Billy Beane's nondenial coupled with Jon Heyman's rumor from a couple of days ago got me thinking some more about Barry Zito. Said Heyman:
"If Zito makes it to free agency, a friend of Zito's said he believes the Mets and Yankees are co-favorites to sign him."
That's certainly logical. Heyman also mentioned that Beane wants three younger, cheaper players for Zito if a trade is to take place. That's certainly been his requirement in the past. What I'm wondering is: which contenders meet the minimum requirement of stud prospects and young guns?
I'll use Baseball America's Top 50 as a guide for requirement #1: stud prospect. See Daric Barton (#32 in 2005, #28 this year) and Dan Meyer (yes, I know Meyer didn't pan out so far but he was ranked #43 in 2005). Which contenders even have a top 50 type guy?
Well, there's the Angels. They've got Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar in the top 50. Aybar could be a longshot, but even that is doubtful.
Then there's Minnesota, with Francisco Liriano. There's no way in hell he's traded.
The Dodgers have Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Joel Guzman, and Russell Martin. They're stacked.
The Tigers have Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, and Joel Zumaya. Zumaya was in a Javier Vazquez rumor this winter along with Curtis Granderson...for Tigers fans' sake I hope that discussion never even occurred.
The Tribe boasts Andy Marte and Adam Miller. The Mets have Lastings Milledge and Mike Pelfrey. The Giants have Matt Cain. The BrewCrew has Prince Fielder, Mark Rogers, and Ryan Braun.
The Braves have Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The Red Sox have Jon Lester and Jon Papelbon. The White Sox have Bobby Jenks. The Cubs have Felix Pie. The Yanks have Philip Hughes. The Cards have Anthony Reyes. The Blue Jays have Dustin McGowan.
15 contenders with at least one top 50 prospect. We can cross the Twins and Giants off the list - those pitchers aren't getting traded. That leaves 13 clubs. Which of these have a need for a starting pitcher? (I'm going to eliminate teams that don't need Zito, though it's not unprecedented for a club to trade for a starter they don't need.)
The Dodger rotation is five-deep, and I think it'll be fine. Plus, Billingsley is the sixth man. The Angels are also set right now. The Tigers are the same way, with Zumaya ready to step in. Cleveland doesn't have the need, and the Brewers are fine. The White Sox and Blue Jays appear to be covered as well.
So here are the teams that need a guy like Zito and have a top 50 prospect: Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Mets, and Cardinals. Let's take a closer look at these six.
Braves - They're going with Smoltz, Hudson, Davies, Sosa, and Thomson as their front five. They have at least two backups in Horacio Ramirez and Chuck James. Atlanta was shopping Thomson recently, so I'd take that as a sign that they're willing to look within if their starting pitching fails them (and I think it will). While the team has shown a willingness to trade top prospects in the past, they seem like the least likely suitor for Zito.
Cubs - The Cubs have something resembling starting pitching depth, but have learned the folly of counting on Prior and Wood to save their season. With Pie and young arms like Rich Hill and Angel Guzman, the Cubs have the goods and perhaps the desire to acquire Zito.
Cardinals - They have a ton of impending free agents in their starting rotation, so a trade-and-sign could make sense here. Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright make for an intriguing starting point. A failure by Ponson and a strange unwillingness to turn to Reyes could mean Walt Jocketty gets involved.
Red Sox - Ah, yes. So they want to keep Papelbon at closer and can't get anything out of David Wells? And they want to keep Zito off the Yankees at least until 2007? The fit is clear. Lester and Dustin Pedroia would spark Beane's interest for sure.
Yankees - They're going to trade for a starting pitcher; it's only a matter of how soon. I outlined the four trade candidates in my Torii Hunter post.
Mets - As you know, it's all about Milledge. Why would Beane do this for anything less? He holds the cards. If there's no Milledge, I have to think there's no deal. You can only pump up Brian Bannister's value so much.
My prediction: Zito goes to the Yankees at the deadline. But it's got to be one of these six teams, right?
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