NEW YORK – Buck Showalter, who could have used a starting pitcher and a third baseman right about then, found his way to the bench at Yankee Stadium on Monday night, not 24 hours until the non-waiver trading deadline.
Baltimore's manager hoisted himself atop the backrest and looked expectantly at the gathered reporters.
"So," he said, "any rumors?"
Boy howdy, were there rumors.
It's where Monday started, and then where it threatened to end. The day before the deadline began much like the day before the day before the deadline, which could only mean the trading period was approaching a wild finish or the Houston Astros had run out of players. Fortunately, the Chicago Cubs had plenty of players; they dealt catcher Geovany Soto to the Texas Rangers for a Double-A pitcher, then traded left-hander Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to the Atlanta Braves for two minor-league pitchers. The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired reliever Brandon League from the Seattle Mariners, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider, and the Blue Jays wound up with two relievers – Brad Lincoln from the Pirates and Steve Delabar from the Mariners.
Still, deadline eve reached the gloaming and the Philadelphia Phillies had not submitted to a luxury-tax trimming, the Boston Red Sox hadn't cleared their clubhouse of miscreants, and the Miami Marlins hadn't been sold off for a particularly fetching Picasso.
As a result, the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals each have at least one fewer starting pitcher than would make them comfortable. The Oakland Athletics still need a shortstop. The Reds are an outfielder short, as are the San Francisco Giants.
Nearing the end of a month that yielded a handful of significant trades – Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels, Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Detroit Tigers, Wandy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates – there remained significant names and games available. The degree to which they were available became the debate, and fueled the usual Twitter hyperventilation, and only heightened Tuesday's drama.
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Unless, of course, the new compensation rules, extra wild card and the expectation that high-end players could clear waivers in August had served to deaden the final days of July, but few seemed willing to give into that yet.
Under new rules, a team that acquires a player in midseason would not receive draft-pick compensation for losing that player after the season. That's a considerable change that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said could cool the annual exchange of prospects for established – and well-compensated – players due for free agency.
"It should," he said Monday, standing behind the batting cage. "But, I guess it just depends on the buyer. To me the compensation is a big issue."
A year ago, deadline day produced about a dozen trades, including Michael Bourn to the Braves, Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians, Rafael Furcal to the St. Louis Cardinals and two men – Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick – to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Many scenarios remained in play and in limbo Monday night.
The longest running of them was the Dodgers' pursuit of Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster. Unwilling to part with the best of his prospects for two months of Dempster, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has ridden the leverage of Dempster's 10-and-5 rights and preference for L.A. into the final hours. The Cubs adjusted their proposal mid-day, floated the idea of including outfielder Alfonso Soriano in a larger package, and hoped if the Dodgers wouldn't budge, Dempster might. After a week of being adamantly Dodger, Dempster told reporters in Chicago, "Baseball is a game of adjustments, and that's the way I'm looking at this. I've got all kinds of gut feelings. … You can have expectations, but things can change, go different directions."
If not the Dodgers, then the Washington Nationals, Cardinals and Rangers could be possibilities, unless one of them opts for James Shields or Matt Garza, or goes big with Cliff Lee, or changes their mind about Josh Beckett, and this could go on forever.
Dempster, meantime, is scheduled to start Tuesday for the Cubs against the Pirates. Few believe he'll actually make that start. That said, his last two starts were supposed to have occurred elsewhere, as well.
One trade that appeared to have traction Monday night had Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton going to the Orioles, who, according to MASNsports.com, were reviewing Blanton's medicals.
And the Cubs weren't entirely Dempster-centric. Near the end of Monday's game against the Pirates, first outfielder Johnson and then catcher Soto left the dugout to hugs and handshakes from their teammates. Johnson had been packaged with Maholm and sent to the Braves, who'd been jilted by Dempster. Garza is a popular target, and reports have the Blue Jays, Reds, Nationals and Dodgers involved.
The rest was less certain:
Given the state of their starting rotation, the Rangers are expected the make a move. Because of their rich farm system, deep pockets and creative ideas, they are popular potential trading partners. After being linked to Lee and Beckett through the day, however, the Rangers appeared to have moved on. In a stretch in which Colby Lewis was lost for the season, Neftali Feliz experienced more elbow soreness, and Roy Oswalt was clobbered by the Angels, an upgrade appeared in order.
[Jeff Passan: Red Sox want to trade pitcher Josh Beckett]
The Phillies continued to bat around the idea of trading outfielders Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Juan Pierre, along with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, though reports were conflicted about Pence's availability. Pence's camp was under the impression Pence would not be dealt, but rumors persisted that the Giants were pressing the issue. Rollins has 10-and-5 protection, a potential complication that likely leaves him in Philly.
The Red Sox seemed caught in the middle, somewhere between moving Beckett and not, or moving some peripheral pieces – Cody Ross would have value – or not, but appear to have drawn the line at Jacoby Ellsbury and other more precious pieces.
The San Diego Padres, who signed outfielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street rather than trade them, could trade third baseman Chase Headley. The A's, Yankees and Orioles could use him.
And the Yankees are down Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte. Cashman said he believed the club could cover for both for another month, but he could change his mind.
After all, tis the season.
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