Big Unit remains the big prize

As the July 31 trading deadline approaches, there are a large number of teams looking to acquire players.

Originally Published: July 7, 2004
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

The two biggest names on the market -- Carlos Beltran and Freddy Garcia
-- changed teams before the calendar changed from June to July, but in a sense, the trading season is just now starting to crystallize.

A bit more than three weeks are left before the July 31 deadline, and things could be quiet for a while now as a number of teams want to reassess where they stand at the All-Star break.

The parity that exists in the National League may be a factor, too. Only four of the 16 teams in the National League have a losing record. While those four teams are the only ones definitely out of contention in the NL, it means fewer trading partners for teams looking to improve in the coming weeks.

Randy Johnson
The Angels could be the team that eventually acquires Randy Johnson.

In the American League, a couple of teams out of the running -- Cleveland and Tampa Bay -- are young teams in the middle of successful rebuilding programs. With an eye toward contending next year or 2006 at the latest, neither club has much in the way of veteran talent it would be willing to move.

Buyers? There are plenty. But it takes two to deal.

"I think you may have a number of teams facing some tough decisions in the final 10 days [of July],'' predicts one executive. "They're going to have to ask themselves: Do we have a legitimate shot at making the postseason? Some don't, but it's hard to send that signal to your fans. I suspect a number of teams won't decide they're sellers until just before the deadline, and you could see a flurry of last-minute trades.''

Until then, an early handicapping of who's willing to swap -- on both sides of the fence.

Sellers
Arizona: The Diamondbacks could be one of the most fascinating teams to watch, if only for the presence of Randy Johnson.

Teams calling to inquire about Johnson have been told they're wasting their time. But that won't stop the talk, since Johnson unquestionably would have the biggest impact of any player being mentioned.

This much is certain -- the D-Backs won't proceed without at least tacit approval from Johnson, who can veto any deal. Despite obvious interest from the Yankees and Red Sox, it's highly unlikely that Johnson would agree to a deal to an East Coast team. He's settled in Arizona and wouldn't relish the thought of spending the rest of this season, next spring training and all of 2005 away from home.

But the Angels represent an intriguing possibility, if only for their relative proximity, owner Arte Moreno's ties to Phoenix and their need for another starting pitcher.

Colorado: Make them an offer. Outfielder Preston Wilson is more than available. Larry Walker would be, too, except Walker has vetoed past deals and, given his physical limitations, would probably attract only AL teams who could use him as a DH.

Starter Jason Jennings might be had -- Boston showed an interest earlier this summer.

Pittsburgh: The Pirates finally lost on Tuesday, snapping their 10-game winning streak. But their recent winning ways hasn't changed anything. They still have five teams ahead of them in their own division.

For the time being, the Pirates have the best available starter in Kris Benson, who, according to some scouts, is throwing better than anytime since his elbow surgery.

Pittsburgh GM Dave Littlefield was in the same situation a year ago when he marketed Jeff Suppan. This time, Benson's salary is higher, but then, so is his upside.

Montreal: As usual, the Expos are in a precarious position. Sure, they have some players who interest teams, but their status as a franchise-in-limbo makes it impossible to forecast what they'll do -- or not do.

This is no ordinary small-market selloff. Remember, the Expos are going to be sold and moved, so the incoming owners won't want to inherit a no-name roster.

Depending on what message is sent by MLB, the Expos could sit tight with the worst record in baseball, or they could move shortstop Orlando Cabrera (a potential free agent) and/or starter Tony Armas (arbitration-eligible).

Seattle: This team got old seemingly overnight, and the trading of Garcia can be seen as the first step toward a rebuilding effort.

Seattle ownership, wary of alienating its fan base, won't want to create the impression of a total fire sale. That said, the Mariners would be perfectly happy for others to take the likes of John Olerud and Rich Aurilia off their hands.

Jamie Moyer is the object of some contenders' desires, but he, too, would most likely veto any trade.

Kansas City: With Beltran already dealt, GM Allard Baird's biggest trade has already been made.

Mike Sweeney has value, but Baird is said to be reluctant to move the player who has become the face of the franchise -- especially one who made a commitment to stay in Kansas City when the franchise had bottomed out.

Third baseman Joe Randa could help some teams.

Toronto: The Blue Jays have played a little better of late, but are under no delusions about '04.

Carlos Delgado interests the Dodgers and Red Sox somewhat, but he first needs to get healthy. Plus, Delgado has a no-trade clause and, comfortable in Toronto, would be likely to invoke it.

