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The trickiness of the trade

GMs have to decide when, whom to deal

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 7, 2009
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If the Braves-Pirates deal last Wednesday involving All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth is any indication, the trade season is going to be very active. General managers and scouts indicated last week that there have been a lot of discussions, preliminary and serious.

Now, the problem most GMs face: when to pull the trigger?

"For me, it's a gut feeling," said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who pulled off the CC Sabathia deal a year ago. "You assess your team healthwise for one thing and decide, are these guys going to be healthy all year? Do we have enough?

"When I was in Texas, we were 6 1/2 games out and I traded Ken Hill and Dean Palmer because I felt we needed a shake-up. I think the Sabathia deal worked well for us. We hadn't made the playoffs for 26 years and I felt our fans deserved the chance to experience that. We're off to a good start again."

Melvin is trying to determine whether to shore up the pitching now or wait until things get dire. He wouldn't comment on whether he's engaged in talks with the Red Sox on shortstop J.J. Hardy; he did concede that his Triple A shortstop, 22-year-old Alcides Escobar, is ready for the big leagues, but, he said, "We have a very good shortstop."

One interesting Melvin observation: "More teams need hitting than I can ever remember. You look at a team like Seattle, who's second in the league in pitching but hasn't been able to score runs."

Does this make it easier to make trades?

"No, because teams are also not willing to give up some of their pitching," Melvin said.

White Sox GM Kenny Williams is the aggressive type, as evidenced by his aborted attempt to land Jake Peavy from the Padres. Sensing his team was falling fast in a very winnable American League Central, he felt he needed to act quickly.

For McLouth, the Braves gave up three top prospects, but nobody they couldn't live without, and they managed to keep Tommy Hanson, who was elevated to the big leagues when 305-game winner and fan favorite Tom Glavine was released after pitching six scoreless innings in his last rehab start.

The Glavine move was perceived by many as cold and opened the Braves up to criticism. But the money they saved on him allowed them to pay McLouth.

The Red Sox have two obvious deficiencies at the moment: shortstop and DH. They are committed to Jed Lowrie as their shortstop of the future, though his return isn't expected until around the All-Star break.

If you're the Red Sox, do you expend prospects to acquire a veteran such as Jack Wilson from Pittsburgh, or Triple A shortstop Jason Donald (.235 at Lehigh Valley) from the Phillies, or Hardy, who has struggled this season but has 20-homer power? Or do you just keep going with Julio Lugo and Nick Green?

One Sox official said that while a stopgap is a possibility, trying to procure another young shortstop such as Donald seems contrary to their plans to make Lowrie the long-term answer. An older player such as Omar Vizquel or even Miguel Tejada may make more sense, as it would to the Mets while Jose Reyes recuperates.

The Sox have struggled with what to do about David Ortiz. They've given the big guy every chance, in part because they're paying him $12.5 million this year and next. If you trade for Adam Dunn, who is strictly a DH and may be one of the worst fielders in the game, or Nick Johnson, or if you give up the farm system for Adrian Gonzalez (if he's even available), what do you do with Ortiz? He's not exactly tradeable.

The Sox have another tug-of-war concerning Clay Buchholz. He's their top chip, the one every team wants. Where do you draw the line on whom you would trade him for? I asked a major league evaluator from another American League team to respond. Here are his answers:

Adrian Gonzalez: Yes.

Victor Martinez: Yes.

Nick Johnson: No.

Adam Dunn; No.

Miguel Tejada: No.

J.J. Hardy: No.

Corey Hart: No.

Jhonny Peralta: No.

Brad Hawpe: Maybe.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman probably needs to solidify his bullpen leading up to Mariano Rivera. After Joba Chamberlain pitched eight effective innings last week, the Joba-to-the-pen story lost some horsepower.

The Mets may be in the market for a starter, a reliever (with J.J. Putz on the shelf), and a shortstop, while the Phillies want another starting pitcher and could eye Brad Penny or Carl Pavano.

