Much of the attention this trading season, and rightfully so, will be on Mariners' left-handed starter Cliff Lee, and competing teams now say they believe trade talks involving the Seattle star are starting to heat up. One GM estimated "12 to 15 teams'' will show interest, and not just the teams that are mentioned most often right now, like the Twins, Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Angels, Cardinals and Dodgers. It also appears the Rays and Phillies are in the mix.
But Lee won't be the only attraction. With less than a month to go, some talks are starting to get going. Here is a rundown of the sellers and potential sellers ...
They've already dealt outfielder Conor Jackson to the A's for needed bullpen help, appear willing to trade almost anyone except star young outfielder Justin Upton and cost-efficient starter Ian Kennedy (and probably not Mark Reynolds) and are talking to teams about at least five veteran players now, including ace right-hander Dan Haren, though several competing GMs said they agreed Arizona would need to be "overwhelmed'' or even "bowled over'' to consider dealing Haren. One said he just didn't think it was realistic to see Arizona trading Haren, who is a terrific pitcher and has a reasonable contract for a team that still has a very nice young nucleus and carries the potential to win soon (though not this year). Arizona is now looking seriously at dealing one or more from Adam LaRoche, Kelly Johnson and Chad Qualls, who all have expiring contracts. They are also fielding inquiries for no-hit man Edwin Jackson. LaRoche and especially Johnson have performed well this year and could bring power to a contender and while Qualls has been awful, some teams love the makeup of someone who's survived as a closer with marginal stuff. After firing manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Josh Byrnes on Thursday night and replacing them on an interim basis with Kirk Gibson and Jerry DiPoto, they are presumed to be still interested in offloading salary and making roster changes with new regime. (Editor's Note: For more on the Diamondbacks, see page 2 of this story.)
They always seem reluctant to sell but may have little choice this time. The issue is that there may not be as much to gain as they'd like. Roy Oswalt is one of three ace pitchers (along with Lee and Haren) on the market, but with the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers all unrealistic players here for a variety of reasons (and the Rangers just an absurd thought for Oswalt while they're in bankruptcy), there just aren't a lot of viable options for a 32-year-old pitcher with more than $25 million remaining on his contract. One GM said he has heard the Astros would be willing to pay some of the contract, depending on the return they get.
Lance Berkman could help someone once he drops any notion that an acquiring team would have to exercise his too-high $15-million option for next year, but as one GM said flat out of Berkman, who's hitting just .245 with only seven home runs, "he's having a bad year." Word from another baseball exec is that "just about everyone but Hunter Pence'' is available -- though Michael Bourn is probably also someone they want to keep. The issue for Houston remains whether they possess much that will bring the prospects they need. Carlos Lee is yet another whose contract, which includes two more guaranteed years at $37 million total, exceeds his value. "Nobody's going to take Lee,'' one GM said. Regarding Oswalt,
According to one GM, he's been told specifically that ace pitcher Zack Greinke and productive hitter Billy Butler are unavailable (no surprise there) raising the issue of whether they'd consider moving excellent closer Joakim Soria, who has 20 saves and a 2.43 ERA. They were unwilling to do so last year, so the guess is, it will be very difficult to pry him from Kansas City. "In their position, they'd probably move (Soria),'' one competing GM said.
The Royals would love to ship Jose Guillen, and if he gets hot again and they're surely willing to eat a lot of his $12-million-a-year salary, perhaps they could find a taker for the perennial malcontent. David DeJesus looks like the real potential prize, with several teams, including possibly the Red Sox, interested. "He's better than (Curtis) Granderson or (Johnny) Damon,'' one GM opined about two outfielders who changed teams last winter.
They have been busy sellers the past couple years, as they are one small-market team that understands the need to retool, and they have two viable starters in Fausto Carmona (7-6, 3.68 ERA) and Jake Westbrook (5-4, 4.69) to shop this time. They are said to want to keep outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, young catcher Carlos Santana (of course) and a few of their younger pitchers, but there could be decent activity around them again. Carmona especially looks like a decent fall-back option for the teams that can't get Lee.
