Mets' Reyes and Beltran top list of hitters on early trade market
Jose Reyes is having a huge season as he approaches free agency
Josh Willingham is among several Oakland A's who could be dealt soon
The Twins might trade Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome
The biggest everyday star with a chance to hit the trade market this summer remains the Mets' great shortstop Jose Reyes -- although, a Reyes being dealt is far less than a certainty now. As one competing National League executive speculated, "the Mets will need to be overwhelmed'' to move Reyes. For a while, it appeared that his being traded was a foregone conclusion, but now that exec's assessment sounds about right, what with the Mets hanging around the fringes of the wild card race and Reyes generally playing better than just about anyone else in the league.
New Mets GM Sandy Alderson was said by colleagues to have entered the season with an "analytical'' or even dispassionate view of the team's turnaround needs. But he will have to have a very strong stomach to deal the player who may not only be the best but also the most exciting in the NL at a time the Mets can ill afford any negative publicity. That is, unless he can somehow bring back an overwhelming haul from a team that might only get three months of the great Reyes, who is eligible for free-agency at the end of the season. Those types of deals are difficult to get in exchange position players, especially ones so close to reaching the open market.
The trade market is just beginning to percolate, so a lot can change. Even though it's three weeks past Memorial Day, when teams usually start considering such things, too many teams remain slightly above or below .500 to make a definitive call about whether to be a buyer or seller.
Teams that could go either way include the Dodgers, Twins and A's, among many others. The Rockies and White Sox, two teams that have been disappointing, are hoping to be buyers, not sellers, while surprising starts by the Indians, Diamondbacks and Mariners make those teams unlikely sellers at the moment. The Pirates, Nationals and Mets, while not quite contenders at this point, could wind up falling into the same category as Cleveland, Arizona and Seattle if they remain on their current paths.
Here is an early look at the potential trade market for the everyday players (pitchers will be considered here on Wednesday):
1. Jose Reyes, Mets SS
Trading Reyes, who leads the NL with 103 hits, 12 triples and a .341 batting average, will "have to be a clear win'' for the Mets to make, the NL exec suggested. The Giants have been named by several competing execs as a logical suitor, as Reyes would provide the offensive spark and defensive glue needed by the pitching-rich defending World Series winners. The Giants' best young players include pitcher Madison Bumgarner and first baseman Brandon Belt, but the Giants have resisted considering a trade for Bumgarner (last year they wouldn't part with him for Jose Bautista) and Belt really doesn't fit the Mets as a young power-hitting first baseman is one of a few assets they don't need. "I don't see San Francisco moving guys of their major league club,'' the exec speculated. Even if they kept their 25-man unit intact, the Giants could still make a respectable offer that starts with top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. But even if their proposal includes a few others, that may be a tough sell for Mets fans.
The Cardinals, Reds and Brewers are among several other teams where Reyes would make a major impact.
The Mets will at least look at deals assuming Reyes won't take a quick undermarket offer (one NL exec, speaking of the free-agent market, said, "I think he'll get more than (Carl) Crawford,'' referring to the $142-million free-agent deal Boston gave the 29-year-old Crawford last offseason). The Giants are logical for Reyes as a free agent, as well, but perhaps the crosstown Yankees could be more seriously considered this winter. "He's the one guy, if the Yankees wanted to move Derek Jeter, where they could do it. He's a big name who they could really justify making that move,'' the NL exec said. Based on past statements about wanting to stay in New York, where he has a home, Reyes probably wouldn't mind that, ether. Several other big market teams have shortstops (Boston is said to have made its big expenditures last winter, with Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and isn't expected to seriously be in the hunt here, for instance), but regardless, Reyes would easily be the biggest free agent shortstop in more than a decade, since Alex Rodriguez moved from Seattle to Texas for $252 million, and could be enticing even for unexpected suitors.
