In a tight, wait-and-see trade market, the San Diego Padres are one of the few potential sellers already engaging in early and serious trade discussions. The Padres have several valuable pieces, and executives who have spoken to them say they are being very aggressive. San Diego has even shown a willingness to at least engage in trade talk even about a star young reliever such as Mike Adams, whose 0.65 WHIP, $2.5-million salary and inability to become a free agent until after the 2012 season would bring a haul.
Padres people may ultimately decide to keep Adams, but they appear to be taking a very realistic approach to their team and season. People who have spoken to Padres people surmise that they may be concluding that their small-revenue team shouldn't have the bullpen as its focal point and needs more offense (to that end, they recently promoted Anthony Rizzo, the top first-base prospect who came in the trade with the Red Sox for superstar Adrian Gonzalez, and spent their first draft choice on Cory Spangenberg, who has a .566 on-base percentage and .405 batting average for Class-A Eugene (Ore.) after signing for a reasonable $1.8 million as the No. 10 pick overall in this month's draft).
Even if the Padres trade their top two relievers, they still have Luke Gregerson, their shutdown seventh-inning man whose arbitration eligibility doesn't begin until next season. There are other young stars coming, such as pitchers Casey Kelly, Corey Luebke and Simon Castro, outfielders Jaff Dacker, Reymond Fuentes and Donavan Tate and third baseman James Darnell. "They have a lot of good prospects,'' one executive who noted their aggressiveness in talks said. "Maybe they think it's time to give them a shot.''
The Yankees are one team said to prefer Adams over All-Star closer Heath Bell, and it wouldn't shock anyone if there are several others who feel the same way. As an impending free agent who's likely going to be out of the Padres' price range, Bell is a star who's very likely to go somewhere in trade, and one person familiar with the Padres' talks said they also have a couple surprise entries in the Bell sweepstakes. But one executive with an American League team questioned how much they could get for Bell, saying "He won't bring as much as you think. With a closer, we could be talking about 22 innings.''
Teams love Adams' arm, and the Yankees favor him over Bell in part because they are also reluctant to try to take another closer with the intention of turning him into a set-up man following the early disastrous returns on the Rafael Soriano signing. The White Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, Rangers and Brewers are among contenders thought to be considering adding relief help, with the Yankees, Rangers and Brewers set at closer and mostly seeking set-up men (the Phillies will be too, once Ryan Madson returns from the disabled list).
The Padres also could trade veteran righthanded starter Aaron Harang, who has a reasonable $5 million option for 2012, plus reliever Chad Qualls and outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who's drawn interest from the Phillies and the Reds, whose GM, Walt Jocketty, employed him in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, several more teams appear to be in limbo about whether to sell. Here are updates on a few that will have decisions to make:
They have been hurt by injuries to a quartet of starting pitchers, and while Dallas Braden is out for the year after shoulder surgery, the team expects Brandon McCarthy, Tyson Ross and Rich Harden back soon, which is delaying any decision on whether to sell, according to people familiar with their thinking. If the A's do sell, they have a trio of outfielders (Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Coco Crisp) and several relievers (Grant Balfour, Michael Wuertz, Craig Breslow and Brian Fuentes) they could shop.
Teams seem convinced Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez will go. But one rival executive said he believes they will keep superstar shortstop Jose Reyes "unless someone bowls them over.'' The Mets are willing to pay some of the remainder of Beltran's $18.5 million salary but would expect a decent prospect back for the productive and rejuvenated outfielder. Possibilities for Beltran could include the Tigers, White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers (though club president Nolan Ryan downplayed their interest, pointing to Beltran's past knee issue). K-Rod's case could be very intriguing because of his $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 that kicks in with 55 games finished. That clause will presumably limit Rodriguez's market to teams that would employ him as a set-up man. "Nobody wants to touch that option,'' one competing executive said.
After getting hot for a couple weeks after their rough, injury-wracked start, they are back to struggling again in what's shaping up as a confounding season for the perennial contender. However, there is no evidence they will start shopping soon. A competing exec said, "I don't think the Twins will do anything. They have a lot invested economically in this season.'' If they do, the exec said Michael Cuddyer, a free agent after the year, would be coveted. But as that exec also said he's heard Cuddyer's "the glue'' to the clubhouse, and thus even less likely to be dealt.
• Four deserving players are running second right now in All-Star balloting. Prince Fielder is second among NL first basemen (to Albert Pujols), Reyes is second among NL shortstops (to Troy Tulowitzki), Asdrubal Cabrera is second among AL shortstops (to Derek Jeter), and Alex Avila is second among AL catchers (to Russell Martin).
• Some are amazed that Frank McCourt continues to try to hold on to the Dodgers in the face of severe financial troubles. One lawyer familiar with the case said, "The guy's desperation and arrogance is going to kill him. Financially, he's desperate. And emotionally, he's desperate.'' Another person, pointing out McCourt is several hundred million dollars in debt, said that even if McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers, he might not leave with any money. McCourt bought the franchise for only $431 million, so he has a substantial IRS bill for capital gains when he does sell.
• The Dodgers have not received one phone call on MVP candidate Matt Kemp, nor do they have any intention whatsoever to trade the multitalented outfielder. The suggestion they might sell star players to help them financially has hit the Internet. But there is said to be no truth to it. For one, Kemp is making $7.1 million and thus is not close to one of the bigger creditors listed on McCourt's bankruptcy filing. Manny Ramirez leads among that group at $22 million with Andruw Jones second, but McCourt even owes millions to Marquis Grissom and Kaz Ishii, all of them Dodgers of yesteryear. The White Sox are also listed as a creditor, with $3.5 million owed by the Dodgers for the Juan Pierre trade.
• Jonathan Broxton's arm issue could keep him out several more weeks, to the point where some Dodgers people are wondering whether he'll be back this year.
• Johan Santana is doing long toss with no real timetable yet for a return to the Mets. It remains a possibility that he will miss the season.
• The Giants could use help in the middle infield, but one person familiar with their thinking said there wasn't much interest in the Indians' Orlando Cabrera.
• The Reds seem reluctant to trade starting catcher Ramon Hernandez, who's having another fine year with the bat and combining with backup Ryan Hanigan to form one of the best combos in the game. Devin Mesoraco is a big-time catching prospect who's a great hitter. But it would be a stretch to think the Reds would trade a productive starter to make room for an unproven prospect.
• The Rockies seek a starting pitcher and would consider a second baseman or corner outfielder but are in something of a wait-and-see mode. If they wind up as sellers, they would look to move veteran closer Huston Street.