Saturday, July 28, 2007

Annual Trade Deadline Countdown

Speculation, rumors, buyers and sellers, insider information, media types contriving situations only conceivable in the imagination – may sound like your average down on Wall Street, but it’s the annual prelude to the baseball trading deadline. Several in baseball personnel continue to predict 2007 will be the slowest year to date, with few difference making players available, and contending teams unwillingly to part with high prospects for rental players. The pattern of holding onto prospects, sometimes overvaluing, has been building over the past few years as the value of young, impact players earning bound to relatively low salaries has skyrocketed in the age of escalating free agent salaries.

Listen and read enough, and it seems half the players in the league are involved with trade rumors. 14 teams should realistically be buyers and only some will execute a trade. Unless a borderline team, like Minnesota or St. Louis, with an outside chance to reach the playoffs, wants to become the 2004 Mets, they should face reality and look toward next year. These teams, smartly managed for the most part, are unlikely to make a Scott Kazmir-esque mistake, and both may sell an ancillary piece if things continue spiraling down over the next few days. I stress ancillary piece. Forget Torri Hunter, or god forbid, Johan Santana. Minnesota must try to resign both, if only to save face publicly.

Mark Texeira is the biggest name out there, and all indications are he is heading to Atlanta for a trio of highly touted prospects, headlined by switch-hitting catcher Jared Saltalamacchia. Texeira is the only formidable bat available, with a few big failures in his short tenure, Texas GM Jon Daniels needs to move Texeira before he walks and get good value or he is staring at unemployment. Atlanta can use a power bat to pick up the slack with Andruw Jones struggling, plus the Braves have a dearth of young talent to deal. The pieces all fit here. With the Mets staggering along in first in the NL East, an impact move by either Philly or Atlanta may provide the statistical and emotional lift to catch the Mets. While many other teams have floated in the Texeira rumor mill, the Angels are the only sensible fit. LA’s recent track record is holding onto prospects, which is backfiring since none have developed into formidable contributors yet. Casey Kotchman holds better long term value than Texeira anyway.

Most teams subscribe to the old axiom, good pitching beats good hitting, and covet bullpen help. Almost every contender, particularly Detroit, Cleveland, both NY teams, and Atlanta, can really use middle relief help. All indications are Octavio Dotel and Eric Gagne is likely to go, while rumors surround the entire Astros bullpen but at most only one member will get dealt. The Yankees are playing both sides, looking to acquire while simultaneously shopping both Kyle Farnsworth and Scott Proctor. Farnsworth to Detroit makes sense on many levels, except the Yankees are directly competing with the Tigers in the AL. The unwritten rule never to help the competition went out the window when San Diego traded Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee earlier this week, so maybe the Yanks do cut their losses and deal Fransworth to Detroit. It appears the Bombers biggest pitching acquisitions will come from Triple-A Scranton, in the form of super prospects Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Gagne to Cleveland makes the most sense. He wants to close games; the Tribe have an unstable closer situation, and hear the footsteps of the Yankee stampede behind them. The Royals have no excuse for keeping Dotel, with a contending team at least two to three years away. I think Dotel is a nice consolation for Cleveland or Detroit, if they cannot land Gagne, or his bullpen mate, Akinori Otsuka.

One under the radar rumor involves Chad Cordero to the Mets. Cordero would provide a major upgrade to a struggling Mets middle relief core that recently saw Joe Smith returned to Triple-A, and only has one reliable contributor, Pedro Feliciano, at this point. Cordero immediately vaults the Mets bullpen to a formidable level, required to succeed in the playoffs.

In Houston, Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls, continually show up in rumors. Each has struggled at times this season, sparking trade speculation, while each has pitched lights out for stretches fueling the theory that Houston will hold onto each, keeping the bullpen in tact for a run next year. Lidge appears to have rediscovered his dominant stuff the past month, returning to the closer role, lowering his season ERA below two and posting over a K/IP. In other words, forget about him. Qualls or Wheeler is there for the taking, but both are available since neither has pitched great.

