Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Sizing up the August trade candidates
By Jerry Crasnick
The July non-waiver trade deadline has passed, and Major League Baseball's August trade deadline is approaching.
It's the same thing, only with more gamesmanship, smaller names in play and no real sense of anticipation.
Players now have to clear waivers before they can be dealt, which complicates matters. Pass through waivers without being claimed, and you're free to be traded anywhere. For underperforming players with fat contracts, the waiver process should be a snap. (That means you, Vernon Wells and Barry Zito.)
Conversely, star players with sizable contracts and young, talented, inexpensive players are sure to be claimed. This universe of names extends from A (Albert Pujols) to Z (Jordan Zimmermann).
There's no risk in exposing a player to waivers. If a player is claimed, Team A can either pull him back and keep him or step aside and lose him to Team B, which assumes the claimed player's entire salary. The latter scenario occurred two years ago when the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed pitcher Esteban Loaiza on waivers from Oakland.
Teams also have a 48-hour window to work out a trade. And although some clubs make waiver claims to block players from going to competitors, a claim might be a sign of genuine interest in a deal.
So who's likely to move this month? Adam Dunn and Greg Maddux were traded last August, but Matt Stairs, Scott Eyre, Chad Bradford, Mark Kotsay, Eddie Guardado, Luis Ayala, Jose Bautista, Horacio Ramirez and David Eckstein were the more conventional August-type pickups.
As long as a player is acquired by Aug. 31, he can appear on a postseason roster. The Phillies picked up Stairs from Toronto with two days left in August last season, and six weeks later, Stairs hit a huge home run off Jonathan Broxton in the National League Championship Series.
"Down the stretch, it's either the bat off the bench or teams are trying to beef up their bullpens,'' an American League assistant GM said. "It's veteran guys who are making a little money and might have a little left to help a club get to the finish line. They're usually the strongest candidates to go.''
Team finances, of course, will play a major role in the decision-making process.
"The last two years, you've seen fairly active blocking,'' an AL executive said. "But so many clubs are cautious about where we are economically, I think you're going to see guys clearing waivers who have any amount of money attached to them.''
Which names will be in the news this month? We take a look at some August trade candidates in this week's installment of Starting 9.
Hey, you can't include one without the other. Garland and Davis popped up in a few rumors before the non-waiver trade deadline, with the Milwaukee Brewers in particular. Arizona GM Josh Byrnes tried to keep his demands reasonable, but interest was minimal and the offers underwhelming.
It could still happen. Davis is 5-10 with a 3.73 ERA and ranks 48th in run support among the 55 NL pitchers with at least 100 innings. Garland is 6-10, 4.26, but he's been very good outside Chase Field and has 10 quality starts in his past 12 appearances. Both starters have pitched well enough that they might be able to help a contender get over the hump.
There also is no long-term financial burden. Davis is making $8.75 million this season and will be a free agent in November. Garland is signed to a one-year, guaranteed $7.25 million deal that includes a mutual option for 2010.
The question is, does one or the other fit in Arizona beyond this season? Dan Haren and Max Scherzer are set in the Diamondbacks' rotation, but management has a decision to make on Brandon Webb's $8.5 million contract option in the aftermath of his shoulder surgery. Davis has some interest in returning, so the Diamondbacks could hang on to him and try to sign him to a multiyear deal.
Yes, we know Bell has 27 saves, a 1.87 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings. He also is signed for a reasonable $1.255 million and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.
That's why there will be a mad rush by teams to claim him once the Padres try to pass him through waivers. Since he's so good and affordable, even losing teams at the top of the claiming pecking order might be interested in talking swap with San Diego GM Kevin Towers.
"Regardless of who claims him -- a contender or noncontender -- he has value,'' an AL assistant GM said. "And the Padres have shown they're open-minded about trading him before this, so it's not just predicated on getting him to a contender.''
