Contenders jockeying for position in pursuit of big four trade targets
The Phillies are still viewed as the most likely landing spot for ace Roy Halladay
The Cardinals now appear to be the front-runners for Matt Holliday's services
The Rays have joined the Red Sox in pursuit of Indians catcher Victor Martinez
With one week to go before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, the Phillies remain the favorites to land ace Roy Halladay and the Cardinals emerged as a possible landing spot for outfielder Matt Holliday. Meanwhile, several teams continued their pursuit of Indians All-Stars Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, who appear to remain more likely than not to stay in Cleveland. Here's a look at what seems to be going on with the big four ...
The Phillies and Blue Jays remain engaged in dialogue regarding Halladay, and the defending World Series champions are still viewed by baseball executives as the most logical and likely landing spot for the perennial All-Star. With deep pockets, their deeper reservoir of prospects and a resolve to repeat, the Phillies appear to have maintained the front-running position in the most-watched derby in baseball, with the teams exchanging names and apparently making some progress in recent days, league sources indicate.
The Jays are said to be aiming for a package that includes one of two top young pitchers, Kyle Drabek or J.A. Happ, plus one of two top outfielders, either Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown, plus a couple other highly regarded prospects. Shortstop Jason Donald and pitcher Carlos Carrasco are among other young prospects who are believed to have been discussed.
"They're trying hard," one exec said of the Phillies.
The Phillies told the local media and other baseball people they will do what the can to keep Drabek, a dynamic young pitcher with terrific stuff. If the Jays settle for Happ, who's having a terrific rookie season, they surely would insist that the remainder of the package be stronger. But while Drabek is considered the pitcher with the higher upside ("he has a plus fastball and plus breaking ball," one scout said), one Blue Jays-connected person said they could see Toronto doing a deal without Drabek.
Jays executive Tony LaCava was scouting Drabek in Altoona, Pa., Thursday according to the New York Times. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said in an interview a few days ago that no players on other teams had yet to be ruled out entirely.
Halladay seems more likely than ever to leave Toronto with the revelation Thursday via Ricciardi that Halladay told the Jays he wouldn't be signing an extension beyond 2010, which was the trigger to put him on the trading block. One acquaintance of Halladay said he believes he is "emotionally gone," and sources indicate that Halladay -- who has a full no-trade clause -- sees the Phillies as a favorable option.
The Brewers, Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are among other teams that have shown interest. The Brewers may be the biggest threat to the Phillies, but probably only if they're willing with shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar and maybe also top hitting prospect Mat Gamel. Left-hander Manny Parra's name is believed to be in the mix, as well.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro declined to comment when reached by phone. Ricciardi couldn't be reached Thursday night.
The Cardinals now appear to be the front-runners for Holliday, who would fit nicely into their cleanup spot, behind Albert Pujols. The Tigers are viewed as a second serious pursuer, but things appeared to be progressing Thursday with St. Louis.
"It looks like it has a good chance to happen with the Cardinals," one league source said.
The potential deal would likely send top hitting prospect Brett Wallace, a third baseman, to Oakland for Holliday. The Cardinals were believed to be deliberating whether to include Wallace in a package. But while Wallace is an excellent hitter, he may not fit the Cardinals perfectly since some scouts believe his best position ultimately will be first base.
As a young hitting prospect with power, he has excellent value, however. Word was, St. Louis might ask Oakland for cash considerations, especially if Wallace, who received a $1.8 million bonus last year, is in the deal. Halladay has about half his $13.5 million salary to be paid, as well.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was said to be pushing for Holliday deal, although it isn't known whether La Russa has quite the clout with the new Cardinals regime as he had with former GM Walt Jocketty. One source said La Russa was taken by surprise by the trade of Chris Duncan, son of pitching coach and longtime friend Dave Duncan. Regardless, Holliday would make more than an ample replacement.
The Dodgers, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies and Rays have been identified as possible pursuers of Lee. However, the Indians don't want to trade him unless they can receive in return enough young pitching talent back to give them hope in 2010. No sense giving up on next year, too.
The Rays aren't necessarily unhappy with their rotation, but Foxsports.com reported they were nonetheless looking at Lee, whose reasonable $9 million club option raises his value but also gives the Indians more reason to hold onto him.
One competing executive, speaking of Lee and Martinez, said he believed the Indians would only part with either player "if they felt compelled to ... it would have to be a bell-ringing situation."
Former Indians ace CC Sabathia said he thought GM Mark Shapiro might be slightly more willing to trade Lee than Martinez, a clubhouse leader. However, others have suggested that Lee would be the tougher one to replace, especially with the situations of other starters Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook still somewhat less than certain.
The Indians are believed to be seeking top young pitchers like Wade Davis from Tampa Bay, either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes from the Yankees and very likely Drabek, Happ or Jason Knapp from the Phillies. The Indians in some cases would likely seek multiple prospects back in return. The Foxsports.com report suggested the Rays did not want to part with Davis, possibly necessitating a third team to get involved, which would further decrease the chances for a deal.
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