The non-waiver trading deadline is still one month and three days away. However, contenders are already jockeying for position to acquire a starting pitcher that could possibly put them over the top in the regular season and make them a force, if not a favorite, in the postseason.
The names generating the most headlines are Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee and Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, and there is little doubt that both could make a major impact, both in a pennant race and then on into the postseason. However, there are some other starters who are likely to be on the trading block that could also make a difference. With that in mind, let's take a look at five who figure to be the focus of plenty of trade rumors between now and July 31.
Lee is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and it seems certain that he will test the market rather than sign a contract extension with whichever team acquires him from the Mariners. Some teams view Lee's impending free agency as a positive, as they are only looking to rent an ace for a few months where others might prefer a longer-term commitment.
Lee is having another outstanding season as he has 2.5 WARP, 3.1 SNVLAR, and 27.4 VORP through his first 11 starts and 80
The Twins are Mets are already at the front of the line for Lee. The Dodgers and Rangers both would love to trade for him, but questionable financial situations make their chances problematic. The Yankees are likely to wait until the offseason and then try to sign Lee as a free agent, as they feel they have enough pitching to get them through this season, but the Red Sox could be a surprise entrant in this derby.
Unlike Lee, Oswalt is not a free agent after this season, as he will have a $16 million salary in 2011 as part of his five-year, $73 million contract with the Astros, and there is a $16 million club option for 2012 that can be bought out for $2 million. However, like Lee, Oswalt is having a fine season as he went into Sunday night's start against the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark with 4.6 WARP 3, 2.8 SNLVAR, and 24.4 VORP in 15 starts and 99
Based on his career trends, Oswalt looks like a better acquisition for the stretch run than Lee, as his ERA is lower in August and September than in the season's other four months (2.79-3.42), and he also has similarly good trends in BB/9 (1.9-2.1) and HR/9 (0.6-0.9).
Rangers president Nolan Ryan has made his interest in Oswalt public, but there are questions of whether the sale of the team to a group headed by him and Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg from financially-strapped Tom Hicks will be completed by July 31. The Twins and Mets will look at Oswalt as a consolation prize if they fail to land Lee, and the Rays and Nationals will also be suitors.
Haren is the guy for a team looking for help beyond the 2010 season, as he is in just the second year of the four-year, $44.75 million contract he signed with the Diamondbacks. Because of that deal, he will make $12.75 million in both 2011 and 2012, with a $15.5 club option for 2013 that includes a $3.5 million buyout. However, Haren has had a sub-par season by his standards with 2.5 WARP, 1.0 SNLVAR, and 7.2 VORP.
There are nevertheless reasons to believe he is poised for a big finish: he has a 3.10 SIERA (compared to a 4.65 ERA) and his K/9 (9.1), BB/9 (1.7), and SO/BB (5.2) are all excellent. Haren's career splits might at least give a contender pause, as his lifetime ERA is 0.90 higher in the second half than the first half (4.21-3.31). His HR/9 (1.0-1.2) and slugging percentage allowed (.378-.449) also rise following the All-Star break. However, his overall package of skills and performance would be hard to pass up.
The Diamondbacks will only trade Haren if they get a bundle of young players in return, and the Angels and Twins are most well-equipped to meet that demand. The Mets and Twins also figure to jump into this derby, and the Cardinals are intrigued about bringing back a player they originally drafted.
Carmona could also draw interest from non-contenders, as his four-year, $15 million contract with the Indians could bind him through 2014 at rather reasonable salaries. He will make $6.1 million in 2011, the last guaranteed season in the contract, but then there are club options for $7 million in 2012, $9 million in 2013, and $12 million in 2014. Carmona is having a bounce-back season after being sent all the way down to the Arizona Summer League last season, as he has 2.3 WARP, 1.8 SNLVAR, and 14.4 VORP.
While Carmona is back to generating many ground balls again with his sinker, it seems certain more are eventually going to find holes, as his K/9 (4.9) is underwhelming. His 4.35 SIERA also doesn't quite jibe with his 3.64 ERA.
Lilly has just two wins this season but is pitching better than that with 1.6 WARP, 2.0 SNLVAR, and 17.0 VORP. He also becomes a free agent at the end of the season, which makes him attractive to a contender not looking for a long-term answer.
