Tick-tock, tick-tock …

Here we are, inside one hour to go, and the only deals of the day have been relatively minor ones.

But this is crunch time, and phones are going off all over, with GMs taking final stabs at proposed deals. If you’re Jim Bowden, your holding-out period on Alfonso Soriano is just about over. No sense waiting for a better deal because, if there’s one out there, you would have heard it by now.

The deafening silence out of Boston is an indication that Theo Epstein is working the phones for a BIG deal, not one of those little minnows that have been washing ashore. No way the Red Sox will stay silent through the Yankees’ acquisition of Bobby Abreu. In fact, expect a couple of set-up relievers to also be headed to the Bronx before the hour’s up.

The Astros have rejected offers for Brad Lidge all day. But that doesn’t mean he can’t srtill be had — but Houston would have to get its major offensive upgrade in return. The ‘Stros have an abundant supply of arms — runs are what they need.

The Miguel Tejada storyline may have run its course. Miggy’s statements over the weekend that he would not willingly switch to third base have cooled his most ardent suitors. If anythying, that attitude has prompted both the Angels and Astros to back off their original offers.

Here we go …

I know you’ve all missed me. Especially Jonathan, who perhaps doesn’t get out (of blogsphere) enough to see the stuff we’ve been churning out on MLB.com. But that’s real, and this is Reality, baby, so let’s buckle up for the wild ride to the deadline.

As Miguel Tejada twists in the wind, here is an aspect of his potential deal to the Angels that really intrigues me: If this deal does happen, would it kill his consecutive games streak?

Here’s the deal on that: Tejada is home in Baltimore, where the Orioles open a series against Seattle tomorrow night. But the Angels are in Anaheim, preparing to play the A’s tonight.

A playing streak is defined as appearing in each of your team’s games. If Tejada is dealt to Los Angeles before the deadline, he couldn’t possibly make the Angels’ game tonight. Technically, his streak would have to be over at 1,023 games.

Sounds like Bud Selig would have to make a call on that….

As for making the call on Tejada … Orioles GM Mike Flanagan just doesn’t seem convinced that moving him makes the best sense. Otherwise, how could he not jump at a Houston offer of Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett, even after the Astros withdrew Roy Oswalt from the package?

Likewise, insiders feel the Angels’ offer of Ervin Santana and Ricky Aybar should’ve tempted Flanagan, who instead turned around and also asked for first baseman Casey Kotchman.

Unlike Tejada, Alfonso Soriano is still certain to be moving, although this appears to be a 3:59 p.m. deal.

Other virtual locks to be cleaning out lockers: Jon Lieber, LaTroy Hawkins, Mark Redman. And deals involving Greg Maddux and Julio Lugo make too much sense for the Cubs and Devil Rays, respectively, to hold onto them.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride…

Motown, So-Town?

I don’t know where Alfonso Soriano will be dealt. Or if he’ll be dealt; Nats GM Jim Bowden may be trade talking himself into paralysis, by his own account juggling 27 different teams on his call list.

But I do think Soriano has a better chance now of winding up in Detroit than before. The reason is, the Tigers wanted to have nothing to do with Bowden’s request that its package be topped by right-hander Humberto Sanchez.

But Motown GM Dave Dombrowski’s resolve may have given way just a little on Monday, when Sanchez was scratched from a scheduled start in Toledo by a "tender arm."

Would the Nationals still want Sanchez? Sure. It was a "tender arm," without indication of any structural injury. This is 2006. Pitchers everywhere are always taking a step back at the slightest hint of discomfort — even ones without the future of Futures Game starters, which Sanchez was two weeks ago in Pittsburgh.

Bowden has targeted pitching as his top objective in any deal involving any of his veterans. If Sanchez is still attractive to him, he should again ask Dombrowski about him.

D-Backs against the wall

When Carlos Quentin got his first Major League start the other day at his expense, Luis Gonzalez reacted like he’d been sent to do hard time in San Quentin, not just one night on the Diamondbacks’ bench. But although Gonzo is the one who got his nose all out of joint, Shawn Green may be the one soon leaving the joint.

While the proof admittedly is still pretty slim, Arizona people have been blown away by Quentin’s splashy debut. All three hits in his first eight at-bats have gone for extra bases, meaning the 23-year-old onetime No. 1 draft pick (2003) hasn’t missed a beat after having torched the Pacific Coast League.

This is the type of mid-July development on which general managers get off. Teams have been calling Josh Byrnes about Green, and a youngster who could make that deal work lands in his lap. You want to see a kid for more than three games before pulling the trigger on such a major shift but, by the end of next week, Byrnes will have seen enough.

Gonzalez’s future is also up in the air, but Green’s versatility — he has resumed occasionally playing first base — and left-handed bat makes him more popular among shoppers.

Tempting Soriano

Alfonso Soriano and Jim Bowden are both sitting pretty. Both can soon make a killing. Wherever he is next year, Soriano will again cash in. And wherever he sends him this week, Bowden will do a lot for the Nationals’ future.

