'Most likely to get traded' nominees
Buyers should include the following players on their pre-deadline shopping lists
There are six weeks left until the trading deadline, and the shoppers are out there. They're scribbling their lists. They have their carts.But here's their biggest problem: Where will be they be shopping? We've pretty firmly established that the Nationals aren't going to win the World Series. But only five other teams in the whole sport were more than six games under .500 after Wednesday night. And that's a deadline shopper's worst nightmare. "Some of these teams that are in it don't even want to be in it," said one AL executive. "I think they'd rather unload some guys and dump some money. But when you're a few games out, it's hard to explain that to your fans." So we'll do everybody a favor. We'll pick the sellers and leave them out of it. We took the nine teams at the bottom of ESPN.com's MLB Power Rankings. Then, with help from a group of front-office personnel around the game, we nominated the player on that team most likely to get traded. Get the picture? Now start making that shopping list.
There might be 18 players on this team who are available. And names like Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Joe Beimel are going to be just as prominent in the Rumor Central annals over the next six weeks as Nick Johnson. But Johnson makes the most sense. He's about to be a free agent. He doesn't fit in D.C. long term. He's still an on-base machine (.415 OBP, eighth in the NL). He hits left-handers (.333 average, .536 slugging percentage). And he's played in 20 postseason games, back in his Yankees incarnation. "They could move Dunn," said an executive of one team. "But the price would be way too astronomical to actually make a deal. And if they move Nick Johnson, they accomplish what they need to accomplish. They're better off putting Dunn at first base so they can play Willingham or other people in the outfield. And they're more likely to move Johnson than Willingham, because at least Willingham they can control."
We're reasonably confident the Orioles are going to trade at least one relief pitcher. The biggest question is whether it will be Baez or closer George Sherrill, or both. But one NL executive is skeptical that Baltimore's president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail, would move his closer right now, just because "his starting pitching is so young, that he'll want his pitchers, if they have a chance to get a win, to get that win." "So I'd trade Baez over Sherrill," said an official of another club. "He's throwing great, but he's still Danys Baez. You know he's not the answer to your long-term problems. He's a solid seventh-inning guy who's now pitching like an eighth-inning guy. So that's a guy you trade."
You can forget Brandon Webb. Trading him right now would make no sense. You can forget Dan Haren. Ditto. If this team deals anybody, it will be with an eye toward winning next year. So while Jon Rauch is eminently available, and we've heard speculation about Jon Garland, the Diamondbacks are much more likely to move their prospective free agents (Davis, Chad Tracy, Scott Schoeneweis) than anyone they can control beyond this year. Davis seems most likely to exit, said one exec, "because he's left-handed and breathing, and that means a lot." But he's also a guy who "has to be in the right ballpark, and he has to stay in the National League," said an official of another club. "He's a guy who could help a team like the Mets, for instance, because he wouldn't cost a ridiculous amount in talent and they could take the money."
Now that Jake Peavy's ankle has made him officially untradeable for now, it's amazing how little other teams are interested in what's on the Padres' shelves. Brian Giles? "Should get released," said one scout. Kevin Kouzmanoff? "Not sure how much he adds," said one exec. Chris Young? "Reasonable contract for a starting pitcher, and so perfect for their ballpark," said another. So almost by default, we're going with Meredith, who is eighth among all right-handed relievers in appearances over the past three seasons (179) and has a 1.23 ERA since May 14. "They need to be thinking where can they maximize their return? And I think this is the guy," said one NL executive. "He's more than a one-inning pitcher. He throws strikes. And his stuff's good. So I'd be interested. I know that."
Oh, it's possible the Royals could do something bigger than this. Mark Teahen? David DeJesus? Jose Guillen, if anybody would take him? You'll no doubt hear their names in the next month. But "they're in a hard position," said an official of one club, "because they're kind of going for it. They're over the rebuilding thing, at least in rhetoric. So I don't know how much they want to take a step back." But Mahay is one guy who might be exportable. He'll turn 38 this week. He can be a free agent this winter. And he "is on this damn list every year, it seems like," said one exec. The Royals balked at moving him last July, when they had him signed for another year. But unless they charge back into the thick of the race, this year should be a different story. And that 1.137 OPS by right-handed hitters against him is more excellent incentive to deal him.
Roy Oswalt? Forget it. We can't find anybody, on any team, who thinks Drayton McLane will sign off on dealing him. And if the Astros (just 6½ out in the NL Central, 5½ in the wild card) stay this close, "I don't know if the owner will deal anybody," said an official of one team. But if the Astros do any selling off -- and at this point that's still not likely -- it either figures to be on the Pudge Rodriguez front or in their bullpen, with either Hawkins or Jose Valverde moving on. "If they want to move LaTroy, I'm in," said an executive of one team doing bullpen-shopping. "He's better than he's been in a long time. He's fixed that little move with taking the ball out of his glove, and now he's got an unbroken rhythm, and tempo, and it's helped him. I like the fact he's still willing to make adjustments. And he'll take the ball."
