This is the time when clubs send out their reps in full force to do some major scouting prior to wheeling and dealing. This is the time when GMs break out the dry-erase boards and get creative. This is the time when fans anxiously pray every night that their Barry Zito Giants jerseys won’t be rendered obsolete by the time they wake up.
In preparation for the madness that is bound to ensue between now and July 31, here are the top 10 players to watch as the trade deadline approaches:
10. Barry Zito
This is more of a long shot than anything else. In 2007, the Giants were insane enough to sign the erratic lefty to the most ludicrous contract in the history of baseball: seven years, $126 million and — get ready — a no-trade clause. He could be moved (the Giants should be so lucky), but if he is, he’ll obviously have to approve it. He may be the highest-paid pitcher on San Francisco’s staff, but he’s also the most expendable, especially compared to the likes of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, who are younger, light years better and much cheaper. The Giants just don’t seem to have any use for Zito anymore — especially at over $18.5 million per season. (And people think J.D. Drew is overpaid.)
Zito still has some trade value because — although he’s incredibly inconsistent, mildly peculiar and has gone 15-27 over the past season and a half — there’s still hope that he could regain the form (mentally, that is) that earned him the 2002 Cy Young Award. Plus, his career ERA is still 3.88.
Will another team be desperate enough to take on Zito’s deal? Stranger things have happened. But the Giants may as well be trying their hardest to trade him, because releasing him at the end of the season may be their next-best option. They might as well try to get something for him now.
9. Luke Scott/Aubrey Huff
Of course, the Orioles would love to hold on to both of these guys. Scott is hitting .294 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs (third on the team) and Huff is hitting .257 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs (second on the team). But it may make sense for the O’s to take the Blue Jays’ approach to the second half and build for the future by trading for young building blocks, since they’re 14 games out of first place. It’s just a matter of when they decide to officially surrender.
Huff will earn $8 million this year, and he can either receive salary arbitration at the end of the year or skip town, which would leave Baltimore with two high draft picks in 2010. Scott is locked up until 2012.
8. George Sherrill
Sherrill, on the other hand, might be a good person for the Orioles to move now because his value is high and the demand is strong for lefty relief specialists. The 32-year-old has appeared in 39 games this year, and in 38 1/3 innings, he’s allowed 10 earned runs (three homers) and racked up 35 strikeouts against just 12 walks. In 2008, he registered 31 saves and was named to the AL All-Star team.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal calls a Sherrill trade "inevitable but not imminent," and a major league source tells him that Sherrill is widely considered “the best available closer out there.” As for trading partners, Baltimore is looking at teams like the Marlins, Dodgers, Angels, Brewers and Cubs. In exchange for Sherrill, the Orioles seek pitching depth and someone to fill the shoes of Melvin Mora when his contract is up at the end of the season.
7. Adam LaRoche
The Pirates' first baseman will be a free agent for the first time at the end of 2009, but Pittsburgh is hoping to get something in exchange for him and his $7 million a year salary before then. He’s a career .271/19/85 guy, and he’s hovered around those numbers pretty precisely throughout the past four years. So far in 2009, he’s hitting .247 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. But if they find the right team and the right ballpark, the Pirates could have themselves a deal.
One possible destination for LaRoche could be San Francisco. As the Giants get ready to fend off those relentless Dodgers and make a playoff push in the NL West (they're currently leading the NL wild card race), they need to bolster their offense. It’s possible that LaRoche, a middle-of-the-order guy, could help. He won’t come cheap, but he’s definitely a reliable option for teams seeking a big bat.
6. Garrett Atkins
Here’s one that’s intriguing for Red Sox fans. With Mike Lowell recently back from a DL stint due to lingering hip problems, it’ll be important to watch his progress as the trade deadline approaches. If he looks bad, Atkins could be a viable replacement. The only problem is the cost; Boston is reluctant to let go of its most prized prospects (Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, Casey Kelly or any combination of them), and those prospects are exactly what a team like Colorado wants in return for a player of Atkins' caliber.
Is Atkins worth it? He’s in the midst of a one-year, $7.05 million deal, so a trade that includes prospects isn’t likely for Boston, considering that Atkins could walk at the end of the year. Plus, he’s been underwhelming in 2009. Though his career numbers are .300/24/104, he’s hitting just .226 this year with six homers and 28 RBIs in 73 games. And that’s after playing half his games at Coors Field.
