The original gunslinger, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers, is looking mostly at middle-inning relievers. Several of the other ultra-aggressive GMs — the White Sox’s Ken Williams, Cubs’ Jim Hendry and Athletics’ Billy Beane — are in sell or passive mode.
The Brewers’ Doug Melvin already has traded for closer Francisco Rodriguez, and probably lacks the prospect power to pull off a deal for Carlos Beltran. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman and Red Sox’s Theo Epstein are always on the prowl, but Cashman is guarding his prospects with an almost religious zeal and Epstein traded some of his best youngsters for Adrian Gonzalez.
Enter the Phillies’ Ruben Amaro Jr.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Amaro, it’s that he’s fearless. And fearlessness, in an increasingly cautious trading environment, is the new market inefficiency.
Phillies owner David Montgomery seemingly has removed Amaro’s one restriction — the luxury-tax threshold — telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We will do whatever it takes.”
So at this point, it’s probably just a matter of which player Amaro wants most.
Could be the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Could be the Astros’ Hunter Pence. Could be the White Sox’s Carlos Quentin, one of the Padres’ relievers, or another player entirely.
But rest assured, it will be someone, maybe even two someones.
Amaro seemed hot after Beltran last week, and maybe he still is. But the Phillies, as of Tuesday afternoon, were the most aggressive team on Pence, according to major-league sources.
The Astros are in the middle of an ownership transition, and one rival executive says Astros GM Ed Wade will move the outfielder only if it is a “job-saving deal.”
Few in baseball think Wade actually will pull off such a trade — which, to Amaro, probably makes Pence that much more alluring.
The GM loves blockbusters, loves surprises — witness his trades for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt and re-signing of Lee as a free agent. And if Amaro is going to expend major prospects, it makes more sense to do it for Pence, who is under club control through 2013, than it does for Beltran, a potential free agent.
Maybe the Astros will do the smart thing and wait on trading Pence until the offseason, when they can involve more suitors. Or maybe Amaro will entice the Astros with outfielder Domonic Brown and other prospects, and bring the Phillies another major prize.
It would be foolish to bet against Amaro in any pursuit.
He’s the one GM who is ready to fire.
AND ON THE OTHER HAND . . .
The deadline is still four days away, giving the buyers time to improve their offers and sellers time to lower their prices.
As of Tuesday night, there was a lot of exasperation on both sides.
One executive predicts chaos when reality finally strikes this weekend and teams scramble to make deals. But the possibility also exists that many sellers will simply pull back, refusing to “give away” their players.
The Blue Jays, who did just that last July when they kept their most prominent relievers (Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg), probably will take the same approach with this year’s group (Frasor, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel). The team can either exercise a club option on each pitcher, or offer arbitration and receive supplemental draft picks if any leave as free agents; all three likely will be Type Bs.
Even the Athletics, an obvious seller, need not act in haste. Outfielder Josh Willingham could be a Type-A free agent, while outfielders David DeJesus and Coco Crisp and reliever Michael Wuertz could be Type Bs. The A’s are under no financial pressure to dump salaries. If all they can get for one of their veterans is two prospects whom they might release in two years, why even bother?
The Indians, Pirates and Giants are among the logical fits for Willingham. Two Giants scouts attended Monday night’s game between the Athletics and Rays in Oakland and sat down the line instead of in the scouts’ section. They likely were bearing down on Willingham, the Rays’ B.J. Upton, or both.
BLUE JAYS ALL OVER THE MARKET
Cashman, Epstein, the Rays’ Andrew Friedman and Rangers’ Jon Daniels are among the GMs who explore just about every deal imaginable; you can connect them to virtually any available player and rarely be wrong.
Alex Anthopoulos, join the club.
Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays’ GM, has inquired on Padres closer Heath Bell, according to major-league sources. He is in on Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, according to several reports. And he even is pursuing Astros lefty Wandy Rodriguez, sources say.
Rodriguez seems cost-prohibitive — his $13 million club option for 2014 becomes a player option if he is traded, increasing his remaining obligation to nearly $40 million. The Yankees and other clubs also worry about how his performance would translate to the American League.
Reasonable concerns, but what if the Jays or another club could persuade the Astros to pay enough of Rodriguez’s salary to make him, say, a $7 million pitcher? The Astros likely would be willing to make such a deal, knowing it would land them better prospects.
Anthopoulos still might balk, but if nothing else he is exploring his options.
You never know where such conversations might lead.
THE BIG ONE: GOMES TO NATS!
The Reds didn’t get much from the Nationals for outfielder Jonny Gomes — left-hander Chris Manno and first baseman Bill Rhinehart weren’t among the Nats’ top 30 prospects, according to Baseball America, and one scout described them as “very fringy.”
The trade of Gomes was more about the Reds creating opportunity, either for rookie Yonder Alonso, whom they promoted to replace Gomes, or for a more proven run producer they might acquire in a trade.
As recently as last weekend, some of the Reds’ on-field staff expressed concern that Alonso would be a liability in left field. The Reds are the best defensive team among the NL Central contenders and do not want to lose that edge.
Alonso, though, is a highly regarded hitter, and perhaps the Reds would be wise to promote some of their other young players instead of trading them. The team can create another opening by moving catcher Ramon Hernandez to clear a spot for one of the game’s top catching prospects, Devin Mesoraco.