- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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It's still a little too early to tell you who's going to get traded this July. So here at Rumblings, we've aspired to do something much more useful.
We're going to tell you who can't possibly get traded -- because their contracts alone have made them untradable.
We polled a bunch of GMs and club officials this week. And they've helped us compile a list we know you've been waiting for -- The Five Most Untradable Contracts in Baseball.
Alfonso Soriano (five years, $90 million left*)
At least Soriano has started to remind a few people why the Cubs gave him this contract, with five home runs in his past five games and a .670 slugging percentage for the season. But it still didn't stop anyone we surveyed from placing him right at the top of this list.
Doesn't run anymore. Isn't a sure bet to catch routine fly balls. Doesn't even seem to understand what all the hubbub is about. And, if all that weren't enough, he has full trade-veto power. But it doesn't sound as if he'll have to worry about exercising that power anytime soon.
"I don't know any team that would even touch him," one AL executive said.
But the three words that say it all about this guy came from an NL exec. When we even mentioned Soriano's name, his first three words were: "Ay, ay, ayyyyyyy."
(* -- All contract figures are money remaining as of Opening Day.)
Vernon Wells (five years, $98.5 million left)
Wells is a class act and a stand-up guy. But even his character and his great start (eight home runs, .318 average, .387 OBP, .645 SLG) can't extricate him from this group. Why not? Two simple reasons: (1) Too many years. (2) Too many dollars. (Not to mention a total no-trade clause.)
Toronto Blue Jays
"He's just not a $19- or $20-million-a-year player," said an official of one AL club.
"They might be able to pay enough money where you'd think about it, if you only had to take 50 cents on the dollar," one GM said. "But you're still talking about five years. Most of us can take anybody for a year or two. But when it gets to three or four or five years left, wow."
Travis Hafner (three years, $40.25 million left)
It seemed like a swell idea at the time, but what a nightmare this contract has turned into.
You could see why the Indians once thought Hafner was worth his six years and $66.1 million. From 2004 to '06, he had the best on-base percentage (.419) and OPS (1.030) in the entire American League. And he and Albert Pujols were the only hitters in the sport with a .300 average, .400 OBP, .500 SLG and 100 RBIs in each of those years. Boy, those were the days.
The Indians signed him to a six-year deal the next summer. And in the four seasons since -- thanks to injuries and other stuff the powers that be never saw coming -- Hafner has a lower OPS (.788) than Kelly Shoppach or Luke Scott, and fewer home runs (48) than Marcus Thames or Jose Lopez.
"He'd be right behind Soriano for me," one exec said. "I just don't see any chance he'd be tradable."
Carlos Lee (three years, $55.5 million left)
El Caballo used to be a consistent enough run-producer that you could overlook his other issues. But not lately.
Want just a few of the ugly facts? Until his walk-off bomb Wednesday finally ejected him from the Zero Hero Club, he was homerless through his first 99 at-bats of this season. He also had a lower OPS (.495) than 13 pitchers with 10 or more at-bats. And over on the other side of the ball, FanGraphs ranks him last in the entire sport in UZR (ultimate zone rating) in left field. Other than that, though, he's having a sensational year.
He also has a full no-trade through the end of this season -- and no interest in waiving it. So the Astros couldn't unload him even if somebody wanted him. But that's irrelevant at this point. He'd be untradable even if he were tradable. Or something like that.
"He's in the wrong league," one NL executive said. "His body's breaking down. And he's making $18 million. So I think it's safe to say he's trending the wrong way."
Barry Zito (four years, $83 million left, or five years, $94M if option vests)
The last spot in our top 5 came down to a titanic battle between Zito and Alex Rios (five years, $61.2 million left). But Rios' contract didn't stop the White Sox from claiming him on waivers last year, so he slithered off this hook. And even though Zito has reinvented himself to the point that he's back to being a very useful member of the Giants' rotation, here's the problem:
San Francisco Giants
To teams on the outside, he's still not 20-million-bucks-a-year useful -- especially if they had to pay him through 2013 (or possibly 2014).
"He's better than he was," one GM said. "But it's such a huge commitment. I bet if he goes 17-5 this year, people still wouldn't want to make that deal."
Alex Rios (five years, $61.2M); Oliver Perez (two years, $24M); Carlos Zambrano (three years, $53.75M); Daisuke Matsuzaka (three years, $28M); Kosuke Fukudome (two years, $26.5M); Derek Lowe (three years, $45M).
Special citation: Kei Igawa (two years, $8 million left)
Of the 46 million disastrous dollars the Yankees have wasted on this guy, at least $42 million have already washed into their sewage system. So it isn't the amount of money remaining, per se, that makes Special Kei untradable.
