It's July 1. Start the countdown to the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month.
Which teams will buy and which will sell? The answers still could be several weeks away. The unbalanced schedule, which has some teams playing each other as many as 19 times a season, gives on-the-bubble clubs hope of a quick surge in their respective divisions. And the wild card keeps teams believing right up to the deadline and beyond.
Let's take an early division-by-division look at the direction teams might go as the month of trades heats up.
National League East. The division-leading Mets appear to be in a wait-and-see mode as Pedro Martinez and Moises Alou recover from injuries. Martinez, coming back from rotator cuff surgery, will begin making minor-league starts soon. He could provide a difference-making boost if healthy. A setback could send the Mets after a starter such as Jose Contreras, Dontrelle Willis or Carlos Zambrano if the latter two become available. If Alou (left quad injury) doesn't recover sufficiently, the Mets could look for a righthanded bat such as Jermaine Dye. The Phillies and Braves need pitching. The Phils' best bullpen acquisitions might turn out to be Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, if they are healthy. That would allow the team to pursue a starter, the quality of which could be questionable because the team has limited payroll flexibility and is short on major-league-ready prospects who would interest other clubs. Atlanta could use a starter, especially with John Smoltz nursing a sore shoulder. The Marlins always try to do something but can't take on money. There's always a chance, too, that they could move expensive talents such as Willis or Miguel Cabrera if some team blows them away. Washington general manager Jim Bowden will look to make a big score for Chad Cordero.
National League Central. The Reds will be sellers. Starters Bronson Arroyo and Kyle Lohse could be had, but both have struggled, and Arroyo (owed $28.95 million from 2008 through 2010) is expensive. Closer David Weathers would be intriguing to a lot of teams. Veterans Jeff Conine and Scott Hatteberg could move. Power bat Adam Dunn, a free agent if the Reds don't pick up his $13 million option for next season, is likely to be dealt. The annual Ken Griffey Jr. rumors are percolating. He's had a terrific year but will turn 38 in November and is owed $16.5 million next year. The Cubs have not finalized a contract extension with ace Zambrano, leaving some teams believing he could become available. However, the Cubs are in the thick of the race and probably need to keep Zambrano, add an outfield bat and tweak their bullpen to stay there. The Astros might not have any second-half magic this season, and several teams could pony up for reliever Brad Lidge if he becomes available. The Cardinals, who have already traded for lefthanded starter Mike Maroth, may now be content to wait for Chris Carpenter, David Eckstein, Yadier Molina and Braden Looper to get healthy and see whether that fuels a run. Division leader Milwaukee might need a veteran presence as it heads into uncharted waters.
National League West. Good race here with the Padres, Dodgers and Diamondbacks stacked up. All three could use a power bat. The Padres, who have excellent pitching, could be interested in Dye. The Dodgers are playing Nomar Garciaparra at third, but Cabrera or Troy Glaus could become attractive if they believe they need more pop there. In addition to a bat, surprising Arizona could be in the market for a starter as insurance for Randy Johnson. Colorado continues to lurk but will need pitching to stay there. The Rockies could move first baseman Todd Helton if a team is willing to take on his huge contract. The Giants desperately need to get younger. It's doubtful any team would take Barry Bonds. Matt Morris and Noah Lowry would interest teams looking for a starter.
American League East. The Yankees entered yesterday 11 games behind first-place Boston and eight out in the wild card. Could they be sellers if they don't make a move this month? "I doubt it," one general manager said. "They won't go down no matter what." The Yanks' reluctance to part with top prospects means any turnaround would probably have to come with the underachieving talent that's already on board. The one guy who could intrigue the Yankees is Texas' Mark Teixeira, who's still young (27) and would help offensively and at first base. But could the Yanks really get him without dealing top young talent? The Red Sox have had interest in White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle, which could be a sign they are concerned about Curt Schilling's tired shoulder. "I just think they're trying to bury the Yankees," one executive said. Toronto would deal Glaus, who is making $10.75 million and $12.75 million next year. Many teams would love to get their hands on Tampa Bay closer Al Reyes, but would the Devil Rays deal someone so affordable and effective? The Rays would move infielder Ty Wigginton and lefty Casey Fossum. They have a wealth of outfielders and would take offers on oft-injured Rocco Baldelli and at least listen on Carl Crawford. The Orioles are sellers, though they won't be able to move high-salaried shortstop Miguel Tejada now that he has fractured his wrist. Starter Steve Trachsel is available, but hard-throwing Daniel Cabrera has more value.
American League Central. White Sox GM Ken Williams isn't happy with his team's season. Look for him to sell - soon. Dye is likely to go. Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi could go. The biggest drama on the South Side of Chicago is whether the team will trade or re-sign Buehrle. Some baseball executives said he could end up on the market, where he would be a hot commodity. Righthanders Contreras and Javier Vazquez could be had. The Indians and Tigers, both having terrific seasons atop the division, have needs. The Indians could use a starter, and the Tigers need to shore up their weak-spot bullpen. That could be handled in-house if Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya come back healthy. The Tigers won't stop looking at available relievers, though, because they have an offense and starting staff that can win the World Series. The Twins would like to add a hitter. Watch the Royals, who could move relievers Octavio Dotel or David Riske.
American League West. Teams are ready to pounce on the lowly Rangers. Texas has two established closers, Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka, and one figures to be traded to help in rebuilding. The consensus is that Gagne will go, but he's got a partial no-trade clause (that reportedly includes the Phillies) and has contract incentives tied to finishing games, so he will want to close. Teams looking for a power bat would have interest in Teixeira or Sammy Sosa, and still-productive Kenny Lofton (10 trips to the postseason with six teams) certainly knows the way to October. Teixeira is on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps but should be back this month. He will be a free agent at the end of 2008 and could be available (at a high cost) as the Rangers seek a return before he walks. The Rangers, however, might get more for him by waiting until the winter. The division-leading Angels have been looking for a bat for a year. The Mariners can't afford to trade free-agent-to-be Ichiro Suzuki if they want to stay in contention, but they probably need a starter. Oakland needs offense.
Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983