2. Carlos Beltran, Mets OF
Mets people have determined they would be willing to eat most or even all of the rest of Beltran's $18 million 2011 salary if they can get a decent young piece or two back, and that should help grease the skids for a trade after 6 ½ up-and-down years in Queens for the multitalented player. Beltran has looked close to 100 percent this season -- he has a .500 slugging percentage -- after a spring training in which he was limited to parts of only three games because of knee concerns, so they shouldn't be limited to examining deals with only American League teams, though that's still where the logical interested teams reside. The Red Sox have long liked Beltran (top assistant Allard Baird was the GM when Beltran was starring in Kansas City), with the White Sox and Tigers other possibilities. The Yankees were making some sense when DH Jorge Posada was struggling from the right side and rightfielder Nick Swisher from the left, but the Yankees appear very focused on upgrading their pitching staff at the moment. Beltran also has no-trade powers, but he is said to be likely to accept a deal to a contender.
3. Josh Willingham, A's OF. One A's exec told me of Willingham, "He's our best player,'' during this spring. He's also their lone power source, with 10 home runs, and his .231 batting average is surely attributable in part to that pitching palace Oakland Coliseum. Willingham could always hit, and he's been linked to the Phillies, where he'd be a very good fit (though they've made rumblings about being tapped out after their luxury purchase of Cliff Lee this winter). Philly knows Willingham well from his days with the Marlins and Nationals, but he could help a number of teams if the A's decide to sell. Willingham is a free agent after the year, and as of a week ago, the A's hadn't broached the subject of a new deal for him.
4. Michael Bourn, Astros CF. A tremendous defensive centerfielder with as much speed as anyone in the game (he leads the NL with 29 stolen bases), it's something of a surprise the Astros are listening at all. But word is, they are. Their one concern, apparently, is trouble with lefthanded pitching (his OPS vs. lefties is only .544 this year compared to .737 overall). The Braves could use speed in the outfield, though Jordan Schafer has looked a bit better in recent weeks.
5. Pudge Rodriguez, Nationals C. The Nationals are said to love Wilson Ramos, whom they acquired last year in a smart deadline deal with the Twins for reliever Matt Capps, and are willing to part with Pudge. Word is, Washington spoke briefly to the Giants and Red Sox, but San Francisco didn't seem very interested and Boston's faith in Jarrod Saltalamacchia appears to be paying off. Rodriguez's hitting (.224, two home runs) isn't what it was in his prime but he's still a very good defender. The Nationals aren't anxious to move him but will do so for the right young player. Even though they recently enjoyed an eight-game winning streak, with Stephen Strasburg not due to pitch in the majors again until next year, 2012 is really their target year.
6. Michael Cuddyer, Twins OF. He was off to a slow start, along with the rest of the Twins. But he's a productive hitter (he has 10 home runs) who's due to be a free agent. The Twins' seven-game winning streak means there's no assurance they will be sellers now, though.
7. Jason Kubel, Twins OF. Another Twin in the final year before he becomes a free agent, he carried them early and still holds a .320 batting average. The Twins will likely try to make a run especially now that superstar catcher Joe Mauer is back with them at a time they've gotten hot. But if they eventually decide to sell, they will have several pieces to deal.
8. Luke Scott, Orioles OF. His very right-leaning political views, which he expressed in an interview this winter, got him in trouble with Baltimore management and the sense is they'd like to move on. This is a team with young talent. Scott turns 33 in a few days and his batting average has dropped 41 points from 2010 while his slugging percentage is 100 points lower than it was a year ago.
9. Hunter Pence, Astros OF. The sense is Houston wants to hold onto him even if it isn't thrilled Pence beat them in arbitration for $6.9 million this winter. Pence is not only having a big year (.321, 51 RBIs) but is seen as someone who provides a great example of how to play the game for a team in transition.
10. Jeff Keppinger, Astros INF. The versatile player has hovered around .300 (he's at .302 now) and could be a useful man for a contender.