Surveying the National League – Part 1 of 2

We are one week away from flipping the calendar to July, which is typically the time that teams get serious about their chances of making a playoff push or not.  The trade deadline on July 31st is the unofficial time to start talking about “playoff contention”, but teams must position themselves as buyers or sellers before that date.

Much time and effort will be spent critiquing the Pirates chances of making the playoffs over the next month, so I thought it might be interesting to see what the competition is up to, as well.  What follows is part 1 of a capsule look at each of the 15 other teams in the National League and their chances of making a playoff push, what assets financially they may have, and what assets they may have both in the majors and minors to trade.  This part will focus on the teams currently under .500, or hovering close to it, and what they may or may not do.

 

The Sellers

 

Chicago Cubs (24-48)

The Cubs have had a “For Sale” sign hanging outside of Wrigley since mid-May.  Supposedly all their guys are up for grabs except for Starlin Castro (not surprising) and Jeff Samardzija (somewhat surprising).  The Cubs have pretty done the equivalent of setting furniture out for the AmVets with Alfonso Soriano, as they are offering to pay nearly 90% of his remaining salary through 2014.

Chance of making a trade to make a playoff push – 0%

Possible major league assets to trade – The most discussed players have been Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, although Dempster’s situation is clouded by his current lat injury.  Darwin Barney has been said to be very popular in discussions with other teams.  Shawn Camp is always the kind of reliever that gets traded in July, too.

 

San Diego Padres (26-47)

The Padres’ situation in the past few years has been mainly due to unstable ownership.  Jeff Moorad appeared to head an ownership group that was set to complete the purchase from John Moores, but Moorad’s group (after branding themselves as the owners the past 2 years) backed out due to inability to complete the purchase.  Now Moores is looking to sell the team to one of 3 groups for a price tag that could reach $800M.

All of this has led to a lack of willingness to invest in the on-field product until the business side is settled.  As a result, the major league team has suffered.  The Padres have done a good job bolstering the farm system with recent trades.  Some of that young talent has percolated up to the major league team, but realistically this team is 3 years away from contending.

Chance of making a trade to make a playoff push – 0%

Possible major league assets to trade – The Padres figure to be very popular at the deadline.  Chase Headley should generate plenty of calls and Will Venable could be a nice extra OF for a contender.  On the pitching side, starter Edinson Volquez (obtained in last offseason’s Mat Latos deal) could be flipped for a prospect.  Nearly all of their relievers are possibly in play — Huston Street, Luke Gregerson, and Joe Thatcher will all be coveted by playoff contending teams with bullpen issues.

 

Houston Astros (30-42)

The Astros got off to a nice start in 2012, as they were 22-23 on May 25th, but reality soon set in with them and they are now back where most expected them to be — still in the midst of a rebuild and youth movement.  The Astros finally committed to a full-scale rebuild last year after the sale of the team to Jim Crane.  The move to fire Ed Wade and hire stats-oriented Jeff Luhnow was also a good move long term.

The Astros still have a long way to go, but their farm system has been greatly improved as a result of the Hunter Pence trade with the Phillies and to a lesser extent the Michael Bourn trade with the Braves.  There are, however, three veterans that still remain on the roster that could be moved to accelerate the youth movement.

Chance of making a trade to make a playoff push – 0%

Possible major league assets to trade – For the Astros, it’s the same 3 veterans they have been trying to trade for nearly a year: Carlos Lee, Brett Myers, and Wandy Rodriguez.  Those 3 players consume 2/3 of the payroll in 2012 for the Astros ($41.5M out of $60.8M).  Lee is a free agent after this year and could be seen as a decent 1B/DH rental by some teams.  Myers has a club option for 2013 that has been re-worked to tie into how many games he finishes, but a contender would see him more as a setup arm.  Rodriguez’s situation is clouded by the fact that his 2014 option becomes a $14M player option if he is traded.  His performance may not justify that extra level of committment, unless the Astros subsidize that trade heavily.  The Astros could also move the resurgent and healthy Jed Lowrie for a nice package of players — perfect example of selling at a highest point.

