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June 16, 2005

Prospectus Today

The Market

by Joe Sheehan

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I keep getting into discussions about the trade market--I discussed the Rangers' needs both yesterday on ESPNews and today on the radio--and the conclusion I keep coming to is that there's not going to be enough talent on the market to make this a busy trade season. The teams that are out of the race are just plain bad, lacking the kind of marketable talent that can sway contending teams into making a big deal.

I haven't done a thorough analysis of this yet, though, and it's probably time for that. There are nine teams who can clearly be considered sellers at this point: the Devil Rays, Royals, Mariners, A's, Brewers, Astros, Reds, Giants and Rockies. You might add the Tigers and Pirates, or take off the Mariners or Brewers, but I'll go with those nine based on performance, place in the success cycle and indications by the teams' front offices.

One of the things to keep in mind as we go through these lists is the industry's blind spot: every team, no matter what it actually needs, thinks it needs starting pitching. Therefore, the availability of good starters drives the trade market. Almost everything else is secondary.

Devil Rays: Aubrey Huff was once a cornerstone of the Rays' future, but he's 28 now, makes nearly $7 million next year, and is shortly going to be blocking Delmon Young. He is, by far, the best reasonably available hitter on the market, despite his '05 line of .258/.330/.369. The Red Sox, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, Mets and Dodgers could all use a corner man with Huff's bat.

Danys Baez will attract some interest in a year that has been brutal for closers. With the scarlet "C"--but a 22/17 K/BB in 29 2/3 innings--Baez has a lot more perceived value than actual value, and represents the Rays' best chance to fleece some team. Julio Lugo is the type of player, with a good batting average and 16 stolen bases, who might be overvalued, but there are very few teams looking for a shortstop. The Rays have no marketable starting pitchers; their veterans--Hideo Nomo, Mark Hendrickson--have been hideous.

Royals: Essentially a Triple-A team at this point, the Royals have little outside of Mike Sweeney, whose injury problems and poison-pill contract--he gets an additional $1.5 million a year if he's dealt--make him an unattractive target. Matt Stairs is the kind of veteran bat who often changes time zones in the second half, but he won't bring much back. It would be hilarious to see a market develop for Jose Lima, but given the irrationality of midseason dealing, we're about two good starts from seeing it happen.

Mariners: Eddie Guardado is another capital-C closer who could change addresses. He's relatively inexpensive ($4 million salary) and unlike Baez, is a good pitcher in any role. There aren't many teams that couldn't use a left-handed reliever with good peripherals and fair durability--the days of "Everyday Eddie" are over, but he can still pitch three times a week.

The Mariners have a number of durable starters who have little chance of making a positive impact on a race, but who could be dealt to teams needing to fill in for in-season problems. No Mariners starter has a league-average strikeout rate or even a two-to-one K/BB, but teams might be fooled by the win totals and winning percentage of an Aaron Sele or a Jamie Moyer. The Mariners' starters are much more likely to hurt a team trading for them than help them.

Bret Boone's defensive reputation is reasonably intact, but he can't hit any longer, making him tough to move. Randy Winn is actually an attractive option for two teams in dire need of a center fielder, the Yankees and the Rangers. While not a sexy player, Winn would provide OBP and average-plus defense for a trade partner.

A's: Their position players are having such bad seasons that it's hard to see demand for them. Erubiel Durazo can hit, but not play the field, and it's hard for a team to commit to a DH below the level of Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas. His popularity aside, Eric Byrnes should be dealt before his value disappears; his scrappy sheen gives him added perceived value.

Barry Zito, the sole remaining member of the Big Three, is the Athletic most often mentioned in trade rumors. After a rough start to the season, over the last six weeks he's pitched as well as he has since 2003, although his command is still a bit shaky. With an $8 million option on his 2006 services, Zito may be attractive to a team more willing than the A's to pick up that commitment. Zito is likely to be the best pitcher available in July, and one of the few on the market who could actually have a positive impact on a race for a new team.

Brewers: The Brewers' signing of Ben Sheets to a long-term deal is a big reason why the pitching market is so thin. Even given his illness and so-so performance since coming back from the DL, Sheets would have been the class of the market.

With Sheets in the fold, there's not much for the Brewers to do. It's considered a foregone conclusion that Prince Fielder will eventually push Lyle Overbay out of Milwaukee, but there's no need for that to happen now, despite a decent market for first basemen. Carlos Lee's trade value is at its peak, and he has an attractive option for 2006 ($8.5 million). It would be hard for the Brewers to trade their perceived best player so soon after trading a fan favorite (Scott Podsednik) for him, so no matter how much baseball sense it makes, I doubt that Lee will become available.

Astros: Under normal circumstances, a team going nowhere holding perhaps the best pitcher in the game on a one-year contract would be burning up the phone lines. These aren't normal circumstances. Roger Clemens holds all the cards here, so whether the Astros get to leverage their biggest asset in their smallest season isn't their decision to make.

Jonah Keri has the idea that Clemens should accept a trade to Baltimore. It would give him a chance to beat both his former teams (well, all three, actually), and a deal actually makes pretty good baseball sense for both teams. I doubt it will happen, but it's a very interesting notion.

The Astros pitcher more likely to be dealt is Andy Pettitte. Pettitte's always-shaky health status and the $14 million he's owed in 2006 make him a huge risk for any interested party. In a thin market, however, he's going to draw a lot of interest because he's left-handed and is perceived to be a winner.

Reds: Someone should let the Reds know they had a series in Boston this week. I'm not usually one for judging effort by watching on television, but if you were going to argue that a team had given up, those three games were pretty good evidence for the prosecution. Maybe the regular chairs go next.

What's odd is that for such a bad team, the Reds have some players to trade. They've destroyed Austin Kearns' value in favor of Ryan Freel--who admittedly has been very good the last two years--so there's an opportunity for a team to steal a pretty good right fielder for the stretch drive. Keep in mind that the Reds have had a glut of outfielders/first baseman for a while now, and they haven't been able to make a deal in that time. Finally, Joe Randa has no business finishing the year in Cincinnati, and he could improve a number of third-base situations around the league. His fan-favorite status may impair Dan O'Brien's judgment, however.

Giants: Loaded with veterans from top to bottom, with Barry Bonds looming over the whole thing. Brian Sabean hasn't had to be a seller at the deadline, and he may not know how. It's more likely that the Giants keep everyone of value with an eye towards 2006. Maybe a Michael Tucker or a Deivi Cruz leaves town. Brett Tomko, innings guy, might be the best right-hander available if he were offered around. The Giants don't have much in the system with which to replace traded players.

Rockies: When sifting through rosters in my head while doing media gigs, I kept coming back to Shawn Chacon and Jason Jennings as the best starters available. That's false, but the two may be in the top five. Jennings is signed, and has shown that he can take the ball every fifth day pitching for the Rockies, so it's more likely that Chacon and his even K/BB ratio will be shopped once he comes off of the DL.

So among hitters, you have Huff, Winn, Randa, and maybe Sweeney if you think he's healthy. After Zito and Pettitte, there are virtually no pitchers capable of being factors in a race over half a season, with Clemens being a huge question mark.

That's ugly. Unless more teams fall out of the race, ones with some tradeable veterans, this could be a very quiet trade season.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Trade,  The Who,  Impact Trade

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