The march to the 2008 trading deadline hasn't exactly turned into the NHL draft, featuring five marquee guys from Lithuania. But it's close. So we're warning you now:
Unless this Manny Ramirez-to-Florida blockbuster turns real, the names that are about to go dancing across the bottom of your TV screens between now and the deadline probably are not going to cause any of you to (A) utter the words, "Holy zbflmx!" or (B) rush out and buy tickets to every home game your favorite team plays between now and 2017.
In other words, when they make that forthcoming hit film, "Deadline Day 2008," it "won't be starring Cameron Diaz and Angelina Jolie," an official of one contending team said with a laugh.
"All we're doing," moaned an executive of another contender, "is chasing a bunch of mediocre guys."
Yes, unfortunately CC Sabathia is already gone. So is Rich Harden. Now even Mark Teixeira is a done deal. So what remains is Joe Flotsam, Billy Jetsam and 23 set-up relievers and Manny Ramirez. Nevertheless, we'll all be watching anyway. So here's a look at the five most prominent players who could be traded between now and Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline:
When we wrote the first edition of this column Wednesday morning, we basically just threw Manny's name into the mix to get your attention. At that point, every Manny Ramirez rumor any of us had heard at ESPN -- from myself to Buster Olney to all-knowing Peter Gammons -- had been denied, demeaned or flat-out laughed off.
Boston Red Sox
So we even thought it was safe to write one of those lines that trade-deadline looniness can always make you live to regret -- that there was almost as much chance of Carl Yastrzemski getting traded this week as there was of Manny getting traded.
But by dinnertime in the East, Ramirez's relocation to South Florida didn't seem so far-fetched anymore. People all over baseball were hearing it -- and nobody was denying it. They deflected it. They sidestepped it. They ignored numerous messages that could have put it to rest.
So obviously, this has graduated from a laugh track kind of rumor to a trade with a chance to happen. Whether it does or not, we know now that it at least got serious enough for these teams to have an extensive series of conversations.
We did mention, in our earlier edition of the Stark Market, that the Red Sox were continuing to float Manny's name in lots of creative ways and many imaginative scenarios. So obviously, the Red Sox proved they could be so inventive that they could actually find another contender willing to ponder trading for a player this unpredictable while still being willing to give up enough talent (Jeremy Hermida et al) to make it worth the while of a club constructed to win, Manny or no Manny.
Originally, we'd thought that the best hope the Red Sox had, according to clubs that have spoken with them, came in that brief window Tuesday when Teixeira was still in play. The Red Sox clearly made an attempt to see whether they could move Manny -- ideally for a young first baseman and two other prospects. They then would have tried to move that first baseman, and other pieces, to Atlanta for Teixeira.
But once that option disappeared, there weren't many avenues left. The Mets have run the other way. The Phillies kicked it around, but they're not trading Pat Burrell for Manny, and they don't have the prospect inventory to go that route. That Manny-for-Matt Kemp-and-Andruw Jones swap isn't happening with the Dodgers. And Arizona wasn't particularly interested.
Then, however, the Marlins -- another creative, though cash-challenged operation -- found themselves getting more and more intrigued by the idea that they could rent Manny for two months while the Red Sox picked up the entire tab. And whether that deal goes down or not, at least it will make the final hours of the trade-deadline watch worth living through.
In reality, Raul Ibanez probably will be the "biggest" bat -- not named Manny -- who gets traded before the deadline. And with the Mariners trying to extract "two premium prospects" for Ibanez, according to clubs that have spoken with them, even he might be sticking around.
So if we're going to spend this little chunk of cyberspace talking about appealing bats who aren't likely to end up relocating, Bay is much more fun to kick around.
And at least the Pirates have been listening. Atlanta took a shot and couldn't get it done. And as Olney reported Wednesday, Tampa Bay continues to knock on that door.
But Bay is one popular Bucco. And now that the almost-as-popular Xavier Nady has driven off their exit ramp, the Pirates are dealing Bay only for a major four-player package, fronted by two big-time young pieces.
Clubs that have spoken with Tampa Bay say the Rays might be willing to build a trade around shortstop prospect Reid Brignac and one of the most enormous pitching prospects in the game, Jeff Niemann. But if the Pirates keep asking for David Price, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson -- three of the most highly regarded pitchers in any team's system -- this is going to be a conversation leading, well, nowhere.
