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July 23, 2007

Prospectus Today

Calm Seas

by Joe Sheehan

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We've launched the summer version of "The Mill," which will take us up through the trade deadline. In addition to Will Carroll's regular reports from the front, we'll have even more inside information from the equally well-connected John Perrotto and Kevin Goldstein. Even though we all know that most rumored deals don't come to fruition, reading about them, talking about them, and picking them apart are guilty pleasures that I think all fans share.

Of course, this shapes up as a slow year on the market, for reasons that have been picked apart again and again in this space. From revenue sharing to parity to the evolution of GM strategies, everything is working against an active deadline. There simply isn't much talent available, especially on the pitching side. Most of the trade options aren't likely to be worth more than a win over the alternatives buyers can choose in-house. There are a couple of impact bats available, but the price tags are high, and the GMs selling them are under pressure to extract maximum value after some recent trading disasters.

ESPN.com's version of "The Mill" is "Rumor Central," a page I find myself going to a couple of times a day this time of year. To get a sense of just how thin the market is, let's run through the names listed there and see if there's anything worth buying.

  • Jack Wilson, Pirates. It's a weak name to lead with, but the rumors of Wilson to the Blue Jays are the freshest ones in the air, especially with the Pirates having acquired Cesar Izturis. Wilson was a lightning rod for criticism earlier in the year, although he's basically the same player he's always been. The difference between him and John McDonald isn't enough to bother making a trade for Wilson.

    That concept-that the difference between the external and internal options is too small to bother with-is going to come up a lot. Teams often pull the trigger at the deadline because they don't recognize this, instead becoming enamored of the grass on the other side of the fence, or of the short-term high from "doing something," or, most commonly, because they overrrate the value of service time.

  • Chad Cordero, Nationals. Relievers are usually the cheapest commodity at the deadline. For all we talk about the overrating of "closers," teams don't overpay for them at the deadline very often, and quality arms are usually available for second-tier prospects. Perhaps it's the memory of Jeff Bagwell-for-Larry Andersen that keeps the prices in check.

    Cordero is the kind of pitcher who could help 90 percent of the teams in contention, regardless of the role he winds up employed in. He's in the middle of his worst season, and still posting a 2:1 K/BB and an ERA below 3.00. His velocity is supposedly down from his peak, and like other quick-impact college relievers-Gregg Olson comes to mind-his best work may already be behind him. However, for two months, he could make a difference to the Tigers, the Indians, the Mets, the Dodgers, or the Brewers. He's not free-agent eligible until after 2009, either, so he's more than a rental. Cordero may be one of the better bargains this July.

  • Sammy Sosa, Rangers. The other generally cheap commodity at the deadline-and usually into August-is the right-handed bat who does little else but hit. Sosa, who's having a better year than many expected him to, but a pretty bad one-a .297 OBP from a DH is abysmal-in the bigger picture. As a role player, he could help a number of teams, but the difference between Sosa and your average Quadruple-A slugger is…well, it doesn't favor Sosa. I'd take Chris Carter or Shelley Duncan or their as-yet unpromoted ilk over Sosa.
  • Eric Byrnes, Diamondbacks. Josh Byrnes is in a tough spot, because the D'backs are contending, but Byrnes may never have more trade value. Dealing Byrnes-far and away the right thing to do-would be a tough sell in a market that has been tough on the Diamondbacks since the championship years.

    Byrnes actually one of the few players whose splits by half-he's just awful after the break-have meaning. He's a fourth outfielder who wears down when he plays too much, and especially too much against right-handers. The D'backs could trade him, give Carlos Quentin back his job, and lose absolutely nothing as long as Quentin didn't spread disease in the clubhouse or beat down adolescent fans. For an acquirer, Byrnes will be a decent fourth outfielder who can start against all lefties and be a valuable bench guy the rest of the time. The Tigers and Yankees could use him, and maybe the Mets and Cubs as well, although the Cubs would be sorely tempted to play him every day. In fact, that's the problem with Byrnes-he's a fourth outfielder priced as and perceived to be a starter. You want it the other way around…

