Match Game: The Best Waiver-Wire Trade Candidate For Every Contender
- The Yankees need a first baseman; the Brewers need a second baseman; the Mets have players to unload. Here are the moves that make the most sense.
As I noted in my breakdown of the trade deadline's winners and losers, not every contender filled every need. Between that and the ever-present possibility of players getting injured to the point that it threatens their stretch-run availability, (or, if they're already sidelined, suffering further setbacks), it's important to remember that trades can still be made during August—but it's complicated.
What follows here is an attempt to match up candidates to be dealt with contenders who still have clear needs, but first, the rules for trades in August require a refresher course. Until 11:59 p.m. ET on Aug. 31, teams can trade players only if they pass through waivers. Throughout both leagues, teams place the overwhelming majority of their players on revocable waivers at some point as a means of gauging the market for future deals. If, for example, the Tigers want to trade pitcher Justin Verlander, they will first place him on waivers, giving every team a chance to put in a claim. The priority of awarding that claim goes in reverse order of record, first within the same league (in this case, the American League) and then the opposite league. In our example, the White Sox (41–64, .394) would have first crack, followed by the A's (47–60, .439) and all the way up to the Astros (69–37, .651) before the Phillies (39–65, .375) and the rest of the NL get their chance.
Let's assume the White Sox put in a claim. They would therefore win that claim, leaving the Tigers with three choices: 1) pull him back and not deal him anywhere for the remainder of the season; 2) trade him to the White Sox within 48 hours, with all other players in the deal who are on 40-man rosters similarly having to go through waivers (this is why players to be named later are sometimes used as proxies); 3) simply let him go to Chicago for a $20,000 transaction fee, with the White Sox also assuming the entirety of Verlander's remaining contract (about $66 million through 2019, not including his $22 million vesting option for 2020). If a player goes unclaimed, he has then cleared waivers and can be dealt to any team, with the caveat that no-trade clauses (such as Verlander's) still apply.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’m limiting each team to one potential waiver candidate and vice versa. I’m also taking into account league—a highly-sought player such as Padres reliever Brad Hand won't make it through the NL unclaimed—and thus going in reverse order of record.
Boston Red Sox: Anibal Sanchez
Record: 59–49, .546,
Standings: 1 game ahead in AL East
Playoff Odds: 79.3%
First base might be their bigger need, given the continued presence of Mitch "Offensive Threat" Moreland and his 94 OPS+, but with the Yankees playing in that pool as well, they can block a player like Yonder Alonso from reaching Boston. And with David Price currently on the disabled list due to his second bout of forearm woes, another starter would help.
Recall that Sanchez (whom the Red Sox signed out of Venezuela in 2001) was signed to his current deal by Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. The 33-year-old righty has been lit for a 5.83 ERA and 5.16 FIP overall, but since returning from a Triple-A assignment, he's delivered a 4.37 ERA/3.88 FIP over eight starts, the last of them a two-run effort over 6 2/3 innings against the Yankees on August 1. If the Tigers are desperate enough to eat most of the $10 million he's currently owed (he's making $16 million this year, with a $5 million buyout for next year), he's probably available for a song.
New York Yankees: Yonder Alonso
Record: 57–49, .538
Standings 1 game behind in AL East, 2.5 games ahead in AL wild card,
Playoff Odds: 89.8%
Having shored up both ends of their pitching staff as well as third base during July, the Yankees still have one glaring weakness, as their first basemen—mainly the departed Chris Carter and the injured Greg Bird, but including eight other players—have combined to hit just .225/.311/.401. That line is boosted by Chase Headley's .389/.476/.500 showing, largely since being displaced at third by the arrival of Todd Frazier, but his 42-PA hot streak won't last forever, and it's best not to invest too much hope in Bird's eventual return from ankle surgery. Alonso already has obliterated his previous career high with 22 homers—three more than 2014-16 combined—and while he's hit just .228/.343/.386 in 67 PA since the All-Star break, a move to a more hitter-friendly ballpark should help, particularly given what an inviting target that short rightfield fence is for lefties.
