Updates on nine
1. Rafael Betancourt, RHP, Rockies — He is having a good season, but given Colorado’s poor season, it looks as if he will become trade bait. The Red Sox have shown interest and have scouted him a few times. They would likely not want to give up prospects for the 37-year-old former Sox farmhand, but could offer an outfielder.
2. Ben Sheets, RHP, Braves —He quietly signed a deal with Atlanta July 1, made two minor league rehab starts, and now he’s starting in the majors Sunday for the first time in two years after coming back from multiple elbow surgeries. Sheets, once considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, turns 34 July 18 and will replace Randall Delgado or Mike Minor in the rotation. This would be quite a story if he succeeds, considering he hasn’t pitched a full season in four years.
3. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox — He has been on Pittsburgh’s radar along with Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and Matt Garza. It doesn’t appear the Sox would deal unless they got exceptional value back, and it doesn’t appear the Pirates would part with pitching prospect Gerrit Cole, whom the Sox would want.
4. Starling Marte, RF, Pirates — The Pirates have been searching for offense all season. They passed on Kevin Youkilis and now hope Marte can make a difference coming up from Triple A. Pittsburgh will likely keep pursuing a bat.
5. Justin Upton, RF, Diamondbacks — If Arizona GM Kevin Towers deals him, he wants a package that would include a third baseman and/or shortstop and something else. Towers had no interest in a swap with Boston for Jacoby Ellsbury, who becomes a free agent after next season. Upton is under contract through 2015, earning $9.75 million next year, $14.25 million in 2014, and $14.5 million in 2015. One team he would make sense for is the Pirates, but talks have not escalated into anything substantial. The Rangers, as if they need more offense, have also expressed interest.
6. Jason Vargas, LHP, Mariners — Could he be this year’s Doug Fister? While all of the Seattle talk surrounds Felix Hernandez, who is likely going nowhere, Vargas has emerged as a hot name for contending teams. “It’s too bad his name got out there because I think there were teams out there trying to slip in and take him for less than full value,’’ said one American League GM. “But now he seems to be in demand and the Mariners aren’t going to give him away. He’s a solid middle of the rotation guy who makes a lot of sense for a lot of teams.” Baltimore, Toronto, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, and others may have some interest. The Mariners decided not to pitch him this weekend at Safeco (they said, to give him more rest) where he has a 2.84 ERA, and start him in Kansas City. Vargas has a 5.09 ERA in 11 road starts.
7. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins — The market continues to expand for the comebacking lefty, who keeps building steam (3-2 with a 2.74 ERA over his last eight starts) as he rebounds from a horrible first half. The trick for Terry Ryan is trading him at the right time before he starts to go south again. The Jays, Yankees, and Braves have all scouted him.
8. Josh Willingham, RF, Twins — While it surprised some that the Twins would sign Ryan Doumit to a two-year deal when they should be in sell mode, Ryan is thinking ahead to next season. He knows Doumit can relieve Joe Mauer of some catching duties. He also believes Willingham is too good a hitter to just give away. While Ryan will listen to offers for Willingham, who makes $7 million, unless he gets overwhelmed by an offer there is one player who may be staying put.
9. Nick Hagadone, LHP, Indians —
From the Bill Chuck files: