The grumbling among most general managers is that it is too hard to make a trade in the current climate. Just 15 days remain until the July 31 deadline for making trades without securing waivers on players. However, 18 of the 30 major league clubs are still within five games of a playoff spot as the teams begin returning to action from the All-Star break tonight. Just nine teams can be considered definite sellers with the deadline approaching, leaving 21 clubs either looking to buy or at least stand pat. Thus, it is truly a sellers’ market.
“If you want to trade for a difference-maker, you’re going to pay through the nose right now,” said the general manager of contender team who attended the All-Star festivities in St. Louis earlier this week. “There are too many teams trying to trade for too few players. The bad teams are trying to get better in a hurry by making some lopsided deals.”
Here are the sellers and what they have to offer:
Athletics: Left fielder Matt Holliday is very much available but the asking price is two premium prospects and a third youngster. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera could interest a contender, but won’t fetch a major return. Right-handed reliever Russ Springer might also have a market, but the Athletics will have a hard time giving first baseman Jason Giambi and shortstop Bobby Crosby away.
Blue Jays: The auction for right-hander Roy Halladay is in progress, and he is clearly the most attractive player available for trade. Once the Blue Jays move Halladay, they will look to trade outfielders Alex Rios and Vernon Wells as well but it will be difficult as both carry unwieldy contracts. The Blue Jays are also willing to part with left-hander David Purcey.
Diamondbacks: They have plenty to offer with left-hander Doug Davis topping the list, but right-hander Jon Garland, second baseman Felipe Lopez, and corner infielder Chad Tracy are also available. Closer Chad Qualls can be had if a team is willing to meet a high price.
Indians: They have become more willing to listen to offers for left-hander Cliff Lee and catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez, even though they both come with reasonably priced club options for next season. Trading one or both would allow the Indians to expedite the restocking of their roster and farm system. Closer Kerry Wood is also available, and so are right-handed starter Carl Pavano and utility infielder Jamey Carroll.
Nationals: This could be a one-stop shopping spot for a contender needing bats, as first baseman Nick Johnson, second baseman Ronnie Belliard, shortstop Cristian Guzman, and outfielders Austin Kearns and John Wilingham are available. Left fielder Adam Dunn could also be dealt, but the asking price is high.
Orioles: Their most attractive players are right-handed reliever Danys Baez and first baseman Aubrey Huff (who can also play third base and left field). Third baseman Melvin Mora is very available but it a pending free agent, and would want at least one guaranteed year added to his contract in order to waive his no-trade clause. Closer George Sherrill can be had, but the Orioles will want full value as he is not eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season.
Padres: They would love to dump right fielder Brian Giles, who is earning $9 million this season and has a no-trade clause; third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is also very available. If right-handers Jake Peavy and Chris Young get healthy, they could go by the August 31 deadline for setting post-season rosters.
Pirates: First baseman Adam LaRoche, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, and shortstop Jack Wilson are very available. The Pirates will also listen on left-handers Zach Duke and Paul Maholm, closer Matt Capps, and left-handed reliever John Grabow. They could be the most active sellers in the next few weeks, as GM Neal Huntington wants to reshape an organization on its way to a 17th consecutive losing season at the major league level.
Royals: The list of players they won’t trade consists of right-handers Zack Greinke and Gil Meche, closer Joakim Soria, first baseman Billy Butler, and third baseman Alex Gordon. Thus, everyone else is fair game, and they would particularly like to deal right fielder Jose Guillen.
Nationals manager Manny Acta never really had a chance to succeed during his 2½ seasons with Washington, a tour of duty that ended late Sunday night, a month after reports of his demise first surfaced. Acta had the misfortune of working for a dysfunctional organization that saw general manager Jim Bowden resign under pressure on March 1 amidst reports of a potential bonus-skimming scandal involving Nationals officials in the Dominican Republic. President Stan Kasten is said to be privately chafing because he has not been given the autonomy by the team’s owners, the Lerner family, to remake the organization the way he sees fit.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said he and his teammates knew what Acta was up against, and sympathized with him. However, Zimmerman also said he wished Acta would have run a tighter ship this season, as the Nationals have the worst record in the major leagues at 26-61. “There needs to be a little more sense of urgency and kind of wanting to win,” Zimmerman said. “Some people here are so used to losing they don’t have that fire to win. That’s the next step we need to take, regardless of who the next manager might be.”
