Four teams are already at least 7.5 games out of a playoff spot and two of them, the Angels and Blue Jays, were expected to be two of the top contenders in baseball. The Astros and Marlins, to no one's surprise, are the others. While the Angels and Blue Jays aren't anywhere close to giving up on the season, Houston and Miami could go into "sell" mode at any time.
In fact, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman named a Marlins pitcher, Ricky Nolasco (3.72 ERA in eight starts), and an Astros pitcher, Bud Norris (3.40 ERA, quality starts in five of last six outings), as the top two, respectively, on his list of starting pitchers most likely to be traded. Nolasco's teammate, Kevin Slowey (2.55 ERA in eight starts), is 16th on the list, and Norris' teammate, Lucas Harrell (4.67 ERA, only 1 ER allowed in five of eight starts), is ninth.
Starting pitchers are rarely traded this early in the season, but it's possible that these two teams, in all-out rebuilding mode, would be willing to make a deal. Of course, only Nolasco is eligible for free agency after the season, so he's the most likely to be dealt in the next few weeks or at all.
Another team expected to be a "seller," the last place Chicago Cubs have four starting pitchers among Heyman's top eight likely to be traded. While they won't trade all four, it's easy to see them trading two of them, with free agents-to-be Scott Feldman and Matt Garza most likely headed elsewhere.
General manager Jed Hoyer still believes there's time to turn things around and isn't looking forward to selling if they do fall out of the race. Agreeing with first baseman Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year contract extension on Sunday is another move focused toward the future, which Hoyer will very likely be doing in July when contending teams are asking about his starting rotation.
Phillies Willing To Trade Players With Multi-Year Contracts?
A less than inspiring start (18-21) coupled with the loss of Roy Halladay, possibly for the season with a shoulder injury, has just about every Phillies veteran likely to end up in trade rumors. But as one Phillies insider told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, it's unlikely they trade starting pitcher Cliff Lee unless the "return was so overwhelming that we'd be dumb to pass it up."
The 34-year-old Lee, who is making $25 million in 2013 and each of the next two seasons to go along with a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, is having another terrific season (2.86 ERA, 56.2 IP, 52 H, 9 BB, 43 K). He could block trades to 21 teams, and with the Phillies only a few games out of a playoff spot, it's not even worth talking about at this point.
First baseman Ryan Howard also has a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to 21 teams and he's ridiculously overpaid ($93 million owed from the trade deadline through 2016), but David Murphy of The Philadelphia Inquirer thinks the Phillies should make trading him their top priority.
Murphy acknowledges that they Phillies will have to eat a good portion of his salary, but any savings could go toward a more productive first baseman next offseason. Corey Hart, Michael Morse and Mark Reynolds are all eligible for free agency after the season.
The biggest obstacle would be convincing another team that the 33-year-old Howard still has something left in the tank. He's one for his last 19 with no walks and 10 strikeouts, and his OPS is down to .734.
Expendable Backup Catchers
Two veteran backup catchers could be available in the coming weeks. With Brian McCann back from the disabled list and rookie Evan Gattis proving that he's more than capable of handling a backup role, MLB.com's Mark Bowman writes that the Braves could trade Gerald Laird to free up a roster spot once Jason Heyward returns from the disabled list. The other options, if they were going to keep Gattis on the major league roster, would be to designate one of their backup outfielders, Reed Johnson or Jordan Schafer, for assignment or go with a six-man bullpen.
The 33-year-old Laird, who is off to a 10-for-34 start at the plate, has some value to the Braves beyond 2013, though. He is signed through 2014 and would be a good mentor for Gattis or prospect Christian Bethancourt if McCann departs as a free agent.
Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, currently serving a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, could be back by the end of the month, meaning the Padres will soon have to make a decision on who will be his backup.
Nick Hundley had a strong April (.901 OPS) and would be a good trade chip once they feel comfortable enough with Grandal being their everyday catcher again. The 29-year-old Hundley is 1-for-29 in May, however, so he'll have to heat up again to build up his value if the Padres are going to trade him before he's stuck in a part-time role behind Grandal.
If the Padres choose to keep both, which might not be the best idea considering Hundley's recent comments (via the Union-Tribune) about Grandal being unproven aside from a "couple good months on steroids," John Baker would be the odd man out. Dennis Lin of the Union-Tribune wrote about Baker's frame of mind as he knows a decision is looming in the next few weeks.