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Albert Chen
June 26, 2006
Trade Deficit
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June 26, 2006

Baseball

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Trade Deficit

Big names are being thrown around as the nonwaiver deadline approaches, but the truth is, the pickings will be slim

The July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline is still more than five weeks away, but general managers around the majors are already busy asking one another, Deal or no deal? "I'm starting to get calls about my players every hour," says Nationals G.M. Jim Bowden, whose club was not one of the 19 teams within five games of a playoff spot at week's end. With so many anxious buyers revving up trade rumors, here's a look at what's fact and what's fiction as the deadline looms.

The Marlins will try to deal Dontrelle Willis
Fiction. Owner Jeffrey Loria has been steadfast about retaining his franchise players, ace lefthander Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera. Here's why you should believe him: Florida's young club, which won 12 of its first 15 games in June, could be a contender sooner than anyone projected after last winter's fire sale. Though Willis will most likely land a contract worth more than $7 million in arbitration next winter, there's no urgency to further slash the team's meager payroll (a major-league-low $15 million) this season. With Willis off the market, the crop of available starters is thin. A's G.M. Billy Beane is willing to deal lefty Barry Zito, a free agent next fall, but he wants a costly package in return--up to two top prospects and a major league starter. So pitching-starved contenders without a wealth of minor league talent, such as the Yankees, can forget about landing Zito. Says one National League executive, "If you're looking for a starter, bad news: [The Angels'] Jeff Weaver and [the Twins'] Kyle Lohse may be as good as it gets."

The Yanks and the Red Sox are the AL East's only aggressive bidders
Fiction. The Blue Jays, who through Sunday were three games out of first, figure to be prominent in July deal-making. G.M. J.P. Ricciardi wants to fortify his bullpen, which has logged the third most innings in the league and was ranked 22nd in ERA in the majors. The Marlins' Joe Borowski and the Pirates' Salomon Torres are among the desirable relievers available. Meanwhile, the Red Sox want a starting pitcher (they have inquired about Weaver), and the Yankees, with Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield hurt, need outfield help.

Alfonso Soriano is on the block
Fact. Three months ago the Nationals' Bowden found no takers when he dangled Soriano, after the All-Star second baseman refused at first to move to the outfield. But since filling the hole in left adequately and showing that he can still put up big numbers in cavernous RFK Stadium--he was on pace to hit 55 homers--a line of suitors has formed. Since new team president Stan Kasten wants to rebuild from the ground up, teams flush with young talent, such as the Dodgers and the Angels, have the edge.

The Reds will unload Junior
Fiction. With his team a surprise contender, high-priced centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr. isn't going anywhere. But another top outfielder in the NL Central might: the Brewers' Carlos Lee, who was tied for third in the league in homers (23) and ranked fifth in RBIs (58). The consistent and durable Lee is headed for free agency, but he will draw interest this summer once Milwaukee, already eight games out of first, is convinced it can't make the playoffs. Lee would command a lower price than Soriano, so he might be the outfield fix the Yankees are looking for. Says an NL executive, "Given the number of buyers and scarcity of top talent, he'll be one of the most coveted players."

Check out John Donovan's power rankings at SI.com/baseball.

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