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August 8, 2007

A Little Less Glamour

The Next Trading Deadline

by John Perrotto

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It never ceases to amaze those inside baseball how big of a deal the non-waiver trading deadline has become: millions of words of copy written about it in print and on the Internet, along with countless hours devoted to talking about it on radio and television.

"It's a fun thing for the fans," Pittsburgh General Manager Dave Littlefield said. "There is a lot of information out there about it, a lot of talk and a lot of rumors. Some of it is accurate and a lot of it isn't. The most important thing, though, is that it generates interest in the game, which is always a good thing." "It's become a much bigger deal than I remember it being earlier in my career," said Houston infielder Mark Loretta, a 13-year veteran. "With ESPN doing a three-hour special and reporters calling you and all that kind of stuff, it's become the real hot stove time during the season. I've been through it a few years. It's intriguing. It's always interesting to think of the possibilities and what not. Ultimately, it's a relief when it's over."

However, it won't be over for some players. A second, less-glamorous trading deadline will come up at the end of the month on August 31, the day players must be a part of a team's organization in order to be eligible to be on its post-season roster. While players must now either clear waivers before being traded or be dealt to the team claiming them, there are enough tradeable commodities who don't figure to get through the process. That should make the rest of August interesting when it comes to the transaction wire.

Teams generally place all of their players on waivers in the first few days of August, so it is safe to assume that many have already cleared. Who those players are is another story, as Major League Baseball tightly guards news of waiver activity.

With that in mind, here are 15 players whose teams were actively trying to trade them in the days leading up to the deadline and failed to make a deal. Many of them have likely cleared waivers and should be in play over the next few weeks. Those who haven't cleared are almost certain to be in different uniforms by the time spring training rolls around, as they will either be traded in the offseason or become free agents.

Armando Benitez, RHP, Florida: The Giants dumped Benitez on Florida in a May trade as the Marlins used him for closer insurance in case Kevin Gregg failed. Instead, Gregg has thrived, notching 23 saves and posting a fine 2.774 WXRL. Benitez, meanwhile, has a -.704 WXRL and 5.48 ERA in 42 2/3 innings, and the fading Marlins would be glad to give him away. Benitez is looking more and more like a guy who will have to sign a minor league contract when he becomes a free agent this upcoming winter in order to keep his career going.

Emil Brown, OF, Kansas City: Brown was quietly one of the better stories in baseball the past two years, as he was a key contributor for the Royals after years of bouncing between the major leagues and Triple-A. He had a 25.9 VORP in 2005 and followed that with a 20.6 mark last season. However, the bottom has fallen out this season, as he's hitting only .233/.289/.322, and his VORP is down -9.9 in 284 plate appearances. If another club thinks they can still get some production from him, they can have him for a song.

Jeff Conine, 1B/OF, Cincinnati: Conine knows all about August 31 trades, as he was dealt to Florida on that date in 2003 and helped the Marlins win a World Series. He was then shipped to Philadelphia last year, though the Phillies failed to make the playoffs. The 41-year-old is leaning toward retirement at the end of the season, and he has had a weak year, hitting .261/.319/.394 in 227 plate appearances. Some contenders have shown interest in him, and history suggests he could be moved this month.

Jose Contreras, RHP, Chicago White Sox: Contreras has gone from being an ace in 2005 and 2006 to being banished to long relief. His SNLVAR is just 0.1 this season, and his ERA is 6.60 in 121 1/3 innings. Many contenders may still be looking for a starting pitcher, but the fact that Contreras is owed $20 million over the next two seasons has scared off most of them. The others have yet to meet the trade demands of General Manager Ken Williams, who continues to look for talent in return rather than trying to do a straight salary dump.

Kyle Farnsworth, RHP, New York Yankees: Farnsworth has burned all his bridges with the Yankees, particularly with manager Joe Torre, who in a rare move dressed down the reliever in front of his teammates last month. So while Farnsworth hasn't been completely terrible this season--he has a .907 WXRL and 4.87 ERA in 44 1/3 innings--his personality and penchant for never living up to his potential has most teams leery. Atlanta was willing to trade closer Bob Wickman for Farnsworth, but the deal died when the Yankees wouldn't meet the Braves' demand of paying Farnsworth's $5.5 million salary next year.

