Major League Baseball's non-waiver trade deadline has passed, but front office executives continue to plug away in the quest for upgrades. It's August, that time of year otherwise known as the "Jeff Conine Olympics."
Conine, a 17-year veteran with a quick stroke and terminally dour expression, is a professional hitter and waiver-clearer. In 2003, Florida acquired him on Aug. 31, and he helped the Marlins win a World Series. Last year the Phillies traded for him on Aug. 28, and 10 days later he was batting fifth in the order behind Ryan Howard.
If history is a guide, this is the type of player you'll see moving in August: Stable veterans. Bench guys. Underachievers. Emergency injury fill-ins. With baseball in such a blissful economic state, fewer clubs than usual are desperate to make trades to dump stars with big salaries.
"You aren't likely to see any talented players clear waivers," said a National League front office man. "The only players that will clear [waivers] are poorly performing players who the industry doesn't value."
It's more challenging to make a headline-grabbing trade today than yesterday, because players must pass through waivers first. If a player clears waivers, his current team is free to trade him to any of the other 29 clubs.
If the player is claimed, Team A can either pull him back or step aside and lose him to Team B, which assumes the player's entire salary. (This bad-news scenario happened to Padres GM Kevin Towers in 1998, when he claimed Randy Myers to block him from Atlanta and got stuck with a $13 million contract). The teams also have a 48-hour window in which to make a deal.
August can be a busy time for trades. Last season, Livan Hernandez, Javy Lopez, Eric Hinske, Jamie Moyer, Guillermo Mota, Shawn Green, Scott Schoeneweis, Russell Branyan, Neifi Perez, Phil Nevin and David Wells were among the players who changed addresses in August.
So which players will be making news in August? This week's installment of "Starting 9" is devoted to names you'll be hearing in trade speculation over the coming weeks. Some are a lot more realistic than others.
Miguel Tejada, Orioles
Baltimore's chances of moving Tejada in July vanished when he went down with a broken left wrist in the middle of June. Tejada is now back in the lineup and hitting .353 (6-for-17) since his return.
The Orioles probably will expose Tejada to waivers if only to gauge the temperature. Here are three reasons for teams to avoid claiming him: (1) he's owed $26 million over the next two years, (2) he has seven homers and a .417 slugging percentage and (3) there's the little matter of that wrist injury.
The risk of a team's claiming Tejada on waivers and getting stuck with him appears minimal. The Orioles heralded Tejada as a franchise savior when they signed him to a $72 million deal in 2003, so it would be a public relations fiasco to let him leave town on a waiver claim. The O's simply would just pull him back and hang onto him.
Andy MacPhail, Baltimore's new head man, is in the middle of a top-to-bottom organizational analysis, so the Orioles probably would wait until the offseason to do something as radical as trade their marquee player. If Tejada takes off in August and September, he might enhance his value between now and then.
MacPhail also wants to give interim manager Dave Tremblay a fighting chance to stick around, and trading Tejada when the Orioles are starting to play better ball isn't exactly sending the right message.
Chance of moving: 10 percent
Mike Piazza, Athletics
Piazza has had a tough year -- missing six weeks with a shoulder injury, then getting bonked in the head with a water bottle thrown from the stands in Anaheim. His DH predecessor, Frank Thomas, had a lot more positive experience by the Bay.
But Piazza's bat is heating up, and the Athletics, 13 games out in the American League West, have no compelling reason to keep him as his one-year contract nears completion.
The Angels have been mentioned as a possibility for Piazza, and they make sense given that their designated hitters rank 13th in the league with a .664 on base-slugging percentage. General manager Bill Stoneman might be waiting to see how Juan Rivera's comeback progresses before he nibbles on Piazza.
Chance of moving: 90 percent
Torii Hunter, Twins
The Minnesota clubhouse was not a happy place when GM Terry Ryan traded Luis Castillo to the Mets. Some players viewed it as a sign the Twins were throwing up the white flag on the season.
If Minnesota falls out of the race entirely, could Hunter be next? Don't bet on it.
For starters, Hunter is a major long shot to clear waivers. If another team claims him and wants to make a trade, Ryan would ask for a mother lode of prospects -- a high price for six weeks worth of Hunter.
Manager Ron Gardenhire recently told reporters that the Twins plan to try to keep Hunter, but won't make an offer until the offseason. Ichiro Suzuki's recent $90 million deal with Seattle clearly raised the stakes. But if the Twins can't afford Hunter, they'll offer him salary arbitration and receive two draft picks as compensation.
As a footnote, Hunter hasn't exactly been scorching of late. He's hitting .214 since the All-Star break.