There’s considerably more pressure on Bowden, who is holding that rarest baseball commodity — a bona fide superstar for whom the club has no real need. He’s got everybody but the Yukult Swallows clamoring for the left fielder-slash-second baseman-slash-DH … whatever: The guy just rakes.

More and more GMs are diving into the Soriano pool, and his daily performances illustrate why. Rather than be distracted by the daily rumors, Soriano has hit .467 since the All-Star Game break, with nine extra base hits. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) for all of July is an off-the-charts 1,353.

People like to criticize Alfonso because of his occasional brain-drains, whatever position he is playing. But he is the contemporary game’s best dash-and-flash player, and he just turned 30. None of his critics this week will be general managers.

Never mind a cut of Soriano’s next contract. I’d settle for a nickel-a-minute of air time this week between the cell phones of Bowden and his GM colleagues.

At-Batista

Include Miguel Batista among the pitchers in whom the Mets are interested. There is no indication the Diamondbacks want to move him but, if he can be had, the Mets have an inside track.
General managers live in fear of being had, and D-Backs GM Josh Byrnes leans toward doing more business with Omar Minaya after the way his trade of Orlando Hernandez has worked out. In Arizona, Jorge Julio has been lights out, with a 1.69 ERA and nine saves in 10 opportunities and 21 appearances.

Batista’s versatility is impressive. He has reinvented himself as a long-winded starter after spending 2005 in Toronto’s bullpen. Guys like that are invaluable in the postseason, when rotations are compacted, because they can handle a variety of roles. Of course, the Diamondbacks still have plans to be there, too.

Pitching-shoppers aren’t yet taking Kansas City’s Mark Redman seriously; it’s almost like they expect the 32-year-old lefty to come undone every time he takes the mound. But he just keeps digging his groove deeper, and teams should be fighting over him before the deadline.

Especially National League teams, since Redman has virtually dominated the stronger AL for six weeks, and he knows the NL from his experiences with the 2003 Marlins and the 2005 Bucs. Since opening the season 0-5 with a 6.88 ERA through May, Redman has lost once in nine starts — and that was the complete game he dropped, 1-0, Tuesday in Boston.

As long as Julio Lugo keeps talking of a four-year, $35 million free-agent payday — he hasn’t stopped and, really, based on his performances, no reason he should — the Devil Rays will move him before the deadline. Tampa Bay is not in the habit of carrying players in their walk years to the wire.

Lugo and the Blue Jays are a perfect fit. One of the things that has held back the Jays is an inexperienced double-play combination that hasn’t clicked as hoped. Russ Adams’ light bat (.227) and heavy glove (10 errors) at short have kept that key position in flux all season. Aaron Hill settled in better at second, but Adams’ problems have forced John Gibbons to play him on both sides of the bag.

A Lugo at short would anchor Hill at second. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi says he can’t afford Lugo, either, but that’s just posturing, hoping for a better deal. However, this is a given: Ricciardi can’t move on something like this until he has worked out a trade for Shea Hillenbrand — designated for assignment last night — and gotten most of his salary (about $2.5 million remaining of his $5.8 million deal) off the payroll.

Shea hey

Fuses are getting short in Toronto. Ridiculously short. Cutting hypersensitive Shea Hillenbrand is a stunning development, for at least three reasons.

One: The Blue Jays are in the middle of a pennant race, and they just sacrificed their most experienced bat on the bench. Contenders aren’t in the habit of dumping .300 hitters in the middle of pennant races.

Two: Hillenbrand was a very popular player in the clubhouse. Seeing him cold-cut could further impair the team’s morale, which began to crack in the wake of GM J.P. Ricciardi’s pre-All-Star Game criticism of the heart of the lineup.

Three: By all accounts, Ricciardi was engaged in trade talks with the Angels that could have brought Adam Kennedy and a high-upside pitching prospect for Hillebrand. The Angels can now have Hillenbrand for a plane ticket. Has a short fuse — either by Ricciardi or manager John Gibbons — cost the Jays valuable stretch help?

But the whole affair is stupefyingly ridiculous. Where do you want me to start? Hillenbrand griped about not being played enough — yet his 296 at-bats were fifth highest on the team. He also went TO, whining about no one from the front office congratulating him on his recently successful adoption of a baby girl.

Excuse me? Perhaps the Jays should add Dr. Phil to their coaching staff. I haven’t been in Rogers Centre’s home clubhouse in a while, but are the walls now padded?

Hillenbrand essentially cut himself before Ricciardi got to it by refusing to sit with his teammates on the bench during tonight’s game against Texas. If you’re Manny Ramirez, you can occasionally get away with that. Anyone else … don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

If the Blue Jays make the playoffs, how big a share do you think Hillenbrand will be voted? That’s not an idle question — since the players do the voting.

Chico and the man

If any of the teams shopping for a heavy bat for the stretch are tiring of haggling over the Bobby Abreus and Alfonso Sorianos, they could find a cheap, uncontested solution in southern California’s Golden Baseball League. But, somehow, I don’t think anyone will be knocking on Jose Canseco’s door.