Bench coach Jim Riggleman will be the interim manager, likely through the end of the season. It is a familiar situation for Riggleman, who finished out last season in the same role with the Mariners after John McLaren was fired.
Acting GM Mike Rizzo said he did not feel Acta had lost the clubhouse but did feel he had been given ample time to make the Nationals respectable. “We kept, for a while now, thinking this was going to turn around, that we were going to start playing better,” Rizzo said. “We always continued to underachieve, in my opinion. We thought this was a prudent time to make a move.”
The Braves were the most stable organization in the major leagues when Kasten ran them during their string of 11 consecutive division titles from 1995-2005. That the Nationals are in a state of flux bothers him. “I’m very uncomfortable with that,” Kasten said. “I’ve strived my whole career (for) value, stability and consistency and I want to get to that here. We’re not there yet. I think we’re working toward that.”
Acta, 40, had a 158-282 record in his first major league manager’s job after building the reputation as an outstanding baseball mind during stints as a coach with the Expos and Mets. “I want to thank the Washington Nationals for giving me the opportunity to be a major league manager,” Acta wrote in a statement. “It was a great learning experience. I have no regrets.”
Commissioner Bud Selig, during his annual question-and-answer session with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at the All-Star Game, said that he is quite discouraged that Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez has received such a positive reaction since returning July 3 from his 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Ramirez tested positive for using steroids. “I think it surprises a lot of people, but you always get back to the fans,” Selig said. “They want their team to win and this player has been disciplined. He’s back. They’re in first place. He can help them win, and I think that’s what you’re seeing.”
Ramirez appeared in five minor league games as he prepared to return from the suspension, and they all sold out. Selig said he will look to eliminate suspended players from being able to play in minor league games before being reinstated. “I believe that (rule) should be changed,” Selig said. “Their logic was OK because guys get hurt, they can go out on rehab, and so on and so forth but I think that’s something we need to really change in the next labor negotiation. It should be 50 games and then go do what you’ve got to do.”
The current labor agreement does not expire until December 2011. On the subject of suspended players, Selig said he is still examining career hits leader Pete Rose‘s application for reinstatement. Rose accepted a lifetime ban from then-commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 after an investigation concluded he bet on his team while serving as the Reds‘ manager. Rose applied for reinstatement in 1997 and met with Selig in 2002. He admitted in his 2004 autobiography that he lied when he denied that he gambled on baseball during the investigation but that only seemed to hurt his chances of gaining favor with Selig.
Selig would not get into specifics about Rose’s case. “It’s under review,” Selig said. “He did, as you now, accept voluntarily a lifetime suspension from Bart Giamatti, and there really isn’t much more I can say about that. I did agree to review it. It is under review. We do spend some time discussing it but it’s not appropriate for me to say any more since I am the judge in the case.”
The BBWAA rejected a proposal by the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Rick Telander that a committee be formed, in conjunction with officials from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in developing guidelines to help Hall voters evaluate players who have either been found to use steroids or been implicated as a user.
Selig said he had no advice to give the writers of how on how to what to do when considering those players’ candidacies. “That I’m going to leave to all of you,” Selig said. “You all have to make your own decisions. I would, however, not disregard history. That’s a very fair question, and I understand it’s bothering a lot of people but you’ll have to make your own judgment.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon is a progressive thinker and has an idea he believes would make voting for the All-Star Game more interesting. He would like to see either the fans or players select a utility player for each league, a position he calls “super utility.”
Perhaps none too coincidentally, the Rays’ Ben Zobrist fits that category, and after Maddon’s selection of him, he played in his first All-Star Game this year. He has played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions this season, though he has been playing primarily at second since Aki Iwamura underwent knee surgery last month that is likely to sideline him until September.
“I believe the SU player is a very important player in today’s game,” Maddon said. “When you are going to carry 12 pitchers on the roster, it is going to leave you a player short on the bench. So, I think as we move this thing further along, as this position becomes more prominent, which I think it will, at some point you are going to see an SU position on the ballot.”
The Pirates’ Freddy Sanchez has played strictly at second base this season but National League manager Charlie Manuel of the Phillies selected him as a reserve partially because he is only player in history to play second base, third base, and shortstop in an All-Star Game. “If there was ever a game where you could use a utility guy, it’s the All-Star Game,” Zobrist said. “You’re making wholesale changes as the game goes on and having someone who plays multiple position really gives the manager a lot of flexibility in making those lineup switches.”
