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2014 trade deadline primer: Contenders’ biggest needs and best assets

The July 31 MLB trade deadline is three weeks away, but trading season already got off to an explosive start with the A’s getting Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. The Yankees soon followed by acquiring Brandon McCarthy from the D-Backs.

It’s possible that Oakland wiped out the trade market for starting pitching with its deal, but there could still be some big names available, depending on whether or not their teams make them available. Enough clubs also need offensive help, especially when runs have come at a premium this season. And of course, contenders will always need more bullpen help. A team can never have enough.

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With the All-Star break a week away, those with realistic postseason chances are beginning to separate from the pack. There are a couple of fringe hopefuls, but the line is getting pretty clear. Here are MLB’s playoff contenders, their biggest needs and the best assets they can offer in any potential deal.

American League Contenders

Baltimore Orioles
The O’s need a top-of-the-rotation starter, someone that gives them a pitching advantage in the AL East, and could also be a difference maker in a one-game playoff or postseason series. Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels from the Phillies would be an ideal fit. If the Rays fall out of the race, maybe David Price is a possibility.

Baltimore has several assets to trade for such a pitcher. The question is whether or not GM Dan Duquette is willing to deal top prospects like Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop or even potential future stars such as Dylan Bundy or Hunter Harvey.

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Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were perceived as the favorite to land Jeff Samardzija, but obviously now have to look elsewhere. While an ace-caliber starter would certainly help, GM Alex Anthopoulos may settle for a mid-rotation arm if it means keeping top prospects. Second base and third base may actually be bigger needs at this point. The Padres’ Chase Headley has been linked to Toronto in recent days, as have the D-Backs’ Martin Prado and Aaron Hill.

Young pitchers Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris could likely make several deals happen. But one or two of those arms might also help the Jays this season.

New York Yankees
GM Brian Cashman may already have made his move, picking up Brandon McCarthy from the D-Backs. But with CC Sabathia likely out for the rest of the season, the Yanks need more pitching help. The infield could also use an offensive boost.

Cashman doesn’t necessarily have the prospects that his AL East rivals can offer, however, especially if trade partners want major league ready talent. Catcher Gary Sanchez or outfielders Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are at least another year away. That might prevent the Yankees from landing a top-of-the-rotation starter. But those resources could be used to upgrade at second or third base.

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers’ needs haven’t changed much throughout the season. Detroit’s bullpen is still a major concern. Joel Hanrahan was signed in May, but doesn’t appear close to ready. The Tigers have already been linked to the Padres’ Joaquin Benoit. The Astros’ Chad Qualls could also be a fit, while the Rangers have relievers that could be of interest.

GM Dave Dombrowski doesn’t have any top-shelf prospects to offer, but has organizational depth. Potential trades could be built around infielder Devon Travis, catcher James McCann and outfielder Steven Moya. Starters Jake Thompson and Jonathon Crawford might also be available in the right deal.

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Kansas City Royals
The Royals’ offense has been a problem all season. Fortunately for GM Dayton Moore, there should be plenty of help available. Could he convince the Twins to trade Josh Willingham within the AL Central? If not, the Padres’ Chris Denorfia or Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs would provide an outfield upgrade. The Marlins’ Casey McGehee could help in a corner infield spot.

Kansas City could trade a bullpen arm for help, though that would weaken the strongest part of the roster. Otherwise, Moore can offer low-level prospects with high upside such as pitcher Miguel Almonte and shortstops Adalberto Mondesi or Orlando Calixte.

Oakland Athletics
The A’s already made their splashy move, getting ahead of the competition by acquiring Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. Does that mean GM Billy Beane is done dealing? He used his top two prospects in the Samardzija trade. But the A’s also now have some starting pitching depth (Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz) to tap into for middle infield or corner outfield help. Oakland could conceivably also deal a piece from its deep bullpen, if needed.

Los Angeles Angels
GM Jerry Dipoto has added Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher in recent weeks, but he’s reportedly still looking for relief help — particularly a closer. The Angels are reportedly pursuing Joaquin Benoit, and Huston Street could be on their radar as well. One more Padres pitcher of interest is starter Ian Kennedy. The Mets’ Dillon Gee is another back-end starter the Angels could look into.

Dipoto might not have top prospects to use in a deal, but has depth on the major league roster to tap. Trading a Kole Calhoun or C.J. Cron probably isn’t necessary to land the type of starter the Angels are seeking, however.

Seattle Mariners
The Mariners need a bat to stay alive in the AL wild-card race. GM Jack Zduriencik could take a chance on a castoff like Alfonso Soriano (if he’s willing to go to Seattle), but better hitters are available. The Twins’ Josh Willingham would be a great fit, as would the Phillies’ Marlon Byrd or the White Sox’s Dayan Viciedo.

Seattle has the pieces to make a big move. Infielder Nick Franklin would likely be the centerpiece of any deal, though trade partners will surely ask for pitchers Taijuan Walker or James Paxton. Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero might still have enough potential to convince teams to take a chance.

On the Fringes

Cleveland Indians
At 43-45 as of July 8, the Tribe looks out of contention. But Cleveland is 6.5 games back in the AL Central and 5.5 in the wild-card race, so a hot streak from them and a bad week or two from a rival could change things quickly. A top-of-the-rotation starter would make a difference, but GM Chris Antonetti might not want to trade what’s necessary to get an ace-caliber arm. Young starters like Zack McAllister, Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco could draw interest, however.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are likely out of the playoff race at 10 games under .500, 9.5 games back in the AL East and wild-card standings. Winning 10 of their past 13 games has provided some encouragement, but that’s probably just delayed the inevitable. The Rays have two of the biggest trade chips presumably available in starter David Price and utilityman Ben Zobrist. Either player could yield a big return. But if GM Andrew Friedman wants to work smaller, he could also trade off outfielders Matt Joyce and David DeJesus or relievers Joel Peralta and Grant Balfour.

