|What is a pie-full of Cruz worth?|
Players such as Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Darren O'Day will all have reached free agency at either the end of this or next year. The Orioles will be able to keep some of that talent but not all of it. If the Orioles aren't good enough to win this year then it will be harder to win in 2015 when some of these players are gone. If the Orioles aren't good bets to make it to the playoffs this year then they need to consider selling.
The Orioles have valuable pieces. Position players like Hardy and Markakis would be in demand. Starters like Chen and Norris are cheap and servicable and would interest a contender. Teams interested in relievers may want O'Day or Webb. But the most valuable piece would be Nelson Cruz. Nelson Cruz is putting up a .290/.356/.582 line, a .399 wOBA, 27 HRs and 71 RBI. If the Orioles were willing to trade him then he'd be one of the few powerful bats in a trade market that includes Willingham (can't stay healthy), Dexter Fowler (no power) and Adam Dunn (can only play DH). There isn't likely to be a single bat with the power potential that Nelson Cruz brings to the table.
There have been very few good offensive players traded at the trade deadline in recent years. The last guy as good as Cruz that was traded was Carlos Beltran. The Giants were forced to part with Zach Wheeler, a top fifty pitching prospect. Matt Holliday is another offensive star traded at the trade deadline in return for current Oriole Brett Wallace (ranked #40 that year and #27 the year after by Baseball America) and two C+ prospects.
There have been a few good arms traded recently at the trade deadline. The Rangers traded C.J Edwards (ranked #28 by Baseball America the following year), Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm in return for Matt Garza. The Angels traded Segura (ranked #55 by Baseball America that year and ineligible after) and two B- prospects for Zach Greinke.
It's questionable whether the Orioles should expect to receive a return as good as the ones received in the deals above. Nelson Cruz isn't as good as Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday or Zach Greinke. But these deals do give some guidance for what the Orioles should expect namely a top 50-75 prospect and a few B-/C+ pieces.
According to ESPN's playoff odds, the Athletics, Angels, Mariners, Orioles, Tigers, Blue Jays and the Royals are the favorites to make it to the playoffs while the Yankees and Indians are in the still in the picture but long shots. If the Orioles do decide to trade their best offensive player this year then it is likely they will fall out of competition quickly. In such a case it is likely that the Mariners and Royals would each compete for the remaining wild card spot while the Blue Jays would take the AL East.
Both the Mariners and Royals could really use Cruz. The Mariners have received limited production from any outfielder or DH aside from Michael Saunders. One of the Mariners best hitters has been Endy Chavez. The Royals have received limited production from Nori Aoki and have been rumored to be looking for a right fielder as well as some bench help. Nelson Cruz has historically played right field and would be an excellent addition to the Royals lineup. The Royals have only two players that have hit 10 home runs so far this season. The entire Royals team only has 24 more home runs than Nelson Cruz.
Both teams are under pressure to win this year. The Mariners went out and signed Robinson Cano in free agency for 10 years and 240 million. Teams don't make that kind of signing unless they think they can win right away. The Royals made a huge trade for James Shields in the offseason before 2013 in return for a top prospect. As the Baseball America quoted notes fans of the Royals felt that the team paid too much to get James Shields. James Shields is a free agent at the end of this season. If the Royals can't make it to the playoffs this year then the Royals General Manager will look like a failure. Both teams really could use Nelson Cruz if they want to win this year and can ill-afford him going to the other team. This sets up a pretty beautiful bidding war between those two teams for the services of Nelson Cruz. The winner gets a top bat and the knowledge that the Orioles will be crippled in their attempt to seize the final wild card spot.
The Mariners had three prospects that started 2014 in Baseball America's top 100 and they are Taijuan Walker (#11), D.J Peterson (#85) and James Paxton (#99). It is unlikely that the Mariners would be willing to trade Taijuan Walker in return for Nelson Cruz. James Paxton has had a lat muscle injury for much of the year and it is unlikely the Orioles would be interested in him as the centerpiece of a Nelson Cruz trade. D.J Peterson was the Mariners first round pick in 2013 and is a 22 year old slugging prospect that recently received a promotion to AA after crushing HiA pitching. However, as John Sickels notes he has a huge home/away split and played in a batter friendly ballpark. Keith Law stated in his recent chat that D.J Peterson is not a top 50 prospect in his eyes and believes that he'll become only an above-average bat. He currently plays third base in the minors but is expected to be a first baseman in the majors. Baseball America recently ranked him #46 in its midseason rankings.
D.J Peterson is roughly a top 50 prospect and would be a reasonable centerpiece for a Nelson Cruz trade. The Orioles would probably want another B- or C+ prospect. One player they may consider is Chris Taylor. Chris Taylor is a glove-first shortstop but despite destroying AAA pitching scouts still question how effective his bat will be in the majors. He has been proving scouts wrong ever since he was drafted as many people questioned whether he'd be able to hit against even HiA pitching. J.P Breen of Baseball Prospectus believes that his upside is too limited to ever make him a top 100 prospect. Prospect Insider ranked Chris Taylor #6 in the system at mid-season and was told by scouts that this was too high of a ranking.
I think that Nelson Cruz for D.J Peterson, Chris Taylor and a C prospect could work for both teams.
The Royals had four prospects that started the year in Baseball America's Top 100 and they are Kyle Zimmer (#23), Yordano Ventura (#26), Raul Mondesi (#47) and Jorge Bonifacio (#90). Yordano Ventura has made it to the majors and should be considered untouchable. Kyle Zimmer has suffered a number of injuries and may not pitch this year. It would be risky to make him the centerpiece of a trade. Jorge Bonifacio is putting up poor offensive numbers in AA and probably wouldn't be considered good enough to be a centerpiece target.
Raul Mondesi is a legitimate shortstop prospect. He started in LoA as a 17 year old and put up roughly league average numbers --- extremely impressive for a prospect that young. This year he received a promotion to HiA Wilmington and after a strong April he simply has struggled in May and June. He currently has just a .211/.271/.359 line and a wRC+ of 56. He is the youngest position player in HiA and one of only five players younger than 20 with 50 or more PAs. Despite those numbers, Keith Law ranked him #18 in his midseason rankings while Baseball America ranked him #22. The Royals may not be willing to trade him in a deal.
Hunter Dozier is a legitimate third base prospect and was ranked #39 in Baseball America's Top 50 midseason prospects. He would be another potential option.
I wonder if the Orioles and Royals would be interested in one of the following deals:
Cruz and Flaherty for Mondesi and a C prospect or
Cruz and Lombardozzi for Dozier and a C+ prospect
If the Orioles decide that this team needs to add more talent then it makes sense to start trading veteran players for prospects. Nelson Cruz is one of our most valuable trade chips and should be able to return at least one top hundred prospect.