The MLB trade deadline is just two weeks away, and with the All-Star Game finally in the rearview mirror, the rumor mill is starting to heat up.
Big names like Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Jeff Samardzija and numerous others are already rumored to be available, and new names seem to pop up every day in reported trade discussions. Here, we'll discuss some players who have already been linked to trade talks, along with relative newcomers like James Shields and Jay Bruce.
So, with the July 31 trade deadline finally in sight, here's a look at the latest buzz surrounding some of the biggest names being tossed around the rumor mill.
At this point, it looks as though Cueto leaving Cincinnati is a relative lock. Recently, his name has been swirling around the insider circle, and recently, USA Today insider Bob Nightengale noted that three teams have been the most aggressive in their pursuit of Cueto.
Cueto is an ace in every sense of the word. To this point in the 2015 season, the 29-year-old righty boasts a 6-6 record to go along with a 2.73 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and peripherals including 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.7 walks per nine and 5.14 strikeouts per walk.
All three teams mentioned by Nightengale look like legitimate landing spots for the former All-Star, but according to Jon Heyman, the Houston Astros are in hot pursuit. The CBS Sports insider stated, "The Astros just fell a half game out of first place after a very nice first half in which they led the AL West basically the whole way, and one person connected to their team said that 'they know they need a starter.'"
The Astros are easily the best match for the Reds, as their farm system is as deep as any in baseball. Fans' expectations for a return package should be reeled in a little, though, as Cueto is just a rental for the remainder of the season.
Fortunately for the Reds, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle notes that a half-year rental of a player like Cueto is exactly what the team is looking for:
But sources say a two- to three-month rental pitcher who will become a free agent this winter, or possibly someone whose contract runs for one more year, is the most likely acquisition for the Astros. In other words, [Cole] Hamels appears a long shot.
Cueto, sources said, is the most attractive potential acquisition to the Astros at the moment. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Yankees and Toronto are also interested in Reds pitching, a source said.
Cueto would be a perfect fit along with Dallas Keuchel atop the Astros' starting rotation, but he's going to cost a pretty penny. The Astros have a farm system deep enough to handle that sort of trade, though, so it's a scenario worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
Toronto Blue Jays
Staying on the topic of starting pitching, according to Sportsnet's Shi Davidi, the Toronto Blue Jays have been asked routinely about the availability of young right-hander Marcus Stroman.
On the subject of making a trade to boost the starting rotation, Davidi noted that it's "easier said than done, when word is they're being regularly asked for Marcus Stroman in return by potential trade partners, even for rentals."
The Blue Jays, as noted by Drellich and Nightengale in the previous section, are very interested in Cueto. Any deal with Cueto will likely include one of the team's top pitching prospects—Daniel Norris, Stroman or Jeff Hoffman—but the team's reluctance to include Stroman could be a bugaboo in their quest for adding a starter.
Davidi goes on later to suggest that a more likely trade scenario is one similar to the Samardzija deal between the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A's last season.
The Blue Jays, Davidi reports, are more interested in acquiring a starting pitcher with extra years of club control, and he suggests a combination of soon-to-be free agents like Ian Kennedy or Joaquin Benoit along with Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross, who have one and two years of club control left on their contracts, respectively.
Toronto needs help both in the starting rotation and the bullpen, but in order to keep pace with the rest of the American League East, they may need to relent and give up a starter like Stroman—or at least a top prospect.
Returning to the Reds rumor mill, Bruce is rumored to be available, according to multiple sources, including ESPN's Buster Olney.
Fox Sports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal also made mention of Bruce's availability in a recent piece, stating, "For all the talk about Cueto, Chapman and right-hander Mike Leake, some around the Reds believe that right fielder Jay Bruce is as good a bet as anyone to be traded."
Cueto, Leake and Chapman seem like sure things to be moved at this point, but Bruce is arguably the most intriguing trade chip the Reds hold.
Bruce is under club control through 2016, with a $13 million team option for 2017 and a $1 million buyout for that season. Bruce, one of the game's premier right fielders when healthy, is affordable through the next two seasons and has been on a tear of late, averaging a .330/.385/.606 batting line with four home runs, 12 doubles, 13 RBI, 15 runs scored and 16-9 K/BB ratio over his last 25 games.
Bruce is peaking after having started the year off rather poorly, and adding him to the trade market could provide the Reds farm system with a huge boost.
This year's list of potential trade chips is loaded with starting pitchers, and Bruce would be one of the few marquis position players available at the deadline.
A quick perusing of Bruce's contract, via Baseball Prospectus, shows that he's able to veto trades to eight teams—the Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Marlins, Twins, Yankees, A's, Rays and Blue Jays—but several of those teams could work as potential landing spots anyway given their status as division-title contenders.
Bruce would be an attractive option for a number of teams given his relatively team-friendly contract status, making him a prime candidate to move at the deadline.
Starting pitching rules the market this year, and according to MLB insider Peter Gammons, James Shields is another name to add to the long list of starting pitchers who figure to be available at the deadline.
The interesting thing about Gammons' story is that the Padres are the ones gauging teams' interest in trading for Shields, not the other way around. If the Padres are looking to deal Shields, then that, along with the bevy of trade rumors including prized outfielder Justin Upton, surely signals that they're looking to blow the whole thing up.
The Padres acquired Upton and Shields—among other acquisitions—prior to the 2015 season, and to this point, the moves haven't paid off. Through 90 games, Upton and the Padres own a 41-49 record, good for fourth place in the National League West and 10 games back of the division-leading Dodgers.
Our final update comes in the form of more news on Oakland A's jack-of-all-trades Ben Zobrist. According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Zobrist is drawing interest from multiple teams.
Despite not having the best of years, Zobrist remains sought-after, including by the Mets, Yankees, Giants, and Nationals. Zobrist, 34, has played three positions this season — 25 games in left field, 25 at second base, and three in right field. Zobrist has played only four career games at third base but could play there if needed.
Zobrist can literally do it all, and the team that would eventually acquire him would be getting one of the hottest players in the American League West. Over his last 30 games—he's only played 44 since returning from the DL in late May—Zobrist is slashing .308/.392/.495 with three home runs, nine doubles, 16 RBI, 21 runs scored and a 13-16 K/BB ratio.
Zobrist is a fit on any number of teams, as the 34-year-old can slot into practically any position on the field. The list of suitors keeps growing for Zobrist, and he's now been linked to the four teams above as well as the Cubs and Angels.
Zobrist figures to be a hot-ticket item as we approach the deadline, and we could be looking at a good ol' fashioned Yankees-Mets bidding war come July 31.
All stats current through play on July 16, 2015 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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