Scouts’ views on various major league players:
- Athletics left-hander Brett Anderson: “He’s a kid who is still growing into his body and understanding what he can do. He hits 97 mph with his fastball and it’s legit. He’s got a great arm.”
- Padres outfielder Kyle Blanks: “He is one large individual and I don’t know if a guy his size can hack it in the outfield. But the Padres are going nowhere and he has some pop, so I applaud them for taking a look to see what they have in him.”
- Cubs right fielder Milton Bradley: “He is the king of bad body language but I’ve never seen it this bad. He looks like he’s ready for one of his infamous meltdowns.”
- Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones: “I don’t know how long his hot streak will last, but I’ve always felt he was more than just a 4-A player during all those years he was stuck behind Justin Morneau with the Twins. I’m not saying he is going to be a star, but I think he’s a useful major-league player in some capacity.”
- Cardinals right fielder Ryan Ludwick: “He has finally gotten out of his funk of chasing every pitch thrown his way. He’s be patient, getting his pitch and hitting it with authority like last year.”
- Orioles outfielder Felix Pie: “What a disappointment. He has all the tools you would want in an outfielder and no idea what to do with them.”
- White Sox left-hander Aaron Poreda: “This kid has just been overpowering at times out of the bullpen and I’ve got to believe he moves into the rotation if they decide to make any changes.”
- Braves second baseman Martin Prado: “He won’t knock your socks off but he puts the bat on the ball consistently and he can shoot balls into the gap. The more you watch him, the more you like him.”
- Diamondbacks reliever Jon Rauch: “This guy frustrates me. He has the size and stuff to be overpowering, but he’s very hittable and can’t figure out how to throw strikes.”
- Astros left-hander Wandy Rodriguez: “For me, he’s been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season. I didn’t think he had it in him to pitch the way he has. I always looked at him as a No. 4-type guy in a rotation.”
- Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins: “He is finally swinging the bat well because he has gotten away from trying to jerk balls 500 feet. He’s got pop for a little guy, but he’s at his best when he concentrates on making solid contact.”
- Blue Jays left-hander Marc Rzepczynski: “He has a really good sinker but what’s helped him so far is nobody knows anything about him in the major leagues. Once he gets around the league, he is going to have to establish a second pitch he can throw for strikes, or hitters are going to take the sinker and let it drop out of the strike zone for a ball.”
- Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez: “I’ve never doubted his stuff, just his confidence. If throwing a no-hitter doesn’t make you think you can succeed in the major leagues, then I don’t know what will.”
- Indians catcher Kelly Shoppach: “Pitchers have figured how to get him out, throw pitches just off the plate and make him chase them.”
- Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart: “He has started hitting for power this year and the average will start going up soon. I know people got down on this kid at one point, but I think he will wind up being an above-average third baseman in the big leagues.”
- Tigers outfielder Clete Thomas: “I’m glad Jim Leyland is playing this kid because he’s got some pop and he’ll take a walk. He will help them more than Magglio Ordonez at this point.”
- Rays center fielder B.J. Upton: “He’s coming on strong after having shoulder surgery in the offseason and he’s ready to explode in the second half. Mark it down. He’s going to have a huge finish.”
- Reds first baseman Joey Votto: “He gets better every time I see him. I think he is going to contend for a batting title one of these year, and he hasn’t maxed out his power potential, either.”
- Nationals outfielder Josh Willingham: “If I’m a contender and needed a power bat, I’d go get him. He’s a good hitter with pop, and he could make a difference in a pennant race.”
- Mets third baseman David Wright: “Citi Field has really killed his power output. I don’t know if he is ever going to be a 30-home-run guy again in that ballpark, but he is still a great hitter and runs a lot better than people think.”
Three series to watch this weekend, with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):
Phillies at Marlins, Thursday-Sunday (July 16-19)
Jamie Moyer vs. Chris Volstad, 7:10 p.m.; Cole Hamels vs. Ricky Nolasco, 7:10 p.m.; Joe Blanton vs. Josh Johnson, 7:10p.m.; J.A. Happ vs. Andrew Miller, 1:10 p.m.