Up next in our trade candidate series is none other than Scott Downs. Yeah, I know, we are already out of "sexy" trade pieces to talk about. But just because Downs isn't a household name doesn't mean he won't have some usefulness when the trade deadline rolls around.
It is easy to see why Downs could be an attractive trade target. He is a proven veteran who has a lengthy career of pitching successfully in high leverage situations, even closing a little bit if that sort of thing matters to you. Sure, he's 37 years old, but he is still highly effective with his 1.93 ERA and .186 wOBA allowed against left-handed batting this season. He has been vulnerable to righties in the small sample that is 2013, but he has been able to hold his own in previous seasons. There isn't a single contender out there who doesn't need a pitcher like Scott Downs.
It is even easier to see why the Angels would be willing to let Downs go via trade. First and foremost, he is a free agent at the end of the season, assuming he doesn't retire. With the way Jerry Dipoto has gone about building his bullpen, it is highly unlikely that he would make a strong effort to re-sign Downs. Getting something for him now when the Angels don't really need him seeing how they aren't contending rather than losing him for nothing in the winter is just common sense. It would leave the Halos without a southpaw in the pen until Sean Burnett gets healthy, but that isn't a big concern for a team not fighting for a playoff spot. It also helps that the Angels have a better idea than most that Downs hasn't looked nearly as good as his numbers suggest. Anyone who has seen him pitch can tell you he isn't nearly as sharp as he was earlier in his Angel career when he was arguably the best setup man in baseball. Cashing out on him early in July would seem prudent lest the interested teams get too good of a look at him and realize he is a shell of his former self.
Great. Grand. Wonderful. Let's get a deal done! Right?
Well, maybe not. It sounds like the planets have aligned for a Downs trade, but recent history suggests that moving Downs may not be as sure a bet as one might think.
You see, my whole plan for this article was to look back at recent trade deadline deals to find comparable deals involving left-handed relievers to get a feel for what kind of return Downs could fetch. The problem is that there really hasn't been any of those deals in recent years, which is quite odd considering the age of bullpen specialization we live in.
For some reason, nobody is making trades for southpaw relievers at the deadline, at least not good one. A few guys who are basically just warm bodies have been traded and there have been some better guys, moved like Randy Choate, but they were part of a bigger overall trade package. That either bodes extremely well for the Angels or extremely poorly.
One possibility for this is that teams have been overvaluing their LOOGY relievers and asking too much for them. In that case, the Angels could fall victim to the same trap if they don't set a proper price tag on Downs.
Or maybe there just isn't demand for a lefty specialist since almost every team already has their designated lefty in the pen already. Downs is probably better than most of those guys, but that makes him more of a luxury item than a necessity. In this era of prospect hoarding, most teams don't pay for luxuries unless they can get it at a steep discount.
More likely though is that this will boil down to a simple case of supply and demand. In this particular market, things are shaping up nicely for the Angels. As of today, Downs figures to be joined in the market by the likes of Glen Perkins, James Russell, Charlie Furbush and Matt Thornton. That sounds like a flooded market, which it is, but it also creates a niche market for Downs. Unlike those other guys, he isn't a "proven closer" like Perkins and isn't under team control after this season, thus inflating his value. That leaves him and Thornton as the best rental options for teams looking to make an impact move in the bullpen, but without paying through the nose to do it. Downs then would be the clearly preferable option since Thornton is struggling this season and dealing with elbow issues.
That gives Dipoto a chance to position as a cheap alternative for teams to consider once they come to the realization that Perkins and Russell are going to cost them top dollar. The Angels, theoretically, could then get a solid return of a B-/C+ prospect for Downs. That isn't going to rebuild their farm system overnight, but every asset counts when you have a prospect pipeline as dry as the one the Halos have.