Thursday, July 19, 2012

MLB Trade Deadline

Time is counting down to the Major League Baseball trade deadline at 4pm on July 31st.  Teams have baited their trade hooks with their finest players.  Players like Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Justin Upton, Ryan Dempster, Carl Crawford, and Zack Greinke (among many others) are being cast into the Major League Baseball trade deadline sea of possibilities (you know, the MLBTDSP for short).  Fans sit in their cubicles and cook up scintillating trade possibilities that could only be pulled off in a video game.  MLB team executives meet and discuss whether their team will be a buyer, a seller, or sit tight at the deadline.  Instead of speculating and adding to the baseless rumors people throw out into cyberspace, I am going to breakdown an Antonio Alfonseca handful of names that have been heavily talked about in the media and the business implications that come with trading or not trading these players.

Cole Hamels – Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies may be the most intriguing team to follow going into the break.  As a fan, I’m deathly scared.  We’ve seen what crazy deals the mad scientist Ruben Amaro Jr. has come up with before.  However, those deals came when the Phillies were buyers.  Now as possible sellers, I’m scared to open my eyes to see what RAJ can conjure up.  Two of the biggest Phillies names that have not only been thrown around, but are most likely to be traded, are Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.  We’ll start with Hamels.

I strongly believe that trading Cole Hamels would be a terrible mistake.  The 28 year old lefty, is the youngest of the big three of the Phillies rotation (Halladay is 35 and Lee is 33).  Hamels was the work horse on the 2008 staff that won the first World Series in franchise history since 1980. This year Hamels makes $15 million dollars, but he is sure to command much more when he hits free agency after this season.   The fact that Hamels is in the final year of his contract and the amount of money it will take to re-sign him is why he is eligible to be moved at the deadline.  Many compare Hamels’s impending free agency to Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants.  Cain is a right hander and got 5 years for $120 million.  Hamels is a left hander which makes him a little bit more valuable than Cain.  Reports say that the Phillies are ready to offer Hamels upwards of $130 million.  My gut tells me that the point of contention is over the number of years.  The Phillies typically do not like to go too long term on their pitchers’ contracts.  For all the fans out there who are convinced that the Phillies will trade Hamels with a side deal in place that he will return via free agency after the team replenishes the farm system with the trade, please put your delusions of grandeur aside.  That is absurd and highly unlikely.  In a perfect world sure, but this world is far from perfect.  For business purposes, I think it is imperative that RAJ gets this deal done with Hamels if not just to reassure his competence.  If the Phillies lose Hamels to free agency or trade him because of lack of financial resources, it proves to me that RAJ and the team’s front office has shown a tremendous lack of foresight in recent years.  The additions of Halladay, Lee (the second time), Oswalt, and Pence have been fantastic, but they still haven’t won a World Series.  In fact, they have made the Phillies one of the oldest teams in baseball and left the farm system extremely thin.  Get a deal done with Hamels because he is in the prime of his career and a proven front end starter to build around.  Plus, trading Hamels will open up a media firestorm and possible overthrow of Ruben Amaro and his cabinet.  Re-sign Hamels.

Shane Victorino – Philadelphia Phillies
Shane Victorino is a completely different case from Cole Hamels.  I believe that the Phillies need to trade Victorino.  I would like to preface with the fact that I like Victorino as a player.  He’s one of those pesky players that you just loathe when they aren’t on your team.  He’s also one of those players that has been exceeding expectations throughout his career.  Always outperforming expectations is great, but it usually comes with a hard ceiling that comes up quickly.  Unfortunately, I think Victorino may have reached his ceiling.  Do I think that he is a 3-WAR player that he projects to be this year?  Not necessarily, but I also don’t think the 5.9 WAR of last season is the norm.  The Flyin’ Hawaiian is 31 years old and he’s going to be looking for a 5 year contract somewhere.  He makes $9.5 million this year and the Phillies would be crazy to re-sign him at that dollar figure for 5 years.  The problem for Victorino’s future with the Phillies is that some team will be crazy enough to do it.  There will be teams out there to pay the large price tag and possibly give him (gulp) 5 years for $40-50 million.  The Phillies aren’t under as much pressure to hang onto Victorino as they are Hamels.  The once highly touted prospect Domonic Brown is waiting in the wings in AAA, and it is time to see what he’s got in the majors with regular at bats.  A team looking to add a good glove, solid bat, and speed on the base paths will give the Phillies a solid return of prospects.  Upon further review, it is worth noting that Victorino is a reasonably marketable player.  Many of the Philadelphia fans love their Flyin’ Hawaiian.  The Phillies have capitalized off of Victorino with a small line of Flyin’ Hawaiian merchandise.  Typically though, it does come down to on-field performance.  In reality, Victorino is dispensable due to his girthy price tag and age.  Trade Victorino.