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National League Contenders

Atlanta Braves
The Braves have been playing just fine lately, winning 11 of their past 14 games. But upgrading the pitching staff could help them separate from the Nationals in the NL East. GM Frank Wren has the young pitching, along with catching and outfield depth that might be able to get David Price. Yet he may want to focus on adding to the bullpen (and maybe picking up a back-end starter) instead.

A deal could presumably be built around David Hale or Alex Wood, with other pieces like infielder Tyler Pastornicky, outfielder Joey Terdoslavich or perhaps even catcher Christian Bethancourt. The pieces are there to get a top setup man.

Washington Nationals
Looking at their roster, the Nats don’t appear to need much, which is why their performance has been largely disappointing this season. But GM Mike Rizzo could seek to upgrade his depth in the outfield and infield, especially with a left-handed bat. The bullpen would also benefit from a left-hander.

Trading Denard Span might be drastic, but it would allow Ryan Zimmerman to move to left field and keep Anthony Rendon at third base. Otherwise, Rizzo has a few relievers he could include a deal and outfield prospects like Steven Souza and Brian Goodwin to dangle. No need to consider top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito or A.J. Cole.

Milwaukee Brewers
Though the Brewers have the best record in the NL, they do have a couple of glaring roster needs. First base has been an issue since the offseason, but would someone like the Marlins’ Casey McGehee or Garrett Jones really be an upgrade over Mark Reynolds? Milwaukee could also use a left-handed bat for the outfield and back-of-the-rotation starter.

GM Doug Melvin has some young arms to deal, including Marco Estrada, Tyler Thornburg and Mike Fiers. (Top prospect Jimmy Nelson is surely off-limits, but there’s no one available worth that price.) Minor leaguers Hunter Morris and Elian Herrera could perhaps also be included in a trade package.

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St. Louis Cardinals
The Cards have deal with plenty of injuries to their starting rotation this season, and that’s probably where GM John Mozeliak will look to upgrade. But is he interested in making a blockbuster deal for a David Price or Cliff Lee? (Reports have the Cardinals trading for the Red Sox’s Jake Peavy.) St. Louis could also use some help at either second base or third base.

Mozeliak has plenty of outfielders to build a trade around. If he doesn’t want to part with Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and James Ramsey are minor league prospects that will likely draw interest. Perhaps the Cardinals would also consider parting with Allen Craig, who’s been a disappointment and miscast as an outfielder.

Pittsburgh Pirates
It’s not GM Neal Huntington’s style to make a big move. Pittsburgh could use a starting pitcher, but will likely pursue a second-tier arm like the Padres’ Ian Kennedy or Rockies’ Jorge De La Rosa. Shortstop is also a need for the Pirates, but is the Indians’ Asdrubal Cabrera the best one available?

The Pirates have top prospects available to make a splashy trade. With the outfield of the future already in place, perhaps Austin Meadows and Josh Bell could be used in a deal. But Triple-A players like Jose Tabata, Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo might also get what Pittsburgh needs.

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have made a strong push in recent weeks. But can GM Walt Jocketty help closes the gap with their division rivals? The biggest need could be first base or right field, depending on Joey Votto’s quad injury. Putting Jay Bruce at first and looking for a corner outfielder might be the easier path. Cincinnati could also pursue a mid-rotation starter and middle reliever.

But who do the Reds trade? Top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson is likely untouchable, but perhaps Michael Lorenzen could go in a deal. Outfielders Phillip Ervin and Jesse Winker might draw interest too, though both players are early in their development.

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Los Angeles Dodgers
As ridiculous as it might sound, the Dodgers are apparently interested in David Price. But GM Ned Colletti’s biggest need is the bullpen behind closer Kenley Jansen. A dependable setup man such as Joaquin Benoit or Huston Street would be ideal. The Dodgers might also be the one team unafraid to take on Jonathan Papelbon’s salary from the Phillies.

Colletti has young pitching and middle infielders to trade to the Rays in return for Price. Matt Kemp might yield a large return, but the Dodgers would likely have to eat some salary to make a deal. That could apply to international prospects like Alexander Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena too.

San Francisco Giants
GM Brian Sabean told the Mercury News‘ Tim Kawakami that his organization has no untouchables. Depending on the view, that either speaks to the Giants’ urgency or their lack of minor league talent. Top prospect Kyle Crick would likely yield the biggest return. But is that enough to fill the Giants’ needs for a setup reliever, starting pitcher and right-handed outfield bat?

San Francisco could check on Alfonso Soriano, though he’s been reluctant to play there in the past. Dayan Viciedo is another bat that might not cost too much. But what resources the Giants have — and Sabean doesn’t have much — will probably go toward a bullpen upgrade.

On the Fringes

Miami Marlins
Six games behind in the NL East and 5.5 back in the wild-card race, the Marlins are arguably a contender. But it’s difficult to see Miami adding pieces at the trade deadline, unless the competition stumbles badly. The Marlins need starting pitching, but dealing prospects like Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani or Brian Flynn isn’t in the team’s best long-term interests. If they stay in the race, the Marlins will probably hang on to Casey McGehee, Garrett Jones or Steve Cishek. But aren’t they better off being traded for prospects?

Ian Casselberry

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a columnist for The Outside Corner and the editor of The AP Party. He has written for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

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