One thing advanced statistical analysis has taught everyone is that relief pitchers are the game's most fungible players. One year they're great and the next they're not. There are always enough relievers available that a team can build a bullpen without spending a large portion of its payroll if it picks the right pitchers and gets a little lucky.
Thus, it is no surprise that plenty of relievers are available with the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline within sight. So many teams already out of the pennant race have so many relievers to offer that the market is flooded and many baseball people believe the best return in some trades involving relief pitchers will be salary relief.
Regardless, we can expect a number of relievers to change teams within the next three weeks. Here is a look at six intriguing bullpen guys who could be on the move:
Kerry Wood: Contending teams do not consider him closer-worthy but are intrigued enough to try to acquire him to help in a set-up role if the Indians eat at least part of the approximately $5 million left on his salary for this season. Among the teams believed to be interested are the Reds, Angels, Tigers, Red Sox, and Yankees. Wood missed the first two months with a strained lat muscle in his upper back and has a 5.95 ERA in just 19
Kyle Farnsworth: He is having his best season in five years with a 1.98 ERA and 0.714 WXRL in 30 games for the Royals, though his SIERA is 3.77. The Mets, Phillies, Giants, and Red Sox are among the possible destinations for Farnsworth. Though he has the reputation of being one of baseball's tough guys, he struggled mightily during his time in New York and some question whether he is comfortable on a big stage.
Octavio Dotel: Reinventing himself as a closer with the Pirates, he has shown the ability to blow hitters away with 10.96 K/9 and his 3.36 SIERA indicates that he is pitching better than his 4.28 ERA, as does his 1.900 WXRL. The Pirates have been so pleased that they are considering the idea of exercising his $4.5 million club option for next year but would be willing to deal him if they were able to get a good young player from some suitor such as the Marlins, Mets, Phillies, Twins, and Red Sox. There have been some reports of a straight-up trade of Dotel for Marlins closer Leo Nunez.
Kevin Gregg: The Blue Jays raised some eyebrows early in the season when they removed Jason Frasor as closer and inserted Gregg, who flamed out in that role with the Cubs last season. However, Gregg has 10.09 K/9, 0.721 WXRL, and his 3.82 ERA is right in line with his 3.61 SIERA. One concern, though, is his 4.81 BB/9. The market seems to be slow for him, as the Angels and Red Sox seem to be the only clubs with interest at this point, though there are indications that the Mets might jump in.
David Aardsma: The magic seems to have run out after his magical 2009 season as the Mariners' closer, but the Phillies, Tigers, and Twins are said to be interested. His 3.84 SIERA suggests he is pitching better than his 5.07 ERA, but Aarsdma has never been a strong finisher, as his career ERA jumps after the All-Star break from 4.17 to 5.07.
Will Ohman: While the trade market is flush with right-handed relievers, Ohman is probably the best left-hander who will be moved before the deadline as the Orioles can lose 100 games just as easily without him. He has held left-handed hitters to a .202 batting average in his eight-year career, and his ERA this season is 2.84, though a 3.98 SIERA suggests that figure might be in for a correction in the second half. He also has 0.544 WXRL. Another second-half red flag is that Ohman's career ERA is 5.00 after the break and 3.63 before.
The Phillies might be slipping from contention in the National League East as they are in third place, 5 ½ games behind the division-leading Braves. However, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is not ready to sit by idly and allow the Phillies' chances of winning a third straight pennant slip away.
Amaro says the Phillies are willing to trade some of their top prospects in an attempt to get some help. That is a change from the winter, when the Phillies traded left-hander Cliff Lee to the Mariners for three prospects after acquiring Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, with Amaro saying he felt the Phillies needed to restock a thinning farm system.
"We've talked to several clubs on several different fronts about a lot of possibilities," Amaro said. "We have been pretty proactive. Trades are not easy, and acquiring players is not easy. But we have to assess what our needs are going to be two or three weeks from now, because the prognosis on (injured third baseman) Placido Polanco is pretty good, and we should get him back in two or three weeks."
While second baseman Chase Utley is expected to be out until September 1 while recovering from thumb surgery, Amaro said his focus in trade talks is almost entirely on pitching. Amaro listed his priorities as "pitching and pitching" but said he had no lingering regrets about trading Cliff Lee in the offseason.
There is increasing speculation that the Phillies might be willing to trade right fielder Jayson Werth, who is eligible for free agency. The continued emergence of Triple-A Lehigh Valley outfielder Domonic Brown could soften the blow of trading Werth. Kevin Goldstein recently named Brown the top prospect still in the minor leagues, and Amaro considers him all but untouchable.
"We want to make sure he is ready to play in the big leagues," Amaro said. "I don't want to bring Domonic Brown to the big leagues unless he is playing every day. He's not a quick fix for us. That is not the kind of situation I want to bring Domonic Brown to the big leagues in. I want to bring him to the big leagues when he is ready to be an everyday player. I don't think he would be over his head here. But being over your head and being a productive major-league player are two different things."