It's just that he's doomed to spend two more years adding to his record as the all-time franchise wins leader in exotic Moosic, Pa., where the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees toil. Why? Because trading him would cost the Yankees even more money.
At least now, you see, Igawa doesn't count against their luxury-tax payroll because they were able to dump him off the 40-man roster. But if somebody actually wanted him (not that there's any indication of that), the Yankees would have to pay virtually his entire salary. And that would pull all those dollars back onto their luxury-tax bill, to the tune of a 40 percent tax on whatever they're paying.
In other words, one GM said, "They have huge incentive not to trade him, even if they could. So he's one of the all-time stuck-in-purgatory cases."
And if that's not enough to get him on Rumblings' official Most Untradable List, well, heck, what is?
Ready to Rumble
The Harper they come: With a month to go before the draft, the Bryce Harper negotiating hype is already mounting. And it goes kind of like this: Because Harper has "the most leverage ever," in the annals of draftable American-born amateurs, he'll be looking for more money than even the $15.067 million Stephen Strasburg got. Oh, really?
It's true that because Harper skipped his last two years of high school and went straight to junior college, he can in fact go back into the draft next year if he doesn't like his offers, and then the year after that, and even the year after that. All excellent strategy. Even if he doesn't get the money, he could at least challenge Mark Hendrickson's modern record for most times being drafted (six).
But given the current state of baseball labor affairs, how does that assure Harper that he'll get to hit the Strasburg Lottery in 2011, or '12, or points beyond?
"Two years from now," an official of one team predicted this week, "there will be a slotting system."
Well, not necessarily. The next labor talks will have something to say about that. But if it's clear by next summer that slotting is on the way, the 2011 draft class will be the most leverage-deprived group in history -- because if the top picks in that group threaten to go back into the draft, all they'd get the following year is the designated bonus money for their slot.
So if Harper and Scott Boras choose to play that leverage-roulette game this summer, that could turn out to be far riskier strategy than it might appear.
Seeking royalty: We've heard rumblings that the Royals started getting tire-kicking calls on the newly demoted Alex Gordon this week before he'd even played his first game in Omaha. But the Royals have told everyone who called that they have no interest in trading their onetime No. 1 phenom.
Kansas City Royals
For one thing, Gordon is still just 26 -- younger than David Freese or Will Venable. So if this guy were still in the big leagues, he'd be their second-youngest position player, behind only Billy Butler.
For another thing, the Royals have him under control through at least 2013. And by 2012, they project having Mike Moustakas at third, Eric Hosmer at first and Butler as their full-time DH. So if Gordon can adapt to playing left field, which figures to be his primary position at Omaha, he can still fit himself into their long-term puzzle.
But even if all that happens, is this guy ever going to be the player the Royals thought they were drafting when they took him No. 2 in the 2005 draft, ahead of Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman and Troy Tulowitzki? It's hard to find anyone who thinks so.
"Boy, if I were them," said an exec of one team, "I'd have no problem moving him if could get something for him. I just don't see where he's ever going to be 'that guy.' He's a left-center-field hitter who tries to pull everything. His bat is consistently late on good pitching."
Attention shoppers: Not that there's anyone of significance to trade for in the first week of May. But the Dodgers were making calls this week, trying to find starting pitching. The Royals and Phillies have let the world know they're bullpen hunters. And the Mariners and Braves are "two teams that would love to add a bat," one GM said.
Dunn deal: Seems as if Adam Dunn's contract status keeps coming up in this column. So here we go again.
According to one baseball man familiar with the Nationals' thinking, it's "likely" Dunn will be a National next year, but not so likely that any extension gets done before the end of the season. That would give the club the option of dealing Dunn before the trading deadline, then potentially signing him as a free agent after the season.
Incidentally, no matter how often you may hear that Dunn is an "American League kind of player," he has told people around the game he has zero interest in going to the American League.
Desert winds: Even though Brandon Webb is tentatively scheduled to throw off a mound for the first time next week, and even though Arizona has the worst bullpen ERA in baseball (6.43), clubs that have talked to the Diamondbacks say they're more interested in adding starting pitching than bullpen help.
The D-backs just picked up smokeballer Carlos Rosa from Kansas City, and they believe he can help them in the big leagues at some point. And they think they can get Juan Gutierrez and Bobby Howry straightened out. So they've been poking around for starters, without a whole lot of success.
But a month from now, once Miguel Montero gets healthy, they're expected to resume actively marketing Chris Snyder for a starting pitcher. And at least Snyder -- who ranks second among all NL catchers in homers (five) and extra-base hits (eight) -- has done nothing but rebuild his trade value in Montero's absence.
Boston Red Sox
Take the Mike: One longtime friend of Mike Lowell says that if the Red Sox resume their efforts to trade him, he'd love to wind up with the Twins or Angels. But would the Red Sox even be interested in trading him to two teams they could meet in October (if they can find a way to get there)?
