Three aggressive summer buyers
May, 16, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Sometime on Thursday, baseball owners are expected to formally ratify the new playoff format, locking in the system of six division winners and four wild-card teams for this season and beyond.
A general manager noted on Tuesday that nobody really knows the practical impact this will have on the summer trade market.
Will the new format make teams wait longer to declare themselves sellers? If so, will the worst teams wait until the end of July, or will they wait until August?
Will the fresh memory of how the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays scrambled into the postseason last year -- while the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves collapsed -- be a talking point between notoriously optimistic owners (meaning: unrealistic) and their GMs? Will there be owners who convince themselves that they're destined to be the 2012 version of Bill DeWitt, holding up a championship trophy at the end?
Will the additional playoff teams also impact the number of buyers, because with more teams making the playoffs, GMs won't feel quite so much pressure to add to stay in contention for a berth? The Giants' Carlos Beltran deal was the latest example of how surrendering a top prospect for a midsummer dream doesn't guarantee anything.
But no matter how the rest of the market plays out, there are three teams that executives believe will be the most aggressive:
1. Detroit Tigers: Owner Mike Ilitch bet heavily on 2012, investing a nine-year deal in Prince Fielder and loading up his team's lineup. As one executive noted, you don't make a move like that and then operate tentatively during the summer; the Tigers presumably will go all in at some point, aggressively plugging holes.
Maybe that will be in the bullpen; maybe it'll be at second base; maybe it'll be in left field, given Delmon Young's struggles. Keep in mind that later this summer, the Tigers' lineup could be improved by the return of Victor Martinez at DH.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: They have a Rust Belt-size payroll now, starting this season at $90 million, leaving the team's new owners with lots of room to grow. The early-season star performances of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, A.J. Ellis and some pitchers have masked a lot of possible trouble spots. Shortstop Dee Gordon has struggled, and so has first baseman James Loney, and the Dodgers have had some pitching injuries.
Not many teams are in position to take on dollars during the season, but the Dodgers likely will be. Should they go after Kevin Youkilis? Carlos Lee? A.J. Pierzynski? Shane Victorino? Zack Greinke? Shaun Marcum? Joe Blanton? We'll see.
3. St. Louis: The Cardinals have a terrific team with potential for returning to the World Series, GM John Mozeliak is poised to be executive of the year considering how strong his Albert Pujols decision appears to be, and Mozeliak has experience at making a big deal. Last summer, he made a whopper trade of Colby Rasmus that was initially criticized -- and the pitching depth that the Cardinals landed turned out to be difference-making for the franchise.
At this point, the Cardinals' needs haven't been clearly defined, because they don't yet know what Chris Carpenter might provide or how good the rotation could be in the second half or if injuries will need to be addressed. But rival GMs expect that the Cardinals will be active when they need to be active.
Youkilis will start to work his way back today.
• This is a stunner, because of the relationship between manager Mike Scioscia and Mickey Hatcher: The Angels' hitting coach was fired. The Angels have grossly underperformed, says the GM. This move, more than any other, demonstrates the diminishment in Scioscia's power within the organization.