With the trade deadline a little more than a week away on July 31, baseball is getting ready for one of its busiest weeks of transactions of the year. There's nothing like a deadline to encourage teams to make moves.
No matter what the state of a team's farm system, every contending team can make trades. A willingness to add salary or take on onerous contracts can allow a team with few prospects to get creative in talent acquisition.
But when it comes to acquiring the top-tier talents, the number of clubs with the prospect inventory to make a swap gets significantly smaller.
The Cubs got the in-season trade market going early with a swap that sent righthanders Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's for the A's top two prospects, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney.
Samardzija was considered the second-best pitcher on the trade market, and what the Cubs got in return for him validated that status. Russell ranked No. 5 on the Baseball America midseason Top 50 Prospects list. He's one of the highest rated prospects to be traded in recent years, and in doing so his acquisition will make for a very interesting point of comparison if the Rays decide to trade lefthander David Price, the best pitching prospect that's potentially on the market.
The Rays could decide to hold onto Price. Or they could decide to trade him for a combination of current big leaguers and prospects. But if they do try to work out a deal based solely around prospects, it's going to be hard to make a deal that equals what the Cubs got for their combo of Samardzija and Hammel because of the lack of available inventory.
Let's operate under the assumption that teams that are effectively eliminated from playoff contention would not be interested in trading for Price at this time. After all, if you're acquiring Price for the final 1 ½ years of his current contract you're paying a premium for the final three months of the regular season. To pay that premium so he can play for a team that isn't going to make the playoffs generally doesn't make much sense.
Looking at the top 20 prospects on Baseball America's midseason list, what's remarkable is how many of them on teams having poor big league seasons.
|TOP 20 PROSPECTS|
|Twins (44-50): OF Byron Buxton (No. 1), 3B Miguel Sano (No. 9).|
|Cubs (40-54): 3B Kris Bryant (No. 2), SS Addison Russell (No. 5), SS Javier Baez (No. 7).|
|Astros (40-56): SS Carlos Correa (No. 3).|
|Rangers (38-57): 3B Joey Gallo (No. 4).|
|Rockies (40-55): RHP Jon Gray (No. 8).|
|Diamondbacks (40-56): RHP Archie Bradley (No. 11).|
|Red Sox (43-52): C Blake Swihart (No. 14) and LHP Henry Owens (No. 15).|
|Padres (41-54): C Austin Hedges (17).|
|Mets (45-50): RHP Noah Syndergaard (No. 19).|
It's unlikely the Rays will be able to land any one prospect considered roughly equivalent to Russell, because eight of the top nine prospects in baseball play for teams who are already out of the playoff race. Only two prospects in the Top 10 and four in the top 15 are on teams that are currently sitting at .500 or better.
The Indians (47-47) have shortstop Francisco Lindor (No. 6) and the Orioles (52-42) have righthander Dylan Bundy (No. 10). Washington's farm system includes righthander Lucas Giolito (No. 11). The Dodgers not only have lefthander Julio Urias (No. 13), but also shortstop Corey Seager (No. 16) and outfielder Joc Pederson (No. 18). The Indians, Nationals and Orioles are other teams with a top prospect to use as a potential starting point for a trade.
Clearly the Dodgers could put together a package that could entice the Rays, but with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, plus the bounceback season from Josh Beckett, the Dodgers don't seem like a team in need of another ace.
The Rays could go for the quantity as a form of quality approach. Teams like the Pirates (RHP Tyler Glasnow, RHP Jameson Taillon, OF Josh Bell, RHP Nick Kingham and OF Austin Meadows) have enough solid prospects to potentially make up for the shortfall of not having a top 10 prospects. Or a team like the Cardinals could trade from their deep reservoir of young big league talent.
But it's notable that if the Rays are shopping Price, they just don't have a lot of logical trade partners if they are looking to acquire prospects who haven't started their big league service clocks.