 

Colorado Rockies (27-44)

The Rockies tried to set themselves up for a potential playoff run in 2012 by making moves in 2011 at the deadline.  They traded malcontent Ubaldo Jiminez to the Indians for what they thought was 2/5 of their 2012 starting rotation in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White.  Unfortunately poor performances from the young (Pomeranz, White, Chacin, Friedrich), the old (Moyer), and the restless (Guthrie) have led the Rockies to an abysmal group of starters, none of which has an ERA below 5.00 who has more than 6 starts.

Coupled with injuries to pitcher Jorge de la Rosa and franchise superstar Troy Tulowitzki, the 2012 season has all the earmarks of a very long summer watching the Rockies at Coors Field.  This is the kind of season that may cost GM Dan O’Dowd and Manager-For-Life Jim Tracy their jobs at the end of the year.

Chance of making a trade to make a playoff push – 0%

Possible major league assets to trade – As part of bolstering the roster for 2012 and beyond, the Rockies signed Michael Cuddyer as a free agent to a 3 year – $31.5M deal.  His services could still be in demand enough for the Rockies to consider trading him to get some much needed pitching depth into the system.  Rafael Betancourt would also bring something back in a trade, as well.

 

The In-Betweeners

 

Milwaukee Brewers (33-39)

Whether they were whistling past the graveyard or not, the Brewers hoped that the addition of Aramis Ramirez and the emergence of Mat Gamel would help offset the loss of Prince Fielder for 2012.  However, injuries have really submarined any hopes the Brewers should have of competing this year.  Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Gonzalez, and Mat Gamel have all been out for extended time periods (Gamel and Gonzalez for the rest of the year).  Combine that with the season long slumps of Nyjer Morgan and Rickie Weeks, and you’re left with Ryan Braun doing most of the heavy lifting for the offense.

Their pitching has been OK for the most part, but they have two key free agents at the end of the year in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.  The Brewers need to decide whether to get a few cents on the dollar for these rental players or keep bowling forward in the hopes of getting hot in July and making a run.

Chance of making a trade to make a playoff push – 10%

Potential financial flexibility to make a trade – The Brewers already have their highest ever payroll this year at around $98M.  They sort of hamstrung themselves when they offered Francisco Rodriguez arbitration and he surprisingly accepted.  Privately, I’m sure they hoped he would decline and test free agency so that they could get a draft pick.  That move cost them $8M for a set-up man.  Additionally, the Brewers have plateaued this year on their attendance, with less than 1,000 more fans per game than in 2011.  Neither of these items indicates that the Brewers have much wiggle room financially.

Possible minor league assets to trade – The Brewers don’t have a great farm system, by and large.  They could dangle a Taylor Jungmann/Jed Bradley/Wily Peralta package in order to get some help for the team, but that may not net the kind of help they need.

Possible major league assets to trade – Realistically, the Brewers should be looking towards stocking their system by getting something for either Greinke and/or Marcum.  They will have the salaries of Randy Wolf and Francisco Rodriguez off the books next year, but it’s hard to see them being able to bring both Greinke and Marcum back.  Rodriguez would be a guy to move, as well, but they may have to eat a portion of the salary to make it worthwhile.  If the Brewers really decide to pack it in on this current group, they could move Corey Hart and his $10.3M salary for 2013.

 

Philadelphia Phillies (34-40)

At some point during any run, you may need to step back and re-evaluate things.  That time for the Phillies has been 2012.  Before the season even started, they had Ryan Howard and Chase Utley known to be out for extended periods of time.  To date, neither has returned yet or even close to where they need to be to become impact players again.  The Phillies have also had to deal with injuries to Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Vance Worley for prolonged periods at points this season.

This team is very old and needs an injection of youth into it.  The best way to do that is trade some assets, both ones that are free agents after 2012 and some with multiple years of control left, and reload on the fly with some talent that may be closer to the majors.  However, a standard has been established in Philly with the level of competition expected from the Phillies, so a move to justify their bloated $172M payroll is not out of the question.

