We want you to remember something important as we approach the 2013 edition of the baseball trading deadline, coming soon to a Rumor Central destination near you:
You never know.
You might think you know the biggest names, the best rumors, the most ballyhooed prospects, the most likely scenarios. But you never know. Not really.
Raise your hands, for instance, if you had any clue, when 4 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time rolled around last July 31, that the most significant players who had just gotten traded were going to turn out to be …
Uh, raise those hands a little higher. Can't see you out there.
So … lesson learned? Well, now that we've got that out of the way, let's turn our attention to this summer's annual rumor stampede.
The best word to describe it at the moment -- with five weeks remaining until Deadline Day? We'll go with "murky."
It's early. It's slow. There are very few sellers. And it's possible we're still weeks away from the first major deal. So, with that in mind, here it comes, our eagerly awaited preview of the Trade Deadline-palooza 2013:
Five most likely starters to get traded
Matt Garza: He's four months away from free agency, and he wants a bigger, lengthier deal than the Cubs would be comfortable with, given his health issues. So Garza is as sure a bet to get dealt as any pitcher in North America. Of course, we thought that last July, too, and his elbow had other ideas. But he's so eminently available already that one NL exec predicted the other day he'll be the first pitcher traded.
Ricky Nolasco: Despite that Garza talk, Nolasco is the man who still might win our Most Likely to Get Traded Before the All-Star Break pool. He, too, is headed for free agency. There's a zero percent chance he's re-signing in Miami. The Marlins just got Nathan Eovaldi back from the disabled list and Henderson Alvarez isn't far behind. So they're ready to deal him any time now. And don't forget that the Marlins' lead decision-maker, Larry Beinfest, likes to move quickly. Nolasco has had scouts from a bunch of teams following him around, but the Orioles and Giants seem like the best fits.
Bud Norris: Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has the go-ahead from ownership to deal just about anyone, although local cult hero fave Jose Altuve and catcher Jason Castro will probably be priced too high to move. But of all the items in the Astros' showroom, no one is a better bet to get traded than Norris. He's 28. He's under control for 2½ more seasons. He's making $3 million a year. And while teams have noticed his strikeout rate is down and his WHIP is up, he remains an attractive commodity for clubs willing to give up multiple prospects. The Astros, said one NL exec, are looking for "volume" in any deal they make.
Scott Feldman: Much like last season, when the Cubs were marketing Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm simultaneously, they're in the same mode this summer. Feldman is exactly the kind of player that teams like the Cubs dream of signing in the offseason. At 30 years old, on a one-year deal, he's had just good enough a year (6-6, 3.39 ERA) that they should be able to get something for him in July. And he'd be an excellent fit for a club looking more for inventory and innings than for top-of-the-rotation domination.
Chicago White Sox
Jake Peavy: He's still treading water waiting for a fractured rib to heal. But if the White Sox can get Peavy back into their rotation by mid-July, he'd be a fun, high-upside roll of the dice waiting to happen, for some contender or other. Bet you didn't know he's only 32. He's still averaging about a strikeout an inning. And he's that rare veteran household name with no no-trade clause -- because (shocker) he didn't want one. He's also not a rental, because he's under contract for next season, too (at $14.5 million). So he could easily be the White Sox's No. 1 trade chip -- if he can just get back on the mound.
Five bats who could get traded
This is a slightly different list, just because the bat market looks so grim at the moment. ("I don't see any impact position players out there," said an executive of one team that would love to add a thumper.) So no predictions here. Just names worth keeping an eye on.
Andre Ethier: It's a myth that the Dodgers are out there actively dangling Ethier. Clubs in the outfield market that we've spoken with say they've had to ask about him, not the other way around. Yes, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford are coming back one of these days, theoretically. But both of those guys have spent nearly as much time on the disabled list over the past year as they've spent in, say, their kitchens. So the Dodgers are approaching this situation carefully despite the emergence of Yasiel Puig. The other thing to keep in mind is that they've been telling other clubs they still view themselves as buyers, especially if they can reel in a third baseman they can control for multiple seasons. So given the $71.5 million Ethier has guaranteed beyond this season, he's probably getting moved only if they can find a way to sell and buy at the same time.
Chase Utley: Here's another name that keeps popping up, even though the Phillies haven't lit the FOR SALE sign. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told us earlier this month he didn't see "any benefit" to trading his elite pitching but said that if his team does sell, it still has "plenty of people to trade." He wasn't naming names, but one NL exec predicted: "I think Chase Utley will be on the market." Utley would be an impossible guy for the Phillies to deal if they're in contention, but if they're clearly out of it, he'd be a fascinating name to fire out there just to see what happens. He's about to be a free agent. The Phillies have two potential young replacements for him at second in Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. And Utley would figure to have tremendous value if healthy. But remember, he could block a deal to all but eight teams.
Adam LaRoche: Nationals GM Mike Rizzo told us last week that "we could be buyers and we could be sellers" at the deadline. So what might that mean? Other clubs get the vibe that if the Nationals do sell, they wouldn't mind finding a landing spot for LaRoche that would enable them to move Ryan Zimmerman to first base and install polished rookie Anthony Rendon at third. LaRoche's name isn't out there at the moment, and some of this could depend on whether second baseman Danny Espinosa can get healthy. But it's a scenario worth watching.
Aramis Ramirez: The Brewers haven't quite packed it in yet, but an official of one club that spoke with them reports that if they do sell, they'd gladly listen on their third baseman -- and, for that matter, on any position player except Segura, Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun. The good news: Ramirez has a reputation as a second-half producer (.295/.351/.531 lifetime after the All-Star break). The bad news: He's guaranteed $16 million next season, with a mutual option worth $14 million for 2015, with a $4 million buyout.
