The current baseball economy has made trading-deadline deals more difficult than ever. Veterans with bloated contracts are tougher to unload, and young prospects who could give a team six years of production at artificially depressed salaries are tougher to pry from competitors.
Teams seem increasingly timid. Trades gone wrong haunt general managers. Regret is bad enough; unemployment is worse (see Bavasi, Bill).
But standing pat isn't any better (see Gillick, Pat). Here's a thought that must have crossed the febrile mind of more than one owner: If a GM does nothing, what's the point in paying one?
So inevitably, sometimes nonsensically, deals happen. Hope and hubris are the lubrication. A spike in attendance and a couple days worth of headlines usually result. A World Series ring is less likely.
With that, the buyers, sellers and pat-standers over the next month-plus:
New York Yankees – The loss of starter Chien-Ming Wang already prompted the Yankees to take leave of their senses and sign the rascally Sidney Ponson. Making a run at C.C. Sabathia and others in a trade market with far more pitchers available than hitters is a given.
Boston Red Sox – They don't need much, maybe a right-handed middle reliever to replace the overcooked Mike Timlin, maybe a veteran bat to come off the bench. But they have the farm system and payroll to get what they need, so they ought to.
Tampa Bay Rays – What a delightful position for the Rays' front office: Shopping instead of selling at midseason for the first time. Ken Griffey Jr. has sent signals that he'd love to join the party, but he might not have enough pop left to interest the noveau rich Rays. Adam Dunn? Let's talk.
Chicago Cubs – Their zeal will be in direct proportion to concerns about Carlos Zambrano's arm. GM Jim Hendry isn't above combing the scrap heap (witness Jim Edmonds). But he has the money and the motivation (the 100 years thing) to do whatever it takes to win it all.
Chicago White Sox – Thanks to the demise of the Tigers and Indians, the White Sox unexpectedly have a shot at the postseason soirée. So they ought to spruce up the place before the company arrives. Problem: They have a poor farm system and almost nothing to trade.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Baby 'Backs have grown into Adolescent 'Backs and the pitching is postseason primed. But should they lull themselves into complacency because the rest of the NL West is pathetic and fail to land a bat, they will regret it in October.
New York Mets – Every new manager should get a new toy, and Jerry Manuel would like a relief pitcher, a corner outfielder and a player who actually cares.
Los Angeles Dodgers – GM Ned Colletti brought in Greg Maddux at the deadline two years ago and came up empty last year. Always loath to part with his cadre of inexpensive producers, landing sorely needed power (Matt Holliday) or sorely needed starting pitching (Rich Harden) is a longshot.
Detroit Tigers – Another big spender in need of a starting pitcher. The Tigers are winning just enough to keep hope alive. And having already spent $137 million on payroll, the lunatics are already running the asylum. What's another $30 million for A.J. Burnett through 2010?
Atlanta Braves – Despite their logic-defying inability to win on the road and the loss of John Smoltz, the Braves could make a deadline deal because they've proven fearless in late July many times, and the spirit of John Schuerholz lives on.
Seattle Mariners – Purge the GM. Purge the manager. The roster is next. Erik Bedard in, Erik Bedard out? Can they finally find a taker for Adrian Beltre? Jose Vidro? Would the Yankees be desperate enough to take on Carlos Silva for another three years? The M's interim crew can only hope.
Baltimore Orioles – More of the same from the Orioles. Except now they can't keep up with the Rays, either. Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton are tradeable, and Kevin Millar is in front of the store with a clearance sign around his neck.
Cleveland Indians – Sabathia is the crown jewel of deadline desirables. Yet the Indians were one game from the World Series last year and might not give up the ghost so easily. Trading Sabathia will likely be a late, late July decision based on the AL Central standings.
Pittsburgh Pirates – The 'Bucs would love to package highly sought veterans to a contender and bring back a haul of prospects. And all that's keeping the 'Bucs from consummating such a blockbuster is a package of highly sought veterans.
San Diego Padres – Starters Randy Wolf and Greg Maddux are the most likely to go unless the Diamondbacks continue to play down to their NL West competition (to use the term loosely) and give the Padres hope they can steal the division at 82-80.
Colorado Rockies – Holliday, one year away from free agency and one of the best hitters in baseball, is being shopped, although word from rival GMs is that the Rockies want the moon, stars and a low-frequency astral plane in return.
Toronto Blue Jays – GM J.P. Ricciardi is given to rash decisions (dumping Frank Thomas) and rash comments (see Cincinnati Reds). So trading A.J. Burnett for three Canadian geese and a bag of baguettes is in the realm of possibility.
Washington Nationals – Dmitri Young is almost certain to be traded, probably to an AL team that can use him as a designated hitter. Other minor pieces might also go. GM Jim Bowden normally will take a live arm from low-Class A in exchange.
Off the Market
Florida Marlins – A team patched together with a stitch and a dime (reliever Kevin Gregg is the highest-paid Marlin at $2.5 million) would not compromise its miserly fundamentals by bringing in the missing piece to earn a wild-card berth. The return of Josh Johnson and Josh Willingham from the DL might be all the help they get.
Los Angeles Angels – This is a good team as constituted for $119 million, and it's hard to gauge how much coin is left in owner Arte Moreno's payroll piggy bank. Here's guessing the Angels don't do more than bring in another catcher if Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis continue to slump.
Minnesota Twins – Low payroll. Minimal chances of making the playoffs. High long-term expectations. Perfect recipe for doing nothing in July.
St. Louis Cardinals – The new front-office regime seems a bit restrained. So even though the Cardinals could use a starting pitcher (who couldn't?), there's a good chance Tony La Russa must pursue the wild-card berth with the Cards he's been dealt.
Texas Rangers – The worst pitching in the AL can't be patched up at the trading deadline. Dealing a veteran position player for an arm and prospects is a possibility.
Houston Astros – The Astros were active in the trade market during the offseason, so it isn't a matter of nerve. It's a matter of nothing really making sense until next offseason.
Philadelphia Phillies – Gillick's group has no glaring holes. Adding a veteran starter would help in the postseason, but the Phillies' rotation already goes deeper into games than any other in the NL. Stand pat, Pat.