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Aces absent from pitchers' early trade market but closers could go


While there's a very outside chance that if the disappointing Angels could go into a deeper funk and they might consider trading ace starter Jered Weaver in light of the fact that their chances to sign him long-term are less than spectacular, that scenario still seems highly unlikely. Word is, the Angels are thinking about a contract for Weaver along the lines of the ones given King Felix and Justin Verlander, meaning $80-plus million over five years. But Weaver is closer to free agency than those two pitchers were when they signed their deals and seems disinclined to go for a comparable contract, meaning there's a decent chance he'll leave as a free agent following the 2012 season. Still, there's little reason for the Angels to blow up the 2011 season now. So Weaver, plus fellow starters Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, are very likely to stay put.

Similarly, it's hard to imagine the White Sox, who like the Angels are off to a less-than-stellar start, becoming a full-fledged seller. However, in their case, with six bona fide starters, it's conceivable they could shop one of their starters, possibly free-agent-to-be Edwin Jackson or even John Danks, especially if they can bring back some offensive help. If so, that would boost one of the weakest starting pitching markets imaginable.

The Dodgers, Twins, A's and some other teams on the fringe of their races surely will hold onto all their key personnel at least a few more weeks. But they could become sellers, so they will be considered here. The same could be said for the Nationals and Mets, two more teams I'll consider here as possible sellers. Overall, the trade market looks a lot better for relievers than starters no matter which teams may decide to engage in selling season. Here's my list of pitchers who could hit the trade market:

1. Heath Bell, Padres RP. Word seems to be that Bell, who will be a free-agent at year's end, is willing to give the Padres a significant discount, maybe to the point of accepting a three-year deal for $25 million or so. But even that might be steep for cash-strapped San Diego. So the Padres are starting to consider outside trade offers now. A trade seems very likely by the deadline, as the Padres are now starting to talk to teams. He certainly has cooperated with 19 saves and a .213 batting average against, making him one of the more sought after pitchers in a market full of mediocrity. The Rangers, who need a righty reliever, and the Yankees, who have lost Joba Chamberlain and for the time being Rafael Soriano, are possibilities to acquire Bell as a shutdown set-up man. Other teams likely to have an interest include the Cardinals, Red Sox (who made the successful Adrian Gonzalez deal with the Pads) and Tigers, with the White Sox and Phillies outside possibilities.

2. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets RP. The vesting options for $17.5 million with 55 game finishes makes things dicey. And even if he doesn't qualify for the vesting option, he has an $11.5-million salary and $3.5 million buyout for 2012. The Mets are extremely likely to move the still-productive closer, but the one big question is whether any team looking for a closer will take him with that option alive. The Rangers and Yankees are possibilities for him, too, and because those teams would need him as a set-up man they seem like real possibilities. Even though he now throws in the low 90s, he's still mostly effective, saving 19 of 21 tries so far (though he does have a 1.44 WHIP, so any team that gets him should be prepared for some interesting innings).

3. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros SP. The solid lefty has put together an excellent first half (5-3, 2.88 ERA) and has a history of being a better second-half pitcher. His $34-million, three-year contract may be a plus to some, a minus to others. Also, incoming owner Jim Crane throws another monkey wrench into things. But depending on which other pitchers may be available, Rodriguez could look pretty good by comparison.

4. Derek Lowe, Braves SP. With a deep rotation and some excellent young starters, there's an outside chance the Braves would move him. Very consistent veteran starter isn't having his best beginning (3-5, 4.10) and the real issue is that $15 million salary through 2012, which would severely limit the interest after the Yankees.

5. Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers SP. It's probably premature to consider any of the L.A. pitchers yet. But if the Dodgers slip further, there's a treasure trove of veteran pitchers, starting with Kuroda, whose expiring contract may actually be seen as a plus. Very solid pitcher (5-8, 3.07 ERA this year).

6. Ted Lilly, Dodgers SP. Gutsy lefthander who gets a lot out of his ability and would draw interest if available. Having his typical year (5-6, 4.26), and his $33 million, three-year deal is fair.

7. Jason Marquis, Nationals SP. He was a washout his first-year in Washington but is back to his usual solid performance and is 7-2 with a 3.86 ERA in the final year of his deal (his $7.5 million salary is livable). He's useful as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

8. Mike Adams, Padres RP. Other teams are saying Adams could be available despite his second-straight dominating season (0.63 WHIP in '11, 1.76 ERA in '10). Unlike Bell, he does have another year to go before he can be a free agent. The Padres are said to be rethinking the wisdom of having a bullpen that is by far the strength of such a low-budget team. His $2.535-million salary is a bargain for anyone.