"I think there'll be a lot of deals," said Melvin. "When it all happens, that's hard to tell. Every team has their own timetable."

Longoria fields a few

A few questions for Rays third baseman Evan Longoria:

Paid much attention to your RBI pace (55 in 52 games)?

EL: "When those guys are in scoring position, I'm trying to win the game. On personal accolades and stuff . . . at the end of the year I can go out and be myself and take a look at what I did personally. When I'm on the field, I just do what I can so we win.

How tough has it been to be out (hamstring tightness)?

EL: "It's been killing me. I probably did more than I should have been doing, but I wanted to avoid the disabled list. I probably could have gone on the DL and gotten everything 100 percent right, but I don't think that's what we need right now. With Barty [Jason Bartlett] down, I just don't want the team to have any kind of mental letdown about losing me or me not being here for the ball club. Whether I can play or not, I want to be in the dugout and cheer them on and support them."

Did this team suffer from the year-after syndrome?

EL: "Just speaking for myself, when we got back from spring training, we had all of the ceremonies and we got that out of the way. I was excited about my AL championship ring and the banner going up and all that, but I think it hindered me personally because I wasn't able to concentrate on the things I should be concentrating on. But am I looking back to last year or looking forward to this year? I'm now focusing on the present and trying to get our team on a roll again.

Did Toronto throw an early monkey wrench into this race?

EL: "Toronto has always been a good ball club and I was surprised they didn't win more games last year given the talent they had. So they've entered the mix this year and made it a race with a few teams. So that makes it all the more harder and that's why we need to get into a stretch where we're playing good baseball."

Any reason for the team's upturn lately?

EL: "I think David Price has a lot to do with it. He's a young kid and he comes in and he's throwing 96 and he creates some excitement. I think he's created an atmosphere where there's competition on the team and that's a good thing. We're all friends and we're a team and we love each other, but if you get complacent and you're OK with everything, that's not great."

Another reporter asked Longoria who he thought might win the Triple Crown. His response:

EL: "I think Joe Mauer is going to win the Triple Crown someday. If there was a guy - and if I wasn't a professional baseball player - if I had to bet on one guy, it would be Joe Mauer."

With the exception of bullpen, Yankees
have things pretty well set up

Not sure the Red Sox would ever do this with Clay Buchholz, but the Yankees have had no problem putting young righty Phil Hughes in the bullpen with Chien-Ming Wang returning to the rotation.

Hughes has said all of the right things, and if he adapts to the role, it could be an answer for the Yankees, who need a set-up man while Brian Bruney heals.

"I know I'll get my chance as a starter eventually," said Hughes. "I just want to be in the big leagues. I'm fine with this. I just want to do my part to help this team."

The Yankees have a pretty confident clubhouse again. With Alex Rodriguez returning, Jorge Posada healthy, Mark Teixeira hitting, and the rotation starting to jell (with the exception of Wang), the only place the Red Sox have a distinct advantage on New York is the bullpen.

The Yankees hope lefty Damaso Marte, in whom they invested big money, comes back from the disabled list soon and gives them a quality lefty to go along with Phil Coke.

"It's a good team overall," said Johnny Damon. "Any team could use a little bit more in certain areas, but I think we all believe our management will go out and do what it has to do if they feel a need."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Coincidence or good-luck charm? David Ortiz hit the ball hard Wednesday in Detroit after he had his beard trimmed by LMontro, barber to the athletes. (See: montro99.com); 2. Are there any good baseball CEOs anymore?; 3. If I had an extra $500 million lying around, I'd buy the Texas Rangers; 4. Cleveland Indians Comedy Corner: Before this weekend's games, Indians hitters led the league in strikeouts (440) and their pitchers led the league in walks (231); 5. Nice touch by the Red Sox, having Tommy Harper represent them at the draft.