Tampa Bay Rays: Nick Hundley
Record: 56–53, .514
Standings: 3rd in AL East (3.5 games behind) in AL East, 1/2 game behind in wild-card
Playoff Odds: 36.3%
With both Jesus Sucre (77 OPS+) and Wilson Ramos (58 OPS+, albeit in just 81 PA) both competent behind the plate but underperforming at it, it makes sense for Tampa Bay to find a catcher with some offensive utility. Hundley lacks as a pitch framer (-4.3 runs according to Baseball Prospectus), and his 52/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio is dreadful, but he can run into one; he has five homers and a 90 OPS+ in 178 PA (.262/.284/.446).
Cleveland Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera
Record: 57–48, .543
Standings: 2.5 games ahead in AL Central
Playoff Odds: 94.8%
While Jason Kipnis just began a rehab assignment, he's been weak this year (.232/.292/.402 for a 78 OPS+) while battling right shoulder and right hamstring strains. Cabrera isn't exactly tearing the cover of the ball (.257/.334/.399, 92 OPS+) but he's inexpensive (making $8.25 million), versatile (he can "play" second, short or third so long as you don't look too closely at the defensive metrics), and familiar to the Cleveland brass, having played for the Indians from 2007 to mid-2014.
Kansas City Royals: Jay Bruce
Record: 55–51, .519
Standings: 2nd in AL Central (2 1/2 games behind); 1/2 game ahead for second wild card
Playoff Odds: 39.4%
Given that general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost would sooner saw each other's legs off with a rusty blade than bench shortstop Alcides Escobar (49 OPS+) or leftfielder Alex Gordon (60 OPS+), the big opportunity for the Royals to upgrade is at DH. Brandon Moss has gotten most of the at-bats there and is hitting an anemic .205/.286/.402 for a 79 OPS+.
Bruce, meanwhile, is hitting .265/.328/.534 with 28 homers (third in the NL) for a Mets team that is going nowhere and has a logjam in the outfield corners. He's making a modest $13 million this year, his last before reaching free agency, and New York can use absorbing that salary to bring back something interesting in exchange.
Houston Astros: Brad Brach
Houston Astros 69–38, .651
Standings: 15 games ahead in AL West
Playoff Odds: 100.0%
Particularly with Lance McCullers Jr. hitting the DL due to back discomfort, it's striking that the Astros—who are still trying to get Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh to round back into form after lengthy absences—didn't add a starter. They might still like to, but as they’ve already reminded us with the acquisition of Francisco Liriano, it’s easier to add to the bullpen. Trading Zach Britton is probably too complicated given the waiver restrictions, but a lesser reliever, such as Brach (2.78 ERA, 3.29 FIP, 9.7 K/9) should be easier to move—if another team doesn’t try to block him.
Seattle Mariners: Andrew Cashner
Record: 55–54, .505
Standings: 2nd in AL West (15 games behind); 1 1/2 behind in AL wild card
Playoff Odds: 31.8%
With Drew Smyly out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and Hisashi Iwakuma lacking a timetable to return from a bout of shoulder inflammation, the Mariners' rotation has taken significant hits (to say nothing of the ones they've surrendered, given the team's 1.7 HR/9 rate). James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are the team's only starters who are preventing runs at a better-than-average clip.
Cashner's strikeout and walk rates are lousy (4.5 and 3.8 per nine, respectively) but even so, his 4.51 FIP isn't dreadful thanks to his ability to limit homers thanks to a 9.8% groundball rate. Having traded righthander Yu Darvish (to the Dodgers) and catcher Jonathan Lucroy (to the Rockies), the Rangers likely want to get out from under the remainder of Cashner's $10 million salary, so the guess here is that he won't get far in the claims pile.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Zack Cozart
Record: 61–46, .470
Standings: 14 behind in NL West, 6 ahead in NL wild card
Playoff Odds: 90.1%
Nick Ahmed was already out until at least late August due to a right hand fracture, and now Chris Owings is out until late September with a fractured right middle finger. Ketel Marte's done decent work filling in, but Cozart—a strong defender who's enjoying a career year with the bat—would be a significant upgrade. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, he's inexpensive enough ($5.35 million this year, his final one before free agency) that a contender with a worse record such as the Brewers needn't be shy about putting in a claim.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
Record: 61–47, .565
Standings: 14.5 behind in NL West, 5.5 ahead in NL wild card,
Playoff Odds: 85.1%
They wouldn't be in a playoff position without the strong work done by a quartet of 22-24 year old rookie starters—Kyle Freeland, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela—but their workloads need management, and some of them already appear to be flagging. Senzatela has already pitched his way out of the rotation, Hofman has been cuffed for a 7.66 ERA over his last eight starts, Tyler Chatwood has struggled since returning from a calf strain, and they can't count too heavily on the returns of Chad Bettis (testicular cancer) or Tyler Anderson (left knee surgery). Chacin fared well during his 2009–14 run with the Rockies, pitching to a 3.78 ERA (120 ERA+). He's revitalized his career in San Diego (3.00 ERA/4.26 FIP), and he's dirt cheap, making just $1.75 million.
