COOPERSTOWN — It’s a real trading deadline conundrum — too many teams that think they’re still in contention for a berth in the postseason and, now that the Angels and Tigers have cleaned out the closer market, almost all of them are seeking the same commodities: starting pitching and outfielders with pop.
Nobody can relate to this more than Yankees GM Brian Cashman who, despite the favorable schedule and the overall weakness of the American League East, knows it’s still going to be very difficult getting to October with clearly finished Ichiro Suzuki as his primary right fielder and innings-limited Chris Capuano his fifth starter. But before we go any further, can we please put a moratorium on all the David Price “fantasy baseball” trade rumors? The Tampa Bay Rays are not trading their ace, not now, not when Joe Maddon still has them believing they have the right stuff to get to the postseason; not when they’ve been playing the best baseball of any of the AL East clubs. So far, Cashman has done an excellent job of upgrading the Yankees at third base and the rotation with his low-cost, potential high-upside deals for Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy, but filling those other two needs should be problematic.
For one thing, outfielders with pop are scarce. What does it say about the overall dilution of talent in baseball that Josh Willingham, hitting .212 for the Twins, and Chris Denorfia, batting .235 with one homer for the Padres, are two of the more sought-after players at this year’s trading deadline? When it comes to proven, productive outfielders, the Rangers’ Alex Rios would, on the surface, appear to be a most desirable commodity, a perfect fit for the Yankees in right field. But no club, including the Yankees, will go near him with the $13.5 million he’s owed next year. The Phillies have had numerous inquiries on Marlon Byrd, who’s also owed about $13 million through next year, but are said to be asking a high price in prospects which, with his contract, makes him similarly iffy to be dealt. As for pitchers, it’s the same thing. The Yankees’ two closest rivals in the AL East, the Orioles and Blue Jays, both desperately need a rotation-stabilizing starter. But the Phillies’ Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett are both too expensive for the questionable contribution they might make over the last two months, while nobody believes the White Sox are serious about trading John Danks, who, with a remaining $30 million on his contract, is also a very prohibitive acquisition. The Orioles have had talks with the Rockies about their ace, 11-game winner Jorge De La Rosa, who could be a difference-maker. But Rockies owner Dick Monfort has said he doesn’t want to trade De La Rosa, who is a free agent after the season, and the Orioles have been steadfastly disinclined to discuss either of their two elite young starting arms, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy — which is what it would take to get a De La Rosa.
It may just be, with Price off the market because the Rays don’t want to mess with their chemistry, the most significant deadline deals have already been made — and leave it to the Tigers’ Dave Dombrowski to once again have no fear of sacrificing top prospects to get the player he needs to “win now.” It seems every year the Tigers have bullpen issues, and this season has been no different as 39-year-old Joe Nathan, to whom they gave a two-year, $20 million contract last winter to finally solve that problem, has really struggled, with a 5.73 ERA, 1.49 WHIP and five blown saves through Friday. So just like in past years when Dombrowski moved boldly, trading off No. 1 draft picks such as Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Jake Turner, in deals for Miguel Cabrera and Anibal Sanchez, he sent two of his highest regarded pitching prospects, Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson, to Texas for closer Joakim Soria. The 20-year-old Thompson, in particular, seems to be on the fast track, having recently been promoted by the Tigers to Double-A Erie. But Dombrowski has an 85-year-old owner in Mike Ilitch who could care less what Thompson will be doing for the Rangers in 2017.
Interestingly, in all the trades he’s made these past few years involving so many of his prized young pitching arms, Dombrowski repeatedly resisted the many offers he had for Rick Porcello, the former Seton Hall Prep prodigy to whom he gave a record $11.1 million contract for a high schooler as Detroit’s first-round draft pick in 2007. Rather, the Tigers lived with Porcello’s growing pains while he toiled at the back end of their rotation from 2009-2012, and that patience has really paid off this season as he is tied for the team lead in victories (12) with an ERA of 3.42 — more than a run per game lower than that of Justin Verlander (4.84) entering Verlander’s start late Saturday night.
“Very few people understand you have to have patience in this game,” Dombrowski said by phone. “Porcello is one guy who’s really grown. He’s had his highs and lows but he always really worked hard and he wants to be a champion. He’s a first-class kid. Over the years, he developed a changeup and a cutter and really learned how to pitch. I can’t tell you how many times his name up in trade talks, but I never wanted to trade him, and it was because we had such a high regard for him and believed in his ability, we felt we could afford to trade (Doug) Fister last winter.”
SAN DIEGO DUMP
What a sad situation in San Diego, where it’s amateur hour for the Padres in their latest payroll purge. It’s inconceivable, after firing GM Josh Byrnes back on June 23, that they could be going into the trading deadline with a three-man committee of Omar Minaya, A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. — all of whom have expiring contracts with no stake in the future of the team — assigned by team president Mike Dee, a business/promotions guy, to essentially gut the operation. The committee’s first trade — much-coveted closer Huston Street to the Angels for four prospects, three of them low-level — raised plenty of eyeballs in that none of the prospects is considered by scouts to be a potential impact major leaguer, if any of them makes it at all. But last week’s trade of Headley to the Yankees for Yangervis Solarte and A-ball righthander Rafael De Paula was a flat out embarrassment, especially with the cash-strapped Padres also throwing $1 million into the deal. We realize there was hardly any market for Headley, but this was just a giveaway and just another punch in the gut to the Padres’ disillusioned fan base. The night of the Headley trade, the Padres lost, 6-0, to the Cubs as their former top prospect, Anthony Rizzo — whom Byrnes traded for pitcher Andrew Cashner back in 2012 — hit two homers, and then, the day after that, Maybin was suspended for 25 games for amphetamine use.
* * *
IT’S A MADD MADD WORLD…
— Are the Red Sox playing with fire with Jon Lester — and risking yet another defection of a franchise player to the Yankees? After Boston low-balled Lester big-time in its initial contract extension offer (reportedly four-years/$70 million) back in spring training, the Red Sox and their star lefty continued to be far apart in their negotiations until last week, when Sox owner John Henry said talks have been tabled until after the season — when Lester can be a free agent. It is believed the major sticking point is the Red Sox’s refusal to go beyond five years on the contract — just as they likewise refused to do last winter with Jacoby Ellsbury in letting him walk to the Yankees. You have to believe nobody is happier with this latest development in Boston than the Yankees, who are waiting in the weeds to see if the Sox really do let Lester hit the market.
— One of the most interesting trading deadline developments has been the A’s demotion of Tommy Milone, who, despite being 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA over his last 11 starts, became the odd man out in their rotation when they acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs. Milone understandably would like to be traded now, but Oakland GM Billy Beane, acutely aware of how quickly starting pitching depth can dissipate after losing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin in the spring, insists Milone is still an important part of the A’s future, especially since Hammel will be gone as a free agent after the season. Stay tuned on this one.
SAY IT AIN’T SO…
“It’s too late. I don’t care to ever speak to him again. What he did was wrong.”
— Mark McGwire on Jose Canseco’s attempt at a reconciliation with his Oakland A’s Bash Brother after having outed him as a PED user in his 2005 book “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.”