The Mariners made some early noise with their nice start to the season, but the club could create a much bigger national story as a trader this summer. Unlike a vast majority of teams expected to straddle the buy/sell fence, the now 22-26 Mariners seem to understand their position as a rebuilding team. What's more, they have decent, veteran talent to trade, including front-line, left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard, who should become an increasingly popular trade target.
Bedard's value on the market could depend in part on Jake Peavy's desires and some other teams' decisions regarding whether to shop their starters (for instance, Cleveland and Cliff Lee) but regardless of what happens with the others, Bedard may still be seen as the top gun out there. Bedard, who is reasonably priced at $7.75 million, could enhance several rotations, including those of the Phillies, who could now lose Brett Myers for the year, plus the White Sox, Brewers and others.
Bedard leads at least a sextet of Seattle players with the potential to go elsewhere and impact a pennant race, with pitchers Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, third baseman Adrian Beltre, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and first baseman Russell Branyan also likely to draw interest. The Mariners might also fantasize about dumping injured pitcher Carlos Silva and the $34 million remaining on his bloated contract, but of course that's not possible.
Washburn (who makes $10.35 million in the last year of his deal) is having a solid season and could help plenty of teams; Branyan (.608 slugging percentage) is red hot and a bargain at $1.4 million; and Batista could start for some teams. But the highly-paid Beltre ($12 million, also in the last year of his deal) is off to his usual painfully slow start at .212, and Betancourt's recent defensive regression will limit interest, despite a seemingly reasonable $13.75 million deal through 2011.
Meanwhile, Bedard, who is 3-2 with a 2.48 ERA and back to showing his immense talent after a rough initial year in Seattle, is the clear headliner.
With the $60 million remaining on Peavy's contract, plus his complete no-trade clause and very specific wishes (he apparently wants a contending team in the National League that's in either the Midwest or West, or he may just want the Cubs), the most interesting top-of-the-rotation action may actually revolve around Bedard, who was acquired by Seattle's previous regime for a raft of young talent and who is now months from free agency. Bedard's first year in Seattle was marked by difficult interpersonal relationships and nagging injuries. But this year, it's all been positive.
"He's a different guy, and he's not that durable," one competing GM said of Bedard. "But this could be a real market opportunity for [the Mariners]. There are not a lot of mid-to-frontline starting pitchers available. Teams just might overpay."
Interested teams wouldn't pay like Seattle did, when it sent budding center field star Adam Jones and three talented pitchers to Baltimore for Bedard. But they'd probably have to pay more than the White Sox -- who agreed to trade four pitching prospects, none of them considered great -- in the deal that Peavy rejected. Considering Peavy's high price and empowering no-trade clause, Bedard may actually become the gem of a thin pitching market.
Peavy can't be blamed one bit for invoking the no-trade provision that was negotiated in good faith. But one GM on a competing team said he believes the very public selling of Peavy, accompanied by continued speculation about which teams Peavy might accept, could become "the death of the no-trade clause.''
That may be wishful thinking. But this clause has certainly led to months of angst and heartache for the Padres, who competitors believe are anxious now to be rid of the $60 million or so remaining on Peavy's deal. While Padres GM Kevin Towers arranged a trade with the White Sox to get left-handed pitching prospects Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, as well as two more pitchers (one NL official said he believed Lance Broadway was on the list and could have been the third piece), the excising of the loot was as attractive as the players they were to receive.
The Padres are said to be continuing to try to find the right spot for Peavy, who seems destined to have more words written about him this season than any other player. They can keep throwing darts out there and hoping one will stick. Or they can focus on teams Peavy might accept.
There's no reason why Peavy has to provide an expansive list (or any list, really) of teams that he would accept, and there's nothing to compel him to agree to go anyplace. His original, very unofficial, list included the Braves, Astros, Cardinals and Dodgers in addition to the Cubs; one person close to Peavy said he likes any team in his own division except the Coors-dwelling Rockies (not that adding to the Giants and Rockies would do all that much since both teams are flush with top-of-the-rotation starters) and one competing GM thought Peavy would accept the Dodgers, Angels or Cubs. Towers would likely prefer to not hand Peavy to the rival Dodgers, though at some point desperation may set in.
