Commentary

Daily Rumble: Ranking the trade chips

Hunter Pence and Ubaldo Jimenez stack up as the market's top commodities

Updated: July 29, 2011, 9:54 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Once a week here at ESPN.com, we roll out our world-famous Power Rankings of all 30 MLB teams. But it's a funny thing this time of year. When trade-deadline season rolls around, we find folks can sometimes forget those 30 teams are actually still playing.

So in honor of our irrational ability to get distracted by rumor-mongering in the last week of July, here come our Human Trade Rumor Power Rankings, as we approach the final 48 hours before the trading deadline:

1. Hunter Pence

There was a flurry of action revolving around the Astros' 28-year-old energizer Thursday -- or, at the very least, a whole lot of breaking news stories that told us that flurry was engulfing the Astros as relentlessly as a midsummer Texas mosquito attack.

But by late Thursday night, there was evidence the Red Sox, Reds, Pirates and Indians had peeled off after hearing the price tag, leaving only the Phillies and Braves. And by Friday, indications were the Phillies were essentially the last team standing.

The Braves, according to sources, offered a package that included prospects they weren't willing to dangle in front of the Mets on Carlos Beltran -- but got shut down. One source who spoke with the Braves' brass Friday came away convinced they were out of it and moving on.

So that leaves the Phillies, who have made Pence far and away their No. 1 target. But because the Phillies and Astros haven't been able to agree on players beyond the Phillies' initial offer, other clubs reported Friday they're now exploring potential three-team deals to put the pieces together.

The reason for that: The Phillies initially offered their two best prospects, pitcher Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton, and were told that wasn't enough. The Phillies then offered to include their right fielder, Domonic Brown. But the Astros, according to one team that spoke with them, would prefer to spin Brown elsewhere for multiple prospects than take him themselves.

So both clubs have been contacting other teams, trying to construct a creative enough deal to work for everybody. According to an official of one club that got drawn into those talks, the chances of that happening are "50-50." But it sure won't be because they aren't actively trying.

2. Ubaldo Jimenez

From the beginning, teams involved in the bidding for the Rockies' ace expected this derby to roll all the way into the weekend. And that part of this equation hasn't changed.

But two parts of it have:

The first part can be located in Cincinnati. That's where you'll find a Reds team that has skidded so far south -- five games under .500, 6.5 games out of first in the NL Central, 10.5 back (and chasing a half-dozen other teams) in the wild-card hunt -- that it might not have much motivation to buy Jimenez or anyone else at the moment.

Clubs that have spoken to the Reds report they're so discouraged by their four-game sweep by the Mets -- at home -- that they're strongly mulling a sell-a-thon, not a shopping spree. That might not apply to a player such as Jimenez, who is signed and under control through 2013. But if it's true, it's not a good development for a Rockies team that appeared to have targeted the Reds as a potentially perfect fit.

Meanwhile, the Yankees' interest in Jimenez seems to be waning -- particularly as long as Colorado continues to insist on Ivan Nova and some combination of the Yankees' very best prospects (i.e., Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, et al.).

Clubs that have spoken with the Yankees now think they're more focused on Hiroki Kuroda and others. And if that's the case, that's another potential setback for a Rockies front office that appears to be big fans of the Yankees' system.

But even if the Reds and Yankees back off, the Rockies still have several potential trade partners out there -- particularly the Red Sox and Indians. Teams that have spoken with Boston seem certain they WILL add at least one starter by the deadline. And an executive of a club that has been in touch with Cleveland says the Indians are sending signals that their list of "untouchables" in lesser deals wouldn't apply for someone like Jimenez.

That could mean names such as Alex White and Drew Pomeranz would be in play for a pitcher whose talent and contract fit perfectly into the Indians' blueprint. And if that's the case, the Rockies could have the makings of a deal. If not, Colorado continues to tell clubs it's fine with keeping Jimenez if it doesn't get its price.

3. Heath Bell

Was it only 24 hours ago that people were predicting a trade of Bell -- most likely to Texas -- could happen "quickly"? Yep. It sure was. But it appears the Padres got bogged down Thursday in a world in which the teams they were speaking with had too many other balls in the air.

