Mariano Rivera's elbow troubles this week prompted me to poke around yesterday and get a feel for the trade market out there. It's a slow market, for sure, thanks to so many teams lurking on the periphery of contention, and and the top commodity - both desired and shopped - is relievers.
It was a year ago Friday, at least on the baseball calendar - the Friday before the All-Star break - that Texas acquired Cliff Lee from Seattle, thwarting the Yankees. At this juncture, on the Wednesday prior to the All-Star break, it's hard to see a deal of that magnitude going down before the MIdsummer Classic.
Largely because, if there's someone anywhere as good as Lee available, it's a bigger secret than Sam Malone's toupee.
An official on a selling team assessed the state of things this way, on the condition of anonymity: "The market is not really intensifying. Primarily, we have a better idea of where things stand with the most interested clubs. It doesn't seem like anything is imminent."
The top relievers available are San Diego's Heath Bell and the Mets' Francisco Rodriguez, and the the Padres also have Luke Gregerson (who has very low service time) and Chad Qualls.
The teams most in the mix to acquire guys like these are Arizona, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Texas. Most need setup men more than closers, per se, which is especially relevant in terms of K-Rod and his vesting option for next year. Although it's worth noting that Arizona's closer J.J. Putz _ who set up, briefly, for K-Rod on the 2009 Mets _ is on the disabled list.
It's apparent that, while the Mets want to keep their fan base engaged, they think they can do so even while changing closers.
The Orioles, whose fast start is a distant memory, could shop Koji Uehara, but they're not quite ready to do that yet. Same goes for Minnesota and Matt Capps. The Twins now stand in fourth place in the AL Central, seven games behind Cleveland, and you know they aren't going to give up until they've exhausted all options on the contention front.
The Yankees, with the hope that Rivera's condition isn't serious and that Rafael Soriano is working his way back from the disabled list, are not all-in on the setup man market. Instead, their focus is on somehow finding another lefty reliever and also on a frontline starting pitcher - which, again, doesn't appear to be out there at this point.
If the Mets were to trade Jose Reyes - and at this point, that looks extremely unlikely - the top suitors would likely include Cincinnati, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle and perhaps even Boston, all of whom could benefit from infield upgrades and who have poked around that area. Unfortunately for those clubs with Reyes likely to stay with the Mets for now, there are virtually no high-impact infielders available.
The Mariners would gladly take an outfielder, too, while the Phillies are still searching for a righty-hitting outfielder. Maybe the Nationals would trade Jayson Werth?
In their frustrating quest for lefty relief, the Yankees are facing competition from Boston and Detroit. The Yankees, Tigers and Cleveland want rotation help- and the Red Sox might have to look more intently, what with Jon Lester's early departure last night - and the Yankees might be in the best shape here thanks to their internal upgrades, with Bartolo Colon excelling in his return Saturday and Phil Hughes starting tonight for the first time since April 14.
Finally, there's Tampa Bay, which as always has to look at things differently because of its financial limitations. The Rays are "buying and selling," as one official from a National League club put it. The Rays' pitching has been a slight disappointment, and their offense a mild surprise. Old friend Johnny Damon, who is having his worst season (using wOBA as a measure) since 2001, could go in the right deal.
As we say repeatedly here, the beauty of trade season is that surprises emerge routinely, as late as the final week of July. Right now, however, it's hard to see where those surprises would come from. If the top names to get dealt in a July are Heath Bell and K-Rod, then it hasn't been much of a July.
(Although, remember, trades can occur in August, too, especially for high-priced players like Carlos Beltran who should clear waivers.)