Posted by: mdegeorge | July 23, 2010

Your MLB trade deadline primer

Parity reigned as it rarely has in the Majors at the All-Star break. None of the Big’s six divisions were led by a margin of over 4.5 games, the first time things have been so tight in the last two decades.

But despite the proximity of an unusually high volume of teams to division leads, there’s still a distinct delineation between the contenders and the pretenders, the buyers and the sellers.

That means there are a wealth of on the trading block—some of whose markets have just opened up over the last week—just over a week away from the trade deadline. So here’s what you could expect from the next week of horse trading:

Infielders

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The market is thin, leaving little recourse for teams like the Red Sox and Cardinals fighting injuries. The Marlins have the most to offer, and a losing weekend against the Braves followed by a bumpy start to their West Coast swing could transform them into sellers. Dan Uggla is up for salary arbitration after this season and Jorge Cantu is in the final year of his deal. The market probably would be more substantial for Cantu, who looks like the more logical renting option for a team that wants a DH or first baseman who can also play some third. Meanwhile, the Marlins’ three-year effort to trade Uggla seems to be faltering. The only other major middle infielder who’s been talked about has been the Indians’ Jhonny Peralta in what seems like phase seven of their perpetual rebuilding process. The Yankees have shown some interest in Peralta, who has a club option for next season but looks too expensive for the Indians as they rapidly shed payroll. Other options include Ty Wigginton, journeyman Wes Helms, the pricey Christian Guzman, and frequent misfit Adam Kennedy.

The market for first basemen is more extensive, with a few big names possible, though unlikely, to change homes. Adrian Gonzalez is obviously staying put for the NL West leading Padres, but the love affair between Prince Fielder and Milwaukee appears to be coming to a close. He’s up for his final arbitration in the offseason, and will certainly be out of Milwaukee by this time next year. But Fielder could be the deadline blockbuster this year…if the Brewers can find a suitor. The White Sox are the only team to emerge as a legitimate contender for him, but there’s plenty of distance between the sides.

The final two names seem like regulars on the trading block this time of year. Lance Berkman, mired with the Astros in their fifth straight season without postseason baseball, would be a guaranteed mover in Drayton McLane’s rebuilding project were it not for his nagging injury concerns. Adam Dunn may finally get the move to the American League his deteriorating defense has so long begged for with contenders like the Angels, Tigers, and White Sox looking for offensive potency.

Outfielders

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There could be some major moves in the outfield if everything falls into place. The Brewers could jump start the carousel if a move for Corey Hart surprisingly materializes. Like Fielder, he’s got one year of arbitration left and could be part of the exodus from Milwaukee, though the market for Hart is even cooler than for Fielder. Carlos Lee, despite his rapidly declining skills, could be available for anyone willing to pay him $38 million over the next two years. The only way the Astros can swing the deal would be to swallow a large part of that contract, reducing their return of prospects. Look for them to sit on Lee for now and try to offload him in the offseason.

There’s also the potential shakeup in Philadelphia. The team that has been dreadful offensively and just dismissed hitting coach Milt Thompson. They might be able to cut their losses with Raul Ibanez, trying to free up the over $12 million plus he is due next season to throw at free agent-to-be Jayson Werth. Or, if the Phils feel they can’t ink Werth at season’s end, they may look to move him as part of a deal for Roy Oswalt.

Beyond the marquee names, there should be a few bench guys available too. Jose Bautista looks like a buy low, sell high guy in Toronto who can give depth to a contender. Jeff Francouer looks like the odd man out for the Mets now that Carlos Beltran is back. Kosuke Fukudome may be the first item on the Cubs’ firesale page on eBay. And other names, like Cody Ross, Jose Guillen, and Gary Matthews, Jr. (for whatever he’s still worth) could also be out there to be had.

Starting pitchers

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The starting pitching tanks are stocked with plenty of big fish. Roy Oswalt’s obviously the biggest name, and it looks like the Phillies and Cardinals are the only two in the running for his services. The Cardinals are his preferred destination, but with Kyle Lohse still on the books for another two years, Matt Holliday’s monster contract, and big paydays ahead for Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, and that Pujols guy (and hopefully the final contract of Chris Carpenter’s career), it’s difficult to imagine how the Cards will pay Oswalt the $23 million he’s owed over the next year and a half, which is a deal breaker for the Astros’ righty. But they have the young arms and a surplus of outfield talent, though both sides are probably reticent to wheel and deal within the division.

The market has also suddenly opened up for Dan Haren, who apparently wants out of the desert as much as Arizona wants to start rebuilding its staff. The Yankees are apparently first in line for his services, though I wonder what his thoughts on returning to St. Louis, the club drafted him and sent him to Oakland for Mark Mulder, would be, though the Cards are now thought to be out of the running. Zack Greinke is also rumored to be available, but I would assume it would take a killer package for the Royals to pull the trigger and risk the 1200 people who still care from burning down Kauffman Stadium (though I suspect few would notice).

Beyond the two perennial Cy Young candidates and last year’s AL winner, there are plenty of former top-of-the-rotation guys who would slide into the back end of many a challenger’s rotations. The yard sale on the north side of Chicago may include Ted Lilly (God knows those lefties maintain their value forever) and the rejuvenated Carlos Silva. It’s only a shame that Carlos Zambrano and his lighting-quick fuse and myriad tantrums has lost his trade value almost as quickly as his sanity. The Mets may finally find a receptacle in which they can deposit the player that’s left at the end of the Oliver Perez roller coaster. Ben Sheets may lead the annual flight of players over 33 years old from Oakland. And the building projects in Baltimore and Cleveland (hey, at least the Egyptians ended up with funny looking buildings after all those years) may continue with Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie being jettisoned from the former and Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook from the latter. A number of teams are on the hunt for pitching aid thanks to a rash of injuries, so expect the Red Sox, Cards, Yanks (who always seem to stockpile long relievers for the playoffs around this time), and possibly the Mets and Rays to go shopping.

Relief pitchers

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General managers can be made or broken by their moves in this department. This year, the dearth of available arms could spell considerable damage to a multitude of them. There isn’t a team out there who wouldn’t upgrade their young, promising relievers for playoff-tested arms for the right price. But it’s slim pickings, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick illustrates.

Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel are two of the only reasonable options for the classic bad-team-closer-to-good-team-eighth-inning-man role (see Sherrill, George, and Gagne, Eric). Dotel will probably move since the Pirates have to trade someone at every deadline, and Capps could bring in some young pieces for a team that’s using the glow of Stephen Strasburg’s stardom to see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel.

But past that, the talent pool is scarce. Anyone who misses out on the first two will have to settle for relievers bringing more name recognition than actual pitching acumen to the table. Kerry Wood has proven he no longer has closer stuff, as has the sad and precipitous decline of Trevor Hoffman. Tommy Gregg and Chad Qualls, meanwhile, have proven they’ve never really had closer potential, while, David Aardsma looks to have peaked already as well. Then there’s the man who shouldn’t sign a lease lasting beyond July 1: Kyle Farnsworth, who’s quietly having an excellent season in the anonymity afforded by Kansas City and could find himself on a plane to his sixth major league port of call.

The lull in the market could change if the White Sox suddenly decide Bobby Jenks (arbitration eligible after making $7.5 million this season) has been made expendable by All-Star Matt Thornton and could be used as a bargaining chip in acquiring offensive help. But that’s a big risk for the Southsiders to take, so I wouldn’t count on it just yet. The market may also heat up now that relief-starved Cincinnati has swallowed up Jason Isringhausen and Russ Springer (I guess Cal Eldred said no first.)

For detailed looks at each team’s payroll situations, visit Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

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