"He's a veteran who knows how to pitch, and he'll eat up innings—everybody wants a guy like that," says one American League advance scout. "Also, getting out of Coors Field is good for any pitcher."
Indeed, Astacio's ERA in 11 starts on the road this year (4.24) is nearly three runs below his mark at Coors (7.12), one reason his suitors can envision him helping their teams to the postseason. He still throws a low-90s fastball with good movement, and he features a changeup and a curve that are above average. Astacio has also been a pitcher who stays strong down the stretch: He's a career 38-18 in August and September, with a 3.52 ERA in the latter month.
There's more to Astacio's market value than his performance, however. The same major-league-wide pitching shortage that drives up free-agent salaries in the off-season creates a feeding frenzy in the days leading up to the trade deadline, especially since the addition of postseason wild cards in 1995 increased the number of teams that consider themselves contenders at this time of year. Teams in the playoff hunt are under pressure to make moves to prove to fans that they are serious about winning.
Astacio may not be Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, but he is the biggest fish in a shallow pool of available pitching talent. Righthanders Woody Williams of the Padres and Albie Lopez of the Devil Rays, both sub-.500 pitchers, and Padres lefty Sterling Hitchcock, who recently returned from Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, are the best of the rest.
With so many teams lining up to acquire Astacio, Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd is under pressure to make a savvy deal, one that could shape his team for several seasons. "It's not [that we want] to trade Pedro," O'Dowd says. "It's that we want] to make the sum of our club better than each of the individual parts, and [trading him] is the only way to do that"
July 27-29 Royals at A's
At week's end Kansas City had the second-lowest road winning percentage (.354) in the American League, was a major-league-worst 7-23 in games against left-handed starters and was hitting .249 off southpaws, second worst in the AL. So who will be waiting for the Royals when they arrive in Oakland? Two tough lefthanded pitchers: Mark Mulder, who was set to start on Friday, and Barry Zito on Sunday. What's more, K.C. will face a team that has gone 14-4 since July 2 and is making a big run at the wild card.