Let's take a look through the major leagues and see what teams are motivated to make a move for starting pitching and which are selling dollar beers to put fans in the seats. Remember, starting pitching relies on team effort, so the health and movement of a pitcher's team (even if the pitcher isn't mentioned below) dictates how the rest of the year will play out for him.
The Arizona Diamondbacks arguably have the best top three starters in Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson. They shored up their bullpen with Jon Rauch and word is they're looking to get that lefty power bat they need by getting switch-hitter Mark Teixeira. This is a team that should be strong down the stretch run and plays teams like the Padres and Giants the rest of the way. If Micah Owings can't get out of his slump, consider Yusmeiro Petit, a name I liked early in the season and can contribute, especially in strikeouts.
The Yankees, um, Boston Red Sox, are always buyers and with the whole Manny Ramirez soap opera playing out, they could turn a bat into a pitcher (kinda the opposite of what a vampire does). However, I don't foresee the Sox giving up Manny's RBIs in a tight pennant race, and any starter they'd want would come from the AL East, and that probably isn't happening. Of course, anyone they pick up is a potential eight-game winner the last two months.
The Chicago Cubs are definitely buyers, but what do they need? Perhaps another reliever, but their rotation is set (even though Rich Harden is searching for his first win). If you're lucky enough to have a Cubs starter, keep him. If you're offered one, take him. And if Rich Hill gets traded (i.e., released from Purgatory) grab him in keeper leagues as a change of scenery could bring back some strikeouts next season.
The Chicago White Sox are leading the AL Central, and could probably use another starter to make them feel comfortable about the back end of their rotation (Gavin Floyd is starting to walk batters). However, even though their infield is rife with potential free agents, they have nothing to trade at any level. But they know that if they could pry away one of the Blue Jays starters (staying in the AL may be attractive to one of them), they could put distance between themselves and the Twins and hold off the Tigers. While the Jays' starters have good GO/AO ratios, keep in mind that any fly ball pitcher coming to the Sox is a ratio killer waiting to happen.
The Detroit Tigers have created a new position in baseball: the "blow-ser." That's the relief specialist they bring in late in the game with a lead who lets the other team win. Having perfected the position, they now need to replace it with a true closer (let me be the first to say Fernando Rodney isn't the answer). Just one piece left to their puzzle, and then they'll make it into the playoffs (and all Tigers starters will be safe to use).
The Florida Marlins are hanging tough with the Phillies and Mets, and find themselves buyers this season. Like the Cardinals, the Marlins are hoping their rehabbing starters can contribute (since I mentioned him last week, Anibal Sanchez has become a hot property). However, I don't see Sanchez and Josh Johnson being strong enough to drive them to a division championship (and Sergio Mitre is done for '08 and possibly '09 after having Tommy John surgery). Since the Marlins defense is below average, be leery of anyone they pick up for the rotation.
Do the Houston Astros really think they have a chance in arguably baseball's toughest division? That's the only way to explain trading for Randy Wolf, unless they are super sharp and plan to flip him like a renovated house (raise your hand if you think that could happen ... ). Actually, he could even be traded post-waiver deadline in August. Regardless, he goes to a tougher park with a worse closer and a defense that's just as bad. I don't see the upside from a fantasy point of view, so no need to chase him if he's available. The good news is that Roy Oswalt is closer to form, and may be useable in fantasy baseball again. He's signed through '11 and is likely not trade worthy.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have two starters -- Brad Penny and Derek Lowe -- that could walk after this year, but the former has no trade value right now and the latter is too valuable to give up in a pennant run. They could go get another arm (from perhaps Toronto), and that arm should be on your team if possible.
While the dogfights are going on in the AL East, NL East and NL Central, the Los Angeles Angels are quietly sailing through as the best team in baseball (and the best 1-5 rotation as well). And perhaps with the exception of a healthy catcher, the Angels don't need anything. Their only concern is signing their free agents in their outfield and rotation, and World Series rings have a tendency to make that happen.
Like the Dodgers the Milwaukee Brewers have two pitchers who could walk after the season's over, but they're going to ride CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets all the way to the finish line and then see what happens. Hopefully no other teams were watching when the Cubs showed how to beat Sabathia: make him throw lots of pitches so the Brewers have to go to their bullpen (oh, and having Alfonso Soriano helps). Another arm in the rotation couldn't hurt, which is funny because by the end of the year their rotation could be nothing but hurt arms.