9. John Danks, White Sox SP. With six viable starters, the White Sox might consider trading one -- though Edwin Jackson, who's a free agent after the year, may be most likely to go. Danks, up to 3-8 with a 4.29 ERA after a painfully slow start, could be an outside possibility in that there appears to be no hope of a multiyear deal getting done with him based on early talks.

10. Livan Hernandez, Nationals SP. The man can pitch, which is why his summer trade is almost an annual event. He won't light up the radar gun, but he continues to produce, even this year when he's had some off-field controversy. His 4-8 record and 3.97 ERA is typical.

11. Matt Capps, Twins RP. Minnesota will wait to see if it can get back into the race, especially now that superstar catcher Joe Mauer is back. Capps is only 11 for 16 in save tries but has just an 0.87 WHIP, thanks to only two walks, so it's been an interesting start for him. Capps cost the Twins top catching prospect Wilson Ramos last year when he was traded to Minnesota, but now that he's making $7.15 million, he won't bring back nearly as good a prospect.

12. Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles SP. He's been the ace of a losing team his whole career, which explains his 40-57 career record (he's 2-9 with a 3.79 ERA this year) but maybe it's time he reported to the back-end of a contender instead.

13. Aaron Harang, Padres SP. San Diego may not let go of him too easily with the reasonable $5 million option for next year. His 7-2 record and 3.71 ERA is evidence he's having a decent bounce-back year, so there will be inquiries.

14. Grant Balfour, A's RP. The A's have a very nice complement of veteran relievers, and Balfour is having the best year of the bunch (1.16 WHIP and .198 batting average against). His $4 million salary for 2012 isn't cost prohibitive.

15. Todd Coffey, Nationals RP. Don't look at only the portly physique or goofy run in from the 'pen. The guy has done nothing but perform in Washington, with a 1.11 WHIP so far.

16. Edwin Jackson, White Sox SP. With six starters on the Sox and an expiring contract, it could be a consideration. Better than his 4-7 record and 4.47 ERA.

17. Kerry Wood, Cubs RP. Before the blister thing popped up, he was pitching very well as a set-up man (2.25 ERA). His $1.5 million contract is unbelievably reasonable, and while he will have a personal services deal with the Cubs in the future, he could be rented out for a few months.

18. Jonathan Broxton Dodgers RP. If he shows anything once he returns from his shoulder injury, which caused his uncharacteristic second-half slide last year and poor start this year (5.68 ERA), he could hit the block.

19. Craig Breslow, A's RP. A solid situational lefty, the Yale product could help the Yankees or Red Sox. His $1.4 million salary looks reasonable, especially compared to some of the others.

20. Francisco Liriano, Twins SP. He's had two special games for Minnesota, but you have to wonder whether he's hurt half the time. Overall, he's 4-6 with a 4.59 ERA, numbers not befitting a man who threw one no-hitter and came close to another. Seems to be forever on the block.

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21. Mike Pelfrey, Mets SP. He's better than his 4-5 record and 4.70 ERA, and maybe a change of scenery would help.

22. Paul Maholm, Pirates SP. The free-agent-to-be is having a very nice year (3-8, 3.29). But there's real doubt as to whether the Pirates would risk any chance at getting to .500 for the first time in almost two decades for a prospect or two.

23. Chad Qualls, Padres RP. He's been resurrected in San Diego, with a 2.43 ERA this year after a 7.32 ERA last year. The Padres' bullpen has been great, as usual.

24. Bruce Chen, Royals SP. The late-blooming lefty could be a back-of-the-rotation consideration once his lat heals (he's on the DL after a promising 4-1, 3.59 start).

25. Jon Garland, Dodgers SP. He probably doesn't have the stuff to pitch effectively in the AL East, but he could be a consideration elsewhere after he returns from a rare stay on the DL with shoulder trouble.

26. Michael Wuertz, A's RP. Yet another valuable Oakland reliever. He's a hard thrower with a 2.95 ERA.

27. Kevin Gregg, Orioles RP. Baltimore's closer is versatile, though not at all low-priced with a $5.8 million salary next year.

28. Randy Choate, Marlins RP. A situational lefty with another year to go on his contract. His $1.5 million 2012 salary looks reasonable, especially with a 0.66 ERA and .108 batting average by opposing lefthanded hitters.

29. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs SP. The Yankees are said to not be interested, making one wonder if anyone wants part of his $17.875-million salary ($18 mil next year). Still an effective starter (6-4, 4.50) but nobody is likely to touch that contract, even though he says he would consider waving his full no-trade this time.

30. Jeff Francis, Royals SP. He's battled back from surgery, but strictly a bottom-of-the-rotation type at this point (3-7, 4.73).

