It's coming. You can almost hear it on the wind: the MLB trade deadline.
We won't get into the dire days of public posturing and backroom negotiation that mark the last two weeks of July until, well, the last two weeks of July. And we likely won't be seeing any serious rumors start to fly until after the All-Star Break -- though every couple of years, the tantalizing possibility of a player selected to the All-Star Game getting dealt days beforehand rears its head. Thanks to a clearer idea of standings as we enter the third month of the regular season, however, we're starting to get an idea of which players will be in high demand on the market -- and which players won't be.
First, we'll look at five of the most valuable players who will likely get dangled on the market as the trade deadline approaches:
James Shields, SP, Kansas City Royals
Shields is currently thought of as the prize catch of the trade deadline. Given the rest of the field, it's unlikely that anyone is going to unseat him here. Shields is in the last year of the seven-year deal he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays back in 2008, one of those moderately expensive team control/arbitration buyouts (guaranteeing team options on the back end) that have become so popular these days. Shields made the deal more than worth it, but this year marks the final club option, and he will likely be the gem of the upcoming free-agent signing period after this season as well. He's a pure rental, essentially, which makes him an attractive target for, say, the New York Yankees. The Yankees need starting pitching, and they could replace Hiroki Kuroda in next year's budget next year with a new, long-term commitment to a guy like Shields, who is almost a decade younger. Either way, with Dayton Moore's front office apparently teflon in KC, expect them to be angling for a big return on Shields as they look towards next year. They certainly gave up enough to get him.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, Chicago Cubs
The dropoff in quality between Shields and Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija is extreme, though that's not apparent if you only look at their 2014 stat-lines. Samardzija has barely been a league-average pitcher during his time as a starter -- last year, he was actually below average for a starting pitcher, posting a 4.34 ERA against a league-average 4.01. Given that very little about him has actually changed besides what's happening on balls in play -- his HR/9 is half his career rate, his H/9 is a bit depressed as well, and while his walks are down a bit, so are his strikeouts -- the Cubs are going to be perfectly alright trying to sell him to teams for an elite starter's return. So far, the likeliest team to jump on that particular grenade is the Baltimore Orioles -- not only do they seem to be in love with the idea of a rotation full of guys with No. 3 starter ceilings, but Samardzija has one more year of team control -- albeit an expensive arbitration year, especially if he keeps going at this rate. Then again, if he keeps going at this rate, that might be enough to help whatever team he goes to get into the playoffs -- fair's fair, after all.
Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hill's an intriguing proposition. He's been one of the best offensive second basemen in baseball over the past two seasons, but he's on a team going nowhere in 2014 -- and he would fill a position of need for a number of contenders while being locked into a $12 million-a-year deal for the next two seasons. It would also allow the Diamondbacks to perhaps try Didi Gregorius in the majors as a second baseman, while bringing a decent return of prospects into the organization to make up for the ones that got shipped out in this offseason's Mark Trumbo fiasco. Still, the combination of missed time last year and slipping production this year might cause some hesitation on Hill in the market this season -- not to mention that it's currently unclear what combination of General Manager Kevin Towers or Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa is calling the shots with regards to major league trades.
Alex Rios, OF, Texas Rangers
There's a lot of time left in the season, but it sure seems like the Texas Rangers are going to be sellers when the trade deadline comes. Just about every starting pitcher on their roster is either on the disabled list or has spent time there this season, and the offense hasn't exactly been electric. If the Rangers do sell, one of their top pieces is Alex Rios -- formerly of the Chicago White Sox and, before that, the Toronto Blue Jays -- playing out the last guaranteed season of the seven-year he signed with the Jays all the way back in 2008. He's currently hitting .320/.352/.473 and playing solid RF defense, which could make him attractive to the Yankees if Carlos Beltran stays out longer than anticipated, or to Milwaukee or Baltimore, depending what their RF situations look like when the trade deadline rolls around. Baltimore in particular could be interested in Rios just to make a clean break from Nick Markakis, whose $17.5 million team option for 2015 they will almost certainly decline.