The Minnesota Twins are in the race, but as I pointed out last week, and their rotation is good but not great. Millions of fantasy players are screaming for the Twins to call up Francisco Liriano and start him, and yes, I'm one of them. It's time. He should be gone in all formats.
I was going to say the New York Mets were on the market for offense until I saw John Maine leave with shoulder pain. Supposedly Pedro Martinez will start on Friday, but with a pitch count; he's not the same old Pedro. The Mets may be eyeing another starter (A.J. Burnett comes to mind), and anyone they get suddenly gets promoted to "must have" on your list (even with the iffy bullpen). They could also bring back Claudio Vargas but they seemed to have soured on him quickly.
Right now, the New York Yankees are trotting Sidney Ponson out there every five days. Or perhaps they're waddling him. However, the Yankees are hot for Jarrod Washburn and they usually get what they want. Do as I just did (I swear I did): go pick up Washburn speculatively. He's neither great nor terrible, but pitching for the Yankees will double the amounts of wins for him the rest of the way.
The Philadelphia Phillies appear to have gotten the starter they needed by picking up Joe Blanton (speaking of trading with Billy Beane ... ). I cringed during the Mets' game as the announcers were amazed every time Blanton gave up a walk. That's been his modus operandi all year, and unless he can find the plate, he's going to be giving up runs in bunches in Philly. Oh, and the Kris Benson experiment? Fuhgeddabouddit, even though it's a great name for a Guitar Hero band.
The St. Louis Cardinals are buyers, and would love to have a starter who isn't hurt. Chris Carpenter comes back this week, but who knows what he'll be like (pick him up if he's still available). They'd likely have to give up some of their excess outfielders, but they could live with that. If the Cardinals get either of the Blue Jays who are up for grabs, the NL Central gets very interesting. Regardless, if Tony LaRussa doesn't get NL manager of the year, then they might as well just not hand out the award.
As is usual with this time of year, the Tampa Bay Rays are ... buyers? Up is down, left is right. Dogs lying with cats. Yes, it's a sign of the apocalypse when we can say with a straight face, "The Rays will be big players at the trade deadline, looking to shore up their team for the pennant run." The Rays need a few things: a righty bat, a lefty reliever, and a starting pitcher. Looking at the potential '09 free agents in the NL, the only two names that make sense for the Rays are Odalis Perez and Claudio Vargas. However, neither one gets them past the Yankees or Red Sox (psst, Rays, take a chance on Rich Hill). Within the AL, they could go for Bedard, but his iffy health makes him less attractive. If the Rays do get someone with decent talent, grab him, as the Rays are for real this year.
The Atlanta Braves have been wildly inconsistent, scoring either seven or zero runs a game. They don't have the firepower this year to keep up with the Phillies, Mets and Marlins, and will unload some talent. Don't waste your time with Mike Hampton or any other Braves starter that doesn't have three "j's" and three "r's" in their name. And as banged up and old as Tom Glavine is, don't expect the potential '09 free agent to get traded.
Once again the Baltimore Orioles are sellers, but seeing how they much they got in return for Erik Bedard, some teams may not want to shop at the Orioles' store. The Orioles don't have potential free agent starters to unload, but I'm sure they'd take what they could get for Daniel Cabrera, who has the second lowest ERA among Baltimore's starters (you know it's a bad year when you can say that about your team). Stay away from him in any uniform.
The Cincinnati Reds are once again sellers, but this year they at least have some parts that resemble talent to build around. Hopefully you sold high on Edison Volquez as I warned, but in the interest of full disclosure, I did say that Bronson Arroyo had no value this year, and his last few starts have proven me wrong. The Reds are saying they're not trading Arroyo, but everyone has a price. The Rockies are interested, but if they get him, steer clear.
The Kansas City Royals' win-loss record suggests they are sellers but there's really no reason to trade any of their young pitching talent. For once it's nice to see them not simply function as a farm team for the AL East.