The Pirates were the first team to start selling, with that Nate McLouth deal. And they'll have the most jam-packed display window you'll find down at the Deadline Mall. You can dabble in Wilson, Adam LaRoche, Ian Snell, John Grabow, maybe even Freddy Sanchez. But which of those guys is most likely to exit? Tough call. "They'd love to move Jack Wilson," said an official of one club. "But they've been trying to move him for months -- years, even. He's a good player, but he's not worth the contract he's got [for $7.25 million, plus a $200,000 bonus if he's traded, plus a $600,000 buyout for next year]. So if they want to get something in return, they should probably move the second baseman [Sanchez]." But can they at this point? As an executive of another club put it, "After trading one fan favorite [McLouth], I don't see them trading another guy like that. But there's really no logic in that. Once you make that [McLouth] trade, you're telling your fans you're not buying into 2009. So that's the path you've picked. Now you're stuck with it."
Can we pull the plug on the Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez rumors now? They're irreplaceable players, with affordable options for next year. So the Indians have no incentive to trade them, unless the payback is insane. That makes DeRosa far and away the best chip in town if they decide to sell. He's already up to 13 homers, 48 RBIs and 46 runs scored. And only six other players in the whole sport can match him in all three categories, none of them third basemen or second basemen. So Mark DeRosa gets more marketable by the minute. "This guy's a winner," said an executive of one of many interested teams. "He just has that presence of a winner out there. If somebody grabs this guy, he'll be a difference-maker down the stretch." Asked what position DeRosa ought to play -- second, third or left field -- the same exec laughed and replied: "All of them."
Saved the biggest name for last, just to see if you were still paying attention. Holliday hasn't put up the power numbers people expected. But he has hit .322, with a .452 on-base percentage, since May 12. So he'd still look better than just about any bat on the market. The A's continue to send signals that suggest they don't have to trade this man. But as an official of one club observed, "Didn't they trade for him with this in mind?" And of course, that's exactly why they traded for him, assuming he didn't propel them toward October. So if the A's don't make up significant ground in the next few weeks, he will be out there. After that, it will all be a matter of whether someone wants to meet the price tag. "A team like this, if it wants to be realistic, should really be saying it will get a sandwich pick and possibly a first-round pick [as compensation] if he leaves," said one exec, "instead of saying they'll get a first-round pick and a sandwich. I mean, it's not that hard to imagine that a team like the Braves would sign him and not have to give up its first-round pick [because of its place in the standings]. But that's not how he'll be priced. They'll want the equivalent of a first-rounder and a sandwich pick, and that's a lot. But I think they'll get it. You have a lot of teams that need bats this year, and not many to be had."
Ready to rumble• For starters: What's the one commodity you astute readers will notice was clearly missing on that July shopping list above? Unfortunately, it's difference-making starting pitching. Everybody wants it. But we hear more and more teams are resigning themselves to the possibility that there might be next to nobody available who fits that description. Peavy's ankle wipes him off this table. Roy Halladay was always a pipe dream. The Astros are making no noises whatsoever about dangling Oswalt. The Indians would have to be overwhelmed to move Lee. So who's left?
Pudge Rodriguez just set the all-time record for games caught Wednesday. But his six seasons of catching 130 games or more are only the third most among active catchers. Can you name the two who have caught more 130-game seasons than Pudge? (Answer later.)
"If he's healthy, [Erik] Bedard is the one guy people are going to wind up talking about," said an official of one club. "But if you make a deal for that guy, you're taking a big risk. He's a lot like Nick Johnson. You'd only trade for him to go for it. But you'd better hope he's there to go for it with. There might be too much injury risk there to really count on him."So given all that, Brad Penny -- who once looked like a back-burner option -- is starting to look better and better. Penny has a 4.94 ERA and an .833 opponent OPS. But he also has allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of his past nine starts, while beating the Rays, Jays, Twins, Yankees and Marlins. "If you look at all the inventory that might be available," said one scout, "he might be the best piece out there." "I think you have to dig past the raw numbers with him," said an AL executive. "I think people are a little wary because of his history with the Dodgers and the surface numbers. But this guy, in the National League, should help somebody."