If he gets more at-bats, though, he could heat up and get dangerous, which makes him an interesting bit of bait.
5. Mark Teahen
Here’s one of the more popular names to pop up on the message boards in recent months, especially considering that Royals general manager Dayton Moore recently listed the players he won’t move, and Teahen wasn’t one of them. This is another intriguing name for the Red Sox, particularly because Allard Baird – the former GM of the Royals – now serves as Theo Epstein’s assistant in Boston.
Teahen is also a perfect fit for the Red Sox because, like Mark Kotsay, he can serve as a corner infielder and an outfielder, which is precisely where Boston wants to add depth. And at $3.6 million, he’s kind of a bargain, and he’s racked up nine homers and 32 RBIs this year in a very mediocre lineup. He can provide offense and defense — and he’s cheap. He’s everything Boston’s looking for.
4. Scott Rolen
If the Blue Jays want to stay in the hunt for the AL East title, they shouldn’t unload Rolen. The 34-year-old is hitting .318 with six homers and 35 RBIs, and he recently embarked on a 25-game hitting streak. He’s been solid, but the Jays haven’t, and now that they’re shopping the cornerstone of their pitching staff, it seems obvious that they’ve got their eyes on the distant horizon, not on the present.
Rolen is a guy who could net them some decent prospects, especially for teams looking to add a big bat in time for a playoff push. His value is as good as it’s going to get right now, and he’s got a year and a half left on the eight-year, $90 million deal he signed in 2003. He does, however, have a no-trade clause, and the Jays don’t have any great prospects in line to replace him at third. A trade makes sense for Toronto, but it still may not happen.
3. Cliff Lee
This is a case where the Indians can sit back and wait for the absolute best offer to hit the table, and most likely, teams in need of pitching — the Cardinals, Angels and Dodgers — will lay a lot on the line for a 30-year-old All Star who bagged the Cy Young a year ago. He’s not hitting the ridiculous numbers he put up in 2008 — he finished the year with a 22-3 record, a 2.54 ERA, 170 strikeouts and some hardware — but he’s probably the second-best “available” starter, behind Roy Halladay. He’s due $5.75 million this year and $9 million next year, which is reasonable when you compare him to, say, Zito.
Indians GM Mark Shapiro is reportedly in the hunt for young arms and he could get a lot for his prized southpaw. He could save some money as the Indians try to rebuild (right now, they’re dwelling in the AL Central's cellar at 36-57).
2. Matt Holliday
As soon as the Rockies traded Holliday to Oakland last offseason, the free world knew he’d be on the block by July 2009. The A’s aren’t really in contention in the AL West (they’re 14 games out of first and 14 games below .500), so now, it’s just a matter of GM Billy Beane squeezing some decent prospects out of a deal.
Unfortunately for Oakland, Holliday has been underwhelming during his first few months in the American League. He hasn’t hit below .300 since 2004 — his rookie year — but in 2009, he’s batting .284 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs. There’s still time for him to get hot before the deadline — and maybe NL teams are hoping his slump this year is a result of trying to acclimate to the AL. Reports have indicated that the Braves could be considering him, though those appear to just be rumors.
1. Roy Halladay
Wouldn’t it be funny if, when all is said and done, Halladay remains a Blue Jay this year? Think about all of the wasted energy predicting trade destinations.
Most likely, though, Halladay will get moved. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi seems pretty committed to moving him and getting some prospects to help rebuild the club from the ground up, and now is the perfect time for Toronto to start the process, given that the Jays play in perhaps the toughest division in baseball. Plus, the whole universe is interested in acquiring him — even teams that don’t appear to need him. The only problem is that the price is going to be extremely, extremely steep.
The players involved change every day, but as of late, the most ruthless pursuits seem to be coming from the Phillies, Dodgers and Angels. If the Phils manage to lock down the East before the deadline (their lead is 6 1/2 games right now), they may not be willing to uproot their farm system for him. It just depends on which team can come up with the right package, and it could come from anyone — even the Brewers or the Rangers.