Pitching will fetch a premium at trade deadline

Around this time last year, Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) morphed from a batter-slaying cyborg to mere human. This happens in baseball. Players embark on extraordinary stretches before reverting to their regular selves. Such runs just don't last 10 weeks.

And that was the thing about Ubaldo last year: He was so good for so long, he turned into a mononym, a relative rarity in baseball. CC. Prince. Albert. Ichiro(notes). Torii. There aren't many whose first name alone is a touchstone of credibility. When a pitcher shows up in the middle of June with a 13-1 record and 1.15 ERA, it tends to facilitate the process.

Ubaldo Jimenez has won four of his last five decisions after opening the season 0-5.
(Getty Images)

So to see Colorado Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd entertaining offers for Ubaldo as trade season enters overdrive, with his club-friendly-bordering-on-silly contract running two years at less than $10 million no less, signals two things: Creative general managers want to take advantage of a market bereft of starting pitching before a free-agent season just the same, and O'Dowd is banking on a desperate team paying Ubaldo '10 prices rather than Ubaldo '11 before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

A scout familiar with the Rockies' plans said the team is focusing on infielders and starting pitchers – and he made certain to emphasize the plural in both. Two years of Ubaldo – he has the right to cancel the $9 million option for 2014 if traded – plus the draft picks that could come if the current free-agent-compensation system stays in place – equates to at least three potential impact, close-to-or-in-the-major-leagues players for the Rockies, plus one on whom O'Dowd and his right-hand men, Bill Geivett and Bill Schmidt, can dream.

In other words, the Full Teixeira.

It's not an outright insane request for a pitcher who turns 28 in January and who, despite an ERA over 4.00 and an unsightly 5-8 record, actually measures better in one advanced metric (expected fielding-independent pitching, or xFIP) than he did all of last season. There's an argument to be made, although not a terribly convincing one, that Ubaldo is every bit as good as last season.

Which might be true if not for the small fact that …

1. Ubaldo Jimenez is throwing his fastball nearly 3 mph slower than last season. That is why teams are treating discussions as if they're dealing with Ubaldo '11 and not Ubaldo '10.

Now, part of that is Ubaldo throwing more sinkers than ever. More than 14 percent of his pitches hum in around 90 mph and dive at the end. They're a nice complement to his split-change, a wicked little 87-mph pitch that contractually obligates batters to hit ground balls.

Still, his straight fastball is down from 96.3 mph to 94 mph, and his fastballs overall dipped from 96.1 mph to 93.4 mph, and while that's still harder than all but eight starters, Ubaldo led baseball in average velocity in each of his three full seasons before this one.

The Rockies' demands go to show how shallow this pitching market really is. CC Sabathia(notes) and Yu Darvish are the best free agents-to-be, and they have to opt out of a contract and post from Japan, respectively, to even hit the open market. It's why teams are plotzing at the possibility of acquiring Ubaldo and showing …

2. Wandy Rodriguez(notes) near-equal amounts of love. Aside from their birthplace (the Dominican Republic), Wandy – sure, he's good enough to be a mononym – and Ubaldo are nothing alike. Wandy is left-handed, Ubaldo right. Wandy barely cracks 90 mph with his fastball, and when he does, it's not very effective. He throws the sort of curveball Ubaldo would love.

And while he's signed for the next two years with an option for 2014, Wandy's contract is significantly more prohibitive: The deal guarantees him $25.5 million over the last two seasons, and the $13 million option for 2014 becomes Wandy's if he's traded.