The Phillies, for instance, continue to have strong interest in a much bigger deal with San Diego that could involve Mike Adams, Ryan Ludwick, Brown and quite a few other names. But that deal would disappear if the Phillies trade for Pence. So the Padres appear to be playing a waiting game on that front until Pence's status gets resolved.

The Braves and Indians also have interest in Ludwick and the Padres' relievers. But they too have a bunch of other options.

Then there's Texas, a team that seems to be in pursuit of just about every name you've ever read in Rumor Central in your lifetime. And that complicates their dealings with the Padres, as well.

Other clubs still expect the Rangers to wind up with Bell. In fact, an official of one team who has been speaking with them went so far as to call it "a lock." But an executive of another club said Texas believes it's the only team out there that's pursuing Bell and truly matches up with the Padres' shopping needs. So Texas continues to balk at the asking price, which could be up to three of the Rangers' top dozen prospects, according to one executive who has spoken with both teams.

But Bell told reporters Thursday he's virtually certain he'll get traded in the next two days. And our best bet, here at the Daily Rumble, is he's right.

4. B.J. Upton

Just because the Rays have spent the week doing their best to careen out of contention doesn't mean the chances of Upton getting traded have gone up dramatically. In fact, it's possible they've gone down.

Why? Because we now know the Rays were working behind the scenes on a trade for Colby Rasmus that would have given them a cheaper, more controllable replacement. So now that Rasmus is ensconced in Toronto, the Rays might not be able to convince themselves they can go out this weekend, or even this winter, to find an outfielder they view as a better fit than their man B.J.

They do have Desmond Jennings ready to roll, in either left field or center. But this is a club with big plans to contend next year and beyond. So if nothing attractive develops in the next 48 hours, it wouldn't surprise anyone if the Rays hang on to Upton for at least the rest of the year -- and spend the weekend shopping Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth, Casey Kotchman and, to a much lesser degree, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis.

Several clubs that have been linked to Upton -- particularly the Phillies, Braves and Pirates -- appear to be focused in other directions at the moment. Teams that have spoken to Washington, however, report the Nationals remain as interested as ever.

But remember, the Nationals and Rays have kicked around potential Upton deals for weeks, with no indication they've been able to match up. And several sources say the Nationals have focused almost all their attention lately on Twins center fielder Denard Span.

What's unclear is whether Span's slow recovery from a concussion is a factor. Until Wednesday and Thursday, in fact, he hadn't played two days in a row at any point during his rehab option.

So one NL executive says it wouldn't shock him if the teams decided to back off and revisit these talks over the winter, once Span has proven he's healthy. If the Twins inch any closer to the lead in the AL Central this weekend, though, it could increase their sense of urgency to make a move now.

Either way, Upton remains "available." But teams that have spoken with the Rays say they've made it clear they're not going to "force" a trade, that this guy is only changing zip codes if it's the "right" deal. And for now, the Rays are still waiting for that "right" proposal to drop into their inbox.

5. Hiroki Kuroda

In a grim starting pitching market, Kuroda might turn out to be the best starter traded this weekend, his 6-13 record in L.A. aside.

Did you know the Dodgers have scored two runs or fewer for this poor man while he has been in the game, 14 times in 21 starts overall and 12 times in his last 14 starts? So Kuroda's 3.11 ERA and 2.56 road ERA are a much better indication of how he has pitched than his "win" total.

The Red Sox and Yankees remain very interested. There has been widespread speculation he's the No. 1 name on the Tigers' to-do list. There were indications Thursday the Rangers have gotten back involved. And the Indians are still in this mix.

Other clubs say the Dodgers are asking for a young starting pitcher or catcher who is close to the big leagues and are telling teams that if this isn't a "true baseball deal," they're not trading him.

But what's still uncertain is how willing Kuroda is to waive his no-trade clause. Despite rumblings he's only interested in going to New York or Boston, he still hasn't tipped his hand. So the Dodgers continue to talk to all five teams -- and won't approach Kuroda until they feel they're close to a trade.

Several teams have predicted this week Kuroda will wind up in the Bronx. So far, there has been no sign the Yankees and Dodgers have even come close to matching up. But that deadline clock has only begun to tick. And history tells us it's only now, in the last 48 hours, that the action really begins.

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.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com