- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Anybody who has bought something in an airport knows there is a captive customer markup. The kid sitting next to you on the plane spilled his chocolate milk all over you, and as you wait for your connection, there's only one store where you can find another shirt -- and the prices are designed to gouge. There is just one or two restaurants, one place to buy electronics, one place to buy a book, and if you want to get anything, you will pay.
This is what it's like to be a general manager looking for help in the trade market right now. Some of the buyers want more sellers. "You need more volume," said one talent evaluator. "That's the only way to get the prices now. If you do something today, you'll overpay."
On the other hand, some of the sellers want more buyers, too. The Cubs might have the most attractive starting pitcher, in Matt Garza -- but the pre-deadline feeding frenzy hasn't really started yet. The desperation hasn't set in; the injuries haven't fully manifested. The leverage hasn't reached a peak yet.
But soon it will. Here's a menu on where National League teams sit in the trade market, according to evaluators and general managers.
The Phillies: The losing continues for Philadelphia, which was crushed 11-1 by the Mets on Tuesday. Ruben Amaro's team is now 12 games out of first place in the NL East and nine games behind the leaders in the wild-card race. The message that went out over the weekend from Philadelphia was that at some point soon, other teams should be prepared for the possibility that Cole Hamels will be available. The same could be true for Shane Victorino and others on the roster. Philadelphia is looking for a third baseman and an outfielder.
The Phillies' hope is that they can wait for Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay to rejoin Chase Utley and provide a full opportunity for the team's lineup to play its way back into contention. But the Phillies are running out of time; Hamels may have only a few weeks left with the team.
The Mets: They need and want bullpen help, but they are among the teams waiting for more options to develop. A month ago, there may have been some doubts about whether this team can contend, but those are evaporating -- and keep in mind, the Mets have spoken extensively about pitching R.A. Dickey once every four days in the final two months of the season.
The Padres: With the sale of the team now imminent, San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes will be in position to explore a full range of options -- on whether it's better business to sign Carlos Quentin or keep him, for example. Rival evaluators expect that Quentin will be dealt, along with Huston Street. There are many teams interested in Chase Headley, because he's a good player (a .372 on-base percentage) and because he's still climbing the arbitration scale; he's making $3.8 million this year. Unless the Padres are devoted to the idea of keeping Headley as a centerpiece for years to come, his trade value may never be higher than it is right now.
The Braves: Atlanta is looking at veteran starting pitchers and may be in the best position to make a deal for Zack Greinke, because there are teams that will pass on the right-hander given concerns about how comfortable he'd be in their respective markets. It's hard to imagine the Braves would swap top prospects for Greinke, however, unless they had some long-term deal in place for the right-hander, who is eligible for free agency after the season. If the Braves want cheaper alternatives, they could look at Garza, Ryan Dempster, Brandon McCarthy and, perhaps, Kevin Millwood.
The Astros: Rival executives believe Houston is so early in its rebuilding that any proposal would be considered -- but that the cost of doing business with the Astros will be exorbitant. Jed Lowrie is having an excellent first season with Houston, and if you want to pry him away, GMs think it would be very pricey. The Astros may have already missed their best opportunity to trade Wandy Rodriguez -- last summer -- because doubts linger about whether the 33-year-old left-hander's stuff would translate in a more difficult division. That said, his strikeout-to-walk and ground ball ratios have never been higher than they are this year. He is signed through the end of next season and owed about $18 million.
Brett Myers is among the most expensive relievers in the trade market with a salary of $11 million.
The Cubs: Anthony Rizzo is a foundation piece, and Starlin Castro might be. Beyond that, the Cubs are ready and willing to listen to offers on just about everybody. Other teams believe that Garza will definitely be traded, sometime after Dempster is dealt.
The Dodgers: Carlos Lee balked at a move to Los Angeles, but the Dodgers are confident they can get help from somewhere. Headley would be perfect, as a corner infielder, but it's hard to imagine the Dodgers being able to get Headley without San Diego at least asking for top pitching prospect Zach Lee, given the market forces.
The Pirates: They share the lead in the NL Central this morning after Drew Sutton's heroics, and since May 2, they are 34-22. Last year, they collapsed when their starting pitching fell apart, and if you look beyond the strong performances of A.J. Burnett and James McDonald, there are cracks. The addition of a solid veteran starter would greatly enhance the Pirates' chances.
One factor that works against the Pirates is that some of the most prominent sellers (Cubs, Brewers, Astros) are from Pittsburgh's own division, which means some of the prices will remain at a premium. Keep in mind that GM Neal Huntington has made numerous deals with Theo Epstein, formerly of the Red Sox and now the president of the Cubs.
The Giants: San Francisco GM Brian Sabean doesn't have a great cache of prospects from which to deal, after last summer's swap of top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler, and some rival GMs believe Sabean will be more conservative this summer. The disastrous season of Tim Lincecum -- which got worse on Tuesday -- could become an interesting factor as the Giants define their needs; right now, Lincecum is the weak link.
The Rockies: Colorado is in sell mode, but interestingly, the Rockies don't have a lot of pieces to move. Michael Cuddyer is having a good first season in Colorado, and there has been interest from other teams, but the Rockies view him as part of the solution going forward. Relievers Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle could be attractive to other teams, but they are both signed through 2013, with options for 2014, and you may have heard -- the Rockies need pitching.
The Diamondbacks: A few weeks ago, they were thought to have a wealth of starting pitching, but Joe Saunders got hurt and Trevor Bauer has struggled in his first two outings in the big leagues -- averaging a whopping 21 pitches per inning. It will be interesting to see if Arizona suddenly becomes buyers of starting pitching, rather than sellers, because there is so much about the rest of the team to like with Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill and others playing better and better as the summer progresses. Nobody knows pitching better than Arizona GM Kevin Towers.
