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Trader Joe on the Mound

   by Ben Burns - 06/28/2008

We’ve reached the halfway point of the season and it’s already become clear which teams will be in the pennant race and how they got there. The more important point for the next four weeks is what do teams need to add, before the trading deadline in late July. This is when a good general manager in baseball can really earn his paycheck.

GM's and their staff have to balance the team’s needs with the budget plus player contracts. July is like the stock market floor in baseball, a time to shop, trade and dump commodities and contracts. Contending teams will be shoppers, but all teams have important decisions to make.

Take Ben Sheets in Milwaukee. The Brewers have a winning record and are trailing the Cubs by 5 games. A second half surge is a strong possibility. In fact, if the playoffs started today the Brewers would miss the Wild Card by only a single game (behind St. Louis). However, Milwaukee ace Sheets is in his contract year. Asked this week about what he intends to do – sign or sit it out – Sheets didn’t hesitate:

'It would be pretty tough not to test the market,' Sheets said. 'We're getting pretty deep into the season. It would be hard not to, especially when you put together a big year. You can't invite yourself back.'

Sheets was referring to the club's decision not to try to negotiate a new deal before or during the 2008 season. General manager Doug Melvin has said that he preferred not to address Sheets' contract status until after the season. That decision is based on the series of injuries Sheets suffered during the first three years of the four-year, $38.5 million deal he signed prior to the 2005 season.

Now, as a GM what do you do? Melvin didn’t make a great decision in spring training, as Sheets is having the kind of year every free agent-to-be-covets, 9-1 with a 2.59 ERA, with a league-best three complete games. You can stockpile your team with young talent by trading him now. Of course, that would make remaining in the playoff race very difficult.

The Indians are in a similar boat with ace C.C. Sabathia, who has returned to form, after a rough April. He can leave as a free agent when the season ends, so do you deal the ace in July for prospects, or hope for a second half surge? As disappointing as the Indians have been, no one is really taking charge in the AL Central. And the pain in Fausto Carmona's hip has disappeared, allowing him to restart his throwing program so he will be back soon. Who wouldn’t want a second half rotation anchored by Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Carmona?

And what do you do if you’re the GM of the Cubs? Their long suffering fans have a legitimate chance this season, a terrific all around team. Yet, ace Carlos Zambrano is on the shelf, hoping to be back by the All Star break. You can remain patient and hope the ace returns healthy. Or you can start to worry like when you see the Orioles shell Jason Marquis this week, an 11-4 romp over the Cubs. The Cubs went 1-5 against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. As well as the Cubs have played, they are in a competitive division with the Cards and Brewers not too far behind. Buy? Sell? Add depth, or stick with that you have?

Think the underachieving Yankees and Mets will be shopping for pitching? The Mets are outspending the combined efforts of the Phillies and Marlins by nearly $18 million, yet trail both in the NL East. The two NY teams play each other this weekend and the Yanks started Dan Giese and Sidney Ponson in a doubleheader, with Darrell Rasner going two days later! The two teams have a combined $347 million payroll, but it still wasn’t enough to buy five reliable starters. You can be sure they will be trading for starters in July, all of which makes the next few weeks a fascinating chess game that can fuel a second half run. Enjoy the action and best of luck!

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