2. Greg Maddux: As the Padres sink to embarrassing lows, the odds that Maddux will go increase. He's got full no-trade powers and, during a conversation earlier this month, said he would not even think about a potential deal and whether or not to accept it until after the All-Star break because, even though the Padres were scuffling, "it's baseball. And anything can happen."
Well, yes. But even in baseball's U.S.S. Titanic division, where Arizona's 40-40 mark topped the motley crew on Saturday, the Padres are playing possum-crossing-the-road to everyone else's 18-wheeler. For Maddux to even be associated with this stink demeans him and should humiliate the Padres for an incompetent philosophical shift. The front-office computers projected a 90-win season? Can you say, "virus"?
"I could see someone doing that, I really could," says one NL scout of a Maddux trade. "He knows how to pitch. That's the bottom line. He can still get guys out. And he's healthy."
Says one Padres source: "If the right team comes along, I'm sure he'd go."
The right team very well could be the Chicago Cubs (imagine, Maddux pitching for them in October) or Atlanta (which still isn't conceding and needs pitching with John Smoltz out for the season).
3. A.J. Burnett: He's still not through that five-year, $55 million deal in Toronto (it runs through 2010). But the Blue Jays, who fired manager John Gibbons earlier this month, remain buried in the basement in the AL East and face the unappetizing reality that even a resuscitated Baltimore club has passed them by.
Burnett, as the Blue Jays have learned, is not a franchise-changer. He likely never will live up to the talent he possesses. And he's not for everyone.
"Not for me," a scout for one NL club looking for pitching says. "Problems here."
The scout was tapping his heart as he said that.
Then he whiffs 11 Braves, as he did Sunday, and teams get crazy with desire as the trade deadline approaches. Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi would be abdicating his responsibility if he doesn't at least cast a line with Burnett and see what he could bring. A package from the Cubs, perhaps?
4. Ben Sheets: This is a good one here. He's finally pitching the way he must for Milwaukee to win. But he's a free agent this winter.
So, which is the bigger risk: A) That the Brewers miss the playoffs again and then lose one of their biggest assets to free agency this winter, or, B) They decide to keep Sheets for a stretch run of chasing the Cubs and Cardinals ... and then he gets hurt again?
Tough choice, that. But I'd opt for B happening first, then A.
"Why not (trade him)?" is the assessment of one NL scout. "I don't think they can afford to sign him."
Sheets has been utterly dominant, going 9-1 with a 2.59 ERA. But in each of the past three seasons, injuries have kept him far beneath the 30-start mark. Shoulders, fingers, ears ... they've all bitten Sheets. Brewers' GM Doug Melvin is on record as saying he prefers not to address Sheets' contract status until after this season, and you can't blame him for that.
But as long as the Brewers remain in the hunt, it will be difficult to deal him unless they get pitching back.
5. Erik Bedard: The trade that was supposed to solidify Seattle as a contender has turned into a colossal bust. Bedard is fragile, prickly and frustrating to management. With every save George Sherrill collects in Baltimore, it's one more reminder -- and outfielder Adam Jones was supposed to be the center piece (and still may be).
The Mariners face little choice but to blow up their roster, and if they could find a contender interested in Bedard, they could start the upgrade. Problem is, the guy probably is worth only 50 cents on the dollar given how disappointing he's been.
"His value, for the price, is not good because of his lingering injuries," one scout says.
An executive of a contending club flatly says his team likely will pass.
"I don't want to get (taken advantage of)," he says. "Lee (Pelekoudas, interim Seattle GM) is going to make his first deal a whopper."