Clock to Trade Deadline begins to tick
Clubs have less than month to buy, sell or hold their chips
It's July, which means 30 days until the pivotal non-waiver Trade Deadline on the last day of the month.
Normally, one can expect blockbuster deals a la Mark Teixeira to the Angels and Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in 2008. But is it possible that we've already seen the fireworks well before Independence Day?
Probably not, considering that even though the four most recent big-name trades -- Nate McLouth from the Pirates to the Braves; Mark DeRosa from the Indians to the Cardinals; Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett to the Nationals and Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to the Pirates; and Eric Hinske to the Yankees -- could have serious impacts on the postseason chances of Atlanta, St. Louis and New York, there are still bigger names out there and likely available for the right price.
Matt Holliday, Erik Bedard, Nick Johnson, Brad Penny, Jason Marquis, Adam Dunn, Scott Hairston, Jarrod Washburn and Gil Meche are just a nine-pack of the names that have been offered up and shot down on an almost-hourly basis in newspapers, magazines, TV updates and rumor blogs.
Teams have gone from buyers to sellers, to standing pat, to cleaning house based on the shifting of the standings within a week.
What does it all mean?
Looking ahead to July 31, let's try to answer the almost endless parade of questions soon to follow by breaking down what will undoubtedly be the deciding factors in 2009 being a big or not-so-big year at the Deadline.
Major League clubs, consider your clocks to be ticking ...
It's still the economy, stupid
There's no doubt that the recession that plagued the free-agent market over the winter is still lingering over the Majors like a gray cloud of uncertainty.
The Yankees, for example, unloaded over $423 million on free-agent contracts in the offseason, and with the Trade Deadline approaching and their roster in the heat of the race for the American League East, it really is possible that the Bronx Bombers will resist the urge to pull a big-time deadline deal. Bullpen help could come via a trade, and Hinske brings a good bench bat, but something small wouldn't be a big stretch for Messrs. Steinbrenner.
Meanwhile, the climate will do its best to determine which clubs are active and which sit tight and wait for better times.
"With the economy being down, there will be some teams wanting to get rid of guys," Mets general manager Omar Minaya told MLB.com recently. "Other teams won't be able to afford to make a deal for a player because of the economy."
For the second straight year, the standings are already playing a big role in what teams do, or, in this case, don't do.
The National League West is shaping up to be a runaway division right now, with the Dodgers nursing a comfortable six-game lead. But look around the rest of the Majors and you see that 24 of 30 clubs are no more than 9 1/2 games out.
The Seattle Mariners, losers of 101 games last year, are in contention in American League West. Detroit has rebounded into first in the AL Central after a disappointing 2008. Banged-up Toronto and resurgent Tampa Bay are still hanging around a tightened-up AL East, and the Marlins and Braves haven't given up in the NL East.
In the NL West, the Giants are riding solid pitching to a surprising winning record, and what more can be said about the suddenly torrid Rockies, who have stormed right back into the thick of the Wild Card conversation?
And let's not forget the NL Central, which happens to be the tightest division race in the game, with all six teams within six games of first place.
This parity is a baseball Commissioner's fantasy and a deal-maker's dilemma. With so many teams in contention, trades are less likely to happen and will be much more pivotal when made.
"Right now, there are only four or five teams that legitimately can say they're out of their races," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told MLB.com recently. "With the supply and demand at this particular time, I don't see much action happening, particularly with pitching, which is a priority for us. The number of buyers and the number of sellers isn't even close to equaling each other right now."
Young and resting
And then there's the youth factor. Teams with young, inexpensive talent just aren't as willing to part with those players en masse to get that one impact bat or arm for a few months. Remaining money on contracts will be paid more attention to moving forward because of the economy and parity and, well, because that's the smart thing to do.
"It's difficult now because everybody wants young players," Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi told MLB.com recently. "The only thing we have in this game is young players. You have to consider cost-effectiveness, and from our point of view, the young players are too valuable to give up. We want to hold on to them. Right now, we're on the sidelines looking in. We want to see how we get through June and see where that takes us."
So, who else will be on the sidelines, and who will they be watching when the trade talk heats up?
Buy, buy, baby
The Phillies are defending World Series champions still leading the NL East, and they've already said they're looking for arms. The Brewers, Twins and Rangers are doing well enough in the standings -- and are shaky enough with pitching -- to also be on the hunt for hurlers.
The Rockies' recent hot streak could very well have transformed them from sellers into buyers in a Denver minute.
Working the sell phones
Indians GM Mark Shapiro has seen this movie before and might be directing it again. The struggling Tribe already shipped out useful vet DeRosa and rumors abound that Shapiro might say goodbye to pitchers Carl Pavano and Kerry Wood and possibly even slugging catcher Victor Martinez if the price is right.
The Orioles could dangle Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton or Luke Scott, the Pirates and Nationals already have shown a willingness to part with a good portion of their players, the Royals could make available a host of position players and pitchers, the Padres might offer a little hitting (Scott Hairston) while the D-backs could deal pitching (Doug Davis, Jon Garland, Chad Qualls) to the right contending club.
Stand and (probably not) deliver
Plenty of teams will probably stick with what they have, most of them deciding to do so because getting long-injured players healthy by July 31 is the equivalent of acquiring Trade Deadline-talent without making trades.
Enter the pennant-race-player Angels, Rays, Cubs, Mets and Marlins.
The Angels are waiting for Ervin Santana, the Rays just got back Scott Kazmir and Chad Bradford and figure to have Brian Shouse back soon, and the Cubs have Aramis Ramirez to welcome back. The Mets would gladly make do with a return to health from any or all of Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and J.J. Putz, and the Marlins look forward to a return from closer Matt Lindstrom, setup man Kiko Calero and starter Anibal Sanchez.
The Mariners are over .500, very much in the AL West, and very much in the midst of having to make a big decision. With two of the top potentially available starters -- left-handers Bedard and Washburn -- both in walk years, the Mariners could conceivably kiss their October 2009 chances goodbye while saying hello to years of Minor League health and potential big league prosperity.
Or they could hold on to both, make a run at the title, and let both go over the winter to reap probably Type B compensation.
Similar could be said for the Cincinnati Reds, who have a shot in the NL Central and also have plenty of attractive trade bait in the form of veteran starters Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and talented bullpen pieces including lefty specialist Arthur Rhodes.
So many questions and only a month to answer them.
Once again, let the conversations begin.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.