Chance to make a trade to make a playoff push – 20%

Potential financial flexibility to make a trade – The Phillies don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.  Their payroll is already at its theoretical maximum, so they may have to trade salary in order to take on salary.  Their attendance is slightly down this year from 2011, so they can’t even bank on increased revenue streams.

Possible minor league assets to trade – There’s not much left on the farm after years of trades to get assets for the major league team (the Halladay trade and the Pence trade, in particular).  Maybe they can tease someone with Trevor May or Brody Colvin, but it’s not likely.

Possible major league assets to trade – Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels are both free agents at the end of the season and have been frequent sources of speculation already about their availability.  Victorino is definitely a declining asset that the Phillies should extract some final value from through a trade.  Hamels could help reload the farm with some talent.  A guy to keep an eye on is Hunter Pence.  Pence has one more year of control in 2013 and may fetch a decent return, not as good as what the Phillies gave up to get him probably, so he could be a guy on the move if the Phillies bag the season.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks (37-35)

Sometimes you just know it is not going to be your year.  Like when the team’s managing partner calls out the star player for not giving enough effort and its starting shortstop for not coming back from an injury fast enough.  Justin Upton, the aforementioned star player, has been fighting through a thumb injury.  One of their top pitchers, Daniel Hudson, has been injured and out for the majority of the year.

Further complicating things is that the Diamondbacks are 5.5 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.  With the Dodgers currently the team with the best record in the National League, the Diamondbacks have to decide if they have enough to make a run for a wild card, as the division title is probably too lofty of a goal (although not impossible).

Chance to make a trade to make a playoff push – 30%

Potential financial flexibility to make a trade –  Buoyed by their playoff success last year, the Diamondback fans have been supporting the team well this year, with an increase of 4,400 fans more per game than in 2011.  The payroll currently sits at $75M, which is in line with recent payrolls for the team.  There is a chance that some money could be absorbed in a trade.

Possible minor league assets to trade – The Diamondbacks have an enviable minor league system, especially on the pitching side. Their top four pitching prospects — Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, Archie Bradley, and Patrick Corbin — would be able to land a player or two that the Diamondbacks would need to make a playoff run.

Possible major league assets to trade – The Diamondbacks don’t really need to make a move.  They don’t have any fat that needs trimmed from their payroll and they will be able to fill their pitching rotation needs for 2013 internally with Trevor Bauer, Patrick Corbin, and possibly Tyler Skaggs.  Their best move for 2012 is probably to just stand pat and get ready for 2013.  They could probably trade off a bullpen piece like J.J. Putz or Craig Breslow and get a small addition to help in 2013.

 

Miami Marlins (34-38)

Last offseason, the Marlins were wandering through the offseason like a drunken sailor looking to toss money out to any big name free agent that would take it.  They courted Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson before finally signing Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell.

2012 saw the opening of the new stadium for the Marlins, a relatively garish affair, but a stadium that finally resonates with the fan base.  It is very important to the ownership and front office that the Marlins stay competitive throughout this inaugural season.  After all, you don’t want to lay an egg the first year in a new park.

Chance to make a trade to make a playoff push – 65%

Potential financial flexibility to make a trade – The Marlins have the largest attendance increase of any team from 2011 to 2012 (11,500+ fans).  Most of that anticipated increase was probably already built in to their huge jump in payroll from $57M to $101M.  However, owner Jeffrey Luria’s statements should seem to indicate that money will not be a concern.

Possible minor league assets to trade – The Marlins have one of the worst farm systems in the league.  Pitcher Jose Fernandez and outfielder Christian Yelich are their top two prospects, but after that it is pretty sparse.  Packaging the both of them could be the start of a good trade, but it seems like taking on money will be the Marlins best asset.

Possible major league assets to trade – Should the Marlins continue to struggle and it doesn’t seem logical to make a run, they could look to move free-agent-to-be Anibal Sanchez in a trade.  Bullpen pieces like Randy Choate and Ryan Webb are always desired during this time of year, too.

Author: Kevin Creagh

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