With the trade deadline now just a couple of weeks away, the obvious buyers are still waiting for several of the sellers to decide to actually sell. Maybe they just need the right kind of motivation, so we’ll provide it for them here. Here are five deals that AL teams should make in order to bolster their rosters for the stretch run.
#1: Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Michael Choice, second baseman Jemile Weeks, and starting pitcher Michael Ynoa.
Utley is an absolutely perfect fit for the A’s; he does all the things that Oakland values, and despite his health issues over the last few years, he remains an elite player when he’s on the field. His 126 wRC+ this year equals what Dustin Pedroia is doing for the Red Sox, and no one thinks he’s over the hill. If he stays healthy, Utley could easily add two wins to the A’s total over their rotation of second baseman, and would provide another left-handed bat to a line-up that could use some thump from that side.
Ruiz, meanwhile, would provide the team with another catching option, and a guy who could form a formidable platoon with John Jaso. While Derek Norris hasn’t been bad and Ruiz has been pretty lousy since coming off the disabled list, he has continued to pound left-handed pitching, which is Jaso’s primary flaw. He’s also good at gunning down would be base stealers, and could serve as a defensive upgrade when the A’s want to put their best run prevention line-up on the field.
To get the Phillies to sell, the A’s have to give them enough of a return to forfeit the right to make Utley a qualifying offer; Michael Choice may be the bait that would make Ruben Amaro bite. Choice ranked as the A’s third best prospect on Keith Law’s pre-season Top 10, and while he hasn’t yet taken big leap forward, he’s held his own in Triple-A and isn’t that far from the big leagues. Given the Phillies reliance on Delmon Young this season, they could certainly use some talent in the outfield, and Choice could be able to contribute as soon as next season.
Weeks and Ynoa are lottery tickets whose early promise has mostly fizzled, but both could still develop into big leaguers at some point. Weeks is showing good on base skills in Triple-A, though he might end up as a utility infielder. Ynoa, fresh from giving up a home run in the Futures Game, still throws hard but might profile best as a reliever. These guys provide some upside, but Choice is the guy who makes this deal work for Philadelphia. The A’s would likely prefer to keep him in their organization, but facing an opportunity to make a substantial upgrade in a dogfight of a division race, they should take the plunge. You can replace a prospect like Michael Choice, but flags fly forever.
#2: Seattle Mariners reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, reliever Oliver Perez, “outfielder” Michael Morse, starting pitcher Joe Saunders, and shortstop Brendan Ryan to the Detroit Tigers for starting pitcher Rick Porcello and outfielder Avasail Garcia.
It’s no secret that the Tigers need to upgrade their bullpen, and this move could give them a potent relief corps in October. While Wilhelmsen has struggled with his fastball command this year, he was a dominating closer a year ago, and he may very well just be a mechanical tweak away from blowing hitters away again. The Tigers have been looking for a long term solution to their 9th inning problems for a while, and Wilhelmsen could very well be the guy to take that role for the next several years.
By acquiring Perez at the same time, they won’t have to rush Wilhelmsen into a high leverage role right away, giving him time to find his command in lower pressure situations. Perez has been a revelation as a reliever, showing that he can get hitters out from both sides of the plate, and would give the Tigers another left-handed reliever besides Drew Smyly who isn’t a pure specialist.
In Morse, the Tigers would get a power hitter to split time between the outfield — they’re already punting defense, so might as well go all the way — and 1B/DH, giving Victor Martinez some rest or Prince Fielder an off day against a tough lefty. Saunders gives them a steady #5 starter to replace Porcello who could potentially be yet another bullpen weapon in October, as his career numbers against left-handers are lethal, and he could more easily move into a playoff relief role given his splits. Ryan serves as a defensive upgrade and shortstop depth, capable of entering games late to provide a boost to the team’s run prevention.
Giving up Porcello just as he’s learned how to strike hitters out is a real cost, but he’s once again posting results that don’t line up with his talent level, and using him as bait opens the door for Smyly to move back into the rotation next year, plus keeps the team from having to surrender top prospect Nick Castellanos. The Mariners have the opportunity to give Porcello a better situation — they put their DHs in the outfield instead of the infield, and he’s a ground ball pitcher — and could use him as a mid-rotation starter for 2014, while Garcia gives them another outfield body in their search for anyone better than Jason Bay.
#3: Chicago White Sox reliever Jesse Crain to the Boston Red Sox for shortstop Deven Merrero.
The two Sox already swapped prospect-for-reliever in the Matt Thornton trade, but they should go another round by shipping Crain to Boston for a shortstop who is as blocked as any prospect in the game. Before landing on the disabled list, Crain was among the best relievers in baseball, and he’s overcome minor arm problems with no long term effects before. While he might not have the proven closer label, he’s a serious weapon, and the Red Sox need talent more than a guy with a label and an inflated ego.
Merrero, the Red Sox first round pick in 2012, might seem to be a high price to pay for an injured reliever rental, but he has no future in Boston. Defensive wizard Jose Iglesias has already reached Boston, and elite prospect Xander Bogaerts isn’t far behind. A move to third base is both impractical because of his limited offensive abilities and the presence of Garin Cecchini. There’s just no future with the Red Sox for Marrero, and the White Sox could begin grooming him as Alexei Ramirez’s replacement.
#4: Seattle Mariners designated hitter Raul Ibanez to the New York Yankees for starting pitcher Phil Hughes.
The Yankees have been dangling Hughes around for weeks, looking to exchange some of their pitching depth — especially a guy who is basically guaranteed to head elsewhere when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year — for an injection of offense. Ibanez is miraculously having the year of his life at age-41, launching 24 home runs in the first half of the season despite beginning the year as a bench player. The Yankees are clearly familiar with Ibanez, and his swing is still tailor made for their home ballpark. If he keeps defying age as he has this year, he could provide some much needed power to their line-up.
The rebuilding Mariners wouldn’t seem to have much use for a free-agent-to-be, but as an extreme fly ball pitcher with a home run problem, Hughes should be intensely interested in pitching on the west coast next year, hoping the marine layer can knock down some of his meatballs and turning them into outs. With a two month trial run in Seattle, the Mariners could see how Hughes approach would play in reconfigured Safeco Field. Just 27, Hughes could potentially be an interesting free agent for a team that lacks pitching depth behind Felix Hernandez and should have money to spend this winter, and swapping Ibanez for him would give them a few months to see him up close and personal before deciding whether or not to be a bidder.
#5: Miami Marlins reliever Chad Qualls to the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Josh Lueke.
After a couple of awful seasons the last few years, Qualls is throwing harder than ever and has seen his strikeout and ground ball rate both spike, allowing him to resume his previous position as a quality right-handed setup guy. With Kyle Farnsworth struggling, the Rays could use a righty who can come in and induce a double play grounder when needed, and Qualls fits the bill perfectly.
In Lueke, the Marlins would be getting a guy with the upside of a late inning reliever but a past that he won’t ever escape from. It would be best for MLB to have Lueke work in the most anonymous setting possible, and it doesn’t get any more anonymous than pitching for the Marlins right now.
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