An Overview of Possible August Trade Bait

On Monday, Jesse reposted his excellent August Transaction Primer, providing a useful explanation of how teams can swing major deals even after the July 31st trade "deadline." If you haven't read it yet, do it now. With the Twins facing an eight game deficit and the worst run differential in the division, it's very possible Bill Smith could be pretty active later this month.

Yesterday, the folks over at MLBTradeRumors.com posted a laundry list of names that could be moved this August. Here are the names they mentioned for the Twins: Joe Nathan, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Jason Kubel, Jim Thome, and Kevin Slowey.

I think this is a pretty good list. Let's take a closer look at these players, and their contracts.

Joe Nathan

Age: 36

2011 Salary: $11.25 million

2012 Status: $12.5 million team option

For a team fighting for a spot in the playoffs, there is no such thing as too many good relievers. Nathan was brilliant in July - in 12 games, he posted a 0.79 ERA and converted all four of his save chances after reclaiming the closer role on July 16. While his overall stats are underwhelming (a 4.71 ERA in 28.2 innings), Nathan is hitting his stride just in time to be viewed as valuable asset for a playoff contender.

While many of the contenders bolstered their bullpens in the past week, you can be certain that any number of playoff-bound teams would love to add Nathan's arm to their pen. The question is: at what cost? Nathan still has $3 to $4 million remaining on his 2011 contract, meaning any club that places a waiver claim on him better be prepared to write a pretty big check.

While such a steep price will likely prevent any club from throwing a claim on Nathan just to block another trade, it will also make him less attractive to those clubs that have a legitimate interest in his services. That being said, to a team like the Cardinals - a contender with huge question marks in the late innings - the prospect of adding Joe Nathan may seem well worth the cost.

Carl Pavano

Age: 35

2011 Salary: $8 million

2012 Status: $8.5 million

How disappointing has Carl Pavano's season been?:

  • Among 109 qualified Major League starters, Pavano's K/9 rate (3.72) ranks dead last.
  • His 4.90 ERA ranks 99th out of those same 109qualified pitchers.
  • His xFIP (4.29) ranks 95th.
  • His 4.46 SIERA ranks 101st.

This isn't meant to suggest that Pavano has been worthless this season. Even though he hasn't been nearly as effective as he's been in his previous time with the club, he has racked up a significant number of innings - only 23 pitchers in all of baseball have thrown more innings than Pavano so far this season. His durability and reliability alone have considerable value on the open market, even if the quality of his innings has slipped.

In my mind, I have a hard time seeing the Twins moving Pavano this month. The Twins obviously like Pavano, and have always valued reliability, durability, and veteran presence. If the coaching staff believes he can return to his 2009/2010 form, his $8.5 million contract for next season will look like bargain. On the flip side, any team interested in Pavano would need to be willing to spend more than $10 million for a year and change of a late-30s pitcher who currently has the worst strikeout rate in baseball. That's a tough sell.

Jim Thome

Age: 40

2011 Salary: $3 million

2012 Status: Free Agent

If the Twins are sellers this month, it seems likely that Thome is as good as gone. Thome is one of the game's great citizens, and I could see the front office doing everything in their power to get him on a playoff squad if the Twins are clearly out of contention later this month.

It's hard to think that Thome could clear waivers - any team that acquired Thome would be on the hook for less than a million dollars, which seems a small price to pay for such a quality bat (especially for an NL team like the Phillies or Giants that may need a DH come late October). That means the Twins wouldn't necessarily be able to choose their trading partner for Thome, which could become a hurdle to getting a deal done.

Here's a good question, though: what would the Twins do if Thome is sitting at 598 or 599 home runs when they decided they were ready to sell?

Matt Capps

Age: 27

2011 Salary: $7.15 million

2012 Status: Free Agent

Oh, Matt Capps. How much (electronic) ink has spent talking about Matt Capps in the past few months? Probably too much.

Capps is an interesting decision for the Twins. He certainly hasn't been good this season, and both his strikeout rate and velocity have plummeted this season. It's silly to think the Twins would be able to get much, if anything, for Capps in August, especially given the price tag. The question would be whether the Twins wanted to rid themselves of his salary, and whether any contender views Capps as an upgrade.

The bigger question comes during the offseason, assuming he's not moved this month. Capps is projected as a Type A free agent, giving the Twins a huge incentive to offer him arbitration. Of course, given the fact that would essentially guarantee him at least $7 million next season, he'd likely jump at the offer.

Jason Kubel

Age: 29

2011 Salary: $5.25 million

2012 Status: Free Agent

Kubel is another player that would have a hard time getting through waivers. He's young, he hits well, and he's making a (relative) pittance in 2011. Sure, his poor glove and baserunning skills lower his overall value, but for a contender looking to add a left-handed bat he'd be awfully attractive. In fact, something like a Corey Hart/Jason Kubel platoon in Milwaukee could be pretty devastating. And we already know the Pirates were actively pursuing Kubel at the non-waiver deadline.

With both Kubel and Cuddyer up for new contracts in the offseason, it's hard for those of us on the outside to know what the front office is thinking as far as the outfield is concerned in 2012. It's entirely possible they see both Kubel and Cuddyer as integral parts of the 2012 club. Additionally, even if the front office keeps Kubel through August, it's not as if they'd get nothing in return if he walks during the offseason. As of right now, he's projected to be near the top of Type B free agents.

Kevin Slowey

Age: 27

2011 Salary: $2.7 million

2012 Status: Arbitration Eligible

It's clear the Twins don't think highly of Kevin Slowey. It's also clear, to me at least, that there is no way Slowey would clear waivers. He's young, under team control, and over the past four seasons has posted xFIPs of 3.96, 4.15, 4.24, and 4.02.

It's impossible to predict which teams would put a claim in on Slowey, but I'm pretty sure the Twins would at least be willing to consider offers.

***

For now, all of this talk about August trade bait is purely speculative. If the Twins put a few wins together in a row over the next few days, they would be just as likely to become waiver deadline shoppers rather than sellers. That being said, at some point the front office needs to make some moves this season. There are simply too many good, expiring contracts on this underwhelming team to let expire without either making a legitimate push for the playoffs, or cashing them out to build for the future.

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