Conversely, the asking price hasn't gotten any lower since Towers was unable to swing a deal with the Dodgers and Angels at the non-waiver trade deadline. The Padres have so many young pitchers -- and find victories so hard to come by -- it's probably worth it to keep Bell around as a safeguard against staff demoralization.
Is a Bell trade a reach? Sure. Will the Padres listen? You have to think so.
Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi got some nibbles on Overbay at the non-waiver trade deadline. But while the Jays were bunkered down in Roy Halladay talks, San Francisco traded for Ryan Garko, Florida acquired Nick Johnson, and Atlanta and Boston pulled off the great Casey Kotchman-for-Adam LaRoche swap. Does anybody out there still need a first baseman?
Ricciardi will shop Overbay, nevertheless, because the Blue Jays are going nowhere, and they could plug in Randy Ruiz or Brian Dopirak from Triple-A for the rest of this season and hand over first base to Adam Lind in 2010.
Overbay does have some value. The .256 average, 11 homers and 44 RBIs don't sound like much, but he's a solid defender with a higher OPS (.844) than Carlos Pena's.
The problem: Toronto is on the hook for $7 million to Overbay in 2010. After Bobby Abreu signed for $5 million this past winter and Orlando Hudson agreed to a one-year deal for $3.38 million plus incentives, teams probably prefer to wait and troll for free-agent bargains this winter.
"He doesn't have a ton of money left, and he's versatile in terms of being able to relieve and start,'' an AL assistant GM said. "I think there will be a lot of teams watching him.''
Since Duchscherer is expected to receive a "B'' ranking in Elias' free-agent ratings, a team could bring him in for a couple of months, offer him salary arbitration and pocket a draft pick if he signs elsewhere.
Health is an obvious concern. Duchscherer underwent elbow surgery in April, and he's still rehabbing in the minors. He was scratched from a start in Sacramento on Friday for what the A's called a "non-baseball-related'' reason. It's apparently no big deal, but Duchscherer has yet to make an appearance in the five days since.
If somebody tries to give GM Billy Beane a bag of balls, the A's might just keep Duchscherer, offer him arbitration and take the draft pick if he leaves Oakland. Or they could bring him back in 2010 and let him be a veteran anchor to a young staff. It's all academic until Duchscherer shows he can pitch.
It's veteran guys who are making a little money and might have a little left to help a club get to the finish line. They're usually the strongest candidates to go [in August waiver trades].
-- an American League assistant GM
The Matt Stairs-type professional bat
There's a reason we once called the post-non-waiver trade deadline market the "Jeff Conine Olympics.'' Conine helped Florida win the World Series after coming over from Baltimore by trade in August 2003. Three years later, the Phillies acquired Conine with five weeks left in the regular season.
This August, two aging former Red Sox could have Conine-type allure.
Kevin Millar is hitting .227 with five home runs in 185 at-bats for Toronto. But he has pennant race experience, he'll fit seamlessly in any clubhouse and he could have enough left in the tank to provide a big hit or two down the stretch.
Option B is Nomar Garciaparra, who's putting up some similarly underwhelming numbers in Oakland (a .675 OPS) but might be reinvigorated by a race.
The Phillies filled their need for a righty bench bat when they acquired Ben Francisco in the Cliff Lee trade. The Braves, who are overwhelmingly left-handed, apparently are out of money and done dealing but have some options if Bobby Cox wants a righty bat off the bench. At the moment, the Braves are planning to go with Omar Infante once he returns from the disabled list.
As for lefty options, Jason Giambi says he's healthy, but he's buried on the disabled list in Oakland. Someone might take a shot, but only if the A's pick up what remains of his $5.25 million salary.
The versatile utility man
The Diamondbacks traded for David Eckstein last August, and a contender might be tempted to do the same this season. Eckstein is making only $850,000, so price is no obstacle. He's hitting .298 away from Petco Park, and a club in search of versatility, competitive at-bats and a proven playoff performer could be a fit.