Justin Upton – Arizona Diamondbacks
I must admit, I’m quite confused on why Justin Upton’s name has been thrown around in trade talks.  We are talking about a guy who had a legitimate shot at National League MVP last season when he finished with a .289/.369/.529 slash line with 31 HR, 88 RBI and a 6.4 WAR.  He is struggling a bit this year with a 1.5 WAR, but there’s no reason to give up on him.  Upton is only 24 years old and entering into the prime of his career.  Importantly, Upton has a reasonable contract where he is signed through 2015 and has a $6.75 million price tag this year.  It is unclear why the Diamondbacks would want to give up on Upton before his 25th birthday.  His contract is a little bit back-loaded but even his 2013 salary is below $10 million.  The thing that Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks front office may see is the huge pull of players that Upton could bring in.  Arizona is hovering below .500, but the NL West is one of the weaker divisions in baseball so even if they do not end up competing this year, they are still contenders next year.  Furthermore, the Diamondbacks are one of the younger teams in baseball.  The best part for them is that they still have fantastic pitching prospects that will be major league ready within the next year and a half.  Not many teams can say that they are at a competitive level in terms of winning a division and still have an army of prospects coming up.  It is a unique situation for sure.  Even though, Upton is only 24, he is a cornerstone of the Diamondbacks success.  There is little reason to believe that this down year will be the norm going forward.  His current contract which is a 6 year extension that he signed back in 2010 bought out his final years of arbitration.  He is under contract until 2015 and at a reasonable salary.  The Diamondbacks are one year removed from being a playoff team and they have an extremely young nucleus.  They will have a chance to compete years to come.  Keep Upton.

Ryan Dempster – Chicago Cubs
Wait… the Chicago Cubs are bad?  Baseball can be predicted after all!  In Theo Epstein’s first year as Cubs GM, there was a lot of work to be done (including fighting off a stalker).  It was too much work to compete this year.  The Cubs are a project and Ryan Dempster is going to be one of those guys sacrificed for the future of the club.  It is inevitable that Dempster is going to be moved before the July 31st trade deadline.  Dempster is a 35 year old right hander who has had a very odd year.  His record is 5-3, but his ERA is an astounding 1.89.  Clearly, run support has been tough to come by.  What makes Dempster a trade candidate is his $14 million price tag and also the fact that he is in a contract year.  With pitching always a team priority going into the playoffs, Dempster and his sub-2.00 ERA are a hot commodity.  Also, it is unlikely that the Cubs are confident in re-signing him going into next year.  The pull of players that the Cubs could get by dealing Ryan Dempster at the deadline is most likely considerably higher in value than the compensatory draft picks they would receive when he signed with another team.  With the Cubbies flirting with last place in the NL Central and the current rebuilding stage that the team is in, it seems that trading Ryan Dempster is a sensible move.  The value of the players received in return would most likely be much higher than the Dempster’s individual value.  He is no longer the 17-6, 5.2 WAR pitcher that he was in 2008.  The Cubs have the money to eat a bit of his contract to get better player value.  Trading Ryan Dempster just makes sense.  Trade Dempster.