If not, barring injuries, there might not be another contender in either league that will be shopping for a third baseman this summer. Lowell has a limited no-trade clause, but indications are that he'd waive it to join any team that could offer regular playing time.
Clause and effect: Ryan Howard may be adding a whole lot of guaranteed dollars to his net worth, but he's lost a bunch of incentive clauses.
After he finishes out the final two years of his current contract, Howard's new deal will no longer include Gold Glove, Silver Slugger or postseason award incentives. His only incentive clauses in the new contract would pay him $25,000 if he makes the All-Star team (down from $50,000), and $100,000 if he wins an MVP award (or $75,000 for second, $50,000 for third).
In Howard's last contract, there was a clause adding $1 million to his base salary if he got traded. In the new deal, that clause also disappears. But Howard can block a trade to about 10 teams -- a provision believed to be identical to the limited no-trade clause in Roy Halladay's extension. For this year only, Halladay retains the full no-trade the Blue Jays gave him in his last contract.
Phenom watch: Heading into the season, the Marlins appeared to have Mike Stanton, their 20-year-old long-ball machine, ticketed for at least half a season in the minor leagues. Now, we're hearing mounting buzz that he could show up in the big leagues as soon as this month.
It isn't every century that you see 20-year-olds obliterate Double-A pitching the way Stanton has (13 homers in 26 games, .337 average, .480 OBP, .821 SLG). He just finished a 10-day homestand in which he went 17-for-33 (.515) with nine homers, 20 RBIs and 14 runs scored. And after a series against the Mississippi Braves last weekend, Mississippi manager Phil Wellman told the Jacksonville Sun: "He looks like a 15-year-old playing on an 8-year-old's Little League team."
"If they [the Marlins] get him up to the big leagues now," one baseball man said, "you could have one of the greatest rookie-of-the-year races in the history of the National League, between him and [Jason] Heyward."
If the Marlins do call up Stanton, they'd be likely to install him in right field, move Cody Ross to center, and either split left field between Chris Coghlan and Cameron Maybin or send one of them down.
Future shock: If Stanton were to get called up before Memorial Day, the first reaction of many people in baseball would be shock. No, not that the Marlins were calling up a 20-year-old. That they would be willing to take a chance that Stanton could turn arbitration-eligible a year early (after 2012), as a "super-two" player. But hold those shock waves, says an official of another NL team.
"How do we know there will even be a 'super-two' rule three years from now?" he asked. "How do any of us know what the rules will be three years from now? Trying to predict something like that is ridiculous [when there will be a new labor deal in place by then]."
Chemistry majors: The difference between the 2010 and 2009 Mets isn't just the length of their disabled lists. It's also the very different vibe that surrounds the current edition.
"There's no question we've got 25 guys in here who are playing for each other," David Wright said. "There are no real cliques. Everybody kind of hangs out with everybody. And as corny and cheesy as that sounds, I think that translates on the field."
People around the Mets point back to the day in spring training that Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur rounded up virtually the entire roster to go watch the Olympic hockey gold-medal game. The bonding began that day. And while chemistry can only take you so far, it's a class that previous Mets teams clearly flunked.
"I think there's more of a conscious effort this year to go out there and have fun," Wright said. "Of course, it's hard to have fun when you're 20 games under .500 like we were last year. But I think it's just getting back to that ideal that we're playing a game for a living. That way, you don't get too caught up in treating this like a job. Go out there and smile, laugh, joke around.
"I think it started from day one this year. I mean, it was such a miserable time last year. And it had to do with a combination of losing, and guys getting hurt, and guys just going out there and not doing what they're supposed to do. I don't think it was really necessarily anything that needed to be said. I think we really just went out there, from the first day of spring training, and just tried to have fun -- and hopefully get a lot of wins."
Out of the blue: There's a starting rotation out there that has already had three different pitchers take no-hitters into the seventh inning this year. And it's not the Giants, Cardinals or Yankees.
It's those Roy Halladay-free Toronto Blue Jays, of course. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, they're the first team since the 1967 Orioles to have three different pitchers sustain no-hit bids that long before we even flipped the calendar to June.
Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil are the three Blue Jays to flirt with a no-hitter so far. And the fourth starter, Brandon Morrow, has taken a no-no into the sixth. So how good is this staff? Here's one scout's review:
"I see Romero as the guy who's going to emerge as their go-to guy to shut down a series," he said. "To me, there's almost a scary resemblance between him and vintage Johan [Santana]. His change has really developed. But he's got three other pitches to go to. With more experience, and a team that can catch the ball, he's got a chance to be an 18-20-game winner.
