Five potential trades that could decide the playoff races

Baseball’s trade season is upon us. That means weeks of speculation (six-plus weeks to be exact), a ton of rumors (some that even make sense) and a bunch of deals that won’t make a difference in the standings (see: Conor Jackson for Sam Demel).

Well, here are five trades to root for because of the impact they would have on the pennant races. Although they merely are speculation now, stay tuned.

1. Cliff Lee to the Dodgers
What it would mean: Lee will be the biggest difference-maker available before July 31. He has pitched into the seventh inning in all nine of his starts and has a 2.88 ERA, and his 4-3 record would be much better if the Mariners had not totaled five runs in his losses. "Cliff’s been outstanding," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu says. "It’s just a shame the offense hasn’t stepped up for him."

Put such a proven No. 1 on the Dodgers and they become favorites to beat the Phillies in the NLCS — should the teams meet in that round for the third consecutive season. L.A.’s lineup is just about as potent as Philly’s, and that’s when Philly is at full strength. The Dodgers’ bullpen is better because it has Jonathan Broxton and the Phillies have Brad Lidge. Now check the potential rotation matchups: Lee-Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw-Cole Hamels, Vicente Padilla-J.A. Happ and Chad Billingsley-Joe Blanton.

Why it could happen: It’s time for the Dodgers’ ownership to do something that doesn’t embarrass the club, and Lee already has said he will test the free-agent market after the season. Because he will be owed "only" about $4.5 million for the second half, trading Lee should net the Mariners a far superior package to the compensation picks he would bring if they lost him as a free agent.

Why it might not: The Dodgers figure to have plenty of competition for Lee’s services. He also could transform the hopes of the Mets, Twins and Rangers, to name a few.

Paul Konerko has worked with Mike Scioscia before and might be a good fit for the Angels now.
Paul Konerko has worked with Mike Scioscia before and might be a good fit for the Angels now.

2. Paul Konerko to the Angels
What it would mean: The void at first base created by Kendry Morales’ broken leg wouldn’t have to be filled by a catcher and utility players. Konerko has been one of the game’s top sluggers for the past seven seasons, and his 17 homers and 46 RBIs would lead the Angels this season. Los Angeles is 12-5 since Morales’ injury, but the fill-ins at first base don’t deserve much of the credit. The quartet of Mike Napoli, Robb Quinlan, Michael Ryan and Kevin Frandsen has supplied six RBIs, no homers and a .254 average (17-for-67) while sharing first in Morales’ absence.

Why it could happen: The third-place White Sox are five games under .500, trail the division-leading Twins by 7 1/2 games and have provided little evidence to suggest a turnaround is coming. Why not save what is left on Konerko’s $12 million salary for this season and get a decent prospect in return? After all, the White Sox could try to bring back Konerko when he becomes a free agent in the fall.

Why it might not: Trading Konerko wouldn’t be good for ticket sales because it would signal that the club is giving up on the season. Konerko must approve any trade, but that probably wouldn’t be much of a stumbling block with the Angels. Konerko knows manager Mike Scioscia from their time together with the Dodgers. Besides, who wouldn’t want to play for a contender in Southern California?

3. Roy Oswalt to the Mets
What it would mean: Put Oswalt (or Dan Haren, for that matter) with Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey and the Mets’ rotation would have as strong a top three as any in the majors. Combine such a top-heavy rotation with a lineup that has been one of the NL’s highest scoring for the past month and the Mets might not finish ahead of the Phillies, but they would move to the forefront of the wild-card chase.

Why it could happen: Oswalt’s desire to be traded only will get stronger as the Astros continue to fade, and the Mets are one of the few clubs that could take on Oswalt’s contract. He is due $15 million this season, $16 million in 2011 and has a $16 million club option for 2012.

Why it might not: The Astros, reluctant to trade their stars, likely would expect a return similar to what Lee will bring. That won’t happen unless Houston agrees to pay a chunk of Oswalt’s contract — and good luck with that. Also, Oswalt has full no-trade protection and might not consider the Mets a serious enough contender to warrant relocating to the big city.

4. Corey Hart to the Padres
What it would mean: The surprising Padres need a bat and Hart has been wielding a big one. He leads the NL with 17 homers. Put him in right field and beside Adrian Gonzalez in the batting order and the Padres’ pop-gun attack would become a lot more formidable.

Why it could happen: The Brewers need pitching and the Padres have plenty. And even the Padres could afford what would be left on Hart’s $4.8 million contract.

Why it might not: Milwaukee might decide it needs to hang on to Hart in case it can’t afford to keep Prince Fielder long term.

5. Mike Lowell to the Twins
What it would mean: Lowell would be an ideal fit for the Twins because he is the kind of proven postseason performer who could help them (finally) hang with the Yankees. He also would fill the biggest need in their lineup — third base — and the club is deep enough to keep him fresh. Even though he has been limited to 79 at-bats, Lowell’s two homers equal the output of Twins’ third basemen in 211 at-bats.

Why it could happen: Sooner or later, the Red Sox will give in to Lowell’s wishes and move him to a place where he won’t be stuck to the bench. Because Lowell will become a free agent after the season, the Twins would not be on the hook for another long-term deal.

