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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Stark Market: Rockies undecided about Fuentes

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Every year about this time, some team -- and some player on that team -- can paralyze the entire trading-deadline market just about single-handedly.

We present this year's Human Paralyzer trophy to Brian Fuentes and the Colorado Rockies.

Brian Fuentes

Fuentes

Relief Pitcher
Colorado Rockies

Profile

2008 Season Stats
GM W-L SV BB K ERA
45 1-4 17 12 45 3.07

Here's why:

Contrary to what you may have read or heard, the Rockies have not taken Fuentes off the market -- not according to the seven teams that are still interested in him, anyway.

Then again, the Rockies haven't exactly paraded him up to the auction stand in that market and said, "Make your bid," either.

That's because about the only thing the Rockies have decided is that they won't decide much of anything until late Wednesday night, when they've finished playing their current series in Pittsburgh.

Are they buying? Not sure. Are they selling? Not sure.

Are they in this bizarre, .500-or-bust NL West playoff race? Too soon to tell. Are they out of it? Too soon to tell that, too.

So, GM Dan O'Dowd has told all the clubs he's speaking with that they should hang in there. He'll wait until the last possible minute, check the standings and figure it out.

If his team is eight games out, he'll sell. If it's four out, he won't. If it's somewhere in between, who the heck knows?

This is actually a reasonable stance for a team in this position. But it's also a dangerous stance, because not every team out there will be willing to wait around while the Rockies wait around.

"The longer they wait, the better chance they have of losing out," an official of one interested club said. "Yeah, he's a name we still have on our list. But at this point, we're not sitting on it. If we get something else to jump at, we're going to jump at it. And all it takes is one or two teams that have the players we want to jump on something else, and they're out of luck."

O'Dowd is well aware of that, obviously. He's also well aware that if he waits until late Wednesday night, he's giving himself a window of no more than 18 hours either to trade his closer or to start adding one of the half-dozen starting pitchers on his shopping list. But you can't blame him for treading water, because this is no easy call.

Heading into Tuesday's game, the Rockies were "just" six games out of first place in the NL West. That's the good news.

But that's also an additional 2½ games back than they were last year at this time. That's the bad news. And last year, they still had to do wild, crazy and near-impossible stuff -- such as going 21-7 after Sept. 1 and 14-1 after Sept. 15 -- just to sneak into the playoffs. So nobody has to tell this GM that it isn't a great idea to count on doing that again.

Except this Rockies team looks as if it's already starting its mad charge to October. These Rockies are 9-2 since the All-Star break -- and 28-21 since June 2. During those 49 games, they've been by far the best team in their division -- six games better than Arizona (21-26) and 3½ better than L.A. (24-24).

They've gotten healthier. They've gotten their two most talented young pitchers, Ubaldo Jimenez and Manny Corpas, back on course. They've already sliced their deficit in half. They have 55 games to play. And 30 of their next 41 games are against teams with losing records. So it's tough for any GM to pull the plug now when the message his team is sending -- with its play, not its words -- is: Keep us together.

So baseball people who have spoken with O'Dowd say he seems to know what deal he reasonably could make with each of the seven teams still chasing Fuentes -- the Cardinals, Marlins, Rays, Tigers, Phillies, White Sox and Angels. And if he decides it's time to move, he seems to believe he could close a deal fast.

On the other hand, the Rockies also have been assembling a list of starting pitchers they think they could trade for on deadline day -- and have been determining what it would take to bring them aboard.

The names on that list include Justin Duchscherer, Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd, Tim Redding, Josh Fogg and Bronson Arroyo. But only Byrd and Fogg seem attainable for the second-tier prospects the Rockies are interested in giving up.

Meanwhile, not a single team out there believes the Rockies have any interest in trading Matt Holliday right now. So we can suspend those conversations until November.

But those Fuentes conversations? At least we have to suspend them for only another day and a half.

"They have every right to wait," warned the same official we quoted earlier. "But they'd better know that the teams they're talking to have every right to move forward on someone else, too. They can wait -- but we don't have to wait for them."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.