Ryan Dempster's six scoreless innings for the Chicago Cubs on Saturday were probably his last with the team, because now is the best time to trade him. Dempster is healthy now, after being on the disabled list earlier this year, and if the Cubs deal him before his next scheduled start -- rather than later this month -- his presence won't complicate their marketing of Matt Garza in late July.
Last July, if you recall, the San Diego Padres listened to offers for Heath Bell and Mike Adams, and in the end, they couldn't get what they wanted for Bell partly because of the persistent interest in Adams.
So Dempster will soon be gone, at a time when he's throwing really well; he's been able to throw a split-fingered fastball lately after limiting its use in the past because of a blister. Opponents have a .562 OPS against Dempster, easily the lowest mark of his career, and his ERA of 1.86 is the lowest in the majors. The Cubs are selling a stock performing at peak level, and beyond the numbers, Dempster is highly regarded for his personality, his clubhouse presence and his experience.
There are 10 teams involved in the pursuit of Dempster, writes Bruce Levine.
Earlier this season, when there were fewer teams declaring themselves as buyers, the Dodgers appeared to be the favorite for the right-hander -- and they still may land him.
But there is more competition for him now, and the Cubs are willing to eat a whole lot of the money owed to Dempster for the rest of the season, because they want to get the best possible talent in return.
Here's a list of teams for which Dempster could be a fit:
Cleveland Indians: Cubs president Theo Epstein has made multiple deals with the Indians in the past when he was in Boston, and Cleveland is looking for a rotation stabilizer.
St. Louis Cardinals: They have had fraying in their rotation this season. They know Dempster, and he knows the division. The Cubs would deal within the division because at this stage in their rebuilding efforts, they are simply looking for the best prospect match.
Washington Nationals: At some point, the Nationals are going to shut down Stephen Strasburg, probably in late August or early September. Dempster would be a perfect addition to the Nationals' solid rotation.
Boston Red Sox: Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has said he's looking for starting pitching, and Epstein could find common ground, given his knowledge of the Red Sox's farm system.
Detroit Tigers: This is an all-in year for the Tigers, but it's unclear whether Detroit would consider a swap of Nick Castellanos in a Dempster deal, or if the Tigers would hold him out for more than a 2½-month rental such as Dempster.
New York Yankees: Dempster could fit, but there's really no pressing need for New York. It's hard to imagine the Yankees extending themselves significantly at a time when they're beginning to run away with the AL East.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dempster would boost the Dodgers' chances, and the perception of L.A. in other front offices is that the new ownership wants to do everything possible to win now. But now that the Dempster bidding has gotten more competitive, it's unclear whether the Dodgers can outgun other teams for him.
Toronto Blue Jays: Dempster would be a nice "tweener" addition for the Blue Jays, who are hanging on the edge of the wild-card race. He wouldn't be as expensive as Garza, and he would be a badly needed upgrade over what the Blue Jays have.
Pittsburgh Pirates: If they can add one more solid starter, they would strengthen the foundation for a team already good enough to win the NL Central. Epstein and Pirates GM Neal Huntington have made many trades in the past.
Atlanta Braves: They have been considering their options in the market for starting pitching, and at a time when the Cubs are looking for young starters, the Braves have some to offer.
Dempster has been a terrific pitcher and a great role model for the Cubs, writes Rick Morrissey.
The Cubs have been playing well, writes Dave van Dyck.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Dempster is the fifth pitcher in the past 100 years to win five straight starts in a single season without allowing a run. The others are Don Drysdale (six straight starts in 1968), Bob Gibson (five in 1968), Orel Hershiser (five in 1988) and Brandon Webb (five in 2007).
From ESPN Stats and Information: Dempster has not allowed a run in his past five starts. His off-speed stuff has been consistently good this season, but his fastball has been much more effective during this scoreless stretch (see chart).
• Kevin Towers spoke with Justin Upton about the trade rumors -- the GM called it a good talk. Whether it's related or not, the Arizona Diamondbacks look lifeless these days; they sputtered out Saturday, Nick Piecoro writes.
One rival talent evaluator involved in these trade talks offered a take on where he thinks Arizona stands in their Upton talks:
"I don't think Upton will be moved right now," the evaluator wrote. "I think the best return that the Diamondbacks can get for him is in the offseason, when more clubs will be interested because more spots are open. For example, consider Atlanta -- they might be willing to talk about [Martin] Prado in the offseason, but right now it would be impossible because he means so much. Upton might be the player with a higher upside and more offensive production, but it would be tough to take Prado off the Braves team.
