Last week's Jake Peavy(notes) near-trade demonstrated that not only will the Padres' ace dictate his relocation terms, but that the annual swapping season will heat up well before the July 31 trading deadline.
Here are some developments to watch in the coming days and weeks:
• The New York Mets retain keen interest in Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson(notes), to the point where the Nationals have scouts watching the Mets' Triple-A team in Buffalo, N.Y., and Double-A team in Binghamton, N.Y., evaluating pitchers Jon Niese, Mike Antonini and Eddie Kunz(notes) among others.
The linchpin to the potential deal from Washington's perspective may be Bobby Parnell(notes), a 6-4, 200-pound right-hander who came out of the Mets' bullpen Friday night in Fenway Park and hit 100 mph on the radar gun.
• The Boston Red Sox have been scouting underachieving Atlanta outfielder Jeff Francoeur as they look to improve their outfield depth, especially in right field. J.D. Drew(notes) has had back and shoulder issues and seldom makes it through a season without breaking down, while his backup, Rocco Baldelli(notes), has ongoing medical concerns that make his availability suspect.
Francoeur, 25, hasn't regained the power stroke that netted him 29 home runs in 2006, his first full season in the big leagues, but some scouts are convinced a change of scenery would do him wonders. And his durability is unquestioned – Francoeur did not miss a game in 2006 and '07 and played in 155 in 2008.
• The Tampa Bay Rays, who just placed closer Troy Percival(notes) on the disabled list and are anticipating his retirement after one too many injuries, need a closer. The early returns on Jason Isringhausen(notes) are not promising. One scout said that Isringhausen could possibly help as a middle reliever, but his days as an elite closer are history.
A logical trading partner for Tampa Bay would be the Astros because Jose Valverde(notes) is a year away from free agency, but that's assuming Astros owner Drayton McLane would commence on a long-overdue rebuilding plan. Houston would probably ask for Wade Davis(notes), Tampa Bay's best pitching prospect after David Price(notes).
The Rays also need a second baseman, although they may be able to deal internally with the loss of Akinori Iwamura(notes) for the rest of the season with torn knee ligaments. The Rays have Willy Aybar(notes), Ben Zobrist(notes) and Reid Brignac(notes) to mix and match at the position. But if they decide to seek help, Cleveland's Mark DeRosa(notes) is a logical target.
• Peavy will be traded, though it won't be to Houston, even though Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt(notes) has called owner McLane on numerous occasions, imploring him to acquire his buddy. The Astros won't take on that kind of salary.
Right now, no one needs a pick-me-up more than the Chicago Cubs, who cleared payroll this winter in anticipation of getting Peavy before the deal fell through, and are now hamstrung until new ownership is set in place. Will incoming boss Tom Ricketts give the green light to GM Jim Hendry to make the deal? If the Cubs keep losing at their present rate, he may have no choice.
(Mike Carlson/AP Photo)
• In the non-Peavy category, Boston's Brad Penny looms as the most logical starting pitcher to be moved, with teams that can't afford another No. 1 such as Peavy lining up to take a crack. The Phillies, Brewers, Royals and possibly the Twins look like teams that could be in play for Penny, who is 5-1 with a 5.96 ERA in Boston but is dispensable because John Smoltz(notes) is on the rehab trail and Clay Buchholz(notes) threw eight perfect innings Monday at Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Phillies, according to one scout, are already making plans for life without Brett Myers(notes), who will be a free agent after the season and probably command more on the open market than in Philly.
Other starting pitchers who could hit the trade mart are Cleveland's Cliff Lee(notes) and San Francisco's Matt Cain(notes). The Indians have a track record of moving big arms for prospects (Bartolo Colon(notes), CC Sabathia(notes)) and if GM Mark Shapiro decides the club can't make a run in the AL Central, Lee would be his big-ticket item to move. The Giants desperately need offense but would trade Cain only for a young hitter they'd have contract control over for several years.
Utilityman DeRosa is another valued chip for Shapiro (would the Cubs try to get him back?), who could have a potential trading partner in the Mets if the Johnson talks don't bear fruit. The Indians have a surplus of outfielders, but they're more likely to move a Trevor Crowe(notes) or Ben Francisco(notes) than a Shin-Soo Choo(notes), who would be more desired by other clubs.
• An Indians star could also head the market for shortstops if Shapiro decides to play seller. Jhonny Peralta(notes) might make a great match for Boston, which is unhappy with the play of veteran Julio Lugo(notes) while awaiting the return of injured second-year man Jed Lowrie(notes). Peralta might also provide the Red Sox a replacement down the road at third base for Mike Lowell(notes), who has defied expectations with his productive play after off-season hip surgery.
• The Astros are the wild card. McLane in the past has held onto veterans longer than prudence would dictate. He's got a boatload of veterans with trade value, including Valverde, catcher Pudge Rodriguez, shortstop Miguel Tejada(notes) and outfielder Carlos Lee(notes) (who has a no-trade clause).