Watch out for Atlanta in the reliever sweepstakes. The Braves desperately need relief help, after losing setup man Mike Gonzalez to season ending surgery in May, and watching Bob Wickman continually blow late inning leads to the tune of a 7+ July ERA. With all the holes Atlanta needs to plug, give credit to Bobby Cox for holding the ship together, keeping the Braves very much within striking distance.

Just as many contenders need starting pitching, but it is simply not available. The White Sox continue offering everyone, outside of Mark Buerhle and John Danks. All reports are Jose Contreras is a shell of his former self, and the numbers supports that theory, 5-13 record with a 6.22 ERA. Is that really going to help anyone? Javier Vazquez and Jon Garland are better options, until you hear Kenny Williams’ asking price. The Braves, surprise, can really use a veteran fourth starter behind Smoltz, Hudson, and James, while both the Mets, counting on Pedro Martinez returning in August, and Cleveland, will likely fill their needs from within.

The past two years, starting pitcher trade rumors and Dontrelle Willis go hand in hand. I feel the allure comes from his track record, his age, his larger than life persona, and his team’s willingness to deal, more than his value. Willis’ numbers have clearly declined since his 22-win 2005 season. The Marlins missed the opportunity to get maximum trade value, but some team desperate for pitching, blind to reality, may still ante up. Every day Florida holds onto Willis his value declines. D-Train to the Mets rumors have persisted for almost two years, now may be the team. The Mets need a shot in the arm, and pitching stability. Willis provides both. He may not be an elite pitcher, or a staff ace, but he will take the ball every fifth day, give the team a chance to win, and provide life to the clubhouse. With El Duque always on the brink of a missed start, Tom Glavine getting hammered two of every three starts in his slow pursuit of 300 wins, and the great unknown in Pedro Martinez returning from major surgery that often leads to setbacks, the Mets can use a known quantity. More important, the clubhouse intermittently turmoil laden clubhouse needs a good spirited character to reunite the team.

Offensively, the Mets are actively pursuing 2B help after losing Jose Valentin earlier this week, but I feel they can use a big OF stick. Consider Shawn Green’s awful numbers since returning from injury, the likelihood Moises Alou stays healthy for more than a week, not to mention Ramon Castro hit fifth this afternoon, and the Mets really need bat. Jermaine Dye anyone. Unfortunately, all indications are Omar Minaya is counting on Alou and Pedro to be major contributors. Not exactly making Met fans feel warm and fuzzy. After multiple poor offseason trades (see Guillermo Mota, Brian Bannister for Ambrioux Bourgous, and Heath Bell for Ben Johnson), Minaya needs to make amends for a team expected to win now.

While the big name hitter is not available, outside of Texeira, some teams can use a serviceable hitter to add punch to the lineup, notably San Diego and the Angels. The Padres waiver acquisition of Milton Bradley already paid dividends, with late game clutch hits, and some much needed pop. Mike Piazza is a nice fit for LA, at a low cost. The Rays are dangling Ty Wigginton out there. A 20-plus homer threat, able to play almost every position, Wigginton can help any team with offensive needs, if only the Mets could reverse that Kris Benson trade, but Wigginton has no place on the Yankees, the team most associated with him. With Giambi possibly returning, Andy Phillips hitting well, and Torre already struggling to get everyone into the lineup, Wigginton would replace Miguel Cairo as the utility infield backup, hardly his optimum role. Cashman Wigginton will not solve the Yanks problems.

Arizona is interesting to watch. Only a week ago rumors circulated that Livan Hernandez was on the market, what a difference a week makes. Back surgery shelves Randy Johnson for the season, and eight straight wins propel the D-Backs within .5 games of first place LA. Now, Hernandez and Eric Byrnes will stay put, and Arizona may become buyers. The D-Backs sorely need a veteran to provide leadership, and solidify the young team. Do not expect Arizona to mortgage any of those young studs though.

The next three days should be interesting. New players may surface at the last minute, while teams can decide to cash in their chips for the season and trade away big names. The deadline may turn out like your average Hollywood film, more hype than substance, but GM’s can tilt a few divisional races with deadline moves. Every NL division is there for the taking, a deadline lift could determine the winners.


Post a Comment

<< Home