"I think Arizona is trying to do two things, both of which are exactly what they did at the Winter Meetings some 18 months ago: (1) see if clubs are willing to overpay with an extraordinary offer for a good -- but not great -- young talent and (2) light a fire under the player and send a message to the team that nobody is indispensable, even the guy who finished 4th in NL MVP voting last year."
Other teams say the asking price for Shane Victorino is very, very high right now. A key question in Victorino's trade value is this: Would the Phillies be willing to offer Victorino a qualifying offer of about $12.5 million this fall in order to recoup a draft pick if he walks away as a free agent? Victorino's current OPS of .683 is easily the lowest in any full season in his career.
Victorino turned down a three-year, $30 million deal in the offseason. If the Phillies intend to give the center fielder a qualifying offer, then they'll want to get at least the value of a draft pick. But rival executives expect the Phillies to lower their asking price for Victorino before the trade deadline.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro says nobody should expect wholesale changes.
• Juan Pierre would have some market value, and as written here a couple of weeks ago, he's someone who could interest the Reds. Cincinnati ranks 29th among 30 teams in OPS for its leadoff hitters, and Pierre is hitting .345 against right-handers with a .385 on-base percentage.
• Just before the Reds' game Saturday, Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty explained the team's need for starting pitching depth in Triple-A -- and a couple of hours later, he traded minor league shortstop Paul Janish for starting pitcher Todd Redmond.
• The Braves have been desperate for a shortstop, Chris Vivlamore writes.
I'm not sure if I'd want to invest $100 million in Greinke, but on the other hand, I don't think the Brewers will get much value in return in a trade because of the new rules. Any team that traded for Greinke wouldn't get draft-pick compensation in the fall if he left as a free agent, and that could greatly diminish Milwaukee's return for the right-hander.
Doug Melvin says Greinke is a difference-maker.
• Jason Hammel is thinking about having knee surgery. The Orioles are right in the middle of the wild-card race and have been a great story this season, but it would be a little nuts for them to expend major resources to try to prop up their pitching staff at a time when they are way behind the Yankees in the AL East.
Let's say they traded a significant prospect for Greinke or Dempster in an effort to bolster their rotation. Even if the trade worked out and the Orioles clinched a wild-card spot, they might play only one more game -- the elimination game between the wild-card teams -- as a result.
Adding third-tier pieces at a modest cost makes sense. Any more than that … probably not.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats and Info
2: Home runs by Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar on Saturday after entering the day with just two homers in 305 at-bats this season.
33: Number of consecutive scoreless innings for Dempster after throwing six more Saturday, the most consecutive scoreless innings by a Cubs pitcher since Ken Holtzman in 1969 (33).
Dings and dents
1. Dan Haren is due back from his injury on July 22, and how he responds may determine what the Angels do before the trade deadline.
Berkman, by the way, said he's not sure what he will do next season. He could retire and be chased by networks as an analyst or he could come back to play, although there are only a few teams for which he would be interested in playing, he said. The reality is that the St. Louis Cardinals probably have a logjam of first base/corner outfielder types with Allen Craig, Matt Adams, etc., and they could go with those younger alternatives.
The Houston Astros will be moving to the American League next year and will need a designated hitter, something Berkman could certainly do.
7. An Astros prospect punched a door and broke his hand.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Mike Trumbo might move into the cleanup spot for the Angels full-time, writes Mike DiGiovanna. As he should.
3. No prospect should be untouchable for the Tigers, writes Bob Wojnowski.
NL Central notes
• The Pirates took advantage of defensive mistakes.
AL Central notes
• The Tigers' winning streak ended when they lost on a walk-off.
• Alcides Escobar was a masher Saturday. From Bob Dutton's story:
- Alcides Escobar entered Saturday with just two homers but ended the night with four after his two homers carried the Royals to a 6-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
"I was laughing," right fielder Jeff Francoeur cracked, "and saying we're going to have the steroid people coming in and test us (Sunday) after Esky went deep twice. They'll wonder what's going on."
• A Twins pitcher wilted.
AL West notes
• Oakland just keeps getting better and better and better, and the Athletics are right in the wild-card race.
NL West notes
NL East notes
• The Braves put together a huge rally.
AL East notes
• The Red Sox fell back to .500.
• The Yankees are on a serious roll right now.
• Edwin Encarnacion had a big day.
• The Mitchell report did a lot of good, writes Nick Cafardo.
• The Mariners' third-base coach took some blame.
• Clint Hurdle wants more innings from his starting pitchers.
• Joe Starkey thinks the Hall of Fame is losing its relevance.
I'd respectfully disagree. Nothing generates more debate among baseball fans than whether a player is Hall of Fame worthy.
And today will be better than yesterday.