One person connected to the Padres said, "All I keep hearing is Cubs, Cubs, Cubs." Eventually San Diego may have no choice but to try to engage the Cubs again, a team that really doesn't desperately need starting pitching, could be hampered by a change in ownership that's going slow (even commissioner BudSelig is said to be frustrated by the pace -- though there's no indication that the Ricketts family's bid is threatened) and probably knows there's a pretty good chance that Peavy could turn down most or all other teams. This is the no-trade clause that has wreaked havoc on an organization.
It's getting ugly in Houston, where negative stories about manager Cecil Cooper are hitting the local paper only a few weeks after Cooper's option was picked up. As one competing GM remarked, "This could be a record for the quickest firing after a contract is extended."
Astros higher-ups are now declining to provide a public vote of confidence to Cooper, creating the impression that Cooper could be canned. And if he is, that would be a shame.
Some people believe the real problem is not Cooper but general manager EdWade, who is said to be a frequent and negative presence in Houston's clubhouse, frequently talking tough while impressing few. Wade is viewed as a meddler who puts everyone in a defensive mode, including Cooper, who has no choice but to play along. "Being a new manager, Cooper tried to go along with it," one person close to Cooper said. "It's not Coop's fault."
Shawn Chacon was banished from the team, and ostensibly from the majors, for pushing down Wade last year, but privately his inappropriate actions were cheered by some other players. Poor Chacon is trying to resurrect his career with the Newark Bears, but he's probably happy to be out of the unhealthy atmosphere in Houston.
Khalil Greene's anxiety disorder is such that he can only play a very limited role after the Cardinals invested plenty in him this winter. Greene can't handle making outs, as explained in a well-done story by Joe Strauss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last Sunday. And that's a shame. Greene has always been considered an introvert, and people close to the Padres say he didn't exactly fit into their clubhouse. But he had a huge spring for St. Louis, and there was no reason to believe anything was amiss.
Royals star Zack Greinke is a great story about a player overcoming anxiety issues, while Cardinals outfielder also Rick Ankiel came back after suffering anxiety while pitching and the Tigers' Dontrelle Willis has worked hard to overcome his anxiety. But one person close to Greene could see the 29-year-old walking away from the game after this season. "He never liked the limelight,'' that person said. Greene lives on a farm in Clemson, S.C., and is said to enjoy the quiet life.
• Rangers owner Tom Hicks' decision to put a majority stake in the team up for sale should not be shocking in light of all the financial reverses he has suffered within the past few years, and the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park and Kevin Millwood are the least of it. Hicks is in the TV business, which has hit the skids, plus he also purchased the Liverpool soccer team and got crushed (like the rest of the country) in the stock market. Hicks tried hard to win, I give him that.
• The Giants are denying that they are dangling Matt Cain. But one competing exec said he wouldn't be stunned if they did dangle Cain, considering they have superb ace Tim Lincecum and lots more young pitching help on the way in talented prospects Tim Alderson and Madison Bumgarner. But first they probably will want to see what they can get for Jonathan Sanchez, who could get squeezed out of the rotation once Alderson and Bumgarner arrive.
• The Braves don't like their outfield production, with center fielder JordanSchafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur both struggling with OPS's in the low .600s. Reports suggest that the Red Sox scouted Francoeur (three HRs, 21 RBIs), and if so, they must be thinking about the "buy low'' strategy. The Braves have to be concerned about his weak power production.
• The Braves are seen as a threat to reacquire Mark DeRosa, the Indians' first trading chip to hit the market. The Cubs seem to miss DeRosa, as well, and MLB Network's Bob Costas speculated in the game telecast on Thursday that DeRosa going back to the Cubs would make sense.
• Top Braves pitching prospect Tommy Hanson has great stuff, but looks like he could use some more seasoning, according to one NL scout who concurred with the team's controversial decision to call up Kris Medlen instead of Hanson.
• The Rays' David Price "looked nervous" in his first start on Monday, said a scout who believes Price will shine.
• Some Rays people were not happy with how Marlins rookie Chris Coghlan barreled into Akinori Iwamura, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. The year after their magic, the Rays are getting no luck at all.
