Lee, Oswalt and Fielder headline summer trade candidates
After an early trade request, Roy Oswalt has certainly garnered the most attention
Milwaukee can't sign Fielder to a long-term deal; the Giants may be interested
The Red Sox look like a threat again, thanks to Ortiz, Youkilis, Beltre and Lester
Thanks to the Astros' longtime pitching star Roy Oswalt and his unusually early trade request, trade speculation has already begun -- though the majority of trade-deadline deals won't happen for two months.
It's no surprise that much of the public discourse to this point involves Oswalt, who told the Astros that he would like to be traded if Houston can find an acceptable spot for him. Oswalt is far from the only star who could get dealt this summer, but he has certainly garnered the most attention and speculation so far.
While it's logical that Oswalt should go (possibly along with longtime teammate Lance Berkman), there's no guarantee that he will, and there are two very good reasons for this: 1) There's no guarantee that Astros owner Drayton McLane wants to trade Oswalt, despite Oswalt's wishes; and 2) there's no guarantee that the Astros can find the right trading partner, considering the $31 million remaining on Oswalt's contract through next season, teams' general unwillingness to spend big bucks while also surrendering top prospects, and frankly, no obvious matches.
The first hurdle is McLane, who seems more interested in selling his whole team than any of his prized stars. "In the past he's had no appetite to trade the big stars or any interest in rebuilding,'' said one person familiar with the Astros' situation. "It's going to be a matter of how effective [his executives] are at educating him on where the club is."
Houston, which currently holds a 16-31 record, has made some miracle comebacks before. The Astros began the 2005 season at 15-30 before turning it around and making it to the World Series. It is the ball club's recent history of comebacks that discourages McLane from starting a rebuilding process that would obviously be painful to him. Of course, back in '05, the Astros had Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte on their pitching staff, along with Oswalt.
Here's a list of possible trade candidates ...
1. Cliff Lee, Mariners SP: Unless the Mariners start living up to their preseason hype, Lee will hit the market. He has been traded twice in the past year already, and while the acquiring teams unloaded a total of seven decent or better prospects, even Lee couldn't bring an upper-echelon prospect such as Clay Buchholz last year, a straight-up request that was flat rejected. "Teams are placing significant value on their young players,'' one AL GM said.
2. Oswalt, Berkman: Good for Oswalt that he's finally trying to force Houston's hand. He's a great second-half pitcher with his 70-22 career record after the break. But who'll pay the $31 million? With the starter-rich Yankees ("We have five starters we like,'' one Yankees person said) and Red Sox likely out of the mix, it's hard to find a team that fits Oswalt's desire to go to a contender. In the past he's said to prefer the National League, or oddly enough, whatever team Jake Peavy is pitching for (White Sox now), so he may narrow the field further. The Dodgers are interested but never liked to make any midseason expenditures even before the marriage of the team-owning McCourts blew up and the payroll was cut from $120 million to $83 million. The Braves haven't been huge in-season spenders, either. And the bankrupted Rangers can't possibly fit $31 mil into their budget. The Twins already have run their payroll to an unprecedented $95 million, and it's hard to imagine the Tigers have a lot more money lying around either. Then there's a question as to whether Oswalt would consider the Mets or Nationals strong enough contenders. (Both teams are within striking distance and the Mets have been especially impressive lately.) The Cardinals could be an early guess, but as one competing GM said, "They have to save their money for Albert [Pujols].'' The Astros have no chance to pick up Berkman's $15 million option despite public pleas by the longtime star, and it would make sense to find a suitor for him, as well.
3. Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B: Though little has been mentioned publicly about a potential trade for Prince, competing executives see a deal for him as a real possibility now. Milwaukee started negotiations early enough to gauge its chances to retain Fielder, which appear slim with him seeking about as much money as aggressive owner Mark Attanasio paid for the franchise. No disrespect was meant when one NL GM remarked, "Milwaukee can't afford the Prince Fielders of the world.'' The Giants, who have been interested in the past, are one team that could make some sense.
4. Ben Sheets, A's SP: It seemed almost a setup for a July trade when the A's outbid others to win the former ace. He's pitching better lately, but one AL GM said, "He needs to exhibit more consistency.''
5. Paul Konerko, White Sox 1B: Ken Williams, one of the game's most aggressive GMs, won't give up easily. Konerko would be a prize, but he has veto power as a 10-and-5 player. Struggling catcher A.J. Pierzynski is one the White Sox might not mind moving, but they'd better hurry -- he gains 10-and-5 veto rights in mid-June. Opposing GMs would love to see White Sox pitchers become available, though there's no evidence they will.