The Marlins have publicly insisted they want to keep Dontrelle Willis, not trade him, but multiple Major League sources said Thursday the Fish have changed positions and are now willing to listen to trade proposals centered around the talented lefty.
The sources stressed the Marlins are not actively shopping Willis, but have apparently softened their stance and are now considering the potential returns.
A change in strategy wouldn't be all that surprising. Willis hasn't pitched well, and the Marlins have fallen farther out of the postseason picture.
The 25-year-old southpaw is 7-10 with a 5.15 ERA, and he hasn't won since May 29. He is making $6.45 million this season and is arbitration-eligible through the 2009 season. But it may be difficult for the Marlins to afford him, and with the market for pitching what it is this year, the time may be ripe for a Marlins team which has fallen six games under .500 and 10 behind the Mets in the National League East to become sellers.
In such a thin market as this, a talent like Willis, even though he hasn't pitched up to his usual levels, would instantly become the hottest commodity and almost certaintly bring a hefty return.
Elsewhere Thursday on yet another quiet day on the trade front:
Braves: The Braves' talks with the Rangers about acquiring first baseman Mark Teixeira continued Thursday. There's no indication yet whether the two sides were any closer on a deal. Atlanta emerged as the favorite to get Teixeira, the most prolific bat on the market, earlier this week. The Braves' biggest needs are at first base and the bullpen, so Teixeira could be packaged with a reliever.
Brewers: The Brewers bolstered their bullpen Wednesday by trading for Padres right-hander Scott Linebrink, who recently lost his job as San Diego's setup man, but whom the Brewers still fancied for his mid-90s fastball and durability. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin gave up three Minor League pitchers, including right-hander Wil Inman, the organization's third-best prospect, according to Baseball America. Melvin so far has resisted dealing outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who has been the subject of several trade rumors.
Cardinals: If the Cardinals do turn into sellers by the July 31 deadline, one of the players that would likely be targeted by other clubs is relief pitcher Russ Springer. Springer is having an excellent year for the Cards, working in 46 games and posting a 2.92 ERA. However, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said St. Louis would be very careful with Springer. Springer signed with the Cards in the offseason, largely because he wanted his son, who is autistic, to go to a specific school in St. Louis. La Russa said the Cards would only trade Springer for a "can't-miss, can't-turn-down-the-deal player."
La Russa also mentioned right fielder Juan Encarnacion's name as a player that could draw interest by other teams before the deadline.
Cubs, Nationals: The Cubs appear to have renewed their interest in Washington's Ryan Church as a fourth outfielder for their stretch run. The Cubs originally inquired about him during the Winter Meetings, but nothing came of that. The same obstacle may be in place this time: GM Jim Bowden is asking a high price for the young player. So far this season, Church is hitting .259 with seven home runs, numbers that are considerably down from 2006. He said he's not going to let the trade talk bother him.
"It's not up to me," Church said. "I have no control over it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. You have to look at it as another opportunity."
The Nationals are close to signing Dmitri Young to a two-year extension, according to multiple sources. Young is Washington's most important player this season. A leader in the clubhouse and on the field, he was leading the Nationals in hitting (.331), RBIs (52) and on-base percentage (.386) entering Thursday's action.
Devil Rays: Add the Red Sox to the list of teams possibly pursuing Rays utility infielder Ty Wigginton. The Boston Globe reported Thursday that the 29-year-old is in Boston's sights, although neither side is rumored to be nearing an actual trade just yet.
The Miami Herald also reported that the Marlins would look for a young name for a long-term fix in center field. Rays infielder/outfielder B.J. Upton is rumored to be on the list of names, although it's unlikely Tampa Bay would be willing to part with him just yet.
Diamondbacks: GM Josh Byrnes reiterated Wednesday that the D-backs would not give up any top prospects for a player in the final year of his contract, and that his club is "definitely not" a seller.
"Any trade now either helps '07 or also has some long-term benefit to us," Byrnes told MLB.com.
Although the offense has struggled much of the year, Arizona is targeting young starting pitching, with Livan Hernandez eligible for free agency and Randy Johnson's future health uncertain. Byrnes said he would consider dealing an outfielder in Arizona's system not named Justin Upton for a pitcher with "long-term value," but no deal is imminent.
Dodgers: The Dodgers received bad news regarding their already decimated pitching staff Wednesday, and it looks like GM Ned Colletti will have to make a move come July 31. Starting pitcher Randy Wolf will probably need two more rehab starts after struggling Wednesday at Class A, left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo underwent a fourth elbow operation and looks to be lost for the season and now, workhorse Derek Lowe appears to be headed to the 15-day disabled list with a strained groin, which forced him out of Wednesday's start.
