Who’s next after Rauch, Wolf?

Baseball’s trade market Tuesday turned away from the splashy and toward the routine – and borderline irrelevant, in the case of the Houston Astros – and that landscape is beginning to resemble what many general managers believe will be a measured conclusion to the non-waiver trading season.

In a month that has seen the relocations of starting pitchers CC Sabathia, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, there remain a few big names out there, notably outfielder Matt Holliday and first baseman Mark Teixeira. With the deadline approaching, and closer Jon Rauch moving from the Washington Nationals to the back of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen and left-handed starter Randy Wolf clinching, oh, fourth place for the Astros, talk centered more around the likes of Casey Blake, Brian Fuentes, Huston Street, George Sherrill, Dallas McPherson, Jarrod Washburn, A.J. Burnett, Raul Ibanez and Xavier Nady.

At the same time, more than one organization was rooting hard this week for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who, with a sweep in Colorado, might have convinced the Rockies to part more easily with Holliday, their left fielder, and/or Fuentes, their closer.

That could be a hard sell. The Rockies are seven games back of first place in the NL West. A year ago today they were 5½ back, and seven back on Sept. 10. And, a year ago today, one general manager recalled wryly, the Rockies were hustling Garrett Atkins and Todd Helton, and ultimately were pleased no one bit.

Still, said one GM, “Everything depends on Colorado.”

The Diamondbacks traded 23-year-old switch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio for Rauch, who’ll not only clean up their bullpen but, at 6-foot-11, will look Randy Johnson in the eye. The sigh of relief you heard was from GMs who no longer fear being held up for Eric Gagne money – the Boston Red Sox parted with prospects Kason Gabbard and David Murphy (and Engel Beltre) for the iffy setup man. The Diamondbacks, who have been awful since April, watched closer Brandon Lyon melt down twice against the Dodgers and made an aggressive move for Rauch, who, despite shoulder issues, is worth the risk. Nationals GM Jim Bowden was asking teams for a second baseman for Rauch, and got a decent one in Bonifacio.

After moving Sabathia, the Cleveland Indians remain in sell mode and are listening to offers for Blake, Paul Byrd and Jamey Carroll, and they could be convinced to discuss shortstop Jhonny Peralta. The Dodgers, who would prefer to acquire a true shortstop and move Nomar Garciaparra to third base, are in on Blake and McPherson, the former Angels prospect who is healthy again and has hit 32 home runs in Triple-A for the Florida Marlins. The Dodgers also need help in the bullpen but are not believed to be interested in Street. The Tampa Bay Rays would love to have Blake cover right field for them, but so far no one has met the Indians’ price.

The Red Sox, for the moment, are confident designated hitter David Ortiz is healthy enough to help their offense – meaning Teixeira isn’t a big topic in their office these days – and that Justin Masterson – the Jeff Nelson pitch-alike – can cover for the recent bullpen inconsistencies. They’d recently checked in with the Seattle Mariners to inquire about closer J.J. Putz but were told Putz was not available. The Mariners do, however, have something in a left-handed model, that being Washburn, who has pitched better lately and would make sense in a lot of places. Washburn has a limited no-trade clause and is due $10.35 million next season, which complicates matters, but nothing the New York Yankees couldn’t overcome. The St. Louis Cardinals might also have to take a look here, along with the New York Mets, whose rotation is only as sturdy as Pedro Martinez’s right shoulder, with the big part of the summer still out there. With Moises Alou done and Ryan Church in limbo, the Mets wouldn’t mind stabilizing their outfield corners, but the prices – in places such as Pittsburgh (Nady and Jason Bay) and Cincinnati (Adam Dunn) – remain too high.

Holliday and Teixeira aside, said one NL assistant GM, “Right now, the players they’re talking about are not difference makers. And people want premium prospects for non-difference makers.”

Which leads back to the Astros, who probably should be dumping a good portion of their roster – Darin Erstad, Mark Loretta, Ty Wigginton, etc. – but GM Ed Wade, to this point, is not budging. The Wolf move is particularly curious, given he’s a 2½-month rental and for the past six seasons either has pitched poorly in the second half or not at all. A wonderful guy, meaning he probably won’t toss Wade to the ground at any point, Wolf has been hammered away from Petco Park. And Minute Maid Park won’t be comforting to the left-handed Wolf, even if he has been more effective against right-handers this season.

As the deadline approached, one AL GM chuckled at the parade of names and potential moves, of the front-line pitchers gone and what’s left.

“It has been,” he said, “a very peculiar July.”

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jul 22, 2008