As of this writing, Major League Baseball's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is a little less than two weeks away. As such, sports publications virtual or otherwise are filling to the brim with content related to who might be traded and, in the ubiquitous comment sections underneath, who should be traded. (In some cases, the "shoulds" span from the headline to the lowliest comment at the bottom of the fifth page that no one will ever, ever read.)
Here in Chicago, the trade talk is a perfect mirror image. On the North Side, we're all discussing who will be leaving town; whereas, on the South Side, dazed and amazed Sox fans are wondering who they might bring in to keep the team atop the AL Central - especially now that Jake Peavy is out for the year.
Amongst fans, trade talk can be a difficult thing. Many sports enthusiasts seem to view trades as being akin to a visit to Victory Auto Wreckers. Dump him! Call up the guy with the $60 in cash and get rid of the ol' wreck! But it's rarely, if ever, that simple. No matter how much it might seem to be the case in some instances (cough Houston Astros cough), opposing GMs aren't junk collectors. Even the most desperate contender wants value - even if they're giving up next to nothing in return.
For this reason, all of the cries on the North Side for the swift exile of Mssrs. Zambrano, Lee and Fukudome neglect to consider that these players have, at least in terms of WAR thus far, minimal value (0.7, 0.5 and 0.6, respectively). And Xavier Nady, another oft-mentioned dumpee, has negative value at the moment (-0.4). Meanwhile, on the South Side, none of the team's particularly valuable players are expendable (not even struggling sophomore Gordon Beckham), so two of its bigger minor league names - Daniel Hudson and Tyler Flowers - are on everyone's lips.
But whom aren't you reading about? Whom might other GMs really be eyeing with acquisitional intent? Don't ask me. I'm no Ken Rosenthal. I'm no Buster Olney. I'm just a regular fan like you. But I can take a semi-educated guess or two - or five - and here are my picks:
1. Geovany Soto
Catchers don't grow on trees. They may grow under trees, though, because that would explain how they could squat for so long without blowing out their knees. Ahem, anyway, if you look around the National League, there's a very exclusive club of guys who can hit the ball well and play a serviceable backstop. Geovany Soto is in that club - and he's still under 30 (27, to be exact) and he's under team control until 2014.
Using WAR, Geo is the third-most valuable catcher in the NL right now among backstops with at least 250 at-bats. And he's No. 1 in wOBA using the same criterion. Granted, defense is his weakness (Fangraphs gives him a -3.0 ranking so far this season), and Lou Piniella would probably be the first to point that out. He's presumably never done so publicly, but giving Koyie Hill 26 starts and 98 plate appearances speaks for itself.
Naturally, Cubs GM Jim Hendry would have to be positively blown away by any offer for Soto, as his team doesn't exactly have a starting catcher waiting in the wings. But he could opt for a defense-first approach behind the plate while Cubs catching prospects such as Steve Clevenger and Wellington Castillo continue to develop.
Who might be looking: Perhaps Omar Minaya, GM of the contending New York Mets. The former denizens of Shea Stadium have been gutting out the season with the aged Rod Barajas and beloved former Cub Henry Blanco behind the plate. In the AL, one wonders whether Yankees GM Brian Cashman might be taking a gander at Geo, with Jorge Posada's foot and thumb acting up and Francisco Cervelli providing minimal power (though a decent OBP).
2. Marlon Byrd
It's the trade scenario that Cubs fans don't want to hear. In a single season - no, strike that, in half a season - Byrd has become the word among Cubs fans. This selfless, sunny-side-up player has done just about everything right - he's pounded the ball to the tune of a .382 wOBA and played great defense, rating an 8.2 per Fangraphs. Those numbers have earned him a WAR to date of 3.9, making Marlon the most valuable center fielder (among qualifiers) in all of baseball. Yes, more valuable than Brett Gardner of the first place Yankees (2.4 WAR) or Colby Rasmus of the (as of this writing) first place St. Louis Cardinals.
Why would the Cubs give that up? Well, for one, Marlon will turn 33 in August and is drastically outperforming his career numbers. As good as he's been, it probably won't last. Also, the Cubs are "outfielder heavy" and appear to be having no luck moving the highly paid Kosuke Fukudome to make room for young upstart Tyler Colvin in right field. In addition, Marlon is under contract for only two more seasons at relatively reasonable amounts ($5.5 million in 2011 and $6.5 million in 2012). In short, Byrd could more than likely bring back the greatest value in a trade of any of the North Side Nine's outfielders.
Who might be looking: Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren could be eyeing Marlon to take over in center field for his contending team. Nate McLouth and Matt Diaz have been either injured or ineffective, and Melky Cabrera has struggled mightily at the plate (.297 wOBA, -0.4 WAR).
