- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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"Is this bleeping air conditioner actually working -- or did I accidentally set it for 99 degrees?"
Well, that's what you're thinking if you live within 800 miles of where we live, anyway. But we also know what you're thinking about the baseball trade market. We bet we can even sum that up in precisely two words:
Who's the next big name to get traded? Now that's a question that only the Amazing Kreskin could probably answer. But here's an educated guess:
Teams that have spoken to the brass in San Diego in the past 24 hours report the Padres are beginning to narrow their focus on potential deals for Bell and/or his chief setup dominator, Mike Adams, with outfielder Ryan Ludwick not far behind.
An executive of one club, in fact, described the Padres as "getting closer" to a major bullpen deal and said talks on that front "could end quickly."
Front office men from several teams have predicted in the past 24 hours that Bell is going to land in Texas, particularly in the light of comments from Rangers manager Ron Washington this week that his current closer, Neftali Feliz, needs to approach his job with "more fire" and understand the "sense of urgency" that comes with his gig.
The Rangers, who have been as aggressive on multiple trade fronts as any team in the game, actually have been in on Bell, Adams AND Chad Qualls, according to one source, in an attempt to upgrade a bullpen that currently ranks 26th in the big leagues in ERA (at 4.48).
But that source said that in the past 24 hours, Texas' discussions with the Padres have gotten "more specific" and that the teams were trying to settle on a "realistic price" for what the Rangers are chasing.
San Diego Padres
Another reason Bell seems to be a better fit with Texas than with almost any other contender, other than perhaps St. Louis, is that very few teams currently in the hunt for October have an unsettled closer situation at the moment.
"One of the complications, when you're talking about trading a guy like Heath Bell, is that when you're making a trade to replace the closer on a winning team, it creates a little more ripple effect on your team," one NL executive said. "Obviously, if he were to go to, say, New York, he wouldn't just walk in there and replace Mariano Rivera. But say he got traded to Philadelphia, where Ryan Madson has been there a long time and he's done a good job. If that team installed Heath Bell as the closer over Madson, it has a chance to create some waves."
That could be one of the reasons the Phillies seem to have been more focused on Adams and Ludwick in recent days. But Phillies players have made it clear they would have no issues with adding "a guy like Heath Bell" in any role.
"I'll say this," Ryan Howard told the Daily Rumble, "you can never have too much pitching -- especially in the bullpen, even as good as our bullpen has been. But you put a guy like Heath Bell in a bullpen like that, and he comes with kind of a new vigor, and he comes in all amped up, hopefully not sliding to the pitcher's mound, I think we'd all be cool with that."
Bell also says he also would be cool with that, telling the Daily Rumble this week that if his new manager wants him "to come in there in the seventh, eighth, ninth, I'll do it. And if he wants me to play center field, I'll do that."
San Diego Padres
As gracious as that offer may be, the Phillies seem to view Adams as a better fit -- because he's under control for next year; because he could set up initially then close next year if Madson signs elsewhere as a free agent; because they could build a larger deal around the acquisition of Adams and Ludwick.
The Padres have scouted Philadelphia's system extensively for weeks. But it's noteworthy that this week they dispatched another scout to watch the Phillies' Triple-A team in Lehigh Valley, which has several potential bullpen arms (Phillippe Aumont, Michael Schwimer, Justin De Fratus) the Padres are believed to like.
San Diego also continues to talk actively with the Cardinals and Angels. But multiple sources have portrayed the Padres as being higher on the Rangers' and Phillies' prospects than they are on potential fits with other clubs.
Teams that have spoken with the Padres continue to report they would prefer to move Bell and hang onto Adams. But they've been firm in telling the clubs that have checked in that they're not going to trade their closer just because he's to hit free agency in two months.
They have to weigh in his Type A free-agent compensation and his willingness to re-sign. And they now can thank Beltran for establishing that a rent-a-player can bring back a top-of-the-line prospect in this market. But other teams also have described them as wrestling internally over how much to factor in Bell's popularity with their fan base.
"This is not," said one exec who spoke with them, "just another member of the Padres."
Nevertheless, business is business. Bell is their highest-paid player. And he's the best closer on this market. So it's an excellent bet that he'll be moving on very soon, even if he doesn't get that wish to become somebody's next center fielder.
The Kuroda Derby: After leaving what could be his final start with the Dodgers, Hiroki Kuroda uttered these fascinating words Wednesday night:
"At this point, I can't imagine myself wearing another uniform."
Uh-oh. If this were most players, the correct response would be: Well, start imagining it fast, pal. But this is not just any old human trade rumor. This is a man with a full no-trade clause who has left nothing but doubt around the sport that he's willing to waive it -- for anybody.