Updates on nine
1. Tom Glavine, LHP, free agent: Part of him is thinking about retiring, but another part still wants to pitch because of all the work he's done rehabbing his left shoulder. He'd prefer to stay in the National League. The Cardinals could be a possibility after Kyle Lohse reinjured his right forearm, forcing him onto the disabled list for the first time.

2. Hideki Matsui, DH, Yankees: The Japanese media have been paying more attention to Matsui because he's in the final year of his contract. He remains a productive hitter (.256, 8 homers, 22 RBIs) and is going nowhere. Next season is another story, however, as Matsui's time in New York will likely be over. Anyway, Johnny Damon's picture-perfect Yankee Stadium swing would seem to suit him for the DH role.

3. Alcides Escobar, SS, Nashville: He is described by Brewers GM Doug Melvin as being similar to Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus. Melvin thinks Escobar is major league-ready. With an average in the .290s and 22 steals, Escobar would be a different type of shortstop than J.J. Hardy. The Brewers played Escobar at second base for Nashville for a few games last week after they lost Rickie Weeks for the season, but the experiment went only OK. He's likely to stay at shortstop until he gets called up.

4. Damon, LF, Yankees: He, for one, feels Ortiz is going to get red hot. "For sure," said Damon. "Hitters go through spells like this. David is still a hitter in his prime. He's suffered a temporary setback. We all go through this stuff. Anyone who's ever been around him knows he's still very good. He hasn't lost it. I hate hearing people say he's lost it."

5. Carl Pavano, RHP, Indians: He really likes it in Cleveland, but the Indians undoubtedly will be tempted to shop him, or at least listen to offers. Like former Marlins teammate Brad Penny, Pavano can be dealt after June 15.

6. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals: Until St. Louis obtains another righthanded hitter with some power, there's probably no reason to pitch to Pujols. When Ryan Ludwick (strained right hamstring) was out of the lineup, his replacements in the cleanup spot went through a 7-for-72 stretch (.097) with no homers and four RBIs. When Ludwick returned after missing 14 games, he went 1 for 19. The Cardinals are so lacking in power that Joe Thurston, a former Pawtucket utilityman, was third on the team with 17 extra-base hits. They probably can't wait until Troy Glaus returns from rehabbing his surgically repaired right shoulder. He's beginning to throw this week and may start hitting next week.

7. Mark DeRosa, 3B, Indians: There are still a lot of rumblings about his availability. With so many teams needing hitters and good chemistry guys, the Indians may have to consider a deal. The Giants are pounding the door for hitting, and DeRosa's name has popped up in their internal meetings. The Giants would part with lefty Jonathan Sanchez.

8. Roy Oswalt, RHP, Astros: They won't move him now, but if they feel the need to dump payroll as the trade deadline approaches, they might change their mind. They would listen on Miguel Tejada if they got a strong return of young players.

9. Julio Lugo, SS, Red Sox: Could the Sox get the Mets or Cardinals interested in him? In the Mets' case, it would depend on how long they believe Jose Reyes will be out. It doesn't appear that Khalil Greene will return to the Cardinals soon because of his anxiety disorder. When Jed Lowrie returns around the All-Star break, the Sox will have a dilemma. Nick Green is best suited as a utilityman, and he's a good one. But he is out of options and would have to pass through waivers to be demoted, which he may not.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "Adrian Gonzalez became the first player in the bigs this season to hit 20 homers when he went deep on May 31. On May 30, 1956, Mickey Mantle became the first player in major league history to hit 20 home runs by the end of May. Mantle finished that season with 52 homers and won the Triple Crown." Also: "Bronson Arroyo has seven wins and a 5.37 ERA; the highest ERA ever for a 20-game winner was Bobo Newsom's 5.08 for the 1938 St. Louis Browns." . . . Happy birthday to Roberto Petagine (38), Heathcliff Slocumb (43), and Red Sox clubhouse manager Joe Cochran (46).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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