"Marcum's got the makeup of a front-end rotation guy. His stuff is a little below that. But he battles so well, I wouldn't bet against him. I've always liked Cecil. And Morrow doesn't have the feel of those other guys. But he's got quality stuff. It's a pretty impressive young group."
Octoberfest Dept.: The annual grumbling about long gaps between the end of the LCS and the start of the World Series has turned into a regular October tradition, right up there with Halloween masks and managerial firings. Well, we can almost guarantee there's more of that in store this fall.
Why, you ask? Because baseball has now added one more day between those two series -- for this year, at least.
That extra day turned out to be the downside of eliminating the off day between Games 4 and 5 of the LCS. It may mean the LCS is going to zip along faster. But it also means tacking on another idle day on the back end of the LCS -- because the World Series dates are etched in Fox's concrete.
Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters knew what it was getting into when it lobbied for this change. But faced with a choice between adding a day between series or keeping that artificial off day in the middle of the LCS, the committee correctly picked zapping the mid-series off day.
The good news is, this change affects only this year's postseason. Next year, the entire postseason schedule could be revamped.
We're hearing that Selig is determined to get the World Series over with before November in the future. So to make that happen, the commish and his committee are even willing to adjust the days the season starts and ends.
And our favorite development is that Selig is still lobbying hard for a Saturday afternoon game during the World Series, if he can get the TV honchos to go along with it. Stay tuned.
Make that pitch: The Mets have gone 12-5 since they won that famous 20-inning game in St. Louis. But at least one guy on their roster hasn't gotten over that game yet.
Jeff Francoeur was going to be the Mets' pitcher if that marathon reached the 21st inning. So not only is he teed off about going 0-for-7 that day. He's still stoked up that he never did get to make his long-awaited pitching debut.
"Before I'm done, one day I will pitch," Francoeur told Rumblings. "Even if it's my last game and I've got to convince the manager to let me do it, I will pitch. I promise."
And what will we see if he ever does get to the mound?
"Straight sinkers, at 92-93 [mph]," Francoeur reported. "I'll be trying to run every pitch in on people. I've got it perfected."
Meanwhile, Francoeur isn't just steamed about not pitching or getting a hit that day. He isn't real happy with all the abuse he took about it, either. Even his own father had to take a dig at him.
"I got back in, and my dad texted me," he said. "He left me a message and said: 'I'm sick and tired of watching you hit. All you did was make outs. So you'd better get in to pitch.' Gee, thanks, Dad. Appreciate the support."
The Rumblings Scouting Bureau
Once again this week, we check in with America's finest scouting minds:
• On Victor Martinez: "I think his defense has really taken away from his focus at the plate. He just looks frustrated, edgy, out of rhythm. And I think a lot of that comes from his defensive challenges."
• On Chris Coghlan: "One thing he's done that he didn't do last year was expand the strike zone. He's chasing pitches he didn't chase last year. And it's reflected in his strikeouts."
• On Mike Leake: "He really commands the fastball, and he's got a very late, live fastball. He's got that Greg Maddux drift-back pitch that he throws in to left-handers and breaks back, and that he'll run in on right-handers. And he doesn't have any fear. He's going to pitch in the big leagues for a long time. He might not ever throw hard enough to be great. But every team in baseball would like to have that guy in their rotation."
• On Joe Saunders: "For some reason, he's got more velocity and less command. His curveball has gotten a little longer, almost like he's not finishing off his pitches. He's throwing strikes, but they're good hitters' strikes, right over the middle of the plate."
Tweet of the Week
From comedian/"Late Show" quipster Matt Goldich (@MattGoldich):
"Yankees visited White House yesterday. Michelle got upset when A-Rod cut directly across the Rose Garden"
Quotes of the Week
• From Angels catcher Bobby Wilson (to the Los Angeles Times' Mike DiGiovanna), on the neurological tests he has undergone since his thunderous collision at the plate with Mark Teixeira: "They didn't find anything in my head. Just a hamster chasing a peanut."
• From A's pitcher/humorist Dallas Braden, after giving up six runs in four innings to the Rays: "Someone apparently didn't tell the Rays that BP [batting practice] was over when they took the cage off the field. They just kept hacking."
• From Tigers manager Jim Leyland, on the late, great Ernie Harwell: "I want to clap, not cry."
Late-Nighter of the Week
From Jay Leno, after the mad Taser attack in Philadelphia:
"Let me tell you: These cops are not fooling around anymore. They'll taser anyone on the field who doesn't belong there. So more bad news for the Dodgers."
Headline of the Week
Finally, this just in from our insane friends at sportspickle.com:
ZACK GREINKE TAKES THE LOSS
IN HIS FIRST CAREER PERFECT GAME
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest 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.
It's all about the money. That saying is never more true than when running down the list of the five most untradable contracts in baseball.