1. Who are some players out there that might be available in the coming weeks?
With so many teams still in the race, or believing they are still in the race, the market seems bare. As it stands now, only about eight teams really think they have no chance. It doesn't do much for salary dumps. The Marlins have designated pitcher Al Leiter for assignment but picking him up means having to pay him $4.5 million for the last 2 1/2 months of the season. His former rotation-mate A.J. Burnett continues to be available for trade but expect to have top-level pitching prospects to deal in return.
Here are some other names you may be hearing in trade talks. Pitchers Kyle Lohse and J.C. Romero from the Twins. Both have been effective this year and Lohse is young, but the Twins have holes to fill and might move one for position player depth. Florida third baseman Mike Lowell is available but is scheduled to make $25.5 million through 2007 and is hitting .223 with four home runs. Boston's Bill Mueller would be a nice end-of-season pickup and only costs about $2.5 million.
Joe Randa, the Reds' third baseman, is available to almost anybody, is a free agent at year's end and is making $2.1 million. Shea Hillenbrand could be traded for the right price, which might be high. Matt Stairs would be a great pickup for a team needing another bat or pinch hitter down the stretch. The same is true for Arizona's Tony Clark, who is having a wonderful season with a .324 average, 13 home runs and 47 RBI.
2. Do the Phillies become buyers or sellers?
Philadelphia is in an interesting quandary, still very much in the National League East race, yet the one team that has never seemed to be a serious contender. And a lot more is at stake than just a division race. General Manager Ed Wade is in trouble, and with a $96 million payroll he might be called upon to justify many of his moves in recent years. The team's new stadium is also costing the team a great deal of money in debt service and any attempt to build for the future could send attendance plummeting.
The other problem is, who would the Phillies trade? The most logical player is reliever Billy Wagner, one of the best closers around. Wagner is committed to the Phillies but only as long as the team is serious about winning.
3. Is Ken Macha long for the A's?
The A's want to keep their manager, for whom they dumped a 100-game winner in Art Howe. But Macha tabled contract talks in January mainly because his mother was ill but also because, league sources say, he is frustrated working with General Manager Billy Beane. Oakland's offer included a small raise and a small club buyout after the second year.
Macha may be waiting to see if there could be an opening in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Macha makes around $620,000 but might be looking for a deal that pays closer to $1 million a year.
4. Can Bret Boone help the Twins win the wild card?
The trade that brought him to Minnesota energized the Twins, who have spent the year staring up at Cleveland.
"He can change our lineup tremendously," closer Joe Nathan told the Seattle Times at the All-Star Game. "I'm excited about it, and he sounds excited to come over. I think if we can get the old Bret Boone back, he's going to be a huge playmaker."
Boone loves hitting in the Metrodome and thinks he can revive his old power numbers in a place more that is more hitter-friendly. Still the Twins have scored only 396 runs, 11th in the American League. They lead the wild card race but few believe they can sit still and figure on holding off Boston, Baltimore, New York or maybe even Oakland and Cleveland.
Boone, a Gold Glove second baseman, may play a lot of third for the Twins.
5. Now that they have given up on Corey Patterson, who is the Cubs' center fielder of the future?
Felix Pie is the player they are most excited about. Just 20 years old, Pie might well be in the Chicago outfield now were it not for an ankle injury that came just as the Cubs sent Patterson down to the minors. He is playing for the team's Class AA team at West Tennessee, where he is hitting .304 with 11 home runs and 25 RBI.
Cubs General Manager Ted Hendry recently compared Pie to Kenny Lofton in a Chicago Tribune story, and the Cubs believe he can be a leadoff hitter who can get 10 to 20 home runs a season. There is no timetable for when he might be called up, but it seems the move may be made before September.