This is a little more than a general manager plumb-bobbing like in Ubaldo's case. The Astros may have baseball's worst farm system for what seems like the fifth consecutive year – their best prospect right now, no joke, is a 5-foot-6 second baseman – and even if GM Ed Wade does get fired by new owner Jim Crane, he'd be well-served hitting the reset button. Whether he'll do so with Rodriguez and Hunter Pence(notes) is one of the bigger mysteries this July, bested by …

Jose Reyes(notes)

3. Jose Reyes and the big Mets decision. Which shouldn't be a big decision at all. It's incredibly easy, in fact.

One high-ranking Mets source put the team's chances of re-signing Reyes at "25 percent at best. I don't think we're going to have the money." And that's after new minority owner David Einhorn's infusion of $200 million to help the team operate. Money situations are fluid, of course, but the Mets want to cut their payroll significantly this offseason – toward the low $100 million range – and with nearly $58 million committed to Johan Santana(notes), Jason Bay(notes) and David Wright(notes), the $20 million-plus Reyes is going to demand runs counter to their plans.

Unless the Mets can somehow guarantee a leg up on the Reyes bidding – and they can't – it's senseless to hold onto him for two months of relatively meaningless baseball. If the Mets trade him now, they get a cache of prospects to replenish a depleted farm system. "And we don't have to pay the draft picks the bonuses," the official said of the other alternative, in which the Mets would receive a pair of draft choices if Reyes were to sign elsewhere.

It's never fun trading an MVP midseason. It's much easier to get rid of a player like …

4. Carlos Beltran(notes) and celebrate the fact that he's actually played himself back to valuable.

Beltran, too, could be a bellwether for the Mets' fiscal whereabouts. If they can include money to offset the final $7 million or so owed him, it will signal the sort of health and strength that the Mets source doesn't believe exists. Which is why he expects them to part with him for a decent prospect or two but not the top-tier sort available with a few million packets of Sweet and Low.

After two injury-wrecked seasons, Beltran resembles his old self in bat. While knee injuries have wrecked his speed and forced him to a corner-outfield spot, his bat fits into the middle of a contender's lineup, whether it's San Francisco, Detroit, Cincinnati, Philadelphia or Boston. Not as nicely as …

Colby Rasmus(notes)

5. Colby Rasmus' might in a place like Tampa Bay, which remains the chic guess where the talented and underachieving outfielder will end up if the St. Louis Cardinals trade him. A year ago, when Rasmus was requesting trades because of clashes with manager Tony La Russa, such a move seemed short-sighted. Now, after a year of struggles, a change-of-scenery deal may behoove both parties.

While Rasmus is walking the same amount and striking out significantly less than last season, his batted balls going for hits have dropped by nearly six percent and he's grown a predilection for pop-ups. The ensuing ugliness grows worse because Rasmus' father continues to meddle with an organization run dictatorially from the manager's office. GM John Mozeliak, much as he tries to broker peace, ends up looking like the guy who wants to break up a brawl at Denny's: noble and hopeless.

If Mozeliak does relent and deal Rasmus, his going to Tampa Bay makes sense – for Jeremy Hellickson(notes). The idea that B.J. Upton(notes) – one-year-from-free agency B.J. Upton – would serve as the centerpiece of a trade for a toolsy, pre-arbitration center fielder is madness unless the second piece is left-handed stud Matt Moore(notes) – and it's not going to be Matt Moore. The Rays are plenty deep, and a deal with outfielder Desmond Jennings(notes) makes more sense than one with Upton, but, hey, this is what makes July so much fun: sometimes the most nonsensical things actually are true.

The outfield market is similar to the pitching market in that there are a few solid players who might be dealt and a whole bunch similar to …

6. Josh Willingham(notes), who could pull a Cody Ross(notes) and affect a pennant race but, in all likelihood, will be nothing more than fifth wheels on real contenders. In his own outfield there is David DeJesus(notes), whose former team, Kansas City, has two such players on the block: Jeff Francoeur(notes) and Melky Cabrera(notes), the latter of whom is likelier to be dealt even if the former could bring more.

