MLB

Trade rumors swirl as Mets, Padres start series

SAN DIEGO -- Could Jacob deGrom be making his last start for the New York Mets on Monday night when he faces the San Diego Padres at Petco Park?

As silly as that seems, there are rumors circulating about how big a haul the Mets could acquire by trading the ace of their staff.

"I guess it's a good thing if other teams want you," deGrom recently told the New York Post. "But I've got a job to do here, that's my main focus."

DeGrom (11-3, 3.37 ERA) has seldom been hotter than he is right now. He is 7-0 with a 1.51 ERA over his past seven starts. He has allowed 22 hits and three walks with 31 strikeouts in his past 28 2/3 innings.

The wins in his last three starts halted Mets losing streaks. DeGrom takes the mound with a 1-1 record and a 1.80 ERA in four career starts against the Padres.

But this is baseball's silly season. The trade deadline is just a week away, and both the Mets (for the first time in three seasons) and the Padres (annually since 2010) look like sellers.

The Padres return home from taxing their pitching staff during seven-game trip to Colorado and San Francisco. San Diego is set to open a nine-game homestand with the first of four games against the Mets.

But more than wins and losses, the biggest question facing San Diego this week is who will be boarding the plane Aug. 2 as the club departs for a 10-game trip. Almost every challenger in both leagues has inquired about left-handed Padres reliever Brad Hand -- and to a lesser extent closer Brandon Maurer and right-handed starter Trevor Cahill.

The Mets, meanwhile, have much juicier parts to dangle, such as Jay Bruce, who was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds at last year's deadline. Bruce is batting .263 with 25 homers and 65 RBIs this season after struggling in his first two months with the club following the trade.

"Certainly the next week is going to be hard," Mets manager Terry Collins said Sunday after the Mets finished a 6-4 homestand with a 3-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics. "I will do the best I can to try and keep their mind on the game and away from who the trade talks (are) about."

Most speculation on the Padres' end focuses on Hand, who made a rare appearance as a closer Sunday and picked up his third save while lowering his ERA to 2.12.

A number of clubs are in on the bidding for Hand, who is nasty, durable (83 appearances last season) and controllable. But the Padres have reportedly been seeking each bidder's top prospect.

Meanwhile, the opener of the series pits San Diego's Clayton Richard (5-10, 5.35 ERA) against the Mets' right-handed ace.

Richard will be trying to rebound from one of his worst professional starts. The left-hander, who reinvented himself as a sinkerball pitcher after two rounds of surgery, couldn't get the ball down in the zone last Wednesday afternoon in the rarified air of Coors Field in Denver, and he allowed 11 runs (10 earned) on 14 hits and a walk in just 3 2/3 innings. He tied the Padres record for the most runs allowed in a game.

Richard's ERA jumped more than a half-run, ending most speculation that teams might also be interested in his services.

The left-hander is 2-3 with a 4.17 ERA in seven career starts against the Mets.

"That one wasn't fun," Richard said after his outing against the Rockies. "I've always been pretty good at moving on."

Which might be the key word for the Padres and Mets this week. Who will be moving on? Who will be staying?