Mid-July Merry-Go-Round
July 18, 2005

With two weeks left before the trade deadline, rumors are flying faster than a golden snitch in a quiddich match.  Many of the rumors are centered in Baltimore and Washington.  I have no doubt that the Nationals will be very active, or at least do everything they can to improve the team.  GM Jim Bowden is playing with house money right now because no one expected the team to be in first place at this point in the season.  Every day they remain in contention drives up the asking price for the team a little more, so I'm sure he has the green light from the commissioner's office to do just about anything he wants.  If the Nats are in first when they are sold, it'll be hard for the new owners to justify dumping him given the circumstances, and even if they fall out of first, he'll have done enough (in theory) to secure himself another GM job if he isn't retained.  So he will be going all out to make deals.  One humorous story I heard was that the front office personnel in Cincinnati have been expressly forbidden to accept his phone calls for fear that he'd pick the Reds clean.  Not sure how true it is, but it makes for an amusing side note. 

Regardless, both teams are not only in a pennant chase, but are vying for the fan dollars of one of the wealthiest markets in sports.  Both organizations have plenty to gain by focusing on this year's results, even if it end up costing their teams good talent for the long run.  So it's probably worthwhile to pay closer attention to the stories of what's cooking in and around the Capital Beltway.

Anyway, on to the rumors...

AJ Burnett, along with Mike Lowell, will supposedly be Orioles by the end of the week.  In exchange, the Orioles are reportedly sending starter Hayden Penn, left fielder Larry Bigbie, and relievers Steve Kline and Jorge Julio to Florida.  I'm not sure how much sense this trade makes to the Orioles in that a) it causes a logjam at third base, b) it weakens the bullpen, although with the emergence of Chris Ray and the return of Jason Grimsley it remains to see by how much, and c) it forces the Os to either demote one of their current starters to the pen, or trade them.  The talk is that Lowell would split time at DH, moving Jay Gibbons back to the outfield.  As someone who watched Gibbons man right field for the previous three years, the O's might want to consider moving Mike Lowell out there instead.  Melvin Mora has become a decent third baseman but has shown he can play a number of positions.  But would he switch for Lowell?  I would think if the deal went down, the Os' would try to flip Lowell to someone else as quickly as they could.  Ray is still a rookie and Grimsley is just coming back from TJ surgery, so it seems a bit foolhardy to depend on a rookie and a gimp for the 7th and 8th innings before Ryan in the heat of a pennant race.  Who would step up?  Todd Williams?  Tim Byrdak?  I'm not convinced they have an adequate answer.  The final problem is that in getting Burnett, they'd need to remove one of their guys from the rotation.  I'm sure the O's would love to dump Ponson from the rotation and/or perhaps the team, but he has little if any trade value.  This year it hasn't been until after he's thrown 45 pitches that batters hit under .300 against him.  That doesn't bode well for relief work.  Rodrigo Lopez was quite successful out of the pen last year, but he's been their 3rd best starter all year and 2nd best while Bedard has been out. 

Then there's the question as to how effective Burnett and Lowell would be at Camden Yards.  Eventually Lowell should rebound, but he'll have to contend with the adjustment of facing a new league.  Burnett would have to make his adjustments in a division with two powerhouse offenses and a ballpark that has been less forgiving against left-handed power hitters than the other park he was rumored to be heading to, Toronto.  The deal makes much more sense on the Florida side in that they get a solid young starter for their future, a developing left fielder allowing them to move Cabrera back to third for better overall team defense and two relievers to solidify their bullpen, one of whom could close if the need arises. 

Another rumor surrounding Burnett and Lowell has them involved in a three-way deal with Boston and San Diego.  Apparently, Bronson Arroyo and a couple prospects would go to Florida, Sean Burroughs would also head there while Burnett went to Boston and and Lowell to San Diego.  This makes some sense for Boston and San Diego, but not as much for Florida, particularly on the Burroughs end.  The whole purpose behind trading Lowell is (along with freeing up some salary) to move Miguel Cabrera back to his preferred position at third base.  Burroughs most certainly wouldn't be sent to Boston as they already have an overflow of third basemen and are not likely to further block Kevin Youkilis.   So whither Burroughs?  My guess is that San Diego finds a taker for him this winter instead. 

If I had to pick where Burnett goes, I'd guess Toronto because they seem to have a better fit.  But it's just as likely that he ends up not going anywhere, but with Jack McKeon getting fired instead and the Marlins hiring another personality type to manage the team in hopes of catching fire like they did in 2003.  It's interesting that one of the names that has been mentioned as a potential replacement for McKeon is Jeff Torborg.  This is the same Jeff Torborg that McKeon replaced after bumbling through the first half of the season and sending AJ Burnett to the operating table with his ridiculous handling of his pitching staff.  Grady Little has also been mentioned.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Another rumor floating around is that the Rangers are so fed up with Kenny Rogers and are so worried about how much Alfonso Soriano will cost that they would send both to the Nationals in exchange for Jose Vidro, Tony Armas and a minor leaguer.  It makes sense that the Rangers would actively seek to move Rogers despite his success this season because he is increasingly becoming more of a distraction than he's worth.  I can even see Soriano being moved for fear of how much he could earn this winter.  And getting back a productive second baseman like Vidro also makes sense.  And maybe Orel Hershiser can turn around Tony Armas.  But he won't be doing it in Texas.  First of all, Armas left Monday night's game in the third inning due to dizziness and dehydration.  DC can be hot and humid in summer, but summer in Texas is oppressively so.  That's just not going to work.  Secondly, Armas has become somewhat of a flyball pitcher, which as Chan Ho Park ably proved in his first season in Texas, isn't a good thing.  The deal works great from the Nationals side, but looks like a disaster waiting to happen for the Rangers.  Regardless, I would be surprised if Rogers is still pitching for the Rangers after July 31st. 

One deal that seems likely to be made is Shingo Takatsu to the Diamondbacks for some spare parts.  The D-backs have had some success with Far Eastern closers and although Brandon Lyon is on the mend, there's still some question about when he will return.  The rest of the bullpen is in disarray.  As unlikely as it seemed at the beginning of the year, Arizona is still in the hunt for the playoffs despite a bullpen that has an ERA of 5.70.  Takatsu would take some of the burden off and even if he didn't close, would give them another look late in the game.  With Lyon's health in question down the stretch, Takatsu would almost certainly get a handful of save opportunities to boot.  The White Sox look like a pretty complete team right now, so bolstering their minor league system or getting some bench depth seems appropriate.

One interesting trade that did go down was Jody Gerut getting sent to the Cubs in exchange for Jason DuBois.  Gerut should get ample playing time in left and center, although it's unlikely the power he showed in 2003 will ever return.  If he finishes the season in double digits in homers, consider him lucky.  DuBois may not get much playing time unless Cleveland also moves Casey Blake.  They like his power potential and if the Indians continue to fall out of contention, they might opt to sit Blake regardless and let him develop for next year.