  • Wilson Betemit, Dodgers. …like this guy. Betemit is the best .240 hitter in the majors, loading that BA with 31 walks and 18 extra-base hits for a .370/.497 OBP/SLG. He's the best third baseman on the Dodgers, who seem committed to watching Nomar Garciaparra kill rallies for the rest of the summer. (If I could link to video, I'd link to his ABs Friday night and yesterday afternoon that ended comeback chances.) Betemit has been around forever, and is still just 25 years old, which means you might get a three-year peak that sees him be an above-average third baseman or, at worst, the best fifth infielder in the game. Trading for Betemit is a great idea, and if the Dodgers move him, they will almost certainly lose the deal.
  • Brad Lidge, Astros. Don't the Astros have to deal Lidge? He's a free agent after 2009, and nothing he does in the next eight months of baseball will make a bit of difference to an Astros team that needs to rebuild. The Astros are a bit thin in their system, and Lidge has shown, in the last three months, that he's the pitcher who owned the NL in 2004 and 2005. Eric Gagne gets a bit more attention, but because of his durability issues and impending free agency, Lidge is the better trade target. He's not just the best guy in the pool; he's one of the best relievers in baseball.
  • Adam Dunn, Reds. The Dunn-to-Brewers rumors have been dismissed out of hand, and while they could use his OBP, they're deep enough in the outfield to have made that an odd fit. Anything that costs Corey Hart playing time is a Bad Thing (tm) for the Brewers.

    Still, Dunn would be one of the few players on the market worthy of a two-month rental. He is a true impact bat, a .250/.360/.530 hitter who, unlike Sosa or Byrnes, would upgrade the DH slot of most AL contenders, and who would be worth two or maybe three wins over 60 games. His perceived value seems to be lower than his actual value due to his defense, baserunning, and high strikeout totals, so there's a chance to swing a good deal here. Wayne Krivsky, however, may still be smarting from last summer's terrible Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez trade, so he's likely to demand a high price for even two months' worth of Dunn. He has the luxury of knowing Dunn is signed for 2009 as well, and that he can go to Nashville this winter and deal the slugger if he doesn't do so now. Along with Lidge, Dunn is one the two highest-impact guys on the market. I think, over two months, he'd be slightly more valuable than Mark Teixeira.

  • Damaso Marte, Pirates. He looked like he might be more than this at one point, but Marte is now a lefty specialist, and a good one. Picking him up makes more sense for a team that is a very good bet to make the postseason and is concerned with tactical issues in a short series-unsurprisingly, the Red Sox are interested. Marte wouldn't have enough impact in the regular season to make acquiring him a priority.

    I'll write about this more in September, but I want to put the idea out there now: with the new playoff calendar featuring more off days, any manager who goes into the postseason with more than 10 pitchers is a moron.

  • Mark Teixeira, Rangers. Here's the problem Jon Daniels is faced with: he has, objectively, the best tradeable player in the market, and that player is signed through next season. Daniels, however, has gotten absolutely obliterated in the two big trades he's made, dealing Alfonso Soriano, Chris Young, and Adrian Gonzalez for Brad Wilkerson, Adam Eaton, and Akinori Otsuka. Even with a contract extension, he has to be feeling pressure to make the perfect trade, and since Teixeira is a pretty stable stock, and likely to continue being good for a while, he has to extract maximum value to avoid being perceived as a failure as a GM.

    I defended the two big deals Daniels made, but both have turned out poorly, and the money he's spent in the free-agent market-and on a ridiculous overpay for Michael Young's decline phase-has been wasted. If he trades Teixeira, the Rangers' best player, for a package that is perceived as 60 cents on the dollar, or if the trade turns out as badly as the first two he made, he's done as the team's GM. It's tempting to say that's not fair, but you can't hand-wave away that kind of track record, no matter what you think of the GM's intelligence and approach. You have to grade the guys you like the same way the guys you don't.

There are many more names in Rumor Central, but this column is already hours late. Keep in mind that the best trades are the ones we hear nothing about until they're announced, and we'll probably get one or two of those before August 1. Until then, as you read "The Mill," remember, trade rumors are a fun part of being a baseball fan, and less about who gets what right than about stirring the pot and adding to our enjoyment.

Now, to e-mail Will about that Roy Oswalt thing…

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

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