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Sabathia may be available, but for a steep price

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Here's an idea: C.C. Sabathia for Adam Dunn. The Indians probably wouldn't do it, not even after Fausto Carmona returns in a month to restore their surplus of starting pitching. But the concept — pitching rental for hitting rental — merits consideration for a Cleveland team that ranks first in the American League in rotation ERA but only 11th in runs per game. Dunn, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Mark Teixeira — any of those potential free agents would lift the Indians' sagging offense. Teixeira, the only plus defender, is by far the most appealing. Then again, as badly as the Tribe is going, a little creativity might be required. Dunn and Burrell would be difficult fits; neither can play right field, and their defensive shortcomings would partly offset their offensive contributions. Teixeira would not be available unless the Braves were desperate for starting pitching and positioned to deal for a suitable replacement at first base. Abreu? An interesting thought, considering that the acquisition of Sabathia would give the Yankees exclusive negotiating rights with the pitcher until he reached free agency. But the Indians surely would want more than a fading 34-year-old right fielder for a 28-year-old ace. Second baseman Robinson Cano, 25, would be more intriguing, but the Yankees can control Cano through 2013 and would not trade him unless they received younger pieces such as left-hander Aaron Laffey and outfielder Ben Francisco in addition to Sabathia. For the Indians, who need young players to balance their payroll, such a deal would be self-defeating. OK, what about Abreu to satisfy short-term objectives plus one or two of the Yankees' better young pitchers to satisfy long-term needs? Such possibilities are worth exploring, at the very least. Trading Sabathia for multiple prospects only would make sense if the Indians fell out of contention, which is unlikely in the surprisingly mediocre AL Central. But keeping Sabathia, then losing him for draft picks, only would make sense if the Indians looked poised for a World Series run. At the moment, they hardly resemble that kind of a team. The Indians could almost name their price if they were willing to move Sabathia before the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Let their due diligence begin.

The Mets' second choice

The Mets' signing of second baseman Luis Castillo to a four-year, $25 million contract is starting to look like one of the worst moves of the off-season — and all the more curious given that the Mets could have had David Eckstein, a player who would have brought grit, if not quite Castillo's skill set. Castillo, 32, is hampered by leg and hip problems — problems that were no secret to the Mets, who traded for him last summer, then re-signed him even though he required arthroscopic knee surgery. The Mets made Eckstein an offer — believed to be for four years and more than $20 million — and told him they were willing to increase the money. But they re-signed Castillo before ever getting serious with Eckstein. A four-year deal for Eckstein, who later accepted a one-year, $4.5 million contract from the Blue Jays, might have been just as problematic as a four-year deal for Castillo; Eckstein, 33, also seems to be wearing down. The second-base market was thin, and the Mets faced competition from the Astros for Castillo. But baseball people still question why the Mets gave Castillo four years. The 2006 version of Jose Valentin never looked so good.

Those first-place Rays

The Rays' biggest challenge will be keeping their bullpen healthy — particularly closer Troy Percival, who is on pace to make 65 appearances, his highest total since 1998. Percival, who turns 39 on Aug. 9, missed the second half of 2005 and all of '06 with a right-forearm injury before making a comeback with the Cardinals last season. He mixes his pitches far more than he once did, but he has always had a maximum-effort delivery. Scouts already are wondering how long he will hold up. The good news for the Rays is that catcher Dioner Navarro is their only hitter performing beyond expectations. At this point, Percival and right-hander James Shields probably would be the team's most worthy All-Stars. If the hitters catch up — as they should — look out. Finally, as promising as third baseman Evan Longoria looks offensively, he is even more consistent than the Rays expected defensively. One scout says that Longoria reminds him of Robin Ventura at third, only with a better arm.

White Sox: Ready to ignite?

Maybe there's hope for the White Sox's offense — the team was last in the AL with a .268 batting average on balls in play entering Tuesday's play, indicating the Sox were hitting into poor luck. The league average was .292, according to The Hardball Times, and five White Sox regulars — Paul Konerko (.220), Jim Thome (.235), Nick Swisher (.244), Orlando Cabrera (.260) and Joe Crede (.265) — were well below that mark. White Sox GM Ken Williams says it's "ridiculous" to suggest that Thome might be nearing the end, pointing out that Thome continues to stand close to home plate, daring pitchers to beat him inside. The White Sox want Thome to move off the plate so he can better handle such pitches, but Thome is reluctant to change an approach that has served him well throughout his career. The bone bruise on Konerko's right thumb is perhaps of greater concern; Konerko risks re-injury when he gets jammed, and his problem could linger all season. Trading Konerko, a move that would open up first base for Nick Swisher, is almost out of the question — not that it was ever likely, considering that Konerko enjoys full no-trade protection.

