Buy or sell? Highlighting four teams still on the fence
In baseball, life on the fence is never going to be confused with a trip to the Great Wall of China -- or even to the Green Monster, for that matter.No, in baseball, life on the fence isn't exactly your ideal tourist destination this time of year. Not when another trading deadline is approaching. Not when your team can't decide if it's planning to turn into this year's Rockies or this year's version of the 2002 Orioles (63-63 through mid-August, 4-31 the rest of the way). To buy or sell at the deadline? That's the question of the week for quite a few teams out there. So let's take a look at four of those fence-sitters as they find themselves in the final week before the 2008 deadline:
BravesIn theory, by the end of this weekend -- after a week of dueling the Marlins and Phillies -- the Braves will know exactly whether they're in a race or out of one. But it seems as if the Braves have been stuck for weeks in what GM Frank Wren calls "that middle ground" between contention and oblivion. They're 19-26 since the end of May. They haven't even won more than three in a row since Memorial Day. So they look more and more like a team that's about to shake up Deadline Week by dealing away the best player on the market -- Mark Teixeira. If the Braves decide as soon as this weekend that it's sell-off time, clubs that have spoken with them got the impression they've already done enough groundwork to put together a Teixeira deal quickly. The question is: Who's buying? Every indication is that the Braves have at least touched base with the Rays, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels and Yankees on Teixeira. But Arizona appears to be the team to watch. The Diamondbacks quietly made a big run at Teixeira last July, and they're in just as serious need of some major thump now. An official of one club that spoke with the Diamondbacks describes them as having "definite interest." But while the Braves would love to wrest away Conor Jackson, it's tough to imagine Arizona dealing away a player it likes that much for two months of Teixeira. The Braves also have attracted massive interest in left-handed reliever Will Ohman. And they might be able to move Mark Kotsay, as well. Or they could get hot, reverse field and resume their pursuit of Xavier Nady, or some other professional right-handed bat. But if the Braves decide to go for it, they'd probably need to reel in a veteran starting pitcher, too. So however it breaks, they could have a busy week.
RockiesThis is a team that spends every other week playing itself into, and then out of, serious contention. But no matter which way the Rockies' roller coaster veers in the next few days, GM Dan O'Dowd says nobody should expect him to blow up his team just because it's been a disappointment. "We won't do that," O'Dowd told Rumblings, flatly. "And it has nothing to do with the standings." It has to do with the fact that the Rockies liked their team four months ago, like it now and have every key player except closer Brian Fuentes under control through next year. So while they'll deal Fuentes if they get the elite two-player package they're looking for, we're betting on Matt Holliday's sticking around until this winter, and maybe beyond. Indications are that the Phillies, Rays, Marlins, Angels, Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox all maintain some level of interest in Fuentes. But they've gotten down to specific name-swapping with only a couple of those teams -- believed to be the Marlins and Yankees -- and neither has made it past the shopping-list phase. O'Dowd continues to tell other teams that if they're not willing to cough up a top-of-the-line prospect and a secondary player, he'll happily hang onto Fuentes and take his two compensation picks. And that price hasn't wavered even a smidgeon. So an official of one interested team says: "I think their plan is to take him right to the deadline and see who blinks at the end." Those Holliday rumors notwithstanding, the only other Rockie who seems likely to call a moving van in the next week is center-field sprint champ Willy Taveras. With Todd Helton hurting, the Rockies no longer are marketing Garrett Atkins.
RangersUnbeknownst to most of North America, only two teams in the whole sport -- the Angels and Rays -- have a better record than the Rangers over the last three months (45-34). So GM Jon Daniels says: "I don't see us unloading the farm system to get into the rental market. I don't see us holding any sort of fire sale." But that doesn't mean the Rangers don't have some interesting pieces on their shelves. Step right up and make an offer for Vicente Padilla, Kevin Millwood, Hank Blalock, Marlon Byrd, Frank Catalanotto or Gerald Laird. Daniels would listen to anything that "makes sense." And to make sense, any offer would have to upgrade this team's rotation, at least for the long haul. So why are the Rangers willing to trade Padilla, their leading winner (11-5)? No, not because of dollars. And no, not because he's an astronaut, either. Because he's as talented as any pitcher on the market. So the Rangers are telling other clubs they're willing to deal him if they can get back a young starter they can plug into their rotation by next season, if not immediately. They've had only back-burner interest so far, from a group that's believed to include the Tigers and Yankees. But in one of the least-inspiring rotation markets ever, that could easily change in the next week. Incidentally, two pitchers the Rangers don't intend to deal, despite extensive interest, are relievers Eddie Guardado and Jamey Wright.
Blue JaysThe Blue Jays aren't going to win the AL East. They know that now. They'd even need a miracle to make a run at the wild card. They know that, too. But GM J.P. Ricciardi doesn't sound like a man ready to unleash a wrecking ball on his roster, even if it doesn't include a single player with 10 home runs this season. "We're not really sellers, because who are we going to sell?" Ricciardi says. "We like our team. We've underperformed. But we still like our team." So the only pre-deadline intrigue involving this club is what the heck will become of A.J. Burnett. He's eminently available. The Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals have checked in on him. But unless something changes fast, "I don't see us moving him," Ricciardi says. "I don't have any talks going on with anybody to move A.J. Burnett." The Phillies traded for Joe Blanton instead. The Yankees were told Toronto wouldn't trade Burnett within the division. And the Cardinals didn't match up on the two premium players the Jays are looking for -- and weren't that interested in the first place. So while Ricciardi is still listening, his phone isn't ringing -- not on Burnett, at least. There's some buzzing around Matt Stairs, David Eckstein and relievers Jason Frasor and Brian Tallet. And Gregg Zaun and Rod Barajas are all yours if you want them. But at this point, Ricciardi says, "I don't see us doing anything major." Interestingly, other clubs that have spoken with the Blue Jays say they'll talk about anybody. But when the conversation turns to, say, Roy Halladay, the conversation ends fast. "He likes it here," Ricciardi says. "He wants to win here. And he's signed for two more years. So if we trade him, we'd be giving up on the chance that we're going to be a good club in the next two years. And we don't feel that way."
Rumbling through the deadline jungle• The Buccos stop here: The Pirates are this year's winners of the Team Most Grumbled About Before the Deadline award. You name a contender. They've all made a run at somebody in the Pirates' display case (Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Damaso Marte, John Grabow, Jack Wilson). And all those clubs have come away complaining that the price tags are way out of line. For instance:
Mark Teixeira has had four seasons of at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs, and he's headed for a fifth. Only four other active switch-hitters have had more than one season like that. Can you name them? (Answer later.)
Around the horn• Mystery pitcher of the week: What do you do when your team finds itself 19 runs down in the eighth? Send a guy like Tony Pena Jr. to the mound, of course. That's what the Royals did Monday -- and Pena spun off a dazzling 1-2-3 inning, threw seven pitches clocked at 90 mph or faster and even struck out Pudge Rodriguez.