It may be too early for teams to make deals to improve their rosters, but it’s not too early to look at candidates who may be available in June and July. While much of the organizational focus right now is on the June draft, the groundwork is being laid by special assistants and scouts for possible moves.
“I guess it’s never too early,’’ said an American League general manager. “Sometimes you have to wait things out to see how well the team you’re trying to deal with is doing at the time you’d want to make the deal, and that part is always tricky. And then there are those who become available that you had no idea would be available, so it’s not perfect.
“But you’d better have an idea of how you match up with certain organizations, which is why we have scouts evaluating other minor league systems to see where there’s an excess and a match.’’
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman could be a huge player in the trade market because he has the chips.
“I’d like to think we have pieces to deal, but I’d also rather keep those chips and have them help our team,’’ Cashman said. “I know we have excellent talent in our system that other teams would like, because that’s been expressed to us.
“But you do everything you can to see if you can fill a need organizationally first before you think about the trading of young prospects.’’
The Yankees have a plethora of catching talent, starting with Jesus Montero, who is crushing Triple A pitching in Scranton. Montero’s defensive skills are still in question, but his bat isn’t. The Yankees also have Austin Romine, whom one National League talent evaluator has downgraded to “good backup,’’ though others don’t agree. The best of them might be 18-year-old Gary Sanchez, who could be the whole package.
While pitching is normally at the forefront of everyone’s thinking, an NL executive said, “It’s hard to find a good righthanded-hitting corner outfielder, and that’s a need for a few teams.’’
The feeling is the Braves would consider dealing Derek Lowe (left) if they could get a good outfielder who can produce runs. Lowe, because of his sinker and newfound slider, works well in both leagues and is the most likely big-name pitcher to change teams.
The Braves and Phillies could use another hitter. Tampa Bay could also find a spot for one.
The buzz around the league is that San Diego righthander Heath Bell will become the reliever prize and that the Phillies will be the major suitor. The Yankees need a lefty reliever, though that job is much harder to fill.
Teams such as the Twins will be waiting to see whether they can turn it around, but we’ve seen this before: They usually recover and make the playoffs. If not, there will be suitors galore for Jason Kubel, one of the league’s top hitters, who is due to be a free agent. The Twins also have free agent-to-be Michael Cuddyer, lefty starter Francisco Liriano, and who knows whether they would deal veteran Carl Pavano, who hasn’t pitched well this season?
The Twins usually don’t sell off, but with impending free agents, they might.
If Houston businessman Jim Crane buys the Astros this week, will he want to build them up with free agents or go the rebuilding route? According to a team source, the Astros occasionally field inquiries about outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Bourne, and pitcher Brett Myers.
Then there are the Indians, who have gotten off to a phenomenal start. If they fade, would they entertain deals for righthander Fausto Carmona, center fielder Grady Sizemore, or designated hitter Travis Hafner?
The Orioles would likely move DH Luke Scott or outfielder Felix Pie, and are drawing interest on middle infielder Cesar Izturis from the Braves, who need a backup infielder.
The Nationals, who could be the team to watch in 2012 and beyond, are searching for a center fielder and could even make first baseman Adam LaRoche, a good hitter, available.
The Red Sox could be an interesting team in that they’re expected to come out of their doldrums and contend. But they could also shake things up. They have two commodities in Mike Cameron, a righthanded-hitting outfielder, and veteran shortstop Marco Scutaro. Even though he has a no-trade clause, would J.D. Drew approve a deal? It’ll be interesting to see whether the Sox have to shop for a starting pitcher.
The Mets are another team to watch because they have a hugely attractive piece in shortstop/leadoff man Jose Reyes, another free agent-to-be they likely won’t re-sign. Reyes could help the Giants, for one, or the Cardinals, for another. He’s been linked with the Red Sox, but that seems far-fetched. Also in play is left fielder Jason Bay, who wouldn’t shed many tears about leaving New York.
After one of their best starts in years, the Pirates are heading south of .500 again, and they have veteran pieces such as first baseman Lyle Overbay and catchers Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit who could help contenders.
The Cubs have tried in the past to trade outfielder Kosuke Fukodome, and this year, Alfonso Soriano may be more tradeable if the money left on his contract could be worked out. First baseman Carlos Pena is a struggling hitter whom the Cubs would probably move with an eye toward a bigger prize such as Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder in the offseason.
The Angels won’t have first baseman Kendry Morales back in 2011, and will likely be in the market for a hitter. With three catchers on the roster, Jeff Mathis — a solid, athletic catcher who handles a staff well — would be trade bait.