With parity possibly more widespread than ever and unexpected contenders all over the standings at the All-Star break, this is one of the slowest-developing trade markets in recent years. "The world is standing on its head," says one American League executive. "Heck, Pittsburgh is a buyer."
This is a tough trade deadline to decipher. There are a lot of teams seeking roster reinforcements, but it's hard to identify more than a handful of teams likely to be committed sellers. It's harder still to pinpoint a top-of-the-rotation pitcher who may be moved. And in an odd twist, two of the better starters traded could come from contenders: Braves righthander Derek Lowe and righty Edwin Jackson of the White Sox.
With the July 31 trade deadline less than three weeks away, here are some of the players most likely to be on the move.
Heath Bell, Padres
The closer (he finished the first half tied for second in the NL with 26 saves) will be a free agent after this season. He is thought to be willing to take less than he might command on the open market to stay in San Diego (perhaps $25 million for three years), but the cash-poor Padres don't want to allocate that to a reliever. The bullpen is the one potential area of strength in this market, but as one exec notes, "Twenty teams will be looking for relievers." Bell will be at the top of everyone's list. The Angels, Cardinals, Phillies, Rangers and White Sox all should have interest.
Mike Adams, Padres
Rival executives are convinced San Diego's star setup man will go too. The Yankees love him—but who doesn't? He has a reasonable salary ($2.5 million) and dazzling numbers (a minuscule 0.71 WHIP this season and a 1.59 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 1072/3 innings since the start of 2010).
Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
A $17.5 million option for 2012 that vests if the closer finishes 55 games this year is "scary," one AL exec says. The Mets would pay the $3.5 million buyout K-Rod is owed if the option doesn't vest, but acquiring teams still want protection from that clause. (Rodriguez went into the break with 34 games finished.) The Yankees and the Rangers are teams in need of bullpen help who could afford to use Rodriguez in a setup role—a job the closer has said he will accept if he's traded to a contender.
Carlos Beltran, Mets
The Mets would eat some of the roughly $6 million left on his contract to get back a top prospect. Beltran leads the NL in doubles (28), and his .503 slugging percentage would be his highest for a full season since 2007. The Red Sox, who need help in rightfield, are a good fit, but Beltran's troublesome knees are now sound enough to play the outfield every day for an NL team too.
Derek Lowe The Braves aren't actively shopping the veteran righthander, who is 5--7 with a 4.30 ERA, but they'd surely listen to offers since starters Julio Teheran and Mike Minor look ready to make the jump from Triple A—and Atlanta, the NL wild-card leader at the break, needs a bat. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers make sense.
Edwin Jackson The White Sox will have six viable starters once John Danks returns from the DL, so they could move the righthander to improve a surprisingly limp offense.
Carlos Peña, Cubs
Two things make the first baseman—the most likely Cub to move—especially attractive: He's on a one-year, $10 million deal, and he's heating up, with 12 home runs and a .575 slugging percentage since June 4. The Cubs have other covetable assets. Reliever Kerry Wood would interest the Yankees, Rangers and others, but he'd have to waive his no-trade clause. Starter Carlos Zambrano and outfielder Alfonso Soriano are too pricey, third baseman Aramis Ramirez would likely invoke his no-trade clause, and the team wants to keep reliever Sean Marshall and starter Ryan Dempster.