You know, the guy who beat Roy Halladay? No! Not Da Gorz! Get rid of that nutcase Big Z! Yeah, well, that nutcase is owed roughly a bazillion dollars and, thanks to the Cubs highly dubious decision to move him to the bullpen (and, yes, his own in-dugout freak out), he probably looks as appealing as two-day old sushi to needy GMs. I also understand that Ted Lilly is the southpaw getting the most play in the rumor mills about town (and the country, for that matter). And, sure, his Tedness's gutsy outings and veteran savvy give him a certain amount of cache.
But if I'm a savvy GM - and I'm not - I'm looking at the relatively more youthful Tom Gorzelanny, who's all of 28 years old and under team control through 2012. I'm also looking at his glorious strikeout rate, which still sits at 9.4 K/9 after 80.2 innings pitched this season. And his comely 3.12 ERA is pretty close to his 3.32 FIP, though a bit distant from his 4.03 xFIP (which still ain't too bad). Granted, Gorzelanny's walks are a problem. He's worried the Cubs with a 4.57 BB/9 this season, which, if it remains until season's end, would be his career worst. Still, Tom has shown that he can battle major league hitters successfully, and that his decent 2007 season probably wasn't a fluke.
Who might be looking: Again, Yankees GM Brian Cashman could have ideas about Da Gorz. With Andy Pettitte out at least a month with a groin strain, Gorzelanny could fit bill for the Bombers - especially given that Tom has spent time in the Cubs rotation and bullpen. Then again, it's hard to say how a move to the tough AL East would suit the lefthander. Getting back to the NL, I could see Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and Padres GM Jed Hoyer simultaneously lunging for Gorzelanny. LA is desperate to round out its rotation for the stretch run, and San Diego just loss young ace Matt Latos to a sneeze-related oblique pull.
4. Brent Morel
With the Sox being in the enviable position of buyers rather than sellers, I'm putting their "underdiscussed" trade targets at the bottom of the list. The team's needs are relatively simple: A big bat and, if at all possible, a starter to somehow replace the production of Jake Peavy. As mentioned above, the go-to names for opposing GMs are likely catching prospect Tyler Flowers, theoretically slated to replace A.J. Pierzynski next season, and right-handed pitcher Daniel Hudson, who's already gotten one start this season. (The good news was he struck out four batters in four innings pitched. The bad news? Pretty much everything else.)
But Morel could get attention for teams looking to build their depth at third base. What's more(l), Brent is currently blocked by the coming-back-from-injury Mark Teahen (who's signed to a three-year deal, including 2010) and hot Cuban prospect Dayan Viciedo, who's already gotten the jump with a big league callup.
In year end 2009 rankings by both Baseball America and FanGraphs, Morel was ranked as the Sox's No. 4 prospect. A right-handed batter, Brent has shown the requisite power for a corner infielder and kept his strikeouts to a reasonable level. He hasn't walked enough to projected as a high-OBP guy, however, so that power will need to keep developing for Morel to earn a starting job.
Who might be looking: Perhaps Astros GM Ed Wade? Free agent Pedro Feliz's World Series ring has not served him well in sweltering Houston, where he's hit for an embarassing .234 wOBA, bad enough for a -1.6 WAR. His defense has reportedly been down as well. The future Feliz is not. A few days ago, Roy Oswalt name was being thrown around in association with the White Sox, but his recent ankle injury and alleged unwillingness to go the AL makes the idea unlikely. The 'Stros could try to snag Morel as part of a Brett Myers deal instead.
5. Jordan Danks
Oh brother, where art thou? The younger sibling of White Sox southpaw John Danks has earned accolades for his stellar defense, but his bat remains a question mark. A future as a starting player seems unlikely. Instead, his profile seems to fit the role of a speedy, sure-gloved fourth/fifth outfielder who gets on base and works his magic - not unlike the Cubs' Sam Fuld. Like Morel, Danks probably won't be the centerpiece of any deal anytime soon. But he could be a bullet in the bandoleer of players that Kenny Williams fires off in the hunt to find that bat or arm the White Sox need to stay in the race and, we hope, mount a trophy in October.
Who might be looking: Andy MacPhail, President of Baseball Operations of the Baltimore Orioles. In case you haven't heard, things haven't gone well for the O's this season (.319 winning percentage as of this writing, a 100-loss season in the offing). As Baltimore tries to stagger back to its feet in the next couple seasons, the team might look to gamble on Danks' upside and take him as part of a deal to give the Sox left-handed slugger Luke Scott, who would be an ideal DH/1B for the South Siders stretch run.