And that's relative. The Giants didn't even need to trade for Ross. They grabbed him on waivers. Last year, DeJesus fetched Vin Mazzaro(notes), he of the 14-run outing earlier this year. The market for Ryan Ludwick(notes) isn't pulsating, either, not to the tune of teammate …

Mike Adams(notes)

7. Mike Adams and his dynamic combination of closer-level stuff and middle reliever-level salary. Go ahead and have Heath Bell(notes), two executives said this week. They'll take Adams.

Because Adams has another year of arbitration eligibility and will reach it with setup-man statistics, he won't cost nearly that of an established closer, and he'll almost certainly outperform all but the best. Adams is Mariano Rivera(notes) Lite, throwing the cut fastball 60 percent of the time, a four-seamer 32 percent and mixing in a curveball and changeup every 20 pitches or so.

The results are devastating. His 1.26 ERA ranks second among pitchers with more than 40 innings. His .152 batting average against is third. Hitters don't get on base against Adams even 20 percent of the time. He is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds of unfairness.

Because Bell comes with arbitration draft picks, the Padres will ask more for him. Bargain shoppers know better. They see the best right-handed setup man in baseball now and a closer next year. They're thinking now and then, whereas those targeting …

8. Derek Lowe(notes) just want to win now. Because the prospect of paying $15 million for a 39-year-old pitcher next season – even one as consistently, um, consistent as Lowe – isn't good business.

Still, there could be a market for Lowe if the Braves find themselves overwhelmed, which ought not be too difficult. A team willing to take on Lowe's contract is a start, for that not only frees up another chunk of change for this offseason but allows Atlanta to seek a bat (Beltran would look awfully good this year) and fill Lowe's rotation spot with whichever of the Julio Teheran(notes)/Mike Minor/Randall Delgado(notes)/Arodys Vizcaino/Randall Delgado quartet works out.

Much of what Atlanta does depends on how other teams with pitching act. If Ubaldo and Wandy get dealt, it's no go, Lowe. Too much supply. Most teams can't swallow the $15 million anyway and are happy to chance …

Erik Bedard(notes)

9. Erik Bedard for a couple hundred thousand. There are performance bonuses, too, and Mike Hampton's(notes) torch-passing to Bedard for player likeliest to rupture a lung by breathing.

All of these are minimal inconveniences if understood properly, which is to say that any team banking on Erik Bedard to help lead its playoff charge is operating under a delusional premise. And that's a shame, because in the rare moments his left arm, legs, torso and internal organs work in concert, he's a damn good pitcher.

In the 912 innings fate has allowed him to pitch since 2002, Bedard's ERA is 21 percent better than league average. He averages nearly a strikeout an inning, and before a knee injury this year, he had 85 strikeouts and 26 walks in 90 innings with a 3.00 ERA.

So for a high-risk, high-reward prospect, what the hell? Maybe the winning team gets lucky. Maybe Bedard doesn't strain his eyelid or sneeze his way to a pulled oblique or hurt his shoulder flicking sunflower seeds.

Probably not, though. Which is why teams are turning to …

10. Ubaldo Jimenez as a safer bet. Cincinnati wants him. Detroit would love him. And O'Dowd, according to SI.com, asked the New York Yankees for Jesus Montero(notes), Manny Banuelos(notes), Dellin Betances and Ivan Nova(notes).

Makes sense. You get the sense that the difference between Ubaldo Jimenez being part of the rumor mill and not is his GM's proclivity to tell the truth. O'Dowd confirmed he would at least listen on Jimenez, just as Arizona GM Kevin Towers did that on Justin Upton(notes). And it sent the baseball world into a frenzy, curious why he would trade someone coming into his prime and what he could get for him and how the franchise would come out.

Were O'Dowd more Belichickian, Ubaldo would be nothing more than a pitcher on a nice run, with a 2.56 ERA over his last nine starts and the look of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Those are hard to find. If Derek Lowe gets $15 million a year on the open market, Ubaldo would receive a whole lot more.

So the likelihood he's firing 95-mph peas in another uniform this year and beyond is small. He may be human again. Compared to what this trade market may bare, that's good enough.

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