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June 14, 2007

Fantasy Focus

On the Move in the AL

by Jeff Erickson

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The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still six weeks away, but in many keeper and dynasty leagues, a group of prospective buyers and sellers has been firmly established, and the trades between the groups have already started. In the last week, the RotoWire Staff League, an 18-team mixed keeper league, has already had four such trades. Now is a good time to take a look at potential selling teams in the real world, and see what they might have to offer in advance of the trade deadline. We'll take a look at the American League this week, and then review possible National League sellers next week.

Texas Rangers

At 23-42, the Rangers have the worst record in baseball and are already 17.5 games out of first place in the American League West. What's more, their best player, Mark Teixeira, is on the DL with a quadriceps strain that's expected to keep him out at least through the All-Star break. In what was perhaps a crossroads season for Hank Blalock, he will instead spend most of the year on the DL. The pitching staff has the worst ERA (5.50) and WHIP (1.58) in baseball, as projected ace Kevin Millwood has instead been one more millstone on this sinking staff, going 2-6 with a 7.82 ERA. The concept of "hope and faith" has left the building. Who on this squad might be finding temporary housing in a new city later this summer?

Prior to his latest injury, Mark Teixeira's name has been floated in some trade rumors, and Rangers GM Jon Daniels didn't exactly refute the possibility that Teixeira might get traded, instead saying that he wasn't actively shopping the slugger. Teixeira doesn't become a free agent until after the 2008 season, so there's not a whole lot of urgency for the Rangers to trade him. His slow starts in both of the last two seasons have hurt the Rangers, but he came around a lot more quickly this spring than he did last year. It's the sign of a bad organization that looks at the shortcomings of its best player as the reason for their problems, rather than looking at the numerous other shortcomings elsewhere on the team. Teixeira's injury might prevent any serious talks--if they're going to happen in the first place--until mid-to-late July.

Meanwhile, on any given night, the Rangers are staffing their DH slot and two of their three outfield slots with Frank Catalanotto, Kenny Lofton, and Sammy Sosa, who are 33, 40, and 38 years old, respectively. Of the three, Lofton is the most likely to be traded to a team needing a rent-a-player. It's been a familiar fate for him in the last few years of his career. If he is traded to a National League team, he might not be the instant stolen base threat that his numbers might suggest, having not even attempted one swipe since May 25. Catalanotto and Sosa might be harder for the Rangers to deal, and while it might have made sense to sign them back when they thought they could contend, but at this point it doesn't make sense for those two to be in the lineup every night; they're not going to be a part of the next winning Rangers team.

Bullpen help is perhaps the most tradeable commodity in the run-up to the deadline, and the Rangers have a few desirable players in their bullpen. Both Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka have pitched well, and both are only signed to one-year deals, although Otsuka won't be eligible for free agency for a few more years. Gagne particularly seems like someone who might draw interest and make sense for the Rangers to deal away.

Three veteran players that probably won't be traded are Millwood, Vincente Padilla, and Michael Young. All three still have multiple seasons left on their contracts, and the latter two just got their current deals this year. Padilla is probably untradeable, given his contract and his arm problems in this season, while Young is viewed as a franchise cornerstone of the franchise.

Kansas City Royals

Although 25-41, the Royals are improving incrementally, but are still a few years away from contending. They have some prospects like Alex Gordon and Joey Gathright already up at the major league level, and others like Billy Butler are on the cusp of being ready. This should mean that 2007 will be Mike Sweeney's final year with the Royals. Sweeney would seem like an ideal trade candidate for a team needing a right-handed bat, used judiciously. His trade would pave the way for Butler, although there's always the danger of Sweeney going to the DL first. Other veterans that might elicit some interest include Mark Grudzielanek (assuming his latest knee injury isn't significant), Jason LaRue for teams needing a veteran backup catcher, or Octavio Dotel, who probably wouldn't close for his new team.

Chicago White Sox

After getting swept by the Phillies, the White Sox (27-35) are closer to the Royals than they are to third place, let alone being in the AL Central race. They're last in the majors in runs scored (239) and on-base percentage (.304), with little immediate help left in the pipeline in the minors. Their production from their outfield in particular has been ghastly. It's pretty telling that although they've relied heavily on Darin Erstad this season, his trip to the DL has actually hurt them. Joe Crede's back injury is an especially cruel blow, because it deprives them of one of their better trade assets.

Nonetheless, the White Sox still have some players who could change uniforms, perhaps none more likely than Jermaine Dye. Last year Dye was able to stay healthy all year and put everything together, slugging a career-best .622. A certain amount of regression should have been expected, but Dye has collapsed, hitting just .226 so far. He's had fluid drained from his knee and taken a couple of rounds of cortisone shots, so the injury no doubt has played a large role in that drop. He's also been a bit unlucky, with just a .236 BABIP. His contract will be up at the end of the year, making him a pretty good trade candidate if he seems healthy in time to make him more attractive.

Like Dye, Mark Buehrle will be a free agent at the end of the year, and will test the free agent waters that have been so kind to starting pitchers recently. Buehrle and the Sox attempted to negotiate a contract extension in spring training, but they were unwilling to give him more than three years, a difference that could not be overcome. He might be among the biggest name pitchers to be available later this summer.

Baltimore Orioles

Losers of their last nine of 11 games, the Orioles (29-36) are now 8.5 games and seven teams back in the wild card chase, with virtually no hope in the AL East. Usually they wait until July or August for this level of despair. Unfortunately for them, most of their marketable commodities are recently-signed free agents, such as relievers Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford. Sure, someone like Steve Trachsel could draw a little interest, and the Orioles certainly have little reason not to trade him, but how much of an impact will that make?

The bigger dilemma is their annual dilemma--will they be willing to trade Miguel Tejada? He'll have two years and $26 million remaining on his contract after this year, but they still should find no shortage of suitors should they make him available. Last year's major rumors involving Tejada placed him with the Angels, with the Angelenos and not the Angeloses reportedly being the party that backed away. Who will be that team this year?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays (29-34) are starting to show signs that their good young talent is ready for prime time. Their first wave of pitching prospects (Andrew Sonnanstine, J.P. Howell, Jason Hammel) have already been called up, knocking two placeholders out of the rotation (Jae Seo and Casey Fossum) while threatening another (Edwin Jackson). Among position players, they need to figure what, if anything, they can do with Elijah Dukes, and whether he or Rocco Baldelli ultimately will be their center fielder. They also have to figure out how they're going to make room for both Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria in their infield; both are currently starring in Double-A.

Besides Dukes or Baldelli, the other big name possibly leaving the Devil Rays is Al Reyes. Again, relievers seem like the players most in demand and likely to be traded in advance of the deadline, and while the Rays aren't going to win this year, there's a legitimate argument for them to keep him. With such a young rotation and horrible set-up crew, they need at least one reliable option in that bullpen to give manager Joe Maddon an alternative beyond leaving his starters in to rack up high pitch counts.

A final possibility might be for the Rays to trade Carlos Pena and cash in on his hot start, but there's the question of whether they'd actually rather keep him because he's still only 29. There's also the potential problem that they might not be able to get full value for him, given how cheaply available he was this offseason, and how he's struggled in recent years.

Related Content:  Trade,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury,  Impact Trade

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