There are 54 shopping days left until the trade deadline. So it's time to make out those shopping lists.
Now unfortunately, the Psychics Hotline didn't return our calls, so we don't know for sure yet who's going to be buying and who's going to be selling. But we've checked the standings, dissected the numbers and listened to the buzz out there.
So here it comes, the first Stark Market report of the year on the biggest names who just might be available in July for your shopping enjoyment:
Rangers GM Jon Daniels may have sworn this week that he has no plans to "shop" Teixeira. But an official of one team that has spoken with Texas says, flatly, that the Teixeira talk is "real."
In fact, the Rangers almost have to dangle this guy, if only because he's a Scott Boras client, a prospective 2008 free agent and a fellow who has given them no indication he's inclined to sign any early extensions and stick around. So the big question is whether he'll be exported in a deadline deal or an offseason deal. In a market with possibly no other whompers, the line would be long for Teixeira's services, starting with the Angels and Dodgers.
"The only way they can get value for Teixeira is to move him now," said one prominent baseball man. "You can't get down to the final year and expect teams to give up what they're going to be asking."
Yep, the second name on this list is another Ranger. You'd better be prepared to memorize their whole roster, because this team is already 17 games under .500, has lots of parts it could sell off, and needs to accumulate starting pitching. So you'll be hearing the names of Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton and even Sammy Sosa, among others. But the most interesting name of all could be Gagne, given the desperation for impact bullpen arms by about a dozen potential contenders. The question teams keep asking about Gagne, however, is this: Is he still one of those impact arms? And even if he is, is he a breakdown waiting to happen?
As long as the Marlins at least hover on the fringes of the wild-card race, Willis won't be any more than a figment of some clubs' deadline-shopping imaginations. But if the Fish ever drop out of that race, look out -- because he'll turn into an instant human trade rumor. Remember, though, that Willis can't be a free agent until after the 2009 season. So the Marlins will take a very hard line. And some team (the Mets maybe?) will have to be ready to fork over three of its best young sure-thing building blocks. And that's a price tag very few clubs have felt comfortable with in this era.
There is big-time skepticism the A's are serious about moving Harden, although we did find one GM who thinks the odds are as good as 50-50 that they'll at least shop him. But even if they do, there's just as much reluctance to give up anything significant for a guy whose various health issues have caused him to miss 33 of his last 40 potential starts, and 39 of his last 54. And if the A's don't get something good for him, what's the point? The upside of a healthy Harden outweighs any kind of return they could get in a trade-him-just-to-trade-him deal.
KEN GRIFFEY JR./ADAM DUNN
We're not sure it's even possible to fall out of the NL Central race. But the Reds have given it a try, by losing 25 of their last 34 games. If that full gainer continues for another few weeks, then get ready for the birds of prey to start circling over these two guys. An official of one team that inquired about Griffey says Griffey has informed the Reds he won't oppose a trade "in the right scenario." But outside of the Braves, a club he has told friends for years he'd go to, it's tough to say what he'd consider "the right scenario." So most clubs we've canvassed think the Reds are more likely to move Dunn, who is kind of their version of Teixeira, minus the Boras factor. The difference is that while Dunn wouldn't be a free agent until 2009 if he stays in Cincinnati, a trade would void his 2008 option year, allow him to hit the market this winter and make him strictly a half-year rent-a-player. So the price tag can't be as steep as Teixeira's.
The Astros continue to tell clubs they're reluctant to trade their one-time closer. But Lidge is so frustrated over being demoted to middle-man purgatory, he'd almost certainly be in favor of an exit strategy if it meant a chance to close somewhere. So it's obviously possible his name could pop out there, as the Astros hunt for lineup and rotation upgrades. But U-turn one paragraph and reread that sentence about how hard it is to fall out of the NL Central "race." As one AL executive put it, "St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Houston should probably all sell, because they're not very good. But they probably won't, because in that division, how can you convince yourself you're really out of it?"
When we ask other teams which member of the Nationals they would be interested in trading for, the first sound we hear is, "Ryan Zimmerman." The second sound we hear is the laughter of men who know there's no chance. That's followed by the mention of Cordero's name, which -- in theory, at least -- is a lot more reasonable. But the next sentence is always some sort of complaint about how steep the asking price is for a guy who's allowing more than 14 baserunners per nine innings. Of course, Washington's position is that Cordero can't be a free agent until 2009, so why wouldn't the price be steep? But unless that cost comes down, all mentions of Cordero in Rumor Central will be for amusement purposes only.
There's some rumbling out of Denver that the Rockies might think about dealing their underrated closer, possibly for a younger version of himself, plus other parts. But we can't find anyone who thinks the Rockies would have any serious interest in trading this guy. And by the way, they're only three games under .500. So they'd have some tailspinning to do just to find the "sell" switch.
Now here's a player the Rockies would talk about any day of any week, just to unload the 20-ton weight of all the dollar bills they owe him. But remember, Helton has a total no-trade clause. The list of places he'd waive it to go to is so minuscule, you'd need a microscope to read it. And the $80 million or so he's guaranteed through 2011 would massively limit the field anyway. The team most interested a few months ago, the Red Sox, would be one team Helton would OK. But at this point, they would have no short-term interest unless they decided to deal away Mike Lowell and move Kevin Youkilis to third. Helton has told friends he'd never go to the Yankees. So the question we keep hearing is: Would Helton say yes to the Angels, a team shopping for a bat like his? That hasn't been his position in the past, but stay tuned.