Only two weeks playing for the Long Beach Armada, and Canseco is again an All-Star! He will be playing in the league’s All-Star Game tonight in Chico, California — after participating in the pre-game Home Run Derby. No, I don’t believe the Golden Baseball League has "exit" drug testing for Home Run Derby participants.

By the way, I think the league is paranthetically known as the Golden (Years) Baseball League, as opposed to the Golden (Rule) Baseball League.

So Canseco won’t happen. Soriano will. We’re about to find out why Jim Bowden didn’t bother asking Alfonso Soriano about playing left field before making an offseason deal for the erstwhile Texas second baseman. With suitors lining up for Soriano’s bat, the Washington GM is about to make a killing on the midseason market.

Baltimore GM Mike Flanagan is working hard, but Rodrigo Lopez dealt himself on Sunday. Blanking the heavy-handed Rangers for 5 2/3 innings turned the heads of pitching shoppers who’d been talking to the Orioles about Kris Benson. But Lopez can be had cheaper.

Keeping my ear to the ground and my toes in the Cooler …

Ice, Ice Baby

Expect the Angels to ramp up their offense with a huge deal before we see August — but don’t expect them to be a huge topic in the Ice Cooler League (that’s the summer version of the Hot Stove League). That’s the way the Halos operate, clandestinely.
In Philadelphia, GM (Stand) Pat Gillick won’t live up to his nickname. But Angels GM Bill (Stealth) Stoneman will. He is masterful at operating behind the scenes, keeping a stiff upper (and lower) lip, then pulling a big trigger. Remember a couple of winters ago, when he came out of nowhere to swoop up Vladimir Guerrero?
Another American League GM confides to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman that the Angels are intently pursuing Miguel Tejada.
If Stoneman is also looking at Orange County-native Shawn Green of the Diamondbacks, he might have a fight on his hands with the Yankees.
The Bombers’ search for a left-handed hitting outfielder could lead to Green, who would gladly waive his no-trade clause to go to New York. He would love to again be in the same town as Carlos Delgado. The two have been as tightasthis since their days together in Toronto.
Talk of Green or the Phils’ Bobby Abreu unsettles Gary Sheffield. Both have contracts beyond this season — and a move for either would impact the Yankees’ ultimate decision on whether to exercise Sheffield’s 2007 option.
Barry Zito isn’t going anywhere. Yet. Yes, the payroll-restricted A’s have a track record for moving players approaching big paydays. GM Billy Beane’s knack for perpetuating the team’s success by making shrewd moves with them makes him a wise dealer — but he hasn’t been a Deadline dealer. Jason Giambi, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Tejada — all stayed for the full race, then were dealt, or allowed to walk as free agents, in the offseason.
Meanwhile, I loved the irony of MLB’s first no-save day in nearly 28 years, right in the midst of all the shop-talk about contenders looking for bullpen help. Hey, did they literally run out of relievers?
Of course not. A bunch of blowouts yesterday were a big reason why none of the 15 games produced a save. I’m sure you read wire stories reporting that the last day of a full schedule without saves was Sept. 15, 1978. But here’s something they didn’t tell you: In that day’s 14 games (including a doubleheader), there were 10 complete-game wins, plus Nolan Ryan giving up the losing hit with two outs in the ninth and Mike Krukow pitching nine in a game that went 12.
I’ll keep my ear to the ground and my toes in the Cooler.

And they’re off!

Well, haven’t the Reds and the Nationals come up with a tough trading act to follow? Don’t expect to see eight players moved every day — or even every week. …

Jim Bowden has a knack for inspiring cynicism, but his deal with Cincinnati was brilliant. For proof, look no further than the fact that even before the newest Nats boarded a plane for Pittsburgh, five teams inquired about Austin Kearns’ availability and two others about Felipe Lopez.

The Devil Rays’ decision to finally move puzzling prospect B.J. Upton to third base may not hinder the Mets’ search for a frontline second baseman after all. Until he proved unable to catch anything but a cold at short, Upton was being groomed to succeed Julio Lugo, who by inference3 now is off the market. But Omar Minaya’s interest in Lugo as a second baseman has been overstated. The guy Minaya really wants in Jose Vidro, his former second baseman with the Expos who has two years remaining on a four-year contract in Washington.

Jim Hendry is humane enough to do all he can to deal Greg Maddux out of the Cubs’ sinkhole into a contending situation. The idea that the GM doesn’t want to trade him within the division is nonsense. The Cubs are 15 out in the NL Central; how’s Maddux going to haunt them? The Brewers have made multiple inquiries about Maddux.

Brilliant pitching was the Angels’ pivot for their pre-All-Star Game turnaround, but that lineup still needs another heavy bat. It could be the one swung by Arizona’s Shawn Green, an Orange County native. Green has a no-trade clause to all but three teams, and the Angels are one of the three.

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