
Jose Valverde (unrestricted free agent) – The Tigers (36-38) have fell far short of expectations so far and it looks like they will have an easier time winning the soft AL Central than claiming either Wild Card spot. Valverde has had his own problems, sporting a 4.03 ERA and three blown saves already this year after a perfect 2012. If the team is still scuffling come late July, GMs could target the free-agent-to-be. With Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel at the end of the bullpen, the Tigers have arms in waiting if they get a solid offer for their closer.