Cleveland's Jamey Carroll is another trade possibility. But he's making $2.5 million, which complicates matters a bit.
Mark Teahen's name made the rounds at the non-waiver trade deadline. But the Royals are so challenged to field a competitive lineup, they figured they were better off keeping him than moving him for a warm body.
The Cubs have been mentioned as a landing place for Teahen, who's making $3.575 million and will be eligible for salary arbitration in February. Teahen is a potential non-tender candidate in December, but some executives think there's a decent chance he'll get claimed on waivers.
"I think the Royals should try to move him,'' an AL club official said. "But they didn't when there were no restrictions, so it's hard to envision them being able to pull it off when there are restrictions.''
Now that Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Rafael Betancourt and Ryan Garko are off the books, Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro wouldn't be averse to moving a little more inventory.
Kerry Wood might help a contender, but he has a 5.11 ERA in 37 innings and more than $13 million still owed to him on a two-year deal. Good luck with that.
Pavano has been bothered by a wandering case of home run-itis. But he has 11 quality starts -- the same number as CC Sabathia and John Danks -- and he's shown enough flashes to make you wonder why his ERA is 5.37. The Tigers must have wondered after he dominated them with six hits over eight innings in an 11-1 Cleveland win Sunday.
Factor in Pavano's incentive bonuses, and he'll cost a team a little more than $1 million the rest of the way. At that price, he's unlikely to generate much interest. But he's out there for the taking.
Under normal circumstances, Arthur Rhodes and David Weathers would be perfect fits for contending clubs.
Rhodes has a 2.15 ERA in 46 appearances and is averaging almost a strikeout per inning. He's looking quite spry for a 38-year-old. Weathers has given up seven homers in 37 innings, but opposing lineups are batting .203 against him.
The Reds also are 45-61 and tied with Pittsburgh for last in the NL Central, so they would appear to be ready to back up the truck. But the perception changed when general manager Walt Jocketty acquired Scott Rolen from Toronto for Edwin Encarnacion and two young arms Friday. Now potential trade partners wonder whether the Reds are coming or going.
"That was a weird deal for me,'' an NL executive said. "I didn't understand what the Reds were doing. And I don't even like Encarnacion.''
Now that Jarrod Washburn has left town for Detroit, could Batista be the next veteran pitcher on his way out of Seattle?
The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Luke French and Jason Vargas in the rotation -- with Brandon Morrow in Triple-A -- and Mark Lowe, Sean White and David Aardsma to handle the final two innings. That leaves the sixth and seventh for Batista, who is making $9 million and will be a free agent in November.
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik isn't going to get much value in a trade, and he'll have to pick up a lot of the $3 million Batista is still owed. Batista's main selling points: He's versatile enough to relieve or start, and his ERA was 3.23 before he got torched in back-to-back outings against Cleveland in late July.
Teammate Russell Branyan's name also has come up in trade speculation lately. But he's had some back issues and is in a 5-for-39 rut, so his value might have peaked. Branyan also is one of the few real threats in the anemic Seattle lineup, and Zduriencik is walking a fine line. He wants to improve the team moving forward without undermining the positive momentum the Mariners have generated this season.
"Jack is aggressively trying to rebuild a team on the fly, and he's done a heck of a job,'' an AL executive said. "It stands to reason that if he was willing to make the trades he's made so far, why would he stop now?''
Other names making the rounds: Adam Dunn, Ron Villone and Ronnie Belliard, Washington; Aubrey Huff, Mark Hendrickson and Danys Baez, Baltimore; Bill Hall, Milwaukee; Kelly Johnson, Atlanta; Jose Guillen and Ron Mahay, Kansas City; Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, Cincinnati; Kerry Wood and Jamey Carroll, Cleveland; Kevin Correia and Kevin Kouzmanoff, San Diego; Russ Springer, Oakland; Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Accardo, Toronto; Jon Rauch, Arizona.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.