31. Brett Myers, Astros SP. That $11 million 2012 salary will discourage many, and his so-so start (3-6, 4.75) doesn't help. Neither will the $3 million buyout for 2013.

32. Tom Gorzellany, Nationals SP. Solid lefty who is better than his numbers (2-5, 4.53).

33. Kevin Slowey, Twins RP-SP. He's been on the block since spring, and on the DL since early May with an abdomen issue.

34. Joe Beimel, Pirates RP. Situational lefty is out with an elbow issue right now

35. Ryan Dempster, Cubs SP. Big contract includes a high option for next year. His 5-6 record and 5.46 ERA isn't as bad as it seems considering he had a 9.58 April ERA. But that $14 million player option for '12 could preclude any serious trade talk.

36. John Grabow, Cubs RP. Lefty has a $4.8 million salary for next year that would have to be offset.

37. Brian Fuentes, A's RP. Got off to a rough start under Bob Geren this year, but he remains a gutsy reliever despite weak numbers so far (1-7, 4.73).

38. Mike Gonzalez, Orioles RP. Things haven't gone well in Baltimore, and his salary is on the high side, too, especially considering his early 6.37 ERA.

39. Javier Vazquez, Marlins SP. Someone would have to love him at this point with a $7 million salary and 6.37 ERA (and 1.69 WHIP).

• Jack McKeon was the logical choice for interim manager of Jeffrey Loria's Marlins but Ozzie Guillen is most likely the man in mind for 2012 --- if the White Sox would let him go. Last year, Chicago is said to have brought up the name Logan Morrison when the Marlins inquired about Guillen, but Guillen's stock within the Sox organization has dipped a bit with their surprisingly weak start. Sources indicate team owner Jerry Reinsdorf isn't necessarily thrilled by Guillen's public talk about his possibility of getting fired, either. His outspokenness isn't quite as amusing or endearing when his team isn't performing. However, with the Sox picking up Guillen's 2012 option early, outsiders say they believe he remains a long shot for the Marlins in 2012.

• It's no surprise that Jose Reyes doesn't want to take an offer from the Mets now and prefers to become a free agent, as superstars on the cusp of free agency almost never make a deal with their current team. Reyes probably also correctly sensed that the Mets wouldn't come close to what he could get on the free market (three competing execs said they believe he can match Carl Crawford's $142 million deal with Boston). "If he's a free agent, I'd rather have Reyes, and I would think most would take Reyes,'' one NL exec said.

• Dodgers owner Frank McCourt does not have the money to make the June 30 payroll, people familiar with the situation say. MLB's hope is that once it begins making the team payroll it can ease McCourt out. With commissioner Bud Selig rejecting McCourt's plan to take a $385 million loan as part of McCourt's proposed Fox deal, he appears to be low on options. MLB objected because $175 million of the $385 million was targeted for McCourt's pocket in what amounted to advance payments from two, three, four years and more into the future. McCourt's likely last hope would be a long-shot lawsuit, but he has only himself to blame after using the team as a personal piggy bank for years, as his divorce revealed. He is already in court with his wife and ex-lawyers, so folks are expecting him to take baseball to court (though he signed paperwork upon taking ownership that he wouldn't sue baseball, few expect him to abide by that). McCourt's unpopularity in Los Angeles hurts him in any court case there, too.

• The conventional wisdom is that No. 1 draft choice Gerrit Cole and No. 2 choice Danny Hultzen will get about $10 million apiece (Hultzen is known to be seeking $13 million plus school from the Mariners while Cole's asking price with the Pirates isn't known). Cole would be expected to beat Hultzen as the slightly higher pick, but some execs see multitalented Bubba Starling possibly beating them both after being picked fifth by his hometown Royals, considering he is seen as a huge football talent as well (he has a University of Nebraska scholarship to play quarterback). Righthanded pitcher Trevor Bauer, Cole's UCLA teammate who went third to the Diamondbacks, isn't expected to press for as much money as the top two picks and is seen as being more particular about having a say in his development. The D-backs' second pick, which was No. 7 overall, righthanded pitcher Archie Bradley is expected to beat the $5.25 million the Dodgers gave Zach Lee last year, as Bradley is a "bigger football prospect'' than Lee was. He is a University of Oklahoma recruit. He is seen as getting $6-to-7 million, with No. 4 pick Dylan Bundy, who went to the Orioles, receiving in that range, as well. Scouts say Bradley is a terrific young man but one scout said he thought Bundy might be even more successful because "he has a little edge to him.''

• Bob Melvin is already doing a terrific job managing the A's, who have won seven straight. He will surely become their permanent manager eventually, not just their interim.