The New York Yankees traded reliever Kyle Farnsworth to the Tigers for former All-Star catcher Pudge Rodriguez, at a time when Farnsworth had finally begun to pitch to his contract and Rodriguez was again hitting.
Two sell-high strategies, two pennant-race needs, two guys who figure to fill critical roles over the final two months.
Farnsworth, in the final year of a three-year, $17-million contract, will be asked to settle the back end of a Tigers’ bullpen that has been among the worst in baseball, though it has improved in July. This week, Fernando Rodney replaced Todd Jones as the regular closer, and Farnsworth likely will be part of that eighth- and ninth-inning rotation, as will Joel Zumaya. Farnsworth, whose fastball is consistently in the upper 90s, although often in hittable locations, originally was signed with the end of Mariano Rivera’s career in mind. He would set up, the thinking went, until Rivera retired, and then take his velocity to the ninth inning. Instead, mid-way through his time in New York, Farnsworth elicited one Yankee executive to observe, “He gets less out of more than any player in the game.”
Rodriguez, once the premier catcher in the league and now nearly 37, also can be a free agent at the end of the season. He was splitting time with Brandon Inge in Detroit and will do the same with Jose Molina in New York. Without Jorge Posada, the Yankees lacked offensive production from the catcher position. Though Rodriguez lacks the power of his prime, he has batted .350 over the past four weeks. That’s a massive upgrade over Molina, a good defensive catcher who is batting .229 without a home run.
Four games behind in the AL East and playing their best ball of the season, they have made two trades in a week, the first bringing outfielder Xavier Nady and lefty reliever Damaso Marte in a lopsided deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Meantime, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, have had regular conversations for several days regarding potential destinations for the listless and unhappy Ramirez, according to sources.
The Red Sox are finding it difficult to get a reasonable return on Ramirez, who, as a player with 10-and-5 rights (10 years in the league, the last five with the same team), has veto power over trades. And when he says publicly he is ready to leave the Red Sox in the middle of the pennant race, Ramirez doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily make it easy for his next ballclub.
The Philadelphia Phillies, whose offense is given to periodic outbursts but generally is sagging under Chase Utley’s slump and Jimmy Rollins’ all-around down year, have engaged the Red Sox in talks for Ramirez. The Florida Marlins have prioritized acquiring a catcher above Ramirez. Those close to the situation believe the New York Mets could become interested in the final hours before Thursday’s deadline, but so far GM Omar Minaya has passed. The Los Angeles Dodgers do not appear to have the room or the patience for Ramirez, and so far have declined to enter into meaningful negotiations regarding the mercurial left fielder.
In order to lift his no-trade rights, Ramirez could demand that the destination club guarantee one or both of his options for 2009 and 2010, worth $20 million each. Or, the new club might have to agree not to exercise the 2009 option, making Ramirez a free agent. According to those sources, Ramirez’s demands are likely to change depending on the team.
Ramirez’s half-hearted play almost certainly is not endearing himself to the potential trade market.
The wide belief is that the Red Sox will not find a trade partner that will match both the players they seek and Ramirez’s terms. So Ramirez likely will endure two or three more potentially tumultuous months in Boston, have the Red Sox decline his 2009 option and then become a free agent. The possibility remains that the Red Sox will attempt to pass Ramirez through waivers after the trading deadline, sparking more interest – and potentially another period of distraction.
In the wake of the Los Angeles Angels’ thunderbolt acquisition of Mark Teixeira, there was little significant movement toward the deadline by Wednesday afternoon. The Rays continued to seek help in their outfield and hoped to make a deal for Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, though its officials were said to be pessimistic by mid-day Wednesday.
The Dodgers, frightened by another Nomar Garciaparra injury (knee, although he should return within a day or two), were searching for middle-infield help and in discussion with the Padres regarding Greg Maddux.
The Yankees, not satisfied with their Sidney Ponson-Darrell Rasner back end of the rotation, were offering a lower-end prospect for Seattle Mariners left-hander Jarrod Washburn and were willing to take on all of Washburn’s contract (including $10.3 million in 2009), but the Mariners were still insisting on a better prospect.