Big names arebeing thrown around as the nonwaiver deadline approaches, but the truth is, thepickings will be slim
The July 31nonwaiver trade deadline is still more than five weeks away, but generalmanagers around the majors are already busy asking one another, Deal or nodeal? "I'm starting to get calls about my players every hour," saysNationals G.M. Jim Bowden, whose club was not one of the 19 teams within fivegames of a playoff spot at week's end. With so many anxious buyers revving uptrade rumors, here's a look at what's fact and what's fiction as the deadlinelooms.
The Marlins willtry to deal Dontrelle Willis
Fiction. Owner Jeffrey Loria has been steadfast about retaining his franchiseplayers, ace lefthander Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Here's why youshould believe him: Florida's young club, which won 12 of its first 15 games inJune, could be a contender sooner than anyone projected after last winter'sfire sale. Though Willis will most likely land a contract worth more than $7million in arbitration next winter, there's no urgency to further slash theteam's meager payroll (a major-league-low $15 million) this season. With Willisoff the market, the crop of available starters is thin. A's G.M. Billy Beane iswilling to deal lefty Barry Zito, a free agent next fall, but he wants a costlypackage in return--up to two top prospects and a major league starter. Sopitching-starved contenders without a wealth of minor league talent, such asthe Yankees, can forget about landing Zito. Says one National League executive,"If you're looking for a starter, bad news: [The Angels'] Jeff Weaver and[the Twins'] Kyle Lohse may be as good as it gets."
The Yanks and theRed Sox are the AL East's only aggressive bidders
Fiction. The Blue Jays, who through Sunday were three games out of first,figure to be prominent in July deal-making. G.M. J.P. Ricciardi wants tofortify his bullpen, which has logged the third most innings in the league andwas ranked 22nd in ERA in the majors. The Marlins' Joe Borowski and thePirates' Salomon Torres are among the desirable relievers available. Meanwhile,the Red Sox want a starting pitcher (they have inquired about Weaver), and theYankees, with Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield hurt, need outfield help.
Alfonso Soriano ison the block
Fact. Three months ago the Nationals' Bowden found no takers when he dangledSoriano, after the All-Star second baseman refused at first to move to theoutfield. But since filling the hole in left adequately and showing that he canstill put up big numbers in cavernous RFK Stadium--he was on pace to hit 55homers--a line of suitors has formed. Since new team president Stan Kastenwants to rebuild from the ground up, teams flush with young talent, such as theDodgers and the Angels, have the edge.
The Reds willunload Junior
Fiction. With his team a surprise contender, high-priced centerfielder KenGriffey Jr. isn't going anywhere. But another top outfielder in the NL Centralmight: the Brewers' Carlos Lee, who was tied for third in the league in homers(23) and ranked fifth in RBIs (58). The consistent and durable Lee is headedfor free agency, but he will draw interest this summer once Milwaukee, alreadyeight games out of first, is convinced it can't make the playoffs. Lee wouldcommand a lower price than Soriano, so he might be the outfield fix the Yankeesare looking for. Says an NL executive, "Given the number of buyers andscarcity of top talent, he'll be one of the most coveted players."
Check out JohnDonovan's power rankings at SI.com/baseball.
The Angels can't do much right these days, and demotingtheir best starter to the minors continued the trend. To make room for acerighthander Bartolo Colon, who came off the DL last week, L.A. sent JeredWeaver (above) to Triple A Salt Lake despite the rookie's 4--0 record and 1.37ERA. Maybe the Angels are waiting for a panicky contender to trade for rightyJeff Weaver, Jered's more hittable brother. (They already rejected Toronto'soffer of outfielder Eric Hinske.) Or maybe the Angels can persuade Tampa Bay tosend them outfielder Carl Crawford for righty Ervin Santana. But if L.A.doesn't fix its defense (no team has given up more unearned runs this year), itwon't matter who's in the rotation.
Extra Mustard by Baseball Prospectus
IS DODGERS ROOKIE MATT KEMP THE NEXT JEFF FRANCOEUR?Kemp, who hit seven home runs in his first 45 major league at bats, is doinghis best impression of the Braves' Francoeur (seven homers in his first 63 atbats as a rookie last year). Entering the season, Baseball Prospectus's PECOTAprojection system cited Francoeur as Kemp's most comparable player, recognizingthe two rightfielders' similarity in power and athleticism; Francoeur was astar defensive back in high school, Kemp was better known for his basketballskills when the Dodgers drafted him. This year, however, Francoeur, 22, has notdisplayed good plate discipline (his on-base percentage was .263 throughSunday), an aspect of the game in which Kemp is improving. In three minorleague seasons through 2005, Kemp, 21, had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.8 to1 and an OBP of .336; this season, including his stats from Double AJacksonville, he has already drawn more walks than he did all of last year, hisstrikeout-to-walk ratio was down to 2.2 to 1, and his OBP was up to .395.Although his strikeout rate remains high, Kemp has already proved to be afaster learner than Francoeur.
More from Tom Verducci and Baseball Prospectus atSI.com/baseball.
ED WOLFSTEIN/ICON SMI
MARKED MEN? Soriano and Lee (inset) are two who might be taking their big bats to new teams.
JEFF HANISCH/US PRESSWIRE
[See above caption]
JOHN CORDES/ICON SMI