May 27, 2005
AL Teams in Transition
We've passed the quarter mark in the season, so it's time to take our first pass at what organizations are likely sellers in the upcoming trade market, teams that will throw some of their underperforming veterans under the bus. The Reds have already begun that process by jettisoning D'Angelo Jimenez and Danny Graves. What other teams fit this category, and what might be their next move? We'll address the AL today and the NL Monday.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Danys Baez has been on the trade block for a while now, and while Rays GM Chuck LaMar apparently has had a few nibbles so far, he hasn't yet gotten an offer that included the caliber of pitching prospect that he wants. His patience in peddling Victor Zambrano last year netted him Scott Kazmir. That's a high standard to live up to, so don't expect him to acquire the likes of Thomas Diamond, but there's a good bet that a trade will be in the offing, possibly to a team that won't use Baez as a closer. If and when Baez is traded, Lance Carter is probably the short-term beneficiary over Jesus Colome, who isn't throwing nearly as hard as he did in 2004. The long-term beneficiary is Chad Orvella, currently closing for Double-A Montgomery.
Aubrey Huff has also been the subject of trade speculation, but the substance of which has been far less concrete. The reasons why the Rays might trade Huff include finances (he'll make $6.75 million in 2006), the rapid ascension of Delmon Young and Huff's customary slow start at the plate.
At some point the Devil Rays will promote B.J. Upton, whose defense at shortstop at Triple-A Durham has improved after a rough start. Surprisingly, it's his offense that has lagged behind; Upton is posting a pedestrian .264/.339/.383 line. He doesn't turn 21 until August, so it isn't a big concern, but it's enough to delay his promotion until later in the season. When he finally gets promoted, the Devil Rays will have to figure out who sits among Julio Lugo, Jorge Cantu and Nick Green.
Kansas City Royals
The problem with the Royals being an obvious seller is that they have precious little to sell. The desirable players they have are, for the most part, too young and too important to their future (Zack Greinke, David DeJesus) to be dealt, and the rest of the roster is so much flotsam. Mike Sweeney is the obvious exception, but trading him presents other problems, most notably his health. The Royals also face a public relations problem if they trade Sweeney. Because their revenues are so gate-dependent, a dump trade of Sweeney might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. No notable specific trade rumors have surfaced yet.
Who else do the Royals have to trade? Matt Stairs has no business being on this team, but it's not as if they will be able to create much of a market for him. Just as importantly, they have precious few prospects at the upper levels waiting for an opportunity. Justin Huber is lighting it up at Double-A Wichita following his conversion to first base, and might get a September call, but beyond that, their best prospects are either already in the majors or have yet to reach Double-A.
Octavio Dotel's elbow injury really ties the A's hands. He was their most obvious trade candidate, but even after he returns, you'd have to think that what they'll be able to fetch for them has been diminished greatly. While surgery isn't expected, Dotel has yet to throw as part of the rehab process. Once Dotel returns, look for the A's to put him in a few save situations initially, with the hope of restoring his trade value. Even if they're unable to deal him, don't be surprised if Huston Street takes over as the A's closer later in the season.
Barry Zito is the other high-profile name who will be the subject of trade talks, and there's still some hope that he might fetch a good prospect or two, with the thought that a team could turn him around under a new pitching coach.
Not all of the A's changes will necessarily come via trade. Scott Hatteberg's fantasy owners should be casting a nervous eye towards Sacramento, where Dan Johnson is posting a tidy .324/.424/.549 line. Even factoring in the inflationary nature of the PCL, Johnson appears to be a better fit for the A's needs than Hatteberg, who has reverted back to his 2003 form. Hatteberg's contract runs out after this year, so there's one less reason to keep him in the lineup ahead of Johnson.
One change you won't see anytime in the near future is the call-up of Dan Meyer. While there's a natural inclination by an organization to try to make a deal look good in the short-term, Meyer's struggles at Sacramento have been profound. Not only does he have a 7.13 ERA with a whopping 10 homers allowed in 35 1/3 innings, but he has also struggled with an "exhausted" rotator cuff.
The Tigers aren't likely to consider themselves sellers in the short-term, in part because of their offseason boondoggles, er, financial outlays. Troy Percival's elbow injury ties their hands with Ugueth Urbina, which is a shame because the market for closers is as good as it's going to get right now. Fifteen teams, including the Tigers, have changed their closers (or said that they would change their closer, only to then give that closer the subsequent save opportunity, but I digress) either due to performance or injury. The attrition rate has been especially high in the NL, where 10 such changes have occurred. The Tigers probably aren't willing to write off the possibility of contending yet, but the odds on them leapfrogging both the White Sox and Twins are pretty slim. If they don't trade Urbina, the only other likely trade candidate is Rondell White.
Don't look for too much in the way of immediate help from the farm system. Kyle Sleeth has been sidelined at Double-A Erie with an elbow injury, Curtis Granderson's production has dropped off upon the promotion to Triple-A Toledo and while Justin Verlander has impressed, he's still at high-A Lakeland. At best, we'll see him in September. Chris Shelton is the one upper-level Tiger minor leaguer that could help with the bat, but his problem remains the same as it was before the start of the season. There's no place for him to play, unless the organization decides to cut bait on Carlos Pena.
This is another organization that's going to be slow to admit that they're not a contender, given the money spent to put their roster together. Perhaps it's justified, given that the two top teams in the AL West clearly have their flaws. Still, the clock is ticking. The Mariners will need to emulate the 2004 Astros in short order if they want to elevate themselves into the race. Two changes almost certainly seem to be in the offing, and another makes a certain amount of sense.
It's just a matter of time before the Felix Hernandez era begins in Seattle. Anxious Mariners fans would like it to be sooner rather than later, but given how quickly he has advanced through the farm system, at such a young age, it might behoove them to wait and allow Hernandez to develop further. His walk rate is a tick high (21 walks in 57 1/3 innings at Tacoma) and he recently had a minor calf and ankle injury. Still, the Mariners' rotation is teeming with mediocrity. Any one of Aaron Sele, Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche could be vulnerable, and Joel Pineiro already has been demoted once this year.
The other obvious change is at shortstop, where a Seattle fan's lonely eyes pine for the return of Pokey Reese. That's not going to happen anytime soon, but the Wilson Valdez experiment should be put out of its misery soon enough. Jose Lopez just came off the DL at Triple-A Tacoma and should be ready for a recall in the near future.
Finally, Randy Winn could be traded to make room for either Chris Snelling or Shin-Soo Choo. The last remnants of Winn's power have disappeared, leaving him with an OPS of 698. That isn't going to cut it as a corner outfielder, no matter how good his defense is in left field. Winn's contract expires at the end of the year, making him an attractive candidate for teams who value his skill set. Either Choo or Snelling would make more than adequate replacements for Winn. While Choo hasn't hit for much power at Tacoma--or really, anywhere else in his minor-league career--he's getting on-base at a .423 clip. That's not going to translate at the same level in the majors, but he'll still help the Mariners, who have gotten on at an anemic .308 pace. Meanwhile, Snelling's fragility may have forced you to cross him off your prospect list, but you should reconsider. Still just 23 years old. Snelling has posted a .397/.475/.621 for Tacoma in 31 games since coming off the DL.
For now, these are the only AL clubs I'm going to classify as sellers. One could make a good case to put both the Indians and Blue Jays in that camp, but both teams have given enough cause for hope to hold off on that.