Carl Crawford – Boston Red Sox
Carl Crawford is one of the more surprising names that I’ve seen floating around the MLB rumor mill.  He is in the second year of a 7 year $142 million behemoth of a contract with the Boston Red Sox.  The Sox figured that the addition of Crawford along with superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez would result in a run of championships that only Lebron could have predicted.  Instead, Crawford for the most part has either been injured or riding the struggle bus at the plate.  When healthy with the Tampa Bay Rays, from 2003-2009 Crawford consistently had a WAR round 5.  In 2009 (his contract year), he had a 7.6 WAR.  After penning the massive contract with the Red Sox, Crawford’s total WAR over the past year and a half is .4 (granted he recently played his first game of the year this year).  Not exactly the value that a team looks for in the $142 million left fielder.  The Red Sox should be working tirelessly to lock up Jacoby Ellsbury and extending Dustin Pedroia past his 2015 option year shortly.  With a core of Crawford, Gonzalez, Ellsbury, and Pedroia, how could they not be favorites to make a playoff run for the next five years?  Crawfords deal would also be inherently difficult to move.  The Red Sox may end up having to eat a large amount of money which is less than ideal when moving further into the future.  I know that Crawford has been less than stellar thus far.  But unless he is bringing in bunches of major league ready talent at positions of big need, then I don’t see why Crawford would be traded.  It is extremely rare that teams sign players to superstar money and then trade the player halfway through their second year with the team.  It is essentially giving up, and it isn’t time to give up on Carl Crawford just yet.  If you take a media look at trading Carl Crawford, you would have to think the media would eat up any deal with Crawford involved.  No matter what the Sox get in return, you would have to think that a majority of the media attention would be focused on Crawford being a bust with the team.  I know that front office executives will never admit that they did or didn’t make a move because of media purposes, but with the problems the Red Sox are already facing, I doubt they would want to keep piling on.  Regardless, the 30 year old simply has too much potential value.  Keep Crawford.

Zack Greinke – Milwaukee Brewers
Just as I talked about with Ryan Dempster, the same is true for Zack Geinke; pitching is essential in making a playoff run.  For that reason, some team will overspend on a pitcher that will likely leave them in free agency.  Greinke is the same way.  He is a 28 year old right hander who already has a Cy young Award under his belt in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals.  Greinke is making $13.5 million with the Brewers this year, but the Brew Crew find themselves on the wrong side of .500.  He is in the final year of his contract and he his pitching pretty well so far.  He would be a huge addition to a team making a playoff run because he has plenty of experience as an ace and front end starter.  The smaller market Milwaukee Brewers are unlikely to be able to re-sign Greinke at season’s end, so why not look to get pieces to put around the solid core of Braun and Gallardo.  You would have to think that Greinke would command a contract above 5 years $100 million (probably something right around that Matt Cain number of 5 years for $120 million).  The Brewers are on the doorstep of contending, but it just probably won’t be this year.  They should add some value around their stars and look to next year because the Brewers’ checkbook simply isn’t fat enough to hold the weight of Greinke’s impending contract.   Trade Greinke.

See I told you it would be an Antonio Alfonseca handful!  Those are my six players to keep in mind as the July 31st MLB trade deadline approaches.  All six players that I mentioned have big business implications riding on whether they are traded or not.  Whether it is strong endorsements tied to their current city or strong media affection or big contract dollars in the near future, all of these players resonate in the sports business world.  Player transactions are starting to be determined by more than just on-field performance.  Baseball, and other sports, is a business.  It is all about revenue and profit margin.  If a player can improve revenue with more than just his on-field performance, then he is instantly more valuable.  For now, we will keep an ear to the rumor mill and see what happens.

Other big names to keep in mind:
Chase Headley - San Diego Padres
Cliff Lee - Philadelphia Phillies
Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins
Peter Bourjos - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Wandy Rodriguez - Houston Astros
Francisco Liriano - Minnesota Twins
Carlos Quentin - San Diego Padres
Jonathan Sanchez - Kansas City Royals
Yunel Escobar - Toronto Blue Jays
Matt Garza - Chicago Cubs

Stay tuned to I-95 SportsBiz! There is sure to be more MLB trade deadline coverage to come.

--All player statistics came from and all player contract information came from

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