Wobbly contenders weaken trade market

Forty-eight hours after general manager Tony Reagins was asked to define the Los Angeles Angels’ place in the American League West race and he’d answered, ‘’We’re firmly in this thing,” the Angels had fallen back another two games.

Since pawning off Joe Saunders(notes) and a few prospects on the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dan Haren(notes), the Angels had gotten 4 2/3 innings (and a loss) from Haren, a bruised right forearm from Haren, and further offensive abandonment from the rest of the club. This, despite the fact Reagins upgraded at third base with Alberto Callaspo(notes) three days before the Haren trade, which speaks more to what the Angels had at third base than any great production they could have expected from Callaspo.

Just as Reagins was refurnishing his ballclub for a run at the Texas Rangers and a division it dominated for a good portion of the aughts, the Angels lost four in a row and seven of eight (not including the loss of Derrek Lee to his no-trade clause), leaving them a wobbly nine games back and with two months to make them up.

No matter how firmly they believe, these are the days that try GMs’ goals. With mere hours left before Saturday afternoon’s non-waiver trading deadline, amid a market that has fluctuated from frantic to languid, in or out changes by the hour, by the pitching change, and by the mood in the owners’ boxes.

The Philadelphia Phillies make up 3½ games on the Atlanta Braves in five days. The Colorado Rockies lose 4½ games to the San Diego Padres in a week. The Los Angeles Dodgers hit a portion of the schedule that feeds them the San Francisco Giants, New York Mets and Padres, none offensively fearsome, they rediscover their pitching, and they start to chew off their deficit in the West. And the Milwaukee Brewers win five in a row and wonder if maybe Prince Fielder(notes) and Corey Hart(notes) might have some use still.

Further, injuries are beginning to blur the line between the buyers and sellers. Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino(notes) is on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle, probably ending Werth’s two-month stay on the trading block. Once – and perhaps still – emphasizing pitching at the deadline, the Tigers lost Magglio Ordonez(notes), Carlos Guillen(notes) and Brandon Inge(notes) to the disabled list, leading to Wednesday’s acquisition of Indians third baseman Jhonny Peralta(notes).

Oakland Athletics right-hander Ben Sheets(notes) and Royals center fielder David DeJesus(notes) were carried off just as their markets were warming. The Chicago White Sox must replace Jake Peavy(notes). The Yankees wait on Andy Pettitte(notes), the Padres on Mike Adams(notes). Just as the Angels might have been sensed their time might be dwindling, Wednesday’s starting pitcher – Joel Pineiro(notes) – was scratched before he could get out of the bullpen. He could miss eight weeks because of a strained oblique. And as the Boston Red Sox pitching staff healed, management dealt with various injuries to their second baseman (Dustin Pedroia(notes)), right fielder (J.D. Drew(notes)), backup catcher (Jason Varitek(notes)) and center fielder (Jacoby Ellsbury(notes)), all lagging behind their starting catcher (Victor Martinez(notes)), who only recently came off the disabled list.

As the deadline nears and franchises are forced to measure current production and expectations against next year, well, Cliff Lee(notes) goes to Texas, Alex Gonzalez(notes) goes to Atlanta, Haren goes to Anaheim, Peralta goes to Detroit and, later Wednesday, Scott Podsednik(notes) went to the Dodgers, who’d lost Manny Ramirez(notes) and his backup, Reed Johnson(notes), to injury.

What remains is a field with enough players to make an impact, though it is not overflowing. And Wednesday’s cost might not be Saturday’s. So, Roy Oswalt(notes) rests in Houston, Adam Dunn(notes) in Washington, Ted Lilly(notes) in Chicago, Scott Downs(notes) in Toronto, Miguel Tejada(notes) in Baltimore, Jorge Cantu(notes) in Florida, Jayson Werth(notes) in Philadelphia and Jake Westbrook(notes) in Cleveland.

One contender’s GM hoping for new blood on either side of the ball said, ‘‘We aren’t looking to do something for the sake of it. We are looking for guys that could really impact us. That list is very short.”

But the other list – that of moving parts – is very, very long.

With all of it subject to change, here’s how things stand now with some of the parts:

Oswalt: He’s scheduled to pitch for the Astros on Friday against Milwaukee. Most believe he won’t get there. Oswalt seems most likely to land in Philadelphia. The Phillies have hounded pitching for a month and so far have nothing to show for it. The Dodgers have tried to stay engaged with the Astros as well, but there’s been little movement lately. Most of the teams that had immediate interest – Cardinals, Twins, Rangers and Tigers, to name a few – have been scared off by the Astros’ asking price and/or Oswalt’s contract. He’s due the rest of $15 million this season, $16 million next season, and has a $16-million option for 2012. Oswalt could demand the option be exercised in exchange for waiving his full no-trade rights.

Dunn: At a time when 30 home runs mean something again, Dunn has 23, fourth in the National League. At a time when the White Sox could use some thump, Dunn is available. The Nationals have shown little interest in extending Dunn’s contract, which expires at season’s end. Dunn is a popular figure among the rumors, having been linked to the Tigers, Giants, Rays and Rangers.

Fielder: The Brewers first baseman dominated rumors in June and early July, but rival GMs came away from conversations with Doug Melvin believing there was no deal to be had. Fielder is more likely to be dealt over the winter, assuming the club can’t reach a long-term agreement.

Lilly: The alternative to Oswalt, Lilly will fill out a rotation rather than lead one, though his 3.69 ERA speaks more to the way he’s pitched than his 3-8 record does. Against the Astros in back-to-back starts going into the deadline, Lilly allowed one run in 13 innings. Of course, the Cubs lost both games. The Yankees, Dodgers, Twins, Phillies and Tigers appear to be in.

Downs: With the Jays also getting calls on Kevin Gregg(notes) and Jason Frasor(notes), the left-handed Downs is most coveted. Pretty much, if you’re a contender, you’re in on Downs. Count the Giants, Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, Reds and Twins in.

Joakim Soria(notes): Contending teams love to bring in a closer to fill their eighth inning for the stretch drive and postseason. The White Sox could just hand him the ninth. The Royals so far are resisting.

Jorge Cantu: Callers have been told in recent days that outfielder Cody Ross(notes) is not available. Cantu, however, would provide pop and depth at first and third. The Rangers and Giants are involved. The Rangers, who smell blood in the water in the AL West, also are considering Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton(notes).

Arizona Diamondbacks: Intent on changing the course of the franchise right now, the D’backs and interim GM Jerry Dipoto are shopping relievers Chad Qualls(notes), starting pitcher Edwin Jackson(notes) and catcher Chris Snyder(notes). If the Phillies and Astros need a third team to round out their Oswalt trade, the Diamondbacks – along with the Rays and Nationals – could come in handy.

The Rockies: A hot pick to overtake the Padres a few weeks ago, the Rockies would have to ignore their recent history of late charges to become sellers. If the next two days convinces them this isn’t their year, and just as Troy Tulowitzki(notes) comes off the DL, they could put some attractive pieces – Jorge De La Rosa(notes), Joe Beimel(notes), and Clint Barmes(notes) among them – on the market.