Indians: General manager Mark Shapiro is currently in Buffalo watching the Triple-A Bisons, perhaps a sign that he's giving a couple prospects one last look before making decisions whether to trade -- or promote -- them. That Jeremy Sowers started Wednesday and Aaron Laffey pitches on Thursday is likely not a coincidence. Laffey has been outstanding and appears on the verge of making it to Cleveland, while, if the deal was right, the Indians might be open to parting with Sowers, though his trade value has diminished.
Mariners: Seattle has scouted several starting pitchers recently, including Florida's Willis and Houston's Jason Jennings, but apparently is not close on any trades.
Mets: Rumors continue to swirl on several fronts. The Mets could land Jose Contreras for the rotation, but first they must decide if he's a big enough upgrade over what they already have. They could spring for Sammy Sosa's bat, but first they must figure out how low Texas is willing to sell. And they could nab any one of Mark Grudzielanek, Mark Loretta or Wigginton to play second base, but first they must decide whether or not incumbents Ruben Gotay and Damion Easley have what it takes to play every day. One thing, however, remains clear. The Mets aren't liable to make a major deal unless an ace pitcher is made available, and that likelihood seems lessened with each passing day.
Phillies: Philadelphia is interested in Twins prospect Kevin Slowey, but the Phillies say Pat Burrell isn't headed to Minnesota, the Philadelphia Daily News reported Wednesday. Burrell has a full no-trade clause and hefty salary obligation, making him an unattractive trade candidate.
Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who was in Ottawa on Saturday to watch Slowey, also took in Toronto pitcher Josh Towers' outing the same day. Manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday he was only warm to trading for a top-of-the-rotation pitcher and, if one couldn't be had, would rather work with his current staff. The Phillies likely don't have the pieces to land an arm of that caliber.
Pirates: In a market that is desperate for relief pitching, the Pirates bullpen is getting scrutinized. A day after Salomon Torres had been mentioned in a possible trade to the Yankees, the Newark Star Ledger reported the Yankees are interested in the right-hander.
Also, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the Dodgers, who are looking for bullpen help, have been scouting the Pirates. Damaso Marte and Shawn Chacon are other relievers who could potentially be dealt.
Red Sox: The Bobby Kielty rumors persist in Boston, where The Boston Herald reported the Red Sox could trade recently designated for assignment right-hander Joel Pineiro to Oakland, after finding a suitor for Wily Mo Pena. A report in The Boston Globe indicates the Red Sox could be pursuing bigger fish. Boston is interested in Wigginton, according to The Globe. Other names include Teixeira, Jermaine Dye and Dodgers prospect Andy LaRoche.
Rockies: The Denver Post reports that the Detroit Tigers have sent scouts to check out first baseman Joe Koshansky and third baseman Ian Stewart of Triple-A Colorado Springs. Koshansky leads the Pacific League in RBIs, and Stewart has regained the form this season that made him the top prospect in the Rockies' organization after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Reports have also resurfaced out of Boston that the Red Sox are interested in Todd Helton again, but with Helton's veto power, a trade is unlikely. The Rockies, meanwhile, are interested in a late-inning reliever. They've shown interest in the Red Sox's Julian Tavarez and Manny Delcarmen, the Rangers' Akinori Otsuka and the Yankees' Kyle Farnsworth. Veteran lefty Brian Fuentes, who is up for arbitration after this season, could be dealt for another arm if he proves he's healthy once he returns from the disabled list.
Royals: Grudzielanek and Reggie Sanders were not traded to the Mets and Diamondbacks, respectively, on Wednesday night. There were rumors and speculation that Grudzielanek was held out of the starting lineup because of a trade, but MLB.com reported that it was just a day off, and Grudzielanek was seen with the team postgame. Both players have been the subject of several trade rumors.
Twins: The St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday night that the Twins are one of four teams seriously looking at Wigginton. The Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees are the other teams in contention presently. The Devil Rays would most likely want a pitcher to improve their bullpen in exchange for Wigginton, something that Minnesota could provide. Wigginton has said he would be open to signing a long-term deal. Wigginton is hitting .274 this season, with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. The 29-year-old's salary is set to exceed $4 million next season.
Yankees: In what appears to be a sudden change in direction as the trade deadline draws near, the Yankees may have found a trading partner for Farnsworth, according to the New York Post. The Tigers are looking to put together a package fit to bring the right-handed reliever back to Detroit, where he pitched 46 games for the Tigers in 2005. What the Yankees would receive in exchange would depend on how much of Farnsworth's contract -- he's making $5.25 million this season and 5.5 million next season -- they pick up, according to the report.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.