The Bubble Contenders

The importance of spring training won/lost records and performances aside—yes, I’m being sarcastic—certain teams have numerous questions entering the 2011 season. Some will have to make the decision relatively early as to whether to clear out marketable players for the future or move forward and add in a desperate attempt to save the season.

Here are some of the teams whose seasons could go either way from contention to a rapid plummet and the players about whom needy clubs should inquire.

(This is independent of teams like the Pirates and Mariners—we know where their seasons are heading.)

Tampa Bay Rays

They have the ingredients to hang around contention but they have a load of young pitching and veterans like James Shields trying to regain his form; the bullpen has been completely redone; they’ll score, but they could be overmatched in the AL East if they get off to a bad start.

The obvious names to call about at mid-season will be Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon; but I’d call about Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is signed, he’s versatile and coming off a bad year after his star turn in 2009.

Someone would take B.J. Upton—I wouldn’t touch him—but he’s a center fielder and they’re in demand. I’d field offers on him now.

Minnesota Twins

The bullpen—their most underappreciated attribute to winning all these years—was gutted with the departures of Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain; the starting rotation is workmanlike, mediocre and needed that bullpen to survive.

Francisco Liriano will be up for auction if the Twins falter and the Twins will try to hold someone up. If I’m the Yankees, there’s no way I surrender Ivan Nova for Liriano—Nova’s about as useful without the flashy name of Liriano.

Jim Thome would help someone down the stretch and Michael Cuddyer is a pending free agent after the season.

Los Angeles Angels

Scott Kazmir, Joel Pineiro, Bobby Abreu and Fernando Rodney are the pending free agent vets and would be on the trade block if the Angels fall.

But there’s another name who’s worth a shot: Jered Weaver.

The Angels relationship with Weaver’s agent Scott Boras is shaky at best after the Mark Teixeira mess; Weaver and the club are going year-to-year with arbitration threats and settlements. He’s not signing a long-term deal and is a free agent after 2012. He’d be worth a fortune in prospects to clubs like the Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers.

If I were the Yankees, I’d steer clear of Liriano and go after Weaver.

Oakland Athletics

The lovelorn worship of Billy Beane is starting up all over again and I’ve taken a new tack in my attempts to contextualize his so-called “genius”; I call it the “Chris Russo Argument With Ludicrous Leaps Of Logic”. Here it makes sense. Briefly, I call it “win something”.

Enough with being the prom king.

Win something.

No more “genius” and applause based on washing himself with a rag on a stick obese Bart Simpson-style.

Win something.

As for the players, the A’s are a trendy pick for the playoffs, but young pitching fluctuates and there’s no guarantee they’re going to be as good as people think.

Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Mark Ellis, Coco Crisp and Kevin Kouzmanoff would all be on the market if things go badly.

I love the way Willingham hits and the Braves could really use him.

Florida Marlins

They’re heading into a new ballpark in 2012; the division is a nightmare; expectations are unreasonably high.

Javier Vazquez will be in demand if he pitches competently and is healthy. If I were the Marlins, I’d trade Anibal Sanchez before he gets hurt again. Wes Helms could be an asset for a contender with his penchant for clutch homers.

San Diego Padres

The one name on everyone’s lips will be Heath Bell.

A free agent at the end of the year and ready to cash in for the first time in his career, he might make the difference in a championship as a set-up man or closer.

I’m convinced the Padres front office was surprised by their rapid leap into contention last season and, in the long run, it might have been a detriment to the long term plan especially since they faded and missed the playoffs. They did the right thing in trading Adrian Gonzalez last winter and unless Bell agrees to a hometown discount, they have to keep an open mind.

Ryan Ludwick, Jorge Cantu and Brad Hawpe might yield a couple of prospects for a team needing a veteran bat.

Colorado Rockies

I would call Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd and tell him that if their season goes poorly, don’t rule out considering a trade of Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s willing to think outside-the-box and presumably would at least listen to offers; that’s the first step in getting a deal done. It’s unlikely since Jimenez is signed through 2014 for a pittance commensurate with his abilities, but why not ask?

Aaron Cook, Huston Street and possibly Todd Helton would be movable parts who could be of ancillary assistance to a contender.

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  1. #1 by Peter on March 5, 2011 - 3:45 pm

    Interesting analysis. Can’t wait to see how things shake out!

  2. #2 by The Other Mike on March 5, 2011 - 6:52 pm

    You all heard it here first, Paul sez the A’s & Angels will fall by the wayside in 2011, which leaves the Rangers as the decided favorite in the AL West! Boom!

    I hope nobody trades for Cantu. That happened last year and the results would be better forgotten.

  3. #3 by Joe on March 5, 2011 - 8:54 pm

    Or the Mariners, Mike. We know how much Paul likes what the Mariners have done this off-season to improve.

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