Outfielder Frank Catalanotto is a possibility, but don't look for GM J.P. Ricciardi to deal the two players who would attract the most attention -- pitchers Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista.

Buyers
New York Yankees: What's the trading deadine without the Yankees being involved?

With the uncertainty surrounding Kevin Brown's physical well-being and the general puzzle that is Jose Contreras, the Yanks could use another starter. Moyer interests them -- this is the rare Yankee team without a left-handed starter.

GM Brian Cashman has become adept at blocking deals that could help rivals, so they'll watch with interest at whatever the Red Sox attempt to do.

Boston: This is another club that could do either a lot or a little, depending on what happens in the next few weeks.

Ideally, the Red Sox would like some help at first base or perhaps the rotation. But if they don't pull out of their nose dive, a lot more could be put on the table, including, conceivably, Nomar Garciaparra. They'd love to find someone to take Derek Lowe -- San Diego? -- but Lowe's value is at an all-time low.

Minnesota: After division rival Chicago landed Garcia, the Twins would like to counter, perhaps by getting a pitcher of their own. But as always with the Twins, money will be a factor. How much -- if any -- will owner Carl Pohlad approve to be added to the payroll?

The Twins face a winter in which a number of their players will become expensive arbitration cases, so they could look at this as the last chance to take a shot at a title. If they become players, they have as much in the way of young talent as any team to offer in a trade.

Chicago White Sox: After landing Garcia -- then locking him up for three years on Tuesday -- the White Sox aren't necessarily through trading. They'd like additional pitching, either in the rotation or set-up help.

The Garcia deal cost them their top prospect (Jeremy Reed), but there's more where he came from him. Don't underestimate the energy and resourcefulness of GM Kenny Williams.

Oakland: It's a rite of mid-summer -- the A's always do something. It's doubtful this year will be any different, even though GM Billy Beane felt compelled to address his closer situation by acquiring Octavio Dotel in the three-way trade with Houston and Kansas City.

What else do they need? Well, another bat would be welcome, preferably in the outfield.

Anaheim: The Angels are in the unique position of trying to both sell and buy pitchers. Ramon Ortiz can be had, but given the, ahem, huge disappointment that is Bartolo Colon, they still lack a legitimate No. 1 starter.

Unless Johnson changes his mind, that's unlikely to change. But that won't stop Moreno from trying.

Florida: The defending world champions need some offense. Through Tuesday, the Marlins are 13th in the NL in runs scored. What's more, they might be willing to move some pitching (Brad Penny? Carl Pavano?) to get a bat.

They've had some internal discussions about Nomar Garciaparra, but things would have to really bottom out in Boston for that to advance much.

Philadelphia: Until they figure out the enigmatic Marlon Byrd, the Phillies continue to search for a center fielder. Wilson is available from the Rockies, but that would be adding another big strikeout guy to a lineup that already has too many (Jim Thome, Pat Burrell).

An experienced starter would help the mostly young starting rotation, too.

St. Louis: As was the case last year, the Cards might field the best everyday lineup in the NL, but could use some pitching reinforcements. Payroll is again a factor, but the Cardinals' great first-half could motivate ownership to free up some money to make themselves the favorite in the wide-open NL Central.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have quantity, but do they have enough quality in the bullpen? They lack a proven trustworthy closer, but probably won't find one -- unless the Mariners want to talk about trading Eddie Guardado.

San Diego: For a team involved in a number of rumors (Beltran, Jason Kendall), the Padres have been quiet so far. They could use another veteran starter. It's generally accepted that they'll end up with Steve Finley -- who can veto a deal -- before it's all said and done.

Randa is another distinct possibility.

San Francisco: Like his counterpart across the Bay, GM Brian Sabean is among the shrewdest deadline dealers. The Giants could surely use another impact starter to go with Jason Schmidt. Reuniting Schmidt with his former teammate Benson is a possibility.

Los Angeles: At the beginning of the season, it seemed the Dodgers had pitching to spare. But that was before Hideo Nomo struggled mightily and Edwin Jackson developed elbow problems.

Offense, too, remains an issue, as the Dodgers are second-to-last in the league in runs scored. They had an interest in Carlos Delgado, now off the disabled list, but he's not expected to waive his no-trade. They, too, would seem a logical landing point for Garciaparra, if the shortstop goes on the block.

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