This has already been an active week leading up to next Tuesday’s trade deadline, with names like Hanley Ramirez, Ichiro Suzuki, Zack Greinke, and Ryan Dempster hogging the headlines. However, while the big names get all of the attention, there are going to be some under the radar moves made in the next four days that could provide significant upgrades for teams down the stretch. Here, we’ll take a look at four players who might not have the name value of the guys dominating the rumor mill, but could be impact pick-ups for teams in contention.
Yunel Escobar, SS, Toronto
Escobar hasn’t hit well for the Blue Jays this year, slumping to just a .250/.299/.342 line that adds up to just a .283 wOBA, but he could still be a Major upgrade for several teams in the race. His career history suggests that he’s got more offense in his bat than he’s shown the last few months, as his career line of .285/.357/.393 is actually quite good for a shortstop, and UZR has rated him as an above average defender at the position every year since 2008. A strong finish to the year is certainly possible, but even without a huge rebound, Escobar could still represent a vast improvement for both Bay Area teams. The Giants are currently leaning on Brandon Crawford and his .269 wOBA while the A’s have had to suffer through Cliff Pennington’s .245 mark.
ZIPS projects that Escobar will be worth +1.2 WAR over the remainder of the 2012 season, a full win better than the +0.2 WAR projection for Crawford and a half win improvement over what the system sees from Pennington down the stretch. He’s not just a rental, either, as he’s under contract for $5 million in 2013 and then any team acquiring him would hold team options for both 2014 and 2015 at that same $5 million salary, so Escobar could provide both a short term boost and an answer for the next several seasons at a position that isn’t easy to fill. While his reputation in Atlanta wasn’t the best, there simply aren’t many shortstop options available, and if Escobar hits like he has previously, he could be the bargain of the trade deadline.
Paul Maholm, SP, Chicago
While all the talk has centered around the Cubs dealing Ryan Dempster and/or Matt Garza, Maholm may actually be the value buy out of the Cubs starters. He doesn’t rack up strikeouts like his rotation mates (just 6.02 K/9), but his combination of strikes (2.38 BB/9) and groundballs (50.0% GB%) make him a very solid innings eater. He could be a perfect fit for a team like the White Sox that just need a solid league average pitcher at the back of their rotation to stabilize things for the final two months of the season.
Maholm isn’t a guy that you want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series, but he’s more than capable of giving a team six quality innings every fifth day, and shouldn’t require the same kind of commitment in terms of prospects as the more high profile arms on the market. That makes him a great fit for the White Sox, who don’t have many good prospects to trade to begin with, and the club option for 2013 at $6.5 million would give them insurance in case they don’t have confidence in John Danks returning to full health. Maholm would be a legitimate improvement over Phil Humber and give Chicago a better shot at keeping pace with Detroit, and Kenny Williams may be better off with Maholm than trying to outbid everyone else for Zack Greinke.
Oliver Perez, relief pitcher, Seattle
Yes, that Oliver Perez. The guy who was last seen walking 42 batters in 46 innings with the Mets has resurfaced as a left-handed reliever in Seattle, and looks nothing like the guy who earned the scorn of everyone in Queens. His fastball has averaged 93.8 MPH this year, up a staggering 5.8 MPH from his last season in New York. The average velocity has also brought a new found ability to throw strikes, as 72 percent of the pitches he’s thrown for the Mariners have been strikes — in 2010, that number was just 56 percent.
His track record means that buyers are going to be wary of paying too high a price to acquire Perez’s services, but it’s hard to argue that he’s the same guy he was earlier in his career. The command might not stick around, but in throwing 94 out of the bullpen from the left side, Perez has a chance to be a real weapon in relief for any contender, and the Rangers and Cardinals both showed how important bullpen depth can be in October. A team like the Braves — who don’t know what to expect from Jonny Venters — would be a good fit, though in reality, every team in the playoff race should be evaluating Perez before next Tuesday.
Chris Denorfia, Outfielder, San Diego
While the Padres disappointed potential suitors for Carlos Quentin when they re-signed him earlier in the week, there’s another outfielder in San Diego who could provide real value as a strong role player and should come at a much lower cost. The highly underrated Chris Denorfia is quietly having a very strong season, hitting .294/.356/.431 while splitting time between all three outfield positions. Like most Padres hitters, his offensive line is being dragged down by the offensive black hole known as Petco Park, as he’s hitting a spectacular .330/.375/.491 on the road.
He’s not going to hit that well in a new location, but Denorfia has over 1,100 big league plate appearances and a .331 wOBA that is 10 percent above league average, so it’s about time that he got a chance to show what he can do with increased playing time. At 31, he’s not young enough to be a long term solution, but he’s probably the best fourth outfielder in the game today, and could start for a handful of contenders with question marks in the outfield. Pittsburgh might be an ideal landing spot for Denorfia, as he wouldn’t cost them a vital part of their farm system and would give them depth behind newly recalled prospect Starling Marte, allowing them to have a necessary safety net who is already used to serving as a part-time player.