Of the three Mariners most heavily in play -- Rhodes, Ibanez and Jarrod Washburn -- Rhodes looks like the best bet to change area codes, if only because Seattle has more options on him than on anyone else.
And that tells you all you need to know about the state of deadline madness, 2008 edition. There might not be any more prominent hitters traded this week. There might not be any more prominent starting pitchers traded this week. But there's practically a stampede after a 38-year-old situational left-hander who has pitched 21 1/3 innings all year, has changed teams five times and didn't pitch at all last season.
Here's just a partial list of shoppers who have stopped their cart at the Arthur Rhodes Reincarnation Exhibit, even if it was only to shake their head in wonderment: Red Sox, Marlins, Phillies, Brewers, Tigers, Mets, Cardinals and Rays.
Seattle is driving a tough bargain. But Florida, for one, has been especially persistent. So by Thursday afternoon, if Rhodes isn't heading for one of those destinations, it will mean the Mariners didn't just misplay their cards they'd have to have set the entire deck on fire.
Now that we're on this left-handed-reliever rampage, why stop with Rhodes? At least we're confident that the Braves will deal Ohman at some point this week. In fact, he almost got included in the Teixeira extravaganza.
The Braves have as many as 10 interested teams, a list that starts with the Tigers, Rays and Cardinals. They even appear willing to trade Ohman within the division, which could draw in the Marlins, Phillies and Mets -- all of which are looking for bullpen reinforcements.
We could have substituted Kansas City's Ron Mahay, Pittsburgh's John Grabow or the Cubs' Scott Eyre for Ohman. But a couple of things separated Ohman from that pack, over and above that .160 batting average left-handers have against him.
One is his Harry Caray impression while introducing the Braves' lineup Saturday on Fox, one of the highlights of the season. ("Batting third and playing first base, got a great glove, Mark Te-te-texss uhhhh, Mark is batting third.")
Two is Ohman furnished us with his own handy-dandy list of tips to survive the trading deadline (if you're about to get traded). They included: (1) "Eat a lot," (2) "Practice your clichés in front of the hotel mirror," and (3) "Kill time by computing the mathematical probabilities that you'll get dealt to a contender." You need to devise a formula, he said, that determines the likelihood that "you can be the linchpin to your old team's success -- by leaving it."
Now who wouldn't want to trade for a guy like that?
Finally, we're required by law to include at least one starting pitcher in all pre-deadline columns like this. But when we asked an official of one contender whether his team was shopping for starting pitching, he replied: "There isn't any." When we protested and offered the names of Washburn, Paul Byrd and Tim Redding, he repeated: "There isn't any."
Yeah, well, there are no more CC's and Hardens left to be had. That's for darned sure. But there are still teams poking around for starters (Yankees, Rockies, Tigers and White Sox, for instance). And there is clearly some level of interest in Byrd, Redding and even Josh Fogg. Heck, the Rockies alone have looked into all of them.
But did you know that since June 3, only nine starting pitchers in the entire sport have a better ERA than Washburn (2.44) -- and four of them are better by fewer than five-hundredths of a point? The only left-handers on that list are Sabathia (2.10), Mark Buehrle (2.14) and Oliver Perez (2.43). And they're not exactly available.
So the tug o'war between the Yankees and Mariners on Washburn is fascinating. The Yankees continue to just sit back and wait for Seattle to thank them for taking Washburn's $14 million off their hands. But if you look at Washburn's ERA numbers above, you can understand why the Mariners think they should be able to get more than just a former 58th-round draft pick and a lump-sum checking-account deposit for this guy.
But the clubs they're trying to draw into the auction all want the Mariners to pick up big hunks of Washburn's future paychecks -- which isn't particularly attractive to Seattle. And if the Mariners are just going to wind up dumping dollars, that's a decision that has to be made by somebody of higher stature than an interim general manager (Lee Pelekoudas).
So although numerous sources continue to describe this deal as just about dead, our firm belief that somebody will trade for a starter this week inspired us to include it in this ensemble anyway. Ya never know. Taking on other clubs' salary dumps is what the Yankees do best this time of year.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.