Lilly is also showing signs that his 2-6 record is much more of a fluke than his 3.28 ERA, as his K/9 (6.3) and K/BB (2.7) rates are solid. His SIERA of 4.31, though, is a run higher, which is a small cause for concern. However, another good sign for a contender is that Lilly's second-half career ERA is just slightly worse than his mark before the break (4.24-4.18).
The Cubs refuse to admit they are out of the National League Central race, but they are in fourth place and 8 ½ games behind the division-leading Reds. Once the Cubs run up the white flag, they are likely to field plenty of offers for Lilly.
Edwin Rodriguez will at least get to realize his dream of managing in his native Puerto Rico. Rodriguez, who was named interim manager of the Marlins when Fredi Gonzalez was fired last Wednesday, will be the skipper tonight when Florida opens a three-game series against the Mets at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rodriguez is the first native of Puerto Rico to manage a major-league team.
It had been expected that the Marlins would move quickly to hire former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine for their opening. However, talks between the two sides hit a major snag and it appears that the Marlins will go in another direction. Thus, Rodriguez figures to stay as manager for at least a little while longer. He and Diamondbacks third-base coach Bo Porter interviewed with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria over the weekend.
"I feel very prepared for the job," said Rodriguez, who had been managing the Marlins' Triple-A New Orleans farm club since the beginning of last season. "I have managed a lot of the talent on this team. I feel very comfortable with these guys."
If nothing else, Rodriguez will at least have the three games in his hometown and home country. He lives just five minutes from Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
"It will be a special time for me and the country," Rodriguez said.
Nick Markakis is not the most vocal player in the Orioles' clubhouse, as he has a reputation for being quiet and reserved. Yet the right fielder showed signs that he is ready to become the leader of a woeful club that desperately needs one as he phoned Orioles owner Peter Angelos last week and asked to have lunch with him in Baltimore's famed Little Italy section.
"I wanted to give him my input and tell him the things I thought we lacked and needed, and what we needed to change," Markakis said. "He's completely open to anything. He was listening, and he was a lot easier to talk to than I anticipated. Sometimes you'll have a better conversation with the wall than talking to me. But it went a lot better and it was a lot smoother than I thought it was going to go. If I can strike up a conversation and talk to a guy like him who owns the team, I think it is a good situation."
That Angelos would entertain the idea of having lunch with a player came as a bit of a surprise. Once criticized for being too visible, Angelos has retreated into the background in recent years while the Orioles have suffered through 12 consecutive losing seasons. Angelos has become the target of Orioles fans, who feel he is primarily responsible for the losing.
Markakis, who was the Orioles' first-round draft pick in 2003, had only met Angelos one other time, when the owner visited the clubhouse on Opening Day last season. Angelos came away from their lunch date impressed with Markakis, noting "He's an exceptional young man, first-rate all the way. Baltimore is lucky to have him and his fine young family."
For what it's worth, the Orioles have run off a season-high winning streak of four games since Markakis and Angelos met but still have the worst record in the major leagues at 23-52.
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: There is a growing belief in baseball circles that if the Brewers do not put first baseman Prince Fielder on the block before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline that they almost certainly will deal him in the offseason, as he becomes eligible for free agency after next season. … Left-handed reliever Chris Capuano, who has returned after undergoing two Tommy John surgeries on his elbow, is likely to dropped from the Brewers' roster when lefty Doug Davis comes off the DL later this week. … The Dodgers will at least consider trading center fielder Matt Kemp if they could get a frontline starting pitcher and an impact reliever in return. … The Indians are willing to trade outfielder Austin Kearns, who could be attractive to contenders as he has just a $750,000 salary and is experiencing a rebirth this season, to open a spot in the lineup for Michael Brantley to be called up from Triple-A Columbus. … Nationals special adviser Davey Johnson says he is not pursuing the Orioles' managerial job, but would interview if asked; former Rockies and Cubs manager Don Baylor, another former Baltimore player, would like to talk to Angelos about the opening. … General manager Billy Beane is downplaying reports that the Athletics will fire manager Bob Geren. … Andy LaRoche, displaced as the Pirates' starting third baseman two weeks ago when Pedro Alvarez was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, is likely to start getting starts at second base now that Neil Walker is out with a concussion.
Three series to watch (all times Eastern with probable pitching matchups):
Jesse Behr and Nicholas Hartmann contributed research to this article.