Yup, the amateur draft starts tonight. Here in New York,...sure, you have the absolute hardcore fans who get extremely fired up over whom the Mets and Yankees will be selecting. And bully for them.
But a very high percentage of folks here are more focused on the big-league club, and consequently, that's where I focus most of my work time. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on this. For our local teams, the key issues, clearly, are 1) The Mets have to spend - not just necessarily with the seventh overall pick, but in the later rounds, and 2) The Yankees need to add some depth to their farm system, after giving up significant pieces in the trades for Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez.
Moving forward, once the draft ends, that's when teams start seriously assessing their big-league club, determining whether they're buyers or sellers and engaging in trade discussions that match those profiles. Of course, with some seven weeks between the end of the draft and the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline, teams can go from buyers to sellers and back a few times.
For perspective, here are last year's standings at this very moment (scroll down). Note that two eventual playoff teams, the Rockies and Twins, were still under .500. And Mets fans can freak themselves out by knowing that the 2009 Mets were 30-25 after 55 games, leading the NL wild-card race. TTheir run differential at that point was 257-238. This year's Mets, right now, are at 257-236.
(No, I'm not predicting another Mets collapse. Just channeling Joaquin Andujar: "You never know." The Mets held the NL wild-card lead at this point, while the Brewers were leading the NL Central. Both clubs finished with losing records.)
And here are the updated PECOTA playoff odds. PECOTA likes the Rangers, Braves and Dodgers and has particularly little regard for the Angels.
Each year, certain teams "run" the sellers' market, because they have the best inventory to unload. It turned out to be Cleveland last year, although the Indians turned out to be so desperate to shed salary that they didn't make particularly good trades of Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez.
A good example of a team capitalizing on this status is the 2007 Rangers, who gained strong returns from Mark Teixeira, Eric Gagne and Kenny Lofton. The difference? The Rangers had the backing of (then solvent) owner Tom Hicks, who would keep paying Teixeira, Gagne and Lofton if Texas GM Jon Daniels didn't find deals he liked.
Anywho, here's the list of teams most likely to run the sellers' market:
1) Seattle. At 22-34, having just gotten swept at home by the Angels, the Mariners aren't coming back. They're not going to blow up the team by any stretch, but they do have the number one commodity in Lee, who will now be traded for the third time in a year. Possible suitors: The Angels, Dodgers, Cincinnati, Minnesota and the Mets.
Because Lee's salary is so reasonable (he makes $9 million), finances shouldn't keep anyone out. But because he's a half-season rental, with the Yankees looming as a suitor this offseason, clubs won't be willing to hand over their farm systems.
2) White Sox. The reason they've been a non-factor is their brutal pitching, which was supposed to be their strength. They knew their offense wouldn't be elite. So of course, it only makes sense that in Paul Konerko, the White Sox can offer the best available bat. Potential suitors include the Yankees (if they determine Nick Johnson won't be back), the Angels and perhaps even Tampa Bay. Konkero has a no-trade clause, so he can control his own destiny.
The White Sox also can offer up closer Bobby Jenks, who doesn't become a free agent until after next season, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The Mets expressed interest in Jenks during the 2008-09 offseason. How about a bullpen of Jenks setting up Francisco Rodriguez? Cardiologists in Flushing would make a killing (pun intended)!
Freddy Garcia, furthermore, would probably appeal particularly to NL teams that see his 90 ERA+ and wonder what that would look like in the weaker league.
3) Baltimore. The Orioles are paying Kevin Millwood the same $9 million that Seattle is paying Cliff Lee, with Texas throwing in the other $3 million. Millwood is no Lee, not even close, yet he could certainly help teams that don't want to give up the prospects it would require to get Lee.
Ty Wigginton, enjoying a huge walk year, could help many clubs.
4) Houston. If the Astros were owned by someone else, they might very well be number one on this list. But Drayton McLane just isn't going to push to move Lance Berkman or Roy Oswalt, no matter how badly they want out of town. And if the Astros aren't careful, if they win another series or two, then McLane might start having 2005 fantasies.
Besides, Jon Heyman reported that Berkman would approve of a deal only if the acquiring team exercised his $15 million team option for next year. Not happening.
Realistically, as we approach July or even the August waivers period, it does make sense that Houston would shop Brett Myers, who is signed to just a one-year deal and is pitching very well. How about Myers to the Mets? That would be a fun storyline.
5) Kansas City. Heyman mentioned David DeJesus as a possibility for the Yankees, and old pal Kyle Farnsworth is pitching well, as he tends to do when he's approaching free agency.
The other teams out of contention (Cleveland, Washington, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Arizona) don't have much of interest, IMO. Feel free to disagree.
--Off the Mets game, I wrote about the always interesting Jerry Manuel, who enjoyed a good day. I've written repeatedly that I think Manuel is a poor manager, particularly in the very important areas of roster construction and deployment and game management.
But I fear that in the yakosphere (copyright Neil Best), we sometimes get caught up in black-and-white arguments and characterizations. And it is noteworthy, IMO, that Manuel has considerable support from both above him (ownership and Omar Minaya) and beneath him (the players).
And on a day like yesterday, when the Mets could've just given up down 5-0 and settled for the series victory? The manager deserves a sliver of credit for that, especially if the players think so.
--If Jeff Francoeur isn't very good, overall, it sure is fun to watch his twists and turns.
--Omir Santos returned to Double-A Binghamton without even seeing daylight, and the Mets are now poised to recall career minor leaguer Jesus Feliciano to backup Angel Pagan in centerfield. Feliciano can't be any worse than Gary Matthews, Jr. At least, you'd hope not.
--Nice win for the Yankees, and particularly for Vazquez, who somehow overcame his unclutchness and general cowardice to prevent a sweep, on the road, to the game's sluggingest team.
--Alex Rodriguez left the game with a groin issue, but says he's OK.
--Mariano Rivera entered the game, then departed it, then came back.
--Stephen Strasburg will make his big-league debut tomorrow night in Washington, and that's the main event; that's where I'll be. In Philadelphia, however, the Marlins' Mike Stanton will make his debut. I wish Florida had called him up three days earlier, so I could've seen him yesterday.
--As we work our way back to the draft, great piece by Tyler Kepner about the five players selected before Derek Jeter in the 1992 draft. And the great Sean Forman, the creator of baseball-reference.com, breaks down how big a factor the draft plays in building championship teams.
--Oh, and this week's live chat will be Friday at 11:00. Please plan your schedules accordingly.