July is here, which means talk about the non-waiver trading deadline, which arrives on July 31, is heating up. Here is a quick look at the five hitters, all of whom will be free agents at season's end, who are most likely to be traded this month.
A trade of Willingham has seemed inevitable ever since the ink dried on the three-year, $21 million contract he signed with the Twins in December 2011. A production-sapping knee injury that shelved him for all of July wiped out the chance of a deal last year, but now that he’s in the final year of that contract and his calling-card patience and power have returned, a trade sending Willingham out of Minnesota seems once again, well, inevitable.
Willingham suffered a fractured wrist in early April, but since returning from the disabled list in late May, he has reached base at a .388 clip while slugging .495 with seven homers in 31 games. Those numbers have come despite a .238 average, and that's due to some bad luck on balls in play. Willingham is a lousy fielder, but he has a history of thriving in pitchers parks and is making just $7 million this year.
Having just fired general manager Josh Byrnes, the Padres seem likely to be a big seller at the deadline. One player sure to draw significant interest is Smith, who has been by far San Diego’s best hitter this season but is also 31 and will be a free agent at the end of the year. The lefty-swinging Smith has hit .279/.359/.488 against righthanded pitching in his career and has managed enough walks against lefties this year to give him a career high 149 OPS+.
Smith is still a platoon player, but he’s playing an acceptable leftfield for the Padres, and the thought of what his .273/.376/.485 line thus far this year could look like outside of Petco Park might be very tempting. The trick there is that Smith has done the bulk of his hitting at home, batting a mere .217/.354/.348 outside of Petco this year.
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Headley’s age-28 season in 2012 — in which he hit 31 home runs, led the National League with 115 RBIs and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting — now looks like a fluke. His isolated power (slugging minus batting average) that year was 61 points higher than it has been in any of his other seven seasons, as his fly balls left the park at more than twice his career rate. His walk rate also peaked that year despite the fact that he was passed intentionally just twice. In the wake of that breakout campaign, the Padres preferred to extend Headley rather than trade him, but have thus far failed to do either.
The lack of an extension may have worked in San Diego's favor given Headley's regression from that peak year, but it also allowed his trade value to wither on the vine. This year, Headley is having his worst major league season, hitting a mere .201/.289/.322. Bad luck on balls in play is playing a role, and he is still a strong defensive third baseman, but his walks and power have fallen below his career rates and he has been slowed by a herniated disc in his lower back in recent weeks.
With Headley’s free agency rapidly approaching, the Padres seem likely to finally take advantage of whatever market remains for his services, but their return won’t be anywhere near what it could have been. One selling point they should hammer home: Headley has historically been a far better second-half player, hitting .280/.362/.448 after the All-Star break in his career, including a .279/.373/.454 performance from July 1 through the end of the season last year. Also, his career numbers outside of Petco echo that second-half line.
Dunn is a lousy fielder, can’t hit lefties, strikes out in nearly a third of his plate appearances and hasn’t hit above .240 since 2010. Perhaps most notably for a player whose calling card is slugging, Dunn's power is down this year too, with 12 home runs and an isolated power of .210. The White Sox may need to eat a bit of salary to trade him (he’s making $14 million this year), but he’d make a valuable platoon bat or even pinch-hitter (he has hit .238/.377/.548 with four home runs in 53 career pinch-hitting appearances) for a team in need of an offensive boost.
The big question in Cleveland is whether or not top prospect Francisco Lindor will be ready to take over for Cabrera at shortstop in 2015. Lindor has thus far had a representative season for Double A Akron (.283/.362/.409, 19 steals), but a broken nose has temporarily shelved him. On top of that, getting Lindor through Triple A to the majors in time to replace Cabrera by April would be fairly aggressive approach with a player who won’t be of legal drinking age until November. Cabrera, meanwhile, is having a solid if unexceptional season with a .245/.310/.396 line that’s roughly on par with that of the average major league shortstop (.254/.312/.377).
A one-year extension for Cabrera to allow Lindor to advance at a more appropriate pace could make sense. But if Cleveland isn’t going to go that route, a 28-year-old shortstop with a bit of pop (double-digit home runs each of the last three years and eight already this season) and a reputation for acrobatic plays at shortstop (even if the advanced defensive metrics consider him merely average at the position) should have plenty of value on the trade market. With Stephen Drew not hitting and Jimmy Rollins’ 2015 option about to vest (he needs just 89 more plate appearances and a clean bill of health at season’s end), Cabrera should draw enough interest to convince the Indians to make a deal.