James Russell and Wesley Wright represent a shift in this series, away from everyday players with some impact ability to bit parts that contenders nonetheless seek as they fill out their rosters with an eye on October.
Although both are left-handed, their styles differ significantly. Russell has been better against left-handed hitters over his career, sporting a 3.69 FIP compared to 5.05 versus right-handers. This year has served as an outlier, however, with righties struggling to a 3.27 FIP whereas lefties have had no such problems in amassing a 5.83 FIP. Obviously the sample size is still small, but lefties have gotten on base and hit for power against Russell while righties are batting .096 against him and slugging just .120. A truly brutal April was followed by a solid May and excellent June. July has been less impressive. Still, the longest-tenured Cub figures to attract enough interest on the trade market to find a buyer. Russell is due roughly $730,000 for the rest of 2014 before standing to earn approximately $2.5 million in his final arbitration year in 2015.
Wesley Wright is the picture of a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out GuY), having fully made the transition back to the bullpen after the Astros attempted to give him starts earlier in his career (insert joke about the Astros misusing left-handed pitching talent here). His career numbers and 2014 numbers tell the same story. Over his career, he has a 2.81 FIP against lefties compared to 5.53 against righties; in 2014, he sports a miniscule 1.34 FIP against left-handers compared to a solid 3.80 against right-handers. He has been truly excellent against same-sided batters with a superb strikeout rate (10.80 K/9), tiny walk rate (1.80 BB/9), and he has yet to allow an extra-base hit to a lefty over 44 plate appearances this year. Wright has been charged with just one run since May 23 over 16 appearances. This is the kind of lefty that teams seek out in July to face Jason Heyward or Robinson Cano in the playoffs. A true specialist.
I'm going to break the mold of the series here because I can and it doesn't seem terribly appropriate to devote in-depth time to each team's system for middle-class relief pitching talent. Instead, I'll look at the teams most in need of bullpen help and throw out a name of interest.
Realistically, I would be surprised if Theo Epstein didn't work really hard to find a buyer for multiple pieces in order to extract a larger return, possibly using Luis Valbuena, Justin Ruggiano, or even Chris Coghlan in a combination deal to get a more viable prospect. For now, we'll stick to possibly interested teams for Wright and Russell.
As a final note before addressing the teams, the Angels would have been an excellent trade partner earlier this season, but their recent acquisitions of Joe Thatcher and Huston Street likely take them out of the running. Too bad: they hate prospects and we like them. That could have worked nicely. Onward...
It's no secret that the Tigers are looking to improve their still-shaky bullpen, and the failure of their left-handers is a big reason. Phil Coke has been solid against lefties but mediocre overall, 27-year-old rookie Blaine Hardy made his major-league debut last month, and Ian Krol has managed to produce an astounding -0.5 WAR despite pitching just 26.1 innings so far, even though he has a strong platoon split. Double-A reliever Jose Valdez could be an attractive target. Valdez has pitched in relief at every level as a professional, often with very high walk rates. But he doesn't get hit hard and he gets plenty of strikeouts to have a future.
The Braves are hardly in need of bullpen help: the quintet of Craig Kimbrel, Jordan Walden, Anthony Varvaro, Shae Simmons, and David Carpenter has produced an otherworldly 3.7 WAR thus far in 2014. However, Luis Avilan, their primary lefty reliever, was recently optioned to Triple-A and all five of the names listed above are right-handed. Wright would be a perfect fit for a team in an absolute dogfight for a playoff spot in the tight National League. High-A big righty reliever Alex Wilson doesn't come with much of a pedigree but he has been excellent in 2014 after reasonably productive years in 2013 and 2012.
Former starter Zach Britton has turned into a seriously effective reliever, but Britton has taken over closing duties, removing LOOGY possibilities from his plate. Fellow lefty and former top-five pick Brian Matusz has been terrible: decent against lefties, unplayable against righties. Wright would make a lot of sense in Baltimore as the Orioles load up for a big postseason run. Low-A third baseman Drew Dosch has shown excellent on-base skills as a professional, although he has no power projection or speed to speak of.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto's bullpen has been among the worst in baseball this year; their 3.99 FIP ranks just 27th overall. However, lefties Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil have been among their top relievers thus far, so they don't figure to pony up top dollar for Wright. Russell remains a possibility if the Jays are seeking an extra arm without regard to handedness. Righty Clinton Hollon, Toronto's second-round-pick in 2013, underwent Tommy John surgery in May. Despite his smaller frame and significantly underslot bonus, Hollon has a big fastball and would certainly be a worthwhile arm to add to the system.
The Brewers have parlayed big seasons from their star players into a strong playoff position, but their two best relievers -- Zach Duke and Will Smith -- have been lights out against lefties. They don't figure to be a good match. The Reds could line up with the Cubs as Manny Parra has been only good this year against lefties contrasted with Wright's dominance, but they might be skittish to send the Cubs talent again in a deal for a lefty reliever after the Sean Marshall experience. Finally, while the Giants make sense on paper, their second bullpen lefty -- Javier Lopez -- was just signed to a three-year, $13 million deal before the 2014 season, so he figures to receive every opportunity to fulfill his LOOGY role.
I imagine that these proposals didn't generate lots of excitement for most folks, but a trade represents the opportunity to add a talented kid to the system. Hard to pass that up. Would you go for any of these deals?