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Aces Wild: Plenty of pitchers available as deadline draws near

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Major League Baseball's trade deadline is just over a month away and naturally, starting pitching is going to be in demand. But, for the first time in recent memory, there seems to be an abundance of big-time pitchers who could actually become available come July 31.

Of course, the name you are going to hear the most is that of Carsten Charles Sabathia.

The big lefty is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, and the Indians - who are floundering near the bottom of the AL Central - seem intent on getting what they can for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner now, rather than picking up the two draft picks they would certainly recoup when he leaves.

If you believe the reports, Indians general manager Mark Shapiro is in the process of making one last-ditch effort to get his ace signed to an extension. If that doesn't work out, though, you can bet your last dollar that Shapiro will be on the horn with every GM in the league.

You might remember how well things worked out for Shapiro and the Indians the last time they dealt an ace at the deadline. In the summer of 2002, the Tribe shipped Bartolo Colon to Montreal for four prospects - Lee Stevens, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore. The last two are a big part of the Indians now, while across the state, the Reds' Phillips is one of the best young second basemen in baseball.

The Yankees are the would-be suitors connected most often with Sabathia, but won't be the only ones vying for his services. Tampa Bay could be interested, Boston is always lurking and Philadelphia might be a starter short of being the best team in the National League.

In any event, Sabathia does not figure to be the only big ticket hurler available. So, let's take a look at five other "ace"-type pitchers who could be pitching elsewhere in a few weeks:

BEN SHEETS - Like Sabathia, Sheets is going to become a free agent at season's end, and will likely have a new address next season. The thing with Sheets, though, is that he has arguably been the best pitcher in the NL this season, and the Brewers are right in thick of both the NL Central and wild card races, meaning they are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline. The Brewers have also been mentioned as a dark horse in the Sabathia Sweepstakes. Maybe they will try and pair Sheets with Sabathia and make a huge run this year. At best they win a World Series. At worst they wind up with four premium picks in next year's draft.

RICH HARDEN - There haven't been many pitchers better than Harden this season. In fact, there aren't many better than Harden when he pitches, period. But, therein lies the reason he is available. He was limited to 13 starts over the last two years and has been on the DL six times in the last four years. He's managed to stay relatively healthy since returning from a shoulder strain in mid-May and not coincidentally, the A's are still a part of the postseason hunt. It might seem crazy to deal their ace at this point, but then again, Billy Beane always has a plan and Harden could be the ultimate "sell high while you can" guy for the GM.

ROY OSWALT - Oswalt has a full no-trade clause, is one of the winningest pitchers in the league over the past couple of years, and is signed through at least 2011. So why would be he available? I have no idea, but his name always seems to come up in these types of discussions. This year will be no different, since the only race the Astros figure to be involved in is the one to stay out of the cellar in the NL Central.

ERIK BEDARD - Bedard hasn't been anywhere near the ace the Seattle Mariners thought he would be when they mortgaged their future to get him this past offseason. In fact, he has been downright awful. Putting aside the fact that he has been wildly inconsistent on the mound for a moment, Bedard is just not a gamer. I don't know what it is, but he doesn't have it. At the first sign of a sore hip, or a tired arm, or a bad fingernail, whatever, he shuts it down. At some point he is going to have to learn to pitch with these little aches and pains with which all players must contend. Plus, there are rumblings that he may not be the best teammate either. Still, he is 29 and teams will be falling over themselves again to get him if he becomes available.

ROY HALLADAY - You might think I am crazy on this one, but hear me out. This Jays team is going nowhere. Year in, year out, you hear this is the season that the Jays are going to threaten the Red Sox and Yankees in the East. It never happens, and now they have been passed over by the Rays. What better way to break it all up and go in a different direction than dealing Halladay. Toronto would get a ton in return for him, and since he still has two years left on his contract at a reasonable price, five-top notch prospects would not be too much to ask. I know this one is probably a long shot, but don't think for one second that this hasn't been discussed in Toronto.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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