Michael Morse: In a market that figures to offer very few power bats, the Mariners could be one team with a chance to drum up some significant business. Assuming they decide to sell, they'd have three potential free agents who have made a few home run trots in their day in Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Morse. And their hope would be to get younger bats in return. Teams we've surveyed look at Morse as particularly mesmerizing. On one hand, he's hit only one home run since May 16 and two since May 1. On the other hand, he's mashed 60 homers over the past three seasons in under 1,200 at-bats. "I could definitely see him getting moved," one NL exec said. "They just need to keep him on the field."
Potential sellers to watch
When Amaro says every 15 minutes that he has no desire to trade Cliff Lee, other clubs seem to believe him. But when the GM makes the same claims about Jonathan Papelbon? Different story. "They're talking to Boston and Detroit [about Papelbon] right now," an exec of one team said. "They may not say they are, but I know they are." Said another: "Don't be surprised if you see Papelbon end up in Detroit. If the Tigers have a chance to get the closer they need, they won't let [a big asking price] stand in the way. So if you're Ruben, how can you not do that if the Tigers step up the way I think they're about to step up?" Of course, all of this is contingent on the Phillies sliding further south in the standings. And their history tells us they won't bail on this season until they're convinced they can't contend, and they could wait to make that call until the final week before the deadline, much like they did last season.
The Cubs are a team with lots of inventory to sell, so don't take your eyes off them over the next five weeks. They have starters (Garza and Feldman). They have relievers (Kevin Gregg, Carlos Marmol, possibly James Russell). And they have bats (David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and, of course, Alfonso Soriano). They're open for business any time their customers are ready. So hang loose at Wrigley.
Can we cool the Giancarlo Stanton chatter, at least for a while? Officials of three different teams that drool over Stanton have told us, in the past week, they're convinced Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has decided this isn't the time to deal him. "I don't think they're going to trade him," an AL exec said. "I think Jeffrey is totally dug in on that. They control him for three years. They like the young players they've got coming. I don't think there's any chance they trade him. Not this summer. Not this winter. Maybe ever." Well, we don't know about "ever." But for now, readjust your trade-vision goggles and get back to those Nolasco, Mike Dunn and Juan Pierre rumors.
Two weeks ago, the Blue Jays were contemplating whether to deal Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and any other mismatched part. Now they're alive and breathing again, with Jose Reyes back in the leadoff hole, and dreaming sweet dreams of an AL East free-for-all, just the way they'd envisioned it back in exotic Dunedin, Fla. If they sell, Johnson would be a market-altering attraction, considering the way he's thrown since coming off the disabled list, but get back to us in three weeks on that one.
The blueprint got all smushed up in Milwaukee this season. But that doesn't mean there wouldn't be plenty to market if the Brewers sell. Atop the list of their most-coveted pieces, you'd find their ace, Yovani Gallardo. But teams that have checked in say the Brewers haven't made it clear whether Gallardo is going to be out there or not. One NL exec said his impression was that Gallardo is the one pitcher on this staff who won't be available. But another said: "To be honest, I think they would love to move him. Remember those fastballs that used to be 94-95-ish? Now they're 89-90-ish." Nevertheless, a 27-year-old starter with a track record and up to two seasons of control (counting his 2015 option) always makes for a viable trade chip.
Potential buyers to watch
You don't need to hire your own scouting department to know what Detroit is shopping for. It's all about the ninth inning in Detroit, because the Tigers sure have those other innings covered. They lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage, starting pitching ERA and run differential. So they have just about all of their win-the-World-Series pieces in place -- except for one. Now the mission is finding the right closer to shut down those big games in October that this team is almost destined to play. Unfortunately, at this point, there appear to be only two potentially available arms who would meet that description -- Papelbon and Jesse Crain (he of the 29 consecutive scoreless appearances for the White Sox). "They've got the pieces to cash in for what they need," one exec said. "And they've got the motivation. They really want to win for [owner Mike Ilitch]. And I think they'd just about back up the truck for the right piece." If that means dealing one of their two most coveted young bats -- Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia -- other clubs say they're willing to pay that price. And if they are, it's hard to imagine the Tigers won't get what they want.
With Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty both done for the season, the Braves are all over the bullpen market. They could trade for a matchup left-hander, an eighth-inning accomplice for Craig Kimbrel or both, depending on how the market shapes up. It's way too soon to narrow down which way they'd turn, but they could have a fit with a team like the White Sox, who could deal Crain, Matt Thornton and Matt Lindstrom if they put their seller hat on.
Clubs with starting pitchers to deal report the Giants have taken on a whole new fervor in the past week in their hunt for another starter. With their rotation down to 22nd in the big leagues in quality starts, with Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum scuffling and with Ryan Vogelsong still about a month away from exiting the disabled list, the Giants have told clubs they're not waiting until the deadline to deal for a starter if something presents itself sooner. So any rumors that erupt connecting them with Nolasco, Garza and Feldman make total sense.
Baltimore is another club that isn't waiting around. "They're looking for pitching, and they're being pretty aggressive," an exec of one team the Orioles contacted said. "My gut tells me they'll do something [well] before July 31. Maybe even before the [All-Star] break. I think that's a strong possibility." The Orioles would like to add a starter and a bullpen arm but seem to be prioritizing starters first. And other clubs love the young arms they could potentially move, ranging from prospects to someone like Jake Arrieta, who has never quite fit in Baltimore but still is viewed as a classic change-of-scenery lottery ticket worth buying. So it wouldn't be a shock if the Orioles are the first team to make a major deal.