Ray King, LHP, Washington: All those jokes about left-handers who are still breathing always having a chance to keep pitching in the major leagues have some truth to them. Nearly everyone can always use another lefty, and King is still somewhat effective in a limited role: he has a .601 WXRL and a 4.76 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. He would be fine trade bait for the Nationals, but they already fooled everyone before the non-waiver deadline by signing their two most moveable commodities, first baseman Dmitri Young and second baseman Ronnie Belliard, to two-year contract extensions.

Wily Mo Pena, OF, Boston: The Red Sox have found out what Cincinnati knew when the Reds traded him to Boston for Bronson Arroyo last year in spring training--his performance never matches up to his potential. Pena looks like he should blast 40 home runs a year, yet he is hitting just .223/.299/.399 in 164 plate appearances this season. He is still only 25, which makes him intriguing, but not enough for another team to give up a decent middle reliever in a trade.

Juan Rincon, RHP, Minnesota: Rincon had been one of the best set-up relievers in the major leagues the previous three seasons but has struggled mightily this year, posting a .397 WXRL and a 6.23 ERA in 39 innings. The Twins aren't likely to tender Rincon at the end of this season--he would figure to at least get some kind of raise over his $2 million salary as an arbitration-eligible player with five-plus years of service. Thus, they would like to try to at least get a mid-level prospect for him now.

Richie Sexson, 1B, Seattle: That the Mariners have started benching him in favor of Ben Broussard in the middle of a pennant race shows just how far Sexson has slipped. His VORP is -5.5 and his rate stats are a horrid .199/.298/.390 in 406 plate appearances. Sexson combined to hit 73 home runs for the Mariners in 2005-06, but that figure has dropped to 17 this season, and he is looking like a financial albatross with a $14 million salary in 2008. However, nobody has been beating down the Mariners' door to acquire Sexson.

Sammy Sosa, DH/OF, Texas: Sosa has been able to come back well enough as a near-regular at 38 after being away from the game for year. While it's a nice story, the bottom line is that he is barely above replacement level, and his .243/.305/.452 line in 377 plate appearances isn't much cause for excitement. Nevertheless, a contender looking for an extra right-handed hitter who is still capable of hitting a ball out of the park might want to pick him up.

Josh Towers, RHP Toronto: Towers didn't exactly endear himself to manager John Gibbons, the coaching staff, or his teammates when he questioned their preparation after losing to the White Sox last month. Blue Jays General Manager J.P. Ricciardi said Philadelphia was the only team to make an offer for Towers at the trading deadline, and the Phillies' interest was only mild (they ultimately dealt for Cincinnati's Kyle Lohse instead). Though Towers has a 0.7 SNLVAR and a 5.36 ERA in 99 innings, some pitching-starved team might take a chance, but the Jays insists they aren't giving him away.

Steve Trachsel, RHP, Baltimore: The problem with many professional athletes is they have an over-inflated sense of self-worth. That isn't the case with the Trachsel, who said he was not worried at the non-waivers trading deadline because he didn't think he was pitching well enough for anyone to want him. However, Trachsel has at least been serviceable this season with a 1.9 SNLVAR and 4.88 ERA in 114 1/3 innings, which might be enough for someone to make a run at him this month.

Omar Vizquel, SS, San Francisco: Giants General Manager Brian Sabean was given orders to start rebuilding when he signed a two-year contract extension right after the All-Star break. Vizquel is Sabean's most attractive trading chip, but only if a contender suddenly develops a need for a shortstop. Vizquel is 40 and isn't much with the bat any more, hitting only .256/.311/.315 in 413 plate appearances, "good" for a -4.5 VORP. Yet, if a shortstop on a contender goes down, you can bet that some team will come a-calling.

Jack Wilson, SS, Pittsburgh: Littlefield's primary charge when hired midway through the 2001 season was to dump Jason Kendall's huge contract and avoid locking up other players to bad deals. Six years later, he is trying to get out from under Wilson's three-year, $20.2 million contract, which has two years and $14.35 million remaining after this season. Wilson was nearly traded to Detroit at the non-waiver deadline, but it seems there isn't much of a market for an expensive player hitting .266/.314/.377.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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