27-year-old Phil Hughes will be a free agent at the end of the season. (AP)
With a bit more than 48 hours to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline (it's at 4 PM Eastern Daylight Time), Monday saw the consummation of a pair of deals involving relievers. The Astros sent closer Jose Veras to the Tigers to fill a setup role while Joaquin Benoit continues closing, while the Braves filled the void left by the losses of lefties Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters by acquiring Scott Downs from the Angels.
While there may not be any blockbusters in store, there are almost certainly more deals to come over the next two days. What follows is a quick rundown on a dozen pitchers who have been among the most discussed as trade targets in recent days. They're not all guaranteed to move, but expect a good deal of the activity to center around them.
Phil Hughes, Yankees
A pending free agent at the end of the year, Hughes has been the subject of intermittent rumors, particularly as the team seeks a bat to fill the void left by Mark Teixeira's loss and other injuries. Alas, the combination of the 27-year-old righty's inconsistency and homer-prone ways (1.6 HR/9) as well as the recent struggles of CC Sabatha and Andy Pettitte means the Yankees can ill afford to move him.
Cliff Lee, Phiillies
While the Phillies are listening with regards to some trades, they're not marketing Lee aggressively. The stiff neck that scratched him from his most recent start could be a problem for teams looking to ensure that the going-on-35-year-old lefty is healthy, particularly given that he has more than $70 million remaining on his contract including the buyout of his 2016 option; the Phillies are said to be asking for three or four top prospects and unwilling to absorb any of that salary. If that's not enough of an obstacle, Lee also has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to up to 21 teams, so don't expect him to be moved.
Bud Norris, Astros
The A's and Braves have been most recently connected to him, with teams such as the Orioles, Pirates, Rangers and Red Sox among those who have expressed interest as well. He's hardly an ace (a career 4.33 ERA offsetting his 8.4 strikeouts per nine), but he's inexpensive, making $3 million this year, with two more years of club control. Some teams believe the Astros are merely setting up a market for him this winter.
The White Sox are said to be asking for more than the Cubs got for Matt Garza, seeking top prospects such as the Red Sox Xander Bogaerts and the A's Addison Russell, and unwilling to absorb any of the $24 million he has remaining on his deal through next year. At that price, he's not getting moved, particularly given his lack of durability. Even so, other teams such as the Braves, Orioles, Cardinals and Dodgers remain interested as well.
The Royals are said to be seeking major league-ready talent if they move the 30-year-old righty. No teams have been directly connected to him, so he may be a fallback for a team that doesn't land Jake Peavy. Atlanta may be a sensible fit, but the Braves are said to be more focused on relief pitching.
The 32-year-old lefty is no stranger to midsummer trades, having been dealt in 2010 and 2012. He's currently carrying a 4.48 ERA while striking out just 5.2 per nine, so he's not much more than back-rotation help or a consolation prize for teams falling short of higher-end targets. Even so, he's an inexpensive innings-eater with around $3 million remaining this year. The Orioles might be interested in reacquiring him, and other teams will surely emerge if he's truly available.
After trading Francisco Rodriguez, general manager Doug Melvin said that he wasn't shopping Axford or anyone else, an inventory that also includes starter Yovani Gallardo and fellow reliever Jim Henderson. The Dodgers are among the teams who have expressed interest in Axford, who's been too homer-prone (1.4 HR/9, not to mention 3.5 BB/9) to regain the closer's job he surrendered last year.
Jesse Crain, White Sox
Though he's been on the disabled list due to shoulder soreness for a month and experienced a setback last week, Crain recently had a bullpen session scouted by the Braves, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Red Sox and Reds. On Monday, ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine reported that the White Sox were close to sending him out in a "complicated" three-way deal involving the Rays and one other team, but Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan said via Twitter that the deal isn't as close as reported, with other teams interested as well. Update: Crain has been traded to the Rays.
Making $3.2 million with one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining, Gregerson is drawing more calls than the higher-priced Huston Street. The Tigers have been among the teams expressing interest, but Monday's acquisition of Jose Veras may supersede that.
As lefty specialists go, the 36-year-old Lopez is a very good one who's been part of three World Series winners with the Red Sox and Giants. This year, he's got a 1.42 ERA while striking out 9.6 per nine in 25 1/3 innings. He's held lefties to a .215/.299/.305 line in his career, and has been even better (.172/.232/.234 in 71 PA) this year, with numbers along those lines going back to 2010. He's vulnerable against righties (.301/.387/.423), but even so, Bruce Bochy has used him as an occasional closer; he had seven saves last year. It's not clear who's targeting him, but the Giants are listening.
Joe Nathan, Rangers
With Joakim Soria back from Tommy John surgery and Neftali Feliz working his way back as well, the Rangers are said to be mulling the prospect of trading the 38-year-old Nathan in order to secure offensive help. Despite his advanced age, he's been strong this year, with 32 saves in 34 attempts, a 1.73 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine — numbers that instantly make him the top closer on the market if indeed he's available. He's owed about $2.5 million for the remainder of the year, with a $9 million option for next year that he can void if he finishes 55 games; he's 16 away from that number.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Papelbon still has more than $30 million remaining on his deal through 2015, and while Ruben Amaro Jr. has sounded disinclined to deal him, the 32-year-old closer sounds like he'd rather be elsewhere, telling MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, "I definitely didn't come here for this," in reference to the team's eight-game losing streak. With the Tigers acquiring Veras, their interest may have cooled, and a return to Boston is probably more than a longshot given his age, remaining salary, and declining strikeout rate.