Advise and consent: As if Stephen Strasburg, the consensus first pick of the amateur draft in two weeks, was not enough of a reason to make Scott Boras smile, the uber-agent also is advising the players who may be chosen immediately after Strasburg. One veteran scout whose team has a pick in the top 10 predicted Tuesday that after the Nationals take Strasburg, the Mariners will take North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley, considered the best hitter in college baseball and athletic enough to move to center field, and the Padres will opt for Georgia high school outfielder Donavan Tate, the son of former NFL running back Lars Tate. Donavan Tate has committed to playing football and baseball at UNC.
The Manny effect: While the Dodgers have maintained their hold on the NL West without him, Manny Ramirez's(notes) absence already appears to have had an effect on young outfielder Andre Ethier(notes). With Ramirez on the roster, Ethier batted .285 in his first 33 games, with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 23 runs. In hits first 11 games since Ramirez's suspension, Ethier was batting .162 with no home runs, three RBIs and three runs. "He thinks that with Manny gone, it's his job to be the star,'' said one NL executive, "when all he has to do is just be part of the team. Sometimes guys can get caught up in self-importance. He's a good player, but he's swinging and missing pitches that he was hitting the heck out of earlier. Just relax and play."
More power to him: Even while Gary Sheffield(notes) has proved to be a productive hitter for the New York Mets after his sudden release this spring by the Tigers, one Detroit official said the team has no regrets about letting him go. "We felt Sheff could still hit,'' the adviser said. "We didn't think he could play the outfield every day at age 40 without getting hurt, but the real reason we made the move was we wanted to change the dimensions of the club. Better defense, better speed, younger, more athletic.
"We traded for Josh Anderson(notes) and we brought up Clete Thomas(notes). Those guys have given us good defense in the outfield, and also have contributed offensively, too. We're a much better team defensively this season, with Adam Everett(notes) and Brandon Inge(notes) on the left side of the infield, and Gerald Laird(notes), the catcher we traded for, has had a real positive impact on our pitching staff."
The biggest difference in the Tigers, of course, is their pitching. Justin Verlander(notes) has a 0.85 ERA in his last six starts, striking out 60 in 42 1/3 innings. New acquisition Edwin Jackson(notes), acquired from Tampa Bay, and rookie Rick Porcello(notes) have been consistent, and Fernando Rodney(notes) is 8-for-8 in save opportunities. Now? Dontrelle Willis(notes) has made two good starts since returning from treatment for an anxiety disorder, and Jeremy Bonderman(notes) is close to returning from a rehab assignment, so the Tigers look well-armed to maintain their lead in the AL Central.
David Ortiz lost his spot in the No. 3 spot in the Red Sox lineup.
(Charles Kupa/AP Photo)
Parsing Papi: The Red Sox, as expected, dropped David Ortiz from No. 3 to No. 6 in their batting order Tuesday night, replacing him with J.D. Drew. The left-handed hitting Drew took over the 3-hole last June when Ortiz was hurt and had a monster month, hitting 12 home runs and knocking in 27 runs in 26 games while batting .337.
Ari Kaplan, a sabermetrics analyst who runs AriBall.com, broke down Ortiz's at-bats this season compared to 2008 and made the following observations:
1. Ortiz has shown "no" power to right field compared to last season. Almost no balls have been hit to deep right field, which is where he hit most of his home runs in '08.
2. Ortiz hit 17 of his home runs in 2008 off fastballs inside the strike zone, five on changeups up in the zone, and one on a curveball down the heart of the plate. This season, he is not swinging at his previous power spot – fastballs up in the zone even though he is getting pitches there. Also pitchers have adjusted in that they are throwing him sliders much more often in 2009 than in 2008.
3. Ortiz got singles off pitches in the lower half of the plate in 2008. He is swinging and missing at the same locations in 2009.
4. Ortiz is swinging 7 percent more often at pitches this year (48 percent vs. 41) but putting balls into play less often. His big difference is that he bats .245 when putting fastballs in play, compared to .326 last year. He is doing much better this year against sliders (.385 when in play vs .132 last year) but swinging less often (41 percent vs 44 last year).
5. Ortiz isn't hitting changeups nearly as effectively as last year (.200 vs .556 when in play).
6. He is putting balls into play later in his at-bats, averaging 4.7 pitches per plate appearance compared to 4.4 last season. He is swinging at the first pitch the same as last year – 27 percent.
"He needs to make adjustments. he really does," Cora said. "It's hard, because everybody's saying, 'It's long, it's slow, he's old.' He's 33 years old. He's healthy. He has to understand that. He has to act like David Ortiz. It's hard, I know it's hard. Those numbers are going to be up there everywhere he goes. And everywhere he goes, he will be the topic, not the Red Sox. They're going to talk about that. I knew it was bad, but not like that. That's a polite way to say it, I guess. He has a track record.
"To be honest with you, from tomorrow until we hopefully face him in October, I'm pulling for him.''