- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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In this season of parity, in this season of two wild cards, in this season of the first-place Pirates and the last-place Red Sox and best-record-in-baseball Dodgers, almost anything is possible.
Except the idea that your team is going to make a big addition at the trade deadline. Don't count on it. Don't look for a player of the caliber of Hunter Pence, Cliff Lee or Matt Holliday to be traded this year.
One obvious reason that isn't going to happen: Most teams are still going to be in the playoff chase come late July, or at least close enough that they likely won't sell out their team and fans by trading away a valuable veteran. Take the Pirates, for example. Barring a big collapse over the next month, they'll be forced to keep A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard and hope for a miracle season. Hey, why not? It may only take 85 wins to win that second wild card.
Which teams are out of it right now? My list would include the Cubs, Padres, Rockies, Mariners, A's and perhaps the Twins and Royals. Every other team -- including the Astros -- can easily claim they're still chasing the postseason. But when you run down the possible trade chips on those teams, there isn't much out there to excite your rumor mills.
Which is why teams in need of a starting pitcher should be going after Ryan Dempster now. Don't wait until July 29 or July 31. Call up Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer now make your sweetest offer. If you trade for him now you get seven or eight extra starts out of him. Those starts instead of seven or eight from your bad No. 5 starter can be the difference between winning the wild card and watching "Two and a Half Men" in October.
As for Dempster being the best chip on the market, consider the teams I just declared out of it:
Padres: Mostly young players on their roster. One possible exception: Carlos Quentin, who just returned from the DL and has hit five home runs in 10 games. He's making $7.025 million and offers little on defense, however.
Mariners: Umm ... Brandon League, anyone?
A's: For the rest of his $6 million 2012 salary and $7 million 2013 salary and 2014 $1 million buyout you can have Coco Crisp and his .171 average for free! Bartolo Colon has a 3.92 ERA but considering his second-half fade a year ago, Colon would be a risky acquisition.
Twins: Denard Span could help a team like the Reds who need some on-base ability from the leadoff spot, but he's still a minor upgrade at best.
Royals: Closer Jonathan Broxton could draw some interest, but he hasn't really been all that great despite a 1.59 ERA as he's averaging just 5.6 K's per nine innings, well below his 11.2 career rate.
So, unless the Cubs decide to part with fellow starter Matt Garza, Dempster appears to be the guy on the market this year, unless we see some creative contender-contender deals.
OK, quick facts on Dempster: He's 35, a free agent at the end of the year, having the best season of his career (2.31 ERA, career-best 3.15 strikeout/walk ratio, .206 average allowed), making $14 million and would have to waive his 10-and-5 rights, which he's indicated he's willing to do.
Who needs him and what are some potential trade options? Let's do a roll call, from least likely to most likely among seven contenders in needs of a rotation boost.
Randy Wolf has been awful in the No. 4 spot, but Marco Estrada, who was solid replacing Chris Narveson as the No. 5, is about to begin his own rehab assignment. So the question: Do the Brewers believe Wolf will turn it around? Considering they're paying him $9.5 million and that they're already at or near their payroll budget, Wolf will be given a long leash.
Trade suggestion: The Brewers are pitching heavy with their top prospects, but they're unlikely to give up Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley or Tyler Thornburg for a rental player (although Peralta, Jungmann and Bradley haven't impressed in the minors this season). So, umm .. well, there's scrappy Double-A second baseman Scooter Gennett. The Cubs could then move Darwin Barney to shortstop and Starlin Castro to third base.
With Mike Pelfrey injured, the Mets have now gone through five No. 5 starters, the latest project being Chris Young, who is sometimes healthy for a couple weeks at a time. It's certainly worth giving a Young a shot, but this is a guy who has now made just nine starts over the past three seasons. The Mets' budget remains a dubious situation. How likely are they to pick up the remaining portion of Dempster's $14 million? Plus, there's the possibility they'd give top prospect Matt Harvey (3.88 ERA in Triple-A) a shot if Young doesn't pan out.
Trade suggestion: Matt Den Derker and a Class A pitching prospect. Den Derker is hitting .340/.397/.563 in Double-A and has good speed and the range to play center. If the bat is for real he profiles as a potential starter our fourth outfielder. The Cubs have prospect Brett Jackson? Sure, but Jackson may be more future left fielder or future fourth outfielder than future center fielder.
The Indians are 10th in the AL in rotation ERA, but it's been a group effort of mediocrity: Derek Lowe somehow leads the rotation with a 3.72 ERA, but he's not losing his job (not yet, anyway). You could bump control artists Josh Tomlin or Jeanmar Gomez for Dempster. But Cleveland is another team that may not have ability to add much payroll, especially considering they're last in the AL in attendance. Plus, they have Zach McAllister, who posted a 22/6 SO/BB ratio in four starts, hanging around to bump one of the other guys.
Trade suggestion: Lonnie Chisenhall sounds pretty steep. McAllister? Gomez? Three guys in Class A ball?
If Jaime Garcia's left shoulder strain proves a long-term issue, the Cardinals may wish to fortify the rotation considering Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook have returned to planet Earth after hot starts. The Cards had originally planned on top prospect Shelby Miller being a viable midseason addition but he's been pounded in Triple-A (5.18 ERA, 12 home runs in 57.1 innings).
Trade suggestion: Tyler Greene, Adron Chambers and Maikel Cleto. This may not be the sexy prospect package Cubs fans envision, but the truth is Dempster isn't going to bring some huge return. Hey, I could be wrong -- the Mets got Zack Wheeler, San Francisco's top prospect, last year for Carlos Beltran. But I'm not sure Dempster will fetch what Beltran did. Anyway, these three are all potentially useful players as the Cards could deal from their big league depth. One other problem: These two clubs have made one trade in the past 15 years, a minor deal involving Jeff Fassero. You don't trade with your blood enemies.
Trade suggestion: Slick-fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias would allow the Cubs to move Castro to third base, but would the Sox deal their shortstop of the future for Dempster ... or would Iglesias be more of a starting point for Garza?
Tommy Hunter is not good. Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz are shaky. Dempster could provide a huge lift, even if the O's would be worried about the concern of him moving from the NL Central to the AL East.
Trade suggestion: Sorry, Cubs fans, you're not getting Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado. Don't even think about it. Maybe the Orioles will be tempted to part with infielder Jonathan Schoop, hitting .241/.300/.310 at Double-A, but he's just 20 years old. The Orioles have other non-40-man talent and maybe Dan Duquette would be willing to part from his bullpen depth. (Wait, did we just use bullpen depth and Orioles in the same sentence?)
Wait ... once Doug Fister returns, isn't the Tigers rotation set? Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Fister, Rick Porcello and rookie Drew Smyly? The answer: No. Porcello has been terrible, in part because his groundball repertoire doesn't work with an infield that includes three guys who look like bouncers at the local nightclub. The Tigers went all-in this year and 82-year-old owner Mike Ilitch is desperate for a title and willing to spend.
And, of course, there is always the New York Yankees. At this time, I don't see the Yankees punting on Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova. A lot can change between now and July 31 and the Yankees have a slew of prospects in the lower minors, but Andy Pettitte's comeback has temporarily halted some of the concerns about the Yankees' rotation.
So who ends up with Dempster? If we've learned anything about trade deadline history, it's that our best guesses are usually wrong. But I'll lean toward the Tigers, a team with prospects to deal, money to send and an owner not afraid of letting his general manager pull the trigger on big deals.
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