Chance of moving: 5 percent
Troy Glaus, Blue Jays
Glaus might clear waivers because he's signed for $12.75 million next season, with an $11.25 million player option for 2009. But Glaus also has a full no-trade clause, and he probably would want a contract extension in exchange for waiving it.
Toronto is in no rush to trade Glaus. The Blue Jays are hanging around the .500 mark despite having lost Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, Reed Johnson and Gregg Zaun for extended periods to injury this season, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi is under no pressure to dump payroll.
With the emergence of Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum in the rotation and Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen in the bullpen, the Jays think they've made significant strides toward contending next season. If Ricciardi is going to trade his main cleanup hitter, he'll want a couple of young, impact players in return.
Chance of moving: 10 percent
Omar Vizquel, Giants
Say you're a contending club, it's mid-August and your shortstop gets taken out on a double play and goes down for the season with a knee injury.
Would you rather have Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson, who has two years and $13.75 million left on his contract, or Vizquel, who has two months left on his deal and comes with no financial strings attached?
True, Vizquel's .604 OPS ranks last among regular shortstops. But his five errors are the fewest of any big league regular. Even at 40, he makes all the routine plays and some spectacular ones to boot.
If this is, indeed, the end of the road for Vizquel, it would be nice to see him playing for a contender rather than an aging Giants team going absolutely nowhere.
Chance of moving: 50 percent
Ray King, Nationals
Washington general manager Jim Bowden traded away three players -- Livan Hernandez, Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward -- in August last season. Bowden, a noted transaction addict, has an itch that needs to be scratched after failing to move Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch before the July 31 deadline.
Bowden probably can find someone to take King, a veteran lefty who might be able to help a contender in a situational role down the stretch.
King's numbers are so-so -- and he relies an awful lot on guile and a mid-80s fastball these days -- but he's battle-tested, and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard recently went hitless against him during a three-game series in Philadelphia.
Chance of moving: 70 percent
Shawn Chacon, Pirates
Chacon was bad in four starts with the Pirates (5.59 ERA and a .286 batting average against), but he's been more effective out of the bullpen (3.07, .240). He's a free agent this winter, so an audition in a winning environment might help his future employment prospects.
General manager Dave Littlefield has two other relievers who would generate interest. Damaso Marte has been superb, with a 1.38 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings. He's signed for a reasonable $2.2 million in 2008, so he's certain to get claimed on waivers.
Salomon Torres stands a better chance of clearing waivers because of his ridiculous workload in recent years and his $3.2 million salary next season. But those factors also make him less appealing to other clubs.
Chance of moving: 80 percent
Kyle Farnsworth, Yankees
The Yankees want to improve their bullpen and they've been actively shopping Farnsworth, which tells you all you need to know about how he's perceived in the Bronx these days.
During one turbulent stretch, Farnsworth arrived late for a workout, showed up manager Joe Torre while being lifted from a game, complained about a lack of work, and clashed with catcher Jorge Posada. That stuff's not going to fly when a guy has a 1.64 WHIP and a reputation for wilting under pressure.
Even with Scott Proctor packed off to Los Angeles, Torre is tired enough of Farnsworth's act that the Yankees still would like to move him. Farnsworth's $5.5 million salary in 2008 is one obvious problem.
"He has a good arm, and if you could get the Yankees to pay the bulk of it, you might say, 'What the heck?'" said a National League assistant GM. "Maybe you'd strike lightning in a bottle."
Chance of moving: 50 percent
Jeff Conine, Reds
You didn't expect us to exclude our hero, did you?
Conine has a .919 on base-slugging percentage at hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park and a .621 OPS on the road. He just turned 41 years old, so any negative is a potential red flag.
But Conine can play some first base and outfield, give you a competent bat off the bench, and knows his way around a pennant race. Besides, August just wouldn't be August if he stayed put.
Chance of moving: 80 percent
Pitchers: Carlos Silva of Minnesota; Kip Wells and Troy Percival of St. Louis; Steve Trachsel and Danys Baez of Baltimore; Jose Contreras of the Chicago White Sox; Jason Jennings of Houston; Steve Kline of San Francisco.
Position players: Sammy Sosa and Brad Wilkerson of Texas; Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb of Houston; Scott Hatteberg of Cincinnati; Matt Stairs of Toronto; Adam Kennedy of St. Louis; Aubrey Huff, Corey Patterson, Jay Payton and Kevin Millar of Baltimore; Trot Nixon of Cleveland; Jonny Gomes of Tampa Bay; Mark Sweeney, Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Dave Roberts and Ryan Klesko of San Francisco; Emil Brown of Kansas City; Wily Mo Pena of Boston; Shannon Stewart of Oakland.