Los Angeles Dodgers
But we're about to find out. One friend of Kuroda told the Daily Rumble that because his final start before the deadline is out of the way, the 36-year-old right-hander can finally focus on whether he will agree to getting traded to one of the five teams pursuing him.
"He's a very deliberate thinker," Kuroda's friend said. "He's just a very thoughtful guy, and he didn't want to get into this [trade scenario] until he got through this start."
So now that that's over with, the Dodgers can finally zero in on their options. The Yankees have "strong interest," according to one source who spoke with them. The Tigers appear to have made Kuroda the first choice on their starter wish list. The Red Sox were the only contender to scout his start Wednesday. The Indians and Rangers have stayed involved.
In a starting pitcher market with mostly mediocre options, Kuroda has become the most coveted starter out there, next to Ubaldo Jimenez. Don't let his 6-13 record (or his one win in his last 12 starts) mislead you. This is a guy with a 3.11 ERA, a fellow with a 2.56 road ERA and a man who went 2-0, with a 1.46 ERA, in the 2008 postseason.
So the Dodgers have told the five most-interested teams this is not a salary dump; they're only trading him if it's a "true baseball deal" and they want a young player, preferably a starting pitcher who is close to the big leagues, in return.
The Dodgers still don't know exactly where Kuroda will or won't go, or if he'll go anywhere at all. The friend we spoke to described his feelings as "mixed" but said he would consider a deal, "depending on where" it sends him.
The Dodgers have told him they'll wait to approach him until they get close to something. So is he really willing to go to Detroit? Boston? The Bronx? Now is the time we're finally going to find out.
• On another Dodgers front, one exec who spoke with them reports the Giants have talked to L.A. about shortstop Rafael Furcal.
• An official of a club that has been speaking with the Pirates said their No. 1 focus is on finding a "professional hitter." They seem to have backed off on Carlos Pena. They are said to be lukewarm about Josh Willingham. And B.J. Upton doesn't fit that definition. So one name other clubs say Pittsburgh has its eyes on is the Twins' Jason Kubel. But Twins GM Bill Smith told Rumblings his team is "trying to make our club better, we still think we're very much in contention, and we're excited to see where we go in the next two months." Smith didn't rule out trading away someone in his current mix if it brings back a piece that "makes us better." But one AL exec said the Twins have too much invested in this season "to do anything now that signals retreat."
• Clubs that have spoken with the Braves say they have three primary names on their buy-a-bat shopping list: Hunter Pence, Willingham and Ludwick. The Braves looked into Upton, but don't seem prepared to pay a big price for him. We also haven't heard much that suggests the Braves are still bullpen shopping.
• The only new development on the Jimenez front Wednesday was the emergence of the Indians as a bidder, as first reported by FoxSports. An official of one team that spoke with the Rockies said they view the Indians as "a very interesting fit" -- which would seem to elevate Cleveland into the group of four main bidders, along with the Reds, Yankees and Red Sox. But the price tag on Jimenez -- what one exec described Thursday as three or four "100 percent, sure-thing [young] players" -- still hasn't dropped. So in the end that exec predicted, "I just don't think that's out there."
• Now that the Indians have agreed to a deal for Kosuke Fukudome, they're turning their attention to starting pitching (Jimenez, Kuroda, Jeremy Guthrie and others). But GM Chris Antonetti says they're trying to be as "mindful of the long-term costs of trying to do that" as possible. An executive of one club that has spoken with them reports the Indians have "four names they won't talk about at all." If you guessed those four are Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis, there's an excellent chance you'd be right.
• As Buster Olney has been reporting this week, the Yankees appear to have positioned themselves to take on those last-minute salary dumps they can afford more easily than just about anyone else, particularly if their pursuit of Jimenez or Kuroda doesn't lead anywhere constructive. One name that would seem to fit is Wandy Rodriguez, whom the Astros continue to shop.
• Despite reports Wednesday that the Phillies are turning their attention to Carlos Quentin in the wake of their lack of progress on the Hunter Pence front, an NL executive who had spoken with both teams said: "I can't see that working." Nevertheless, there has been increasing evidence the White Sox are talking to several teams about Quentin, one of which is believed to be Atlanta. "They would move him," said an executive of one team that has been in touch with the White Sox. "I wouldn't say they're bound and determined to move him. But would they? Absolutely." Another name we were told the White Sox have dangled, just to see what happened: Adam Dunn.
• The Reds continue to look for a top-of-the-rotation starter they can control beyond this year, which would explain their pursuit of Jimenez and James Shields. But they also stepped up their calls this week on controllable middle-of-the-order bats. About the only name that fits that description and is theoretically available is Pence.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst