Baseball

April 22, 2007

Trade Winds

What better timethan the coldest, wettest April in memory to reignite the hot stove? Here arefive logical candidates to move

IT'S ONLY April,but there is no shortage of trade candidates for whom a move would benefit boththe player and his current team. Conversations with eight front-officeexecutives yielded the following list of players who could use a change ofscenery, in addition to their potential landing spots.

1. Brad Lidge,Astros reliever
Houston hasn't yet indicated that it wants to deal Lidge, but the club doesn'tappear to know what to do with him either. After suggesting that he wouldtolerate five blown saves before removing Lidge as the closer, manager PhilGarner demoted Lidge all the way to sixth-inning duties in the wake of oneblown save. A day later Garner had Lidge warming up for a save situation beforeletting his replacement, Dan Wheeler, wiggle out of trouble. Front officesagree that Lidge, 30, still has closer stuff, and one scout calls Lidge the"classic change of scenery guy," believing that his precipitous falloff(from a 2.29 ERA in '05 to 5.28 in '06) has to be a "mental thing."

Billy Wagner isstumping for the Mets to make a play for his former setup man, though he toldSI, "He needs to be in a place where he can [exhale]." That would seemto eliminate not only New York but also another potential destination,Philadelphia. "All it takes," says Wagner, "is one bad game, and[the Phillies fans] would kill him."

The DevilRays—with ex-Houston G.M. Gerry Hunsicker in their front office—make sense, butone AL exec says, "I don't think anyone's going to pay the value thatHouston's going to want. They'd be selling at the lowest point. What if he goessomewhere and saves 25 games?"

2. Chad Cordero,Nationals closer
Only third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and perhaps outfielder Austin Kearns areuntouchable, according to two people familiar with the thinking of Washingtongeneral manager Jim Bowden, though one G.M. who's interested in Corderocomplains, "[The Nats] have to lower their asking price." BecauseCordero is not eligible to be a free agent until after the 2009 season, Bowdenis looking for a huge haul in return. During the off-season he requested threetop young pitchers from the Red Sox—Jon Lester, Craig Hansen and ClayBuchholz—to which one AL assistant G.M. says, "Boston wouldn't give up oneof those guys [for Cordero]." The Washington closer is only 25, and heaveraged 38 saves over the past two seasons, but he also yielded 13 home runsin 73 1/3 innings last year. One AL exec says, "He'd be good for a NationalLeague team. He has big stones, but his stuff is pretty short."Nonetheless, the Phillies, Reds, Astros and Marlins would love to have him.

3. Todd Helton,Rockies first baseman
Colorado is rebuilding around a nucleus of good twentysomething players (page52) and the payroll-chopping Rockies have cheaper, younger first base optionsthan the 33-year old Helton, such as minor league bopper Joe Koshansky and JeffBaker, who started the year with seven hits in 11 at bats with Colorado. Thereare hurdles, though, starting with the $89 million owed Helton through 2011 anda no-trade clause he isn't eager to waive. While Helton's slugging percentagehas declined in recent years, it was still a respectable .476 last season, andone G.M. says, "Would it surprise me if he repeated what he did last yearor maybe even did a little bit better? No." The Red Sox, Angels and Rangersare possibilities.

4. Rocco Baldelli,Devil Rays centerfielder
The D-Rays insist they don't have an abundance of outfielders, but opponentsfind that thinking D-lusional. Talented rookie fourth outfielder Elijah Dukescombines power, speed and an arm, and B.J. Upton, currently playing out ofposition at second base, has the tools to replace Baldelli as well. During thewinter Tampa sought a young, major-league-ready starter withfront-of-the-rotation potential (most notably Josh Johnson or Scott Olsen fromFlorida), but the D-Rays should instead aim for a package of high-levelpitching prospects, of which the Marlins—who desperately need acenterfielder—have plenty. The Rockies are interested too.

5. LastingsMilledge, Mets outfielder
Milledge, 22, is blocked for the moment in rightfield by Shawn Green and incenter, until 2011, by Carlos Beltran. The multitalented Milledge had a roughstart in New York during an '06 cameo, and some Mets talent evaluators prefereven younger outfield prospects Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez to Milledgeanyway. While the Mets are reluctant to trade any top prospect, they needstarting pitching help and Milledge remains the most enticing bait. The A's andthe Marlins, a frequent trade partner of Mets G.M. Omar Minaya, should be firstin line.

ONLY AT SI.COMWho's on the managerial hot seat? Catch Jon Heyman's Daily Scoop.

PHOTOTOM DIPACE (LIDGE)NEED GAS? Lidge has lost the confidence of his manager but not his ability to strike batters out.
PHOTOED WOLFSTEIN/ICON SMI (CORDERO) PHOTOTREVOR BROWN/RICH CLARKSON AND ASSOCIATES (HELTON) PHOTOAL MESSERSCHMIDT/WIREIMAGE.COM (BALDELLI) PHOTOJOHN IACONO (MILLEDGE)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)