Teams think that with Washington beginning to fall back, the Nats will start to sell, and they have a few interesting pieces, starting with Adam Dunn, Nyjer Morgan, Josh Willingham and Cristian Guzman. "Their pitching is a little younger than their hitting so it's an interesting situation,'' observed one competing GM. Dunn would help a number of teams, and a GM guessed the Yankees or Angels could be a fit. "Could you imagine him at Yankee Stadium?'' another observed. The Yankees' offense has suffered a bit after losing Damon and Hideki Matsui during the offseason and with Nick Johnson out for an undetermined length, so Dunn might look pretty good batting sixth in the Bronx. The Nats like him, so they could even trade Dunn, and then sign him back after the season. Morgan and Willingham would interest a number of teams, though it isn't certain they'll be traded.
Not surprisingly, they are said to plan to keep Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Brian Matusz and Matt Wieters. That doesn't leave a lot to deal, but Ty Wigginton, who has 14 home runs and 42 RBIs, is a versatile player with a bit of pop and Kevin Millwood, who is just 2-8 with a 5.40 ERA, is a professional pitcher stuck in a bad spot.
7. Blue Jays
They've done a nice job this year but are not seen as a realistic playoff threat -- not in the impossible AL East. Power-hitting Jose Bautista could draw interest, as could a number of their pitchers, including relievers Jason Frasor and Scott Downs. "They've got a lot of pieces that could help somebody.'' one GM said. Among those whose names could come up in trade talks are pitchers Shaun Marcum and Kevin Gregg and hitters Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, though Wells' contract, which still has four years and $86 million on it after this season, remains steep.
In addition to Lee, they could look for surely find some interest in reliever David Aarsdma. But it's mostly about Lee, the clear star of this year's trade market.
Club president Frank Coonelly said they won't do as much selling as in recent years. Of course, that's partly because there aren't a lot of veterans left to sell. The one interesting piece is closer Octavio Dotel, who looks better than he has in years, with 17 saves. He would make a viable set-up man for a number of teams, including the Mets, one of his many former clubs. After that, it's very slim pickings in Pittsburgh.
This isn't a team that normally does a lot of selling, and they have some players with high contracts that appear close to unmovable, among them Carlos Zambrano, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. "I know they'd love to move Soriano but I don't know how they could,'' one GM said.
They also have some good veterans they'll keep, like Ryan Dempster ("a franchise favorite," in the words of one competing GM). But a couple intriguing names could be first baseman Derrek Lee, who's a free agent-to-be having an off year (.231, 10 home runs) but due for a turnaround, and left-hander Ted Lilly, who is 3-6 but has a 3.12 ERA. Both are accomplished veterans who could help someone, and Lilly would be especially popular if the Cubs do sell.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of selling activity around the Brewers, who are playing a bit better lately, and competing teams now see them as likely to keep star first baseman Prince Fielder at least into the winter (one predicts they'll keep him next year, too, then let him walk as a free agent). While sources say there's been no appreciable progress in contract talks and no reasonable hope for a contract extension into his free-agent years (realistically, he's probably just too expensive for Milwaukee), one competing GM opined, "I don't think the trade market would be that great for Prince considering his salary.'' Teams just don't want to give up big-time prospects for high-salaried players who aren't staff aces, it seems. Corey Hart might bring something decent, but it's tough to see him being sold while he's having his renaissance, which includes 18 home runs and 60 RBIs, both more than he had last year and both ranking second in the NL.
They seem like they want to give it a shot, and they are a franchise that has been able to outstrip expectations many times in the past. Rather hopefully, one competing exec wondered if Cody Ross and Dan Uggla could become available. But so far, there is no indication they are.
The Diamondbacks' late Thursday shakeup was shocking. Yet, in a way it wasn't. Word had been circulating that owner Ken Kendrick was very upset by his last-place team's underachievement this year, and that manifested itself with the tandem firing of GM Josh Byrnes and manager A.J. Hinch. Hinch so much as admitted the team "wasn't responding'' to him weeks ago, but Byrnes' ouster was a bit more surprising -- though word was going around in baseball circles about a week ago that he could be removed, as well, despite having a contract that runs through 2015. There was definite tension at the upper levels of the Arizona front office with the team slipping since the second half of the 2008 season. One source said that while Kendrick is well-liked, he has a "bit of Steinbrenner in him,'' for good or bad.
Byrnes is extremely well-respected in baseball circles, and was one of the GMs most willing to take risks and make big trades. But Byrnes paid for a bad bullpen, the roughest schedule in baseball (they had only 17 games so far against losing teams, their interleague slate was against the AL East and their extra NL team was the Cardinals) and also his hand-picked choice of Hinch, an intellectual Stanford man never truly accepted by baseball's oldtime folks.