Saunders is climbing his way back from the disabled list.
The Marlins: Miami is a train wreck and nine games out of first place in the NL East, but there's no way to know how the emotional Jeffrey Loria is going to react. Even if he were to order a shakeup -- whether it's to buy or sell -- the Marlins don't have a lot to buy with, or to sell. There is going to be a lot of speculation about Hanley Ramirez in the weeks ahead, but it's worth noting that over his last 643 at-bats, he's hitting .250 with 125 strikeouts and a OPS around .750, and he's owed about $40 million through the end of the 2014 season.
The Nationals: They already have been asking around about bullpen help, but Drew Storen will be back soon. Washington's market priority might shift to starting pitching at some point because Stephen Strasburg has thrown 93 innings and the meter is running. McCarthy could be an interesting stopgap for Washington.
The Cardinals: The news that Chris Carpenter will definitely miss the rest of the season increases the likelihood that John Mozeliak will delve into the trade market to add pitching -- as he did last year with his whopper Colby Rasmus deal, a move that eventually helped St. Louis win a World Series.
Mozeliak has work to do, writes Bernie Miklasz.
The Brewers: They are probably closer than anybody realizes, six games out of first place, after their most recent slugfest with Miami. With Shaun Marcum and Jonathan Lucroy due back from the disabled list, Milwaukee will wait a while longer before becoming full-fledged sellers. But if the Brewers slide, then yes, they'll talk about Greinke and Marcum and others -- but not Corey Hart.
The Reds: Production from left field and at the top of their lineup has been a constant issue for Cincinnati, which ranks dead last in OPS from its leadoff hitters and 18th in OPS for left fielders. If the Reds added a rental player like Quentin, then Brandon Phillips could move to the top of the lineup.
• The Red Sox are hopeful that Daniel Bard has turned a corner as he works his way back to the big leagues. At the end of an ugly inning of work Sunday, Bard felt something click in with his delivery, and he immediately went to the bullpen to try to reinforce what he felt. Bard asked to pitch again on Monday and was much more effective. "He felt like something clicked in," according to one member of the organization.
Over the next month, the Red Sox will have a parade of accomplished players rejoining the roster: Jacoby Ellsbury (maybe this week), Carl Crawford, Bard and Andrew Bailey. Boston is still title-driven, writes John Tomase.
Dings and dents
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Sources: Unless Philadelphia's asking price for Cole Hamels is dramatically reduced, the Yankees have no interest in joining the bidding for the left-hander.
2. Brian Fuentes was designated for assignment by the Athletics. For teams looking for a left-handed matchup guy: Lefty hitters are 9-for-34 with four extra-base hits and six strikeouts against Fuentes.
3. Source: Remember how the Jays were expected to be such big players in the Yu Darvish bidding? Well, one official said that Toronto actually finished third in the bidding, behind the Rangers and Cubs, and that no bid was within $35 million of what Texas tendered.
4. The Jays need a starting pitcher, writes Richard Griffin.
5. The White Sox could be looking for relief help, writes Mark Gonzales.
6. A Twins pitcher was sent back to the minors.
The Marlins suffered their most crushing defeat of the season, and Ozzie Guillen yelled.
The Mets' offense continues to improve, and their confidence continues to grow.
The Nationals rolled through the Giants.
Chipper Jones and the Braves had a big day against the Cubs. From ESPN Stats & Info: Jones had a five-hit day despite taking only six swings. He's the 11th player this season with a five-hit game but the second to do it on only six swings (no one has done it with five). Jones hit three balls classified as line drives, a season high for him. He is the first 40-year old to have five hits in a single game since Craig Biggio did it in 2007 (and before that, since Paul Molitor in 1998).
The Yankees have stumbled against the Rays the last two days, writes David Waldstein.
The Rays are poised for a sweep of the Yankees.
The Red Sox are having trouble out West.
The Orioles scrapped and battled.
The Tigers: Perplexing.
The Indians rallied in a big way.
The Cardinals let the Rockies off the hook.
Chris Volstad's winless streak has reached 20 games, as Paul Sullivan writes.
The Astros have dropped six straight.
A former Boston player beat the Red Sox, for Oakland.
It feels like every victory for the Dodgers these days buys them time -- and they scraped together a nice win over the Reds.
Bauer is struggling with his stuff.
By The Numbers
From ESPN Stats & Info
5: Hits for Chipper Jones, his first five-hit game since August 11, 2002.
6: Walk-off wins for the Brewers this season, tied for most in majors.
9: Runs for the White Sox in the fifth inning, most for their team in any inning since 2007.
10: Games under .500 for the Phillies, the first time they've been 10 games under .500 since July 22, 2002.
20: runs allowed by the Rangers, as they are first team to allow 19 runs twice in one season (21 runs versus Seattle on May 30) since the Rangers themselves in 2008.
30: Strikeouts for Felix Hernandez in his last 19 innings pitched.
183: Runs scored on Tuesday, nine more than on any other day this season.
.422: Oswalt's opponent batting average through three starts this season.
• It's not quite time to anoint Anthony Rizzo, writes Rick Morrissey.
• The Mariners' latest signee was introduced.
• The Royals' outfielders are throwing out a whole bunch of guys, as Bob Dutton writes.
• The Nationals have reached new heights.
• Jim Palmer is auctioning his mementos.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney previews the trade market for every National League team, leading off with the Phillies, who could be close to putting Cole Hamels on the trading block.