Yeah, we know what you're thinking: Is there ever a season when Sweeney isn't rumored to be going someplace? Ah, but this season, he's finally in the last year of his contract, which takes dollar signs out of the equation. And even though his contract gives him the ability to limit his trade destinations, he has been telling people he's open to just about any deal that gives him a chance to win. There may be teams wondering how much he has left. But our hunch is, he'd be more invigorated by a chance to win than many people think.
The White Sox haven't sunk into sell-mode oblivion yet. But if they do, Rumor Central might never be the same. Kenny Williams is as fearless as any GM alive. So Buehrle or this club's other prominent prospective free agent, Jermaine Dye, could hit this market like an earthquake. "If that happened," one front-office man said, "Buehrle would be a huge piece for somebody."
• People in Chicago would be amazed how many scouts following the NL Central report that they either think (a) the Cubs are a better, more talented team than the Brewers, or (b) the Cubs will end up winning the division. "I know they've played spotty, to say the least," one scout said of the Cubs. "But I think they have a chance to rip off about 14 [wins] out of 15 one of these days." The scout's theory is that the Cubs have played tight, in great part because they haven't adjusted to Lou Piniella's personality and he hasn't adjusted to them. "I think they're at a real turning point," the scout said. "If Lou can use that [suspension] time to watch from afar for a few days and then come back and make some adjustments, I think that team could take off. And knowing Lou, I think he can and he will."
• In that vein, we've heard from a variety of sources that a number of Cubs players told their friends they were much more relaxed on the bench this week during the four games Piniella was serving his suspension. But one baseball man who has seen a lot of the Cubs flatly rejects the suggestion that Piniella's demeanor has somehow affected the way this team has played, saying: "The one thing I've never seen is negative body language. These guys have played hard. They've come back. They've gotten key hits late. If they're pressing, there's one cure for that: win."
• If there's a Cub who's a topic of even greater fascination than Piniella around the sport, it's Carlos Zambrano. "There's a guy," one front-office man said, "who's costing himself a lot of money right now. And beating the crap out of one of his teammates doesn't help." Zambrano still has plenty of time to restore his free-agent value. But clubs have watched his ground ball/fly ball rate shrink from a high of 2.28 in 2003 to just 1.26 this year. He also had never allowed an opponent slugging percentage over .351 in any season of his career -- but this year it's nearly .500. And left-handed hitters have an ominous .355 AVG/.430 OBP/.579 SLG line against him -- compared to .231/.337/.355 over the previous three years. "I don't know why," one scout said. "But his stuff is very, very flat early in games. Then he gets into his last inning or two, and he gets back in his normal arm slot, and he blows guys away. He's a real mystery."
• The Cubs had lots of reasons to recall Felix Pie last weekend. But one of them was the effect Pie seems to have had on his buddy, Alfonso Soriano. With Pie on the roster, Soriano was hitting .413, with five homers, and slugging .755 going into Wednesday. With Pie in the minor leagues, Soriano was batting .259 and slugging .396.
• A year ago this month, Francisco Cordero was a guy with an ERA over 6.00 in Texas. Now he's in Milwaukee, on pace for the greatest closer season of all time. Seven other closers have had fewer hits allowed than saves in a season of 20-plus saves. But Cordero is on pace for 59 saves, and just 19 hits. Which would obliterate Gagne's record in that rarified category (55 saves, 37 hits in 2003). So what's the difference? "His slider is better than I've ever seen it," one scout said. "His fastball is 94-97 [mph]. But his slider is 89-90-91. He's got two dominant, hard pitches. And right now, he's throwing them both for strikes."
• The buzz in Houston is that the Astros don't want to wait around until July to get in the trading mood because they're not interested in letting this season slip away. So they've been sending signals they're looking for an outfield bat, a dependable starting pitcher and a young catcher to succeed Brad Ausmus. And they would rather make those moves sooner than later.
• Clubs that have asked the Braves about Jarrod Saltalamacchia report they've been turned down flat. But by July, the Braves expect to have a better read on whether Scott Thorman is the answer at first and/or whether Saltalamacchia can be an alternative first base option. And those answers will determine whether Saltalamacchia becomes their No. 1 trading chip at the deadline -- but only for a major player whom they'd control for multiple years.
• We heard yet another team roll out a "Willis might not be worth the price" speech this week. It went: What's up with his left/right splits? Against left-handed hitters this year, that line goes .091 AVG/.175 OBP, .109 SLG. Against right-handed bats, it's .317/.383/.528. That's way out of sync with previous years. But would it really be enough to make teams shy away from owning -- through 2009 -- a guy with Dontrelle's charisma and track record? We doubt it.
• While the Phillies prefer to market Aaron Rowand for bullpen help, another outfielder in Philadelphia has started to attract some interest: rookie sprint champ Michael Bourn. If the right bullpen arm is ever offered for him, it would force the Phillies to resolve their internal tug-of-war over whether Bourn is a future star or merely a fourth outfielder with off-the-charts speed. We've heard scouts voice both opinions, so it's no surprise the Phillies are as divided over Bourn's talents as they've been with any position-player prospect in years.
• Here is what the inexplicable interleague schedule has brought the Mets: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they're about to become the first team ever to play six straight series against six different teams that made the playoffs last year (Tigers, Dodgers, Yankees, Twins, A's and Cardinals). Two other teams in history (the 1997 White Sox and 2002 Blue Jays) have played six series in a row against playoff teams -- but not against six different teams. The Mets managed to pull that off because they're also the first club ever to play interleague games against all four of the other league's playoff entrants from the previous year. Lucky them.
Headliner of the Week
Finally, this week's this-just-in bulletin comes from the Chicago sports parody site, theheckler.com:
CUBS FANS HOLD "FANS-ONLY" MEETING
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and is now available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.