Los Angeles Dodgers: None
Record: 75–32, .701
Standings: 14.5 ahead in NL West
Playoff Odds: 100%
It's not that they won't make a move, but the Dodgers' organization is so deep right now that it doesn't have any glaring need—other than the power of rest and prayer to heal Clayton Kershaw's balky back. Even when it comes to adding a late-season luxury item such as a pinch-hitter a la Jim Thome (briefly a Dodger in 2009) or Michael Young (likewise in 2012), they have both Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez working their way back with an eye towards September.
Chicago Cubs: Clayton Richard
Record: 57–49, .538
Standings: 2.5 ahead in NL Central
Playoff Odds: 87.3%
Having added Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the mix in recent weeks, the defending champions have filled their biggest areas of need. They also have some starting pitching depth, in that the farmed-out Eddie Butler (3.95 ERA/4.66 fIP) has outpitched John Lackey (4.87 ERA/5.61 FIP). They don’t need an impact move in August, but in the spirit of never having too much pitching, Richard—who rejuvenated his career in the Cubs’ bullpen in 2015–16 but is currently scuffling as a starter in San Diego—could provide some insurance in the bullpen.
Milwaukee Brewers: Brandon Phillips
Record: 56–53, .514
Standings: 2.5 behind in NL Central, 6 behind in wild card
Playoff Odds: 16.0%
A 5–12 skid has pushed the Brewers out of first place, and their offense is sputtering since the break, averaging just 3.47 runs per game. Second baseman Jonathan Villar, who enjoyed a breakout 2016 season, is hitting just .216/.276/.338 for a 59 OPS+ overall and even worse than that in the second half. Phillips is hitting a solid .292/.335/.436 for a 100 OPS+, and while his defense isn't what it used to be, it's solid enough. With the Reds covering $13 million of his $14 million salary, he's a cheap addition, which is why he won't get far once the claims come in.
St. Louis Cardinals: Curtis Granderson
Record: 53–54, .495
Standings: 4.5 behind in NL Central, 7.5 behind in wild card
Playoff Odds: 15.0%
The Cardinals are on the outskirts of the playoff hunt in part because both Randal Grichuk (88 OPS+) and Stephen Piscotty (89 OPS+) have disappointed. Granderson's overall numbers aren't great (.224/.329/.444, 101 OPS+), but set aside his dreadful April and the 36-year-old pending free agent is hitting a robust .263/.386/.536 with 12 homers since.
Washington Nationals: R.A. Dickey
Record: 63–43, .594
Standings: 12 games ahead in NL East
Playoff Odds: 99.9%
While the Nats added lefty Sean Doolittle and righties Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler to shore up a dreadful bullpen, they have yet to confront the loss of Joe Ross to Tommy John surgery. They're also dealing with Stephen Strasburg's nerve impingement and, most recently, Max Scherzer's bout of neck stiffness. Edwin Jackson's high-wire act can only last so long; the Nationals need innings. Unlike fellow 40-something-year-old Bartolo Colon (now a Twin, and on the brink of retirement every time he gets pounded), the knuckleballing Dickey has enjoyed a modest revival this year, pitching to a 4.08 ERA while averaging over six innings per turn. He's making $7.5 million this year with a buyout of $0.5 million for next.