There was a lot of whispering behind Hinch's back regarding alleged too-late calls to warm up relievers. And whether it was true or not, there's no doubt that kind of talk got to Byrnes' bosses. Byrnes' pick of Hinch, an outside-the-box call from the front office, was controversial from the start. Hinch seems to have the potential to be an excellent manager of men and games. But in baseball, where there's a way of doing things, that may not be enough.
Oldtime baseball people disliked the hiring of Hinch and denigrated him as too intellectual for the job, and underqualified as a first-time manager. Kirk Gibson, the interim choice to replace Hinch as manager, brings opposing qualities. Arizona wanted a grittier team. Well, now they have a gritty manager and an oldtime baseball guy who starred on the field. Both Gibson and interim GM Jerry DiPoto are said to have a chance to keep their jobs, depending on how things go. DiPoto has been a candidate for a number of GM jobs around the game and is well-liked, and will surely be given an opportunity. But Kevin Towers' name could come up as a candidate at some point, according to a baseball source. Towers did a nice job as GM in San Diego but was fired by new Padres owner Jeff Moorad, the same man who gave Byrnes a contract through 2015 in Arizona well before he left for San Diego.
Some baseball people think Orioles president Andy MacPhail may lean toward Eric Wedge for the Orioles' managerial opening. The players absolutely love the very lovable Juan Samuel (they liked the recently fired Dave Trembley, too), so that's a factor. Buck Showalter provides an interesting alternative, but it's believed Showalter favors a lot of change, bordering on overhaul. Wedge, who managed the Indians from 2003-2009, is thought to fit MacPhail's low-key personality better.
Everyone in baseball was shocked when the Marlins abruptly called a halt to their talks with Bobby Valentine to take over as manager. Valentine had to be surprised, as well, after being courted for quite a while by Florida owner Jeffrey Loria. Something didn't click between Valentine and club president David Samson, and sources say the conversations got quite "heated.''
Valentine went on Sirius XM's Mad Dog Russo show on Thursday and said, "You know, I mean, I was reading in the paper I wasn't a candidate, you know? And I don't really like that stuff. You know, we did have conversations and then the next thing I know their leaks have people writing things that I'm no longer a candidate and they're going in another direction. Well, you know, if that's the case tell me. I'm a big boy. It's real easy.
"To tell you the truth, the in-season stuff where you have all the rules and regulations that are set forth -- rightfully so, I guess -- by the commissioner that you have to interview so many different types of people from in and outside your organization before you're allowed to hire a person you want to, it's a pretty tough process. I don't know that it's tough. It doesn't seem like it's the way most industries do it."
Valentine would have been perfect for the young team. But while the Marlins make the most of their limited spending, they have an odd history with managers, having fired Joe Girardi in 2006 after he won the NL Manager of the Year award and Fredi Gonzalez a couple months into the season after he won 87 games with a $36 million payroll.
With interim manager Edwin Rodriguez, who was just given the full season to prove himself, the Marlins have had quite a run of hiring first-time managers. Florida also likes Bo Porter, the Arizona third base coach who worked in Florida under Gonzalez for three years. But Porter left when the Marlins took too long to decide on their coaches after what seemed to most to be a successful 2009 season. Florida has now fired or lost six coaches and a manager since last September while achieving well beyond their payroll and perhaps even their talent.
• Braves manager Bobby Cox has been in contact with Gonzalez since the Marlins manager was let go, and Gonzalez seems beloved by Braves people. It may be tricky to utilize him in a big role in Cox's last season, as he'd appear to be a manager in waiting, but baseball sources say that is the likely reality. Gonzalez, a former Braves coach, is the overwhelming favorite to take over for Cox, who has said he will retire after this season.
• Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is expected to start weighing the replacement for manager Cito Gaston by August. One early report suggested Sal Fasano, who's managed in their system for a month, could be a candidate. But one person in the know said it's difficult to imagine Anthopoulos being "quite that bold" as to hire a 38-year-old who only finished his playing career in 2008 and has only been a manager for a few months at Single-A.
• At least two calls shouldn't have been omitted by the recent list of the 20 best baseball decisions, and those were the Reds' decision to start 2009 draftee Mike Leake at the major-league level and the Mets' decision to promote rookie first baseman Ike Davis, who has made a major impact and is now used as the Mets' cleanup hitter.