• That was the second controversial incident for Coghlan; the first involved the ball-hogging catcher of his first career home run, who is actually a 29-year-old policeman who tries enhance his take-home pay by catching home run balls and is after a Hanley Ramirez-autographed bat as part of the ransom package. Coghlan and the "Happy Youngster" (as dubbed by MLB Network host MattVasgersian) had quite a disagreement over the ball, but Coghlan eventually pried it from him.
• The Marlins are willing to talk about Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu as they try to gauge whether they are contenders. Uggla has been mired in a slump since turning in the worst performance in All-Star Game history, at Yankee Stadium last year. But Cantu is a dangerous hitter who has been passable at first base.
• Brett Myers' hip injury is devastating news for a Phillies team that was already looking for pitching help in a market without much. Myers was said by the team to have "possible tearing," in the labrum of his hip and may be a candidate for the surgery that's sweeping baseball. Alex Rodriguez, AlexGordon, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado and the Phillies' own Chase Utley were others to have the same fate befall them.
• Carlos Zambrano's all-time meltdown, in which he was given the heave-ho, beat up a Gatorade machine and whipped a ball into the outfield at Wrigley Field, resulted in a well-earned six-game suspension and a $3,000 fine. BobWatson's not exactly a hanging judge.
• Zack Greinke's ERA actually went up, to 0.84, with his complete-game, 6-1 victory over Detroit on Tuesday. He is the third pitcher in the modern ERA to have an ERA under 1.00 after 10 starts, following Hoyt Wilhelm (0.83 in 1959) and JuanMarichal (0.89 in 1966).
• Rick Porcello, 20, has a 1.50 ERA through his last five starts. While many pitching phenoms haven't made it, the Tigers got a major bargain signing Porcello as a Seton Hall (N.J.) Prep product for $7.28 million.
• The campaign to support Manny Ramirez for the All-Star team is silly and misguided. The folks behind it are trying to claim that electing Ramirez is a way to make Bud Selig look bad, and maybe in some small and twisted way a few will see it that way. But with the suspension of Ramirez, MLB actually showed that it treats all players equally under its steroid policy. Incidentally, MLB will not step in if Ramirez is elected, which is the right thing to do. But here's hoping common sense prevails and fans vote for deserving players (Manny isn't one of them).
• Recent Cubs call-up Jake Fox, who had 33 extra-base hits in 40 games with Triple-A Iowa, is no less than "a great hitter," according to one scout (though he struck out for the last out in the Cubs' 2-1 defeat to the Dodgers on Thursday). The scout added, "The question was always, will he have a position?" Fox played third on Thursday.
• Why no job for Jim Edmonds? The Orioles looked at the 38-year-old for first base, but why doesn't anyone look at him for the outfield? Of all the players who may be forced into retirement, this may be about the most surprising.
• Just asking: Will Alfonso Soriano ever learn to lay off those breaking balls down and away?
• The Yankees look as fundamentally sound as they've been in years. Their 14 straight errorless games is a franchise record.
• Top Mets prospect Fernando Martinez was lucky to be overshadowed by yet another replay home run for the Mets. But F-Mart deserved to be called out for a disgraceful lack of hustle, as he failed to run when Nats catcher Wil Nieves dropped a pop-up in front of the plate, then easily threw him out. Martinez should have been benched.
• Looks like the No. 6 spot didn't relax David Ortiz, who pulled the BoJackson/Chili Davis bat-snap over his knee after another bad at-bat. Who would have guessed that Jason Varitek would have 10 times as many homers as Ortiz (10 to one).
• Acting Nationals GM Mike Rizzo got a few nods when he explained his decision to designate Daniel Cabrera for assignment, saying, "I'm tired of watching him." Rizzo looks comfortable in his new role, and it would be shocking at this point if the Nats-owning Lerners didn't give him the job full-time.
• The classy Diamondbacks told pitcher Scott Schoeneweis to "take as much time as you need" after the stunning death of his wife Gabrielle, 39. Schoeneweis has four kids to raise. He came to the park to throw once so far but there truly is no timetable, which is only right.
• Juan Pierre is hitting .407 as the Dodgers' left fielder, a year after Manny Ramirez hit .396 while manning the same spot. Which makes me wonder if MLB should test the grass. These and other tweet-worthy comments (plus occasional news) can be found by following me on Twitter at SI_JonHeyman.