The Rays' payroll already stands at a franchise-record $72 million. However, owner Stuart Sternberg says he is willing to spend even more money in an attempt to get to the playoffs, as the Rays are two games behind the Yankees in the American League East and their 52-33 record is the second-best in the major leagues.
"Money won't be any object and we'll bolster our team by any means necessary," Sternberg said. "We'll do whatever. Players are always an object for us. And the money will be an impediment, but we'll figure it out if it makes all the sense in the world for this team."
The Rays would like to add one more impact hitter to an offense that ranks fourth in the major leagues with an average of 5.07 runs a game but has been inconsistent at times. Sternberg, though, cautioned that the Rays won't mortgage their future by trading top prospects and that any money they spent for this season's stretch run will likely be taken away from future seasons' payroll.
"We're well beyond stretched (payroll-wise), but for me, personally, this is a very special year, it's a special team, can be a special team, and we're going to do whatever we can, whatever's necessary, to try to give us the best opportunity to win this year," Sternberg said.
The most controversial selection for the All-Star Game rosters was Braves utility infielder Omar Infante landing on the NL squad. Infante was one of the picks made by NL manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies.
It seems unconscionable that Infante was picked instead of Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who also got aced out when Manuel admittedly played favorites by taking Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard but finally made the team Thursday as the final pick in the fans' online vote. Infante has a .260 TAv and 5.1 VORP while Votto has a .335 TAv and 37.2 VORP, not to mention NL-leading figures of 22 homers and a 1012 OPS.
However, Manuel said he wanted a player capable of playing multiple positions on the NL roster.
"I went down a list of super utility players and the first name that popped in my brain was Infante," Manuel said. "I started checking up on him. I'd seen him play the last two or three years and he always plays great against us. He can play every position on the field and that's why I chose him."
The AL also has a multi-positional player in Orioles infielder Ty Wigginton, who has a .273 TAv and 9.4 WARP. However, Wigginton was picked by AL manager Joe Girardi as the Orioles' lone representative, but the Yankees' skipper said he was not directed by Major League Baseball to have a super utility player on the roster.
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Rangers, because of their unsettled ownership situation and finances, have given up on the pursuit of Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, who is signed through next season, and have instead zeroed in on Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee, who can become a free agent at the end of the season. … If the Cubs put left-hander Ted Lilly on the market, a likely scenario, the Mets, another financially challenged franchise, figure to jump to the front of the line because he would be a cheaper alternative than Lee in both dollars and prospects. … The Rockies have interest in Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla and Nationals infielders Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy. … The Braves are keeping their eye on Royals right fielder David DeJesus and Athletics center fielder Coco Crisp as potential trade targets in the event that center fielder Nate McLouth continues to struggle as he tries to return from a concussion. … While there has been plenty of speculation about the Giants trying to trade for Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder or left fielder Ryan Braun, they are more likely to land right fielder Corey Hart from Milwaukee. … The Indians are leaning toward hanging on to right-hander Jake Westbrook because they want the veteran to serve as anchor for their young rotation. …The Nationals had originally planned to give rookie right-hander Stephen Strasburg extra rest between starts in the second half of the season so he could pitch all the way through the end of the season but instead are going to use him on a normal five-day schedule until he reaches 160 innings then shut him down. Strasburg is currently at 92 innings this season between the majors and minors. … Dodgers GM Ned Colletti's trade focus had been on adding a starting pitcher, but he is also starting to look for bullpen help as manager Joe Torre is down to two relievers he trusts in closer Jonathan Broxton and left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo now that Ronald Belisario is on the restricted list. … The Athletics will convert rookie Tyson Ross back into a starting pitcher after optioning him to Triple-A Sacramento.
Scouts' views on various major-league players:
Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun: "He has really looked lost at the plate lately, just completely helpless. I'm sure he'll get straightened out, but it's kind of shocking to see him struggle like this because he's been such a great hitter since he came up."
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera: "There are only two hitters in the major leagues that even remotely have a chance to win a triple crown. Albert Pujols is one and Cabrera is the other. Cabrera is such a great hitter because he not only has power but he makes consistent contact. It's tough for a slow runner to win a batting title because he doesn't get any leg hits, but Cabrera is good enough to do it."
Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis: "He's a totally different guy than before he went to Japan. He attacks hitter now and throws strikes. He gets ahead with a fastball then puts hitters away with his breaking stuff. It's an odd career path, going from the majors to Japan and back, but it has worked for him."
Diamondbacks left-handed reliever Jordan Norberto: "He's a young guy with a pretty good curveball that can tie left-handed hitters up. I think he has a future as at least a good lefty specialist out of the bullpen."
Blue Jays left-hander Marc Rzepczynski: "You watch the guy and you think he really isn't all that good because his stuff is mediocre. But at the end of the night, he's taken his team into the sixth or seventh inning and kept it in the game. That might not be glamorous, but there is some value to it."
Indians left-handed reliever Tony Sipp: "I think he's a young pitcher who has a chance to be more than a left-on-left guy. He can get right-handed hitters out, too. I could see him developing into a nice set-up man as he gains experience."