LIST OF THE WEEK
It's time for the first updated leaderboard of the year in our own favorite personally invented run-support category: Criminally Unsupported Starts. This is kind of the run-support version of the quality start. Rather than figure that support on a per-nine-innings basis, this gives us a better feel for individual games in which a starter essentially gets no shot to win. To qualify, a pitcher needs to work at least six innings and have his team score no more than one run for him while he's in the game. Got that? Cool. Now here are your 2009 leaders (* -- record if pitcher won all his Criminally Unsupported Starts):
AMERICAN LEAGUE PITCHER CUS
Trevor Cahill 5 (in 14) 9-2 A.J. Burnett 5 (in 14) 10-1 Cliff Lee 5 (in 14) 9-2 Dallas Braden 5 (in 14) 10-1 Edwin Jackson 4 (in 14) 10-2 NATIONAL LEAGUE PITCHER CUS
Johan Santana 5 (in 13) 11-1 Roy Oswalt 5 (in 14) 8-1 Ryan Dempster 5 (in 14) 9-1 Paul Maholm 5 (in 13) 8-1 Mike Pelfrey 4 (in 12) 9-1 Joel Pineiro 4 (in 12) 9-3 Johnny Cueto 4 (in 13) 9-2 Dan Haren 4 (in 13) 9-0 Barry Zito 4 (in 13) 7-5 Jorge De La Rosa 4 (in 13) 6-5 Kevin Correia 4 (in 13) 7-4 John Lannan 4 (in 14) 7-5 Chris Young 4 (in 14) 8-4 Jair Jurrjens 4 (in 14) 9-1
• Anything to declare? Speaking of famous Boras clients, we devoted an entire column earlier this month to how Stephen Strasburg is likely to alter the draft. Now it's time to contemplate how America's favorite phenom, Bryce Harper, might do the same.If Harper really goes through with his plan to get a GED from high school and enroll this fall in junior college to become draft-eligible next June, you'll be amazed how fast people in the sport will press for a rule change we haven't heard talked about much. "This kid is the reason players should have to declare for the draft," said one front-office man. "A kid like this could go in, get drafted, say, 'No, I don't want to go there,' or, 'That's not enough,' and then do it again the next year, and the next. He could do it three times by the time he's 19. That's not how it works in the other sports. In basketball, you have to declare for the draft. Then, once you get past a certain date, there's no alternative and no going back to school. You're in. If this is the next loophole people are going to try to exploit in baseball, we're going to need the same type of rule."
• The Young and the deal-less: The Twins are out there hunting for bullpen depth and young middle infielders. It probably won't come as a shock that they're letting teams know the enigmatic Delmon Young is exceptionally available.• What's Brewing: Clubs that have spoken to the Brewers report they've been adamant in saying they won't talk about Mat Gamel or shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar, even for front-line pitching. And after that, said an official of one club they spoke with, "there's a pretty sizable falloff" to their next wave of potentially available prospects (Lorenzo Cain, Taylor Green, Caleb Gindl). That's one reason Hardy's name has started to show up on the rumor circuit. But with so little starting pitching worth pursuing, Milwaukee is another club that might not find the kind of pitching it's hunting for. • All Nicked up: You can add Texas to the list of teams interested in Nick Johnson, or some kind of left-handed bat who could play, or platoon at, first base. "They've got to send Chris Davis back [to the minors]," said one scout. "This kid has lost all feel for the strike zone. They can't let him keep going on a 250-strikeout pace. You can get him out anywhere in the strike zone right now." • Catch some Rays: The Rays are looking for bullpen arms. But clubs that have spoken with them report they can't take on any big-ticket salaries unless attendance picks up in the next six weeks. Then again, they're one of many teams that either can't or won't absorb anything more than a minimal payroll hit in any trade they make. • No deal: For all the talk about that Jeff Francoeur-for-Cody Ross deal proposed by the Braves recently, you'd have thought that trade almost happened. Word we're hearing is that Florida shot that one down faster than you can say "Same division." • Fish food: Clubs that have kicked the tires on Dan Uggla in Florida have been told this by the Marlins: "Get back to us in a month." • The not-so-big O: He has fewer extra-base hits than Joe Thurston. He has a lower slugging percentage than Anderson Hernandez. He has fewer home runs than Brendan Harris. And no, we're not talking about David Ortiz. We're talking about another fallen bopper who has somehow stayed off America's radar screen, Magglio Ordonez (.273 AVG./.343 SLG/2 HR/11 XBH).
But HOF president Jeff Idelson told Rumblings he believes the instructions to voters to consider "character, integrity and sportsmanship" are all the advice that's appropriate."Five years out and 15 years on [the ballot] gives voters the perspective of time and history to make a determination," Idelson said. "So the way a voter feels today may not be how he or she feels in five or 10 or 15 years, as this story plays out. The perspective of time is very important." Asked if the Hall has at least kicked around the idea of giving the steroid generation any sort of special treatment, Idelson replied: "Right now, we're comfortable with the rules of election. And we have great faith in the Baseball Writers' Association to make the right decisions, as they always have."
The Rumblings Scouting BureauIt's time once again to present more spectacular insights from America's foremost scouting minds:
Quotes of the week
Injuries of the week• Phillies reliever Scott Eyre strained a calf muscle running in from the bullpen to pitch, and wound up on the disabled list. • Royals reliever Kyle Farnsworth needed stitches on his nonpitching hand because he got scratched trying to break up a woof-off between his two bulldogs.
Headliner of the weekThis just in, from the June issue of our favorite Chicago parody publication, the Heckler:
CUBS INSTALL STEEL-PLATED GATORADE MACHINE
Late-nighter of the weekNot much baseball humor from the late-night talk-show hosts this week. So in weeks like this, for the foreseeable future, we'll be presenting selections from our "best of Jay Leno" files. This week's entry:
"The sequel to the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' opens next week. You watch
these movies and the pirates always win. You ever notice that?
You want to see the Pirates lose? Move to Pittsburgh."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
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