The Oakland A's are always sellers who make such great deals that they're secretly buyers. They know talent, and more important, they know other teams' talent. They might do a sell high on Justin Duchscherer, as I still maintain he's not built for a 30-start season and about to hit the innings wall. There's some desperate but dumb team out there willing to trade with Billy Beane, but for their sake, don't let it be the Rays this year.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are always sellers in July, and could unload Jason Bay and/or Adam LaRoche, which is a shame, because that's a great offense. But as unreliable as their starting pitching has been (I'm, of course, not talking about you, Paul Maholm), dollar for dollar, they're getting their money's worth. Except for Ian Snell (and Matt Morris, whom they'll be paying not to pitch for some time), all these guys are early in their careers and making less than a $1 million a year. There no reason for the Buccos to trade any starting pitchers right now.
Has there been a bigger disappointment in the NL than the San Diego Padres? Sure, they collapsed in the 163rd game last year, but that was only supposed to make them stronger, especially with some young talent coming up. They also got Mark Prior, who looked like a steal in spring training. However, Prior did his usual thing and spent the year on the DL, the young guys couldn't score runs, and the season was lost by the end of April. Randy Wolf was the most likely candidate to go, and go he did. Look for another arm to be sold, possibly Greg Maddux.
The San Francisco Giants have a wonderful nucleus of young starting pitchers in Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain, and none of them are on the block (even though the Giants are technically sellers). Sure, they'd love to unload Barry Zito, but they'd have to eat most of his contract. Zito's a great post-hype rebound candidate for next year, but he's an SP3 being asked to be an SP1. If Zito goes elsewhere, don't look for the transformation to happen this season, but be ready in '09.
What goes around comes around for the Seattle Mariners. A few years back the Diamondbacks mortgaged their future for Richie Sexson, only to watch him get injured and bring the whole team down with him. Rather than work with Arizona on a contract, he bolted for Seattle. It took Arizona years to recover (although it was an awful trade even before he got hurt). Now, not only have the Mariners eaten Sexson's contract and miniscule batting average (the Yankees will take anyone, won't they?) they now find themselves in a similar situation with Erik Bedard, who has alternated between injured and awful this season. Perhaps they learned the Diamondbacks' lesson and will try to unload Bedard at the deadline, but even if they do, he's been too banged up for you to lose any value trying to get him.
I was going to write about how the Texas Rangers were the Pirates of the AL, but then I watched them just lose Michael Young for a couple of months, and ouch, they're more like the AL's San Diego. Actually, they'll continue to score runs, but they'll also give up more than they score. They are definitely sellers, and keep an eye on Vicente Padilla if he moves. However, don't worry about Kevin Millwood as even though his GO/AO ratio is decent, he's not missing a lot bats this year and is currently on the DL (the only place he doesn't hurt your ratios).
Ah, to be the Toronto Blue Jays and annually fight for third place. The Jays are sellers, and in a big way. We all know that A.J. Burnett is on the block, but there's also been talk of Roy Halladay wanting out so he can experience baseball in October. Both will likely succeed anywhere, as they have great GO/AO ratios (1.48 for Burnett, 2.01 for Halladay). If they find their way into the NL, break the bank.
The Washington Nationals have some decent young pitchers (wait, do I have to explicitly state the Nats are sellers?) but they're all cheap and they are the nucleus the team should be built around. Odalis Perez is the only starter likely to be traded, but leave him alone. No matter what the uniform, it's still Odalis Perez underneath (and an anagram for his name is Erase Old Zip, which can't be a good sign). However, if Tim Redding goes, get him.
I would have thought the Cleveland Indians were purely sellers, but they bought Anthony Reyes last week. Reyes has talent, but you have to wonder about someone who hasn't done well pitching for Dave Duncan. It sounded like it was a personal fight between the two over pitching philosophy, and if I had to pick sides, I'd say Reyes was likely wrong. But keep him in mind next year and see how well he pitches in April. As far as I've heard, the Indians have no plans to sell high on Cliff Lee, which is a good plan.
The Colorado Rockies are the quintessential bubble team. They play in a relatively weak division, have shown signs of strength in pitching and hitting, but are still far enough back to question if they can make a stretch run. As such, they've dangled some talent on the market, but have also inquired about getting talent. Heck, I was just at Safeway and they tried to trade me Brian Fuentes for a gallon of milk (hey, milk's getting expensive). I said at the beginning of the year that this rotation would be bad, and they haven't disappointed me. Expect the Rockies to wait too long to decide what they're doing and not make any meaningful trades.
Now let's see how this really plays out over the next few days. I'll be refreshing my browser all day Thursday, just like you. Until next week, keep taking the bump.