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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Clubs with pitching looking to sell high

By Sean McAdam
Special to ESPN.com

"No one's going to give you pitching. You have to grow your own."

-- Hank Steinbrenner


Beg to differ, Hank.

While it's true, technically, that no one is going to give you pitching, you sure can trade for it. And this winter, the pitching being offered is of surprisingly good quality.

Scott Kazmir
Rays lefty Scott Kazmir went 13-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 2007.
If the price is right, in fact, you can land a 29-year-old two-time Cy Young Award-winner. Or a 26-year-old lefty who led American League starters in strikeouts per nine innings. Or a 24-year-old lefty who has had double-digit win seasons in each of his first three full years in the big leagues.

Executives at the general managers' meetings earlier this month heard enough to convince them that, among others, Johan Santana, Erik Bedard and Scott Kazmir all could be had -- for the right price.

Some were skeptical.

"That's like the guy who says he's going to buy a Mercedes -- until he sees the sticker price," one GM said. "I guess they're available. But I'll believe it when I see it. I know this: If anyone does trade for them, it will be [for a] king's ransom."

Still, talk persists that some high-grade arms can be had. That, in itself, is unusual. Beyond salary dumps for aging and expensive pitchers (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Livan Hernandez), movement has been decidedly slow the past five years. The Red Sox's acquisition of Josh Beckett after the 2005 season stands as one of the very few exceptions to the rule.

This offseason, however, teams are being driven to the trade market by an especially thin free-agent class. When the best free-agent starters are Kyle Lohse (63-74 lifetime) and Carlos Silva (55-46), teams are resigned to find mound help elsewhere.

"It's definitely a seller's market," another general manager said. "There are no prime free agents. Instead of giving Carlos Silva $50 million over five years, you can try to deal for someone far better. Think about it: The well's dry on the free-agent market. If you want to make yourself better, you have to do something else."

As always, two factors -- economics and competitiveness -- factor into the equation.

The Twins intend to sit down soon with Peter Greenberg, Santana's agent, and determine Santana's asking price for a contract extension past 2008.

"I'm betting," a major league executive said, "that that number starts with a '2' [20 million annually]."

If the number is beyond the Twins' financial reach, they'll have three options: deal Santana now; deal him at the trading deadline in July; keep him and take the compensation when he leaves next winter.

Each scenario is fraught with potential obstacles. As the Twins prepare to move into a publicly financed ballpark in 2009, it would be bad form to deal off Santana just as teammate Torii Hunter -- a current free agent -- exits the Twin Cities.

If they hold onto him and they don't win in 2008, they'll have missed an opportunity to get a big package of young, controllable talent around which they can rebuild.

And if they wait to deal him in July, his value will dip, since he'll be only a two-month rental.

It's more of the same in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, where Bedard and Kazmir could form the foundations of winning staffs -- or merely be very good pitchers on competitive teams if the surrounding casts can't be upgraded.

In the case of the Rays, there's economics to worry about. Kazmir will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, and although he won't be eligible for free agency until after 2010, he will become increasingly expensive the next three seasons.

For a team with a projected payroll of about $35 million next year, that's no small factor.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are in full rebuilding mode and would love to move veterans Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora to speed up the process. They might not be actively looking to deal Bedard, but with 10 consecutive losing seasons and a new management team in place, they have to examine everything -- Bedard included.

It's a good time to be a seller because you can probably hold some teams up.

-- An AL talent evaluator

As valuable as young frontline starters are, some believe they are being made available because of baseball's over-infatuation with prospects.

"I've never seen a time in this game when kids in Baseball America are more valuable than guys who win at the big league level," one baseball executive complained. "It's great to have good prospects, but have we forgotten it's whether you win that is most important? When you talk to other teams about young pitching, it's like you're talking about their child.

"Young players are great because they allow you to dream. But I think we've lost some perspective here."

A number of general managers believe the availability of Santana, Bedard and Kazmir is little more than a trap set to ensnare desperate big-market teams. A team like the Mets -- with a hugely disappointing finish to 2007, high fan expectations and obvious pitching needs -- could be baited into meeting an outrageous asking price.

"I think the [free-agent] market is such a joke that teams are saying, 'If I can exploit some of these teams ...'" one AL talent evaluator said. "They're just being opportunistic. It's a good time to be a seller because you can probably hold some teams up."

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.