Why it might not: Boston now seems reluctant to eat most of Lowell’s salary, as it planned to do when it tried to trade him to the Rangers prior to the season. Because he has not been able to get on the field enough to prove he is healthy, teams will be reluctant to pay much for Lowell.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Baseball’s trade season is upon us. That means weeks of speculation (six-plus weeks to be exact), a ton of rumors (some that even make sense) and a bunch of deals that won’t make a difference in the standings (see: Conor Jackson for Sam Demel).

Well, here are five trades to root for because of the impact they would have on the pennant races. Although they merely are speculation now, stay tuned.

1. Cliff Lee to the Dodgers
What it would mean: Lee will be the biggest difference-maker available before July 31. He has pitched into the seventh inning in all nine of his starts and has a 2.88 ERA, and his 4-3 record would be much better if the Mariners had not totaled five runs in his losses. "Cliff’s been outstanding," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu says. "It’s just a shame the offense hasn’t stepped up for him."

Put such a proven No. 1 on the Dodgers and they become favorites to beat the Phillies in the NLCS — should the teams meet in that round for the third consecutive season. L.A.’s lineup is just about as potent as Philly’s, and that’s when Philly is at full strength. The Dodgers’ bullpen is better because it has Jonathan Broxton and the Phillies have Brad Lidge. Now check the potential rotation matchups: Lee-Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw-Cole Hamels, Vicente Padilla-J.A. Happ and Chad Billingsley-Joe Blanton.

Why it could happen: It’s time for the Dodgers’ ownership to do something that doesn’t embarrass the club, and Lee already has said he will test the free-agent market after the season. Because he will be owed "only" about $4.5 million for the second half, trading Lee should net the Mariners a far superior package to the compensation picks he would bring if they lost him as a free agent.

Why it might not: The Dodgers figure to have plenty of competition for Lee’s services. He also could transform the hopes of the Mets, Twins and Rangers, to name a few.

Paul Konerko has worked with Mike Scioscia before and might be a good fit for the Angels now.
Paul Konerko has worked with Mike Scioscia before and might be a good fit for the Angels now.

2. Paul Konerko to the Angels
What it would mean: The void at first base created by Kendry Morales’ broken leg wouldn’t have to be filled by a catcher and utility players. Konerko has been one of the game’s top sluggers for the past seven seasons, and his 17 homers and 46 RBIs would lead the Angels this season. Los Angeles is 12-5 since Morales’ injury, but the fill-ins at first base don’t deserve much of the credit. The quartet of Mike Napoli, Robb Quinlan, Michael Ryan and Kevin Frandsen has supplied six RBIs, no homers and a .254 average (17-for-67) while sharing first in Morales’ absence.

Why it could happen: The third-place White Sox are five games under .500, trail the division-leading Twins by 7 1/2 games and have provided little evidence to suggest a turnaround is coming. Why not save what is left on Konerko’s $12 million salary for this season and get a decent prospect in return? After all, the White Sox could try to bring back Konerko when he becomes a free agent in the fall.

Why it might not: Trading Konerko wouldn’t be good for ticket sales because it would signal that the club is giving up on the season. Konerko must approve any trade, but that probably wouldn’t be much of a stumbling block with the Angels. Konerko knows manager Mike Scioscia from their time together with the Dodgers. Besides, who wouldn’t want to play for a contender in Southern California?

3. Roy Oswalt to the Mets
What it would mean: Put Oswalt (or Dan Haren, for that matter) with Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey and the Mets’ rotation would have as strong a top three as any in the majors. Combine such a top-heavy rotation with a lineup that has been one of the NL’s highest scoring for the past month and the Mets might not finish ahead of the Phillies, but they would move to the forefront of the wild-card chase.

Why it could happen: Oswalt’s desire to be traded only will get stronger as the Astros continue to fade, and the Mets are one of the few clubs that could take on Oswalt’s contract. He is due $15 million this season, $16 million in 2011 and has a $16 million club option for 2012.

Why it might not: The Astros, reluctant to trade their stars, likely would expect a return similar to what Lee will bring. That won’t happen unless Houston agrees to pay a chunk of Oswalt’s contract — and good luck with that. Also, Oswalt has full no-trade protection and might not consider the Mets a serious enough contender to warrant relocating to the big city.

4. Corey Hart to the Padres
What it would mean: The surprising Padres need a bat and Hart has been wielding a big one. He leads the NL with 17 homers. Put him in right field and beside Adrian Gonzalez in the batting order and the Padres’ pop-gun attack would become a lot more formidable.

Why it could happen: The Brewers need pitching and the Padres have plenty. And even the Padres could afford what would be left on Hart’s $4.8 million contract.

Why it might not: Milwaukee might decide it needs to hang on to Hart in case it can’t afford to keep Prince Fielder long term.

5. Mike Lowell to the Twins
What it would mean: Lowell would be an ideal fit for the Twins because he is the kind of proven postseason performer who could help them (finally) hang with the Yankees. He also would fill the biggest need in their lineup — third base — and the club is deep enough to keep him fresh. Even though he has been limited to 79 at-bats, Lowell’s two homers equal the output of Twins’ third basemen in 211 at-bats.

Why it could happen: Sooner or later, the Red Sox will give in to Lowell’s wishes and move him to a place where he won’t be stuck to the bench. Because Lowell will become a free agent after the season, the Twins would not be on the hook for another long-term deal.

Why it might not: Boston now seems reluctant to eat most of Lowell’s salary, as it planned to do when it tried to trade him to the Rangers prior to the season. Because he has not been able to get on the field enough to prove he is healthy, teams will be reluctant to pay much for Lowell.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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