Seth Smith, LF, San Diego Padres
To say things haven't gone as the Padres would have liked in 2014 is an understatement. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross have been promising out of the rotation, but the rest of the staff and almost every hitter on the roster have fallen off the face of the earth. Chase Headley was all over lists like these at the deadline in 2012, and again that offseason, but the Padres held onto him -- and let's just say there's a reason his name isn't in the header here two years later, even though he's a free agent after this season. Seth Smith is one of very few bright spots on the team's roster: a veteran left-handed bat who, even at 31, has accumulated so little actual service time that he's eligible for his third year of arbitration next season and is only making $4.5 million this year. Smith isn't going to return any world-beating prospects from whatever team he goes to, but hopefully he'll allow the Padres enough organizational depth to make up for past missteps -- the Mat Latos trade looms large over this team right now, as Edinson Volquez is long gone and both Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso are struggling to keep their heads above water at the major league level.
There are also some players whose names will get thrown around a bit in deadline talk, but who will likely stay right where they are. Here are five who will likely fall into that category:
Mark Buehrle, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays essentially sold their future for the 2013-2015 seasons when they traded most of their promising prospects to either the New York Mets or Miami Marlins before last season started. Last season was a flop for a lot of reasons -- injuries, poor performances, an organization devoid of depth in a number of places thanks to the recent mass youth exodus -- but 2014 has been a different beast so far. Buehrle is under contract through the end of the 2015 season, but before this year, his contract looked untradeable without the Jays eating money; he will make $19 million next year on the backend of a Jeff Loria Special. With Buehrle currently one of the best pitchers in baseball, Toronto atop the AL East and their window never more open than it is right now, however, the Jays are more likely to be buyers than sellers.
Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Seattle Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma will probably be staying put too, but not because the Seattle Mariners are likely to make any semblance of a postseason run this year. While the massive injury woes suffered by the Texas Rangers have made it more likely the Mariners will end up in third than it was a couple months ago, they've suffered injuries of their own (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton) and, honestly, they weren't a very well-put-together squad to begin with. But with ownership in flux and new top management taking over, Seattle's FO is in job-saving mode, and that means they're trying to shoot the moon. After Felix and Iwakuma, their only starter of note is an overperforming Chris Young -- so it's likely Iwakuma will spend the rest of the season in Seattle unless front office changes are made immediately following the upcoming amateur draft.
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Given the woes in the Red Sox outfield at the moment, Boston would probably let the Marlins take anything they please from the Sox system in exchange for Giancarlo Stanton, the guy who would be leading the race for NL MVP at the moment if not for Troy Tulowitzki. (I love Yasiel Puig, but as fun as he is to watch field, Stanton is a far superior defender.) The Red Sox don't have enough to get Stanton, however, because it's unlikely anyone has enough to get Stanton, at least before his final year of arbitration. He's still young and inexpensive enough that the Marlins can afford to hold onto him for another year or two -- though after the past few years, there's probably not enough money in the world to convince Stanton to stay in Miami one day longer than he has to.
Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado Rockies
There's been talk of the Rockies trying to move some of their outfield depth to shore up other flagging parts of their roster as they try to stay in the hunt in the NL West -- adding another rotation arm, for instance, or someone who could play second base with some degree of all-around competence. Carlos Gonzalez is not likely to be the guy they move, however, unless they find a team willing to ignore the fact that the power-hitting outfielder -- whom Colorado signed to a seven-year, $80 million extension back in 2011, and who still has well over half the monetary value of that contract yet to pay out -- has hit .262/.318/.443 outside of Coors Field for his entire career. That's a whopping 232-point swing between his home OPS (.992) and road (.760). Finding someone willing to take on that money and part with assets for the privilege is going to be difficult, if not impossible.
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Even before Larry Bowa went on Philly sports radio to do his sound-and-fury routine about the current state of the Philadelphia club, everyone knew that franchise was in some deep trouble -- both this season and moving forward. It would be helpful if the team could offload some of the aging veterans on the roster to add talent to a starved farm system. Jimmy Rollins is the most attractive trade chip the Phillies have on the roster. He ticks off a lot boxes that teams are looking for in a midseason addition, including positional scarcity, playoff experience, veteran leadership plaudits, and all-around credibility in the locker room. Moving him would also stop one of the more tiresome sideshows of the Ryne Sandberg/Larry Bowa era from making the papers ever again. But in a delicious twist of irony, Jimmy Rollins likes it in Philadelphia! He wants to stay, and break some team records, and retire a Phillie! Thanks to the 10/5 rule -- whereby any MLB player with 10 years of service time, of which five are with his current team, can veto any proposed trade -- Philadelphia is going to have to convince the greatest shortstop in their history to play out the rest of his career somewhere else. And unless Rollins somehow shatters those records before the trade deadline, I don't think that's going to happen.