Houston, there is a problem

The Astros remain a major surprise, and the improvement of leadoff hitter Michael Bourn over the past 10 days suggests that their offense could get even better. Scouts following the club, however, remain deeply skeptical of Houston's pitching — particularly with the status of staff ace Roy Oswalt in question. Oswalt is dealing with groin and hip problems, and a scout who saw his most recent start said, "He didn't look comfortable at all." Meanwhile, right-handers Brandon Backe, Brian Moehler and Chris Sampson are similar types who elicit little fear, and the bullpen in front of setup man Doug Brocail and closer Jose Valverde is perhaps the team's biggest weakness. Bourn's speed gives the Astros another offensive dimension to complement their middle-of-the-lineup power. Still, it's doubtful that the team could hit its way to the postseason, even while playing in the ever-agreeable NL Central.

Where have you gone, Big Hurt?

The Blue Jays' 11-6 surge since losing Vernon Wells is largely attributable to terrific pitching. The Jays, next-to-last in the American League in runs-per-game, would be more formidable offensively if they had not released designated hitter Frank Thomas and outfielder Reed Johnson. Thomas, who suffered a slight strain in his right quad Tuesday night, is proving that the Jays were wrong to conclude he was finished, though not necessarily wrong to fear paying him $10 million in 2009 on a vesting option. In 72 plate appearances with Toronto, Thomas hit .167-.306-.333. In 106 plate appearances with the A's, he has batted .319-.417-.516. Johnson's offensive numbers are only slightly better than those of the player who replaced him, Shannon Stewart. Johnson, however, is a more skillful and versatile defender than Stewart, and the Jays could use his energy. The Jays' two most recent outfield additions, Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench, are a combined 15-for-82 (.183) with two home runs.

Around the Horn

  • One theory on Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is that he is jealous of the contract the team gave third baseman David Wright. The two signed long-term deals within days of each other in Aug. 2006; Reyes got four years, $23.25 million, while Wright got six years, $55 million. If Reyes is indeed upset, he needs to get over it. Wright, the better player, deserved the better deal, but Reyes can be a free agent two years earlier. He can make up the difference then — if he gets his act together. ...
  • Attention, deadline shoppers: Pirates left fielder Jason Bay is batting .333-.443-.654 in May. The Pirates kept Bay rather than trading him in the off-season when his value was down. Looks like a wise decision: Bay, earning $5.75 million this season and $7.5 million next season, will be attractive to contenders, particularly offense-starved AL clubs. ...
  • The trouble with the Angels' outfield rotation is that none of the outfielders is performing well as a designated hitter. Garret Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr. and Torii Hunter are batting a combined .215 as DHs, albeit with seven homers in 172 at-bats. Matthews' struggles against right-handers could lead to increased playing time for Reggie Willits, who also is a switch-hitter. Willits' role also could grow next season if the club declines to re-sign Anderson. ...
  • One way for the Tigers to shake up their roster would be to trade a starting pitcher for younger arms who would replenish their prospect inventory. The problem is, right-hander Jeremy Bonderman is earning $33.5 million from 2008 to '10 and left-hander Nate Robertson $21.25 million. Neither pitcher is performing well enough to justify absorbing their contracts. ...
  • Left-hander Randy Wolf will be among the most available Padres, but one GM says he represents too great a risk. The last time Wolf made more than 23 starts in a season was 2003. He missed the first four months in '06 coming off elbow surgery, and did not pitch after July 3 last season due to a shoulder condition that eventually required surgery. In his first 10 starts with the Padres, he has gone 3-4 with a 4.76 ERA. ...
  • Good thing the White Sox showed patience with center fielder Brian Anderson, who finally is making a decent contribution. Anderson, 26, says he is far more comfortable than he was in 2006, when he batted .225 as a rookie. "Two years ago, I was like, ¿Oh my God,' with all that was going on,'" Anderson says. Manager Ozzie Guillen, noting Anderson's increased maturity, says, "I'm proud of him." ...
  • The Diamondbacks are banking on the return of Chad Tracy from knee surgery to boost their performance against right-handed pitching; the team ranks first in the NL in OPS against lefties, sixth against righties. Tracy, who rejoined the team Sunday, is a left-handed hitter who hit 47 homers in 2005 and '06. The D-backs can use him at first, third and in the outfield. ...
  • How badly do the Dodgers miss shortstop Rafael Furcal? They are 19-14 when he in the lineup, 7-11 without him. The difference should motivate the Dodgers to re-sign Furcal before he reaches free agency at the end of the season — but Furcal's lower back strain might give them pause, considering the incredible sums that the Dodgers are paying injured players. ...
  • A scout says of Mariners closer J.J. Putz, "He's trying to throw the ball by people. But he doesn't have 97-98 mph zip, and his command is not good at all." By contrast, the scout says, M's right-hander Brandon Morrow is throwing "easy gas — 97 to 99." The scout says that Morrow "could be freaky in that role if you left him there. But it would be a waste of his talent." The M's are considering Morrow for their rotation. ...
  • Give Marlins pitching coach Mark Wiley credit for the recent improvements of right-hander Ricky Nolasco and lefty Andrew Miller. Nolasco's velocity spiked to 92 to 95 in a recent start, in part because he is taking a straighter line to the plate. Wiley is taking a similar approach with Miller, who in the past threw so far across his body, he lost the leverage he gained from being 6-foot-6.
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