The end of June and early July in baseball means a couple things: All-Star Game voting, the final round of service time related prospect promotion before guys get cups of coffee in September, and of course the shaping of the trade market. There are already a bunch of rumors flying, though right now teams aren't really targeting or talking about specific players; they're taking inventory, identifying their own needs, and determining whether or not they're going to be buyers, sellers, or if they'll just stand pat.
The trade market has been a bit odd recently. At the end of last year and then again in the most recent offseason, we saw two of the biggest transactions in league history in terms of contract dollars and years moved, first in the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox, and then again when the Miami Marlins dealt Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to the Toronto Blue Jays, with the Red Sox and Marlins in both cases getting a number of low-service time major leaguers or minor league prospects in return. Neither of those trades was made before the non-waiver deadline during the 2012 season, and neither of those trades is in any way typical of the usual deals made by teams this time of the year. Right now, contending teams are looking for complementary pieces -- generally relief pitching, help at the back end of the rotation, or a positional starter -- and are looking at guys whose contracts end after the 2013 season. It's not unheard of for players on multi-year deals to get traded this time of year, but it's less common.
Meanwhile, teams that are selling are looking to get young players for their system -- generally not elite prospects, because teams don't deal those guys for deadline help under most circumstances, but high-risk, high-reward types that represent a bit of a gamble. That's not to say top prospects don't get moved when the return is right; the San Francisco Giants traded Zack Wheeler to the New York Mets for
Buyers: Arizona, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Colorado, Detroit, Kansas City, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis, Texas
There's a number of very close divisional races on right now -- the American League East and the National League Central and West, specifically -- that inflate the number of possible buyers higher than might be expected. Boston and Detroit have well-publicized closer issues of their own making, and they, along with St. Louis, will be looking for late inning relief help. The Pirates, who most expected to be selling assets like Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, will instead mostly be looking for another right-handed corner outfielder to spell Travis Snider and perhaps a back of the rotation starter. Texas has pretty much the same concerns as well, though the Pirates might be willing to move pieces for an A-list superstar that the recently stingy Rangers might not. The Orioles too should be buyers, but little should be expected from them except a deal for another Joe Saunders-type starter. They could use a second baseman, but there's really no one that fits on the market and Brian Roberts is once again struggling his way back off the DL.
The Yankees are looking for any kind of position player help -- infield, outfield, catcher -- but budgetary constraints and their burgeoning DL might restrict who they can take on. It's odd to say that the Giants will be looking for starting pitching help considering the last few years, but Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are running out of time to right that ship. They're going to find divisional rivals Arizona and San Diego looking for help in that department as well, while the surprisingly pitching-heavy Colorado Rockies need corner infield help more than anything else at the moment. With Dayton Moore's theatrics before the season about going all in with James Shields, one expects the Royals will also be looking for some sort of help at first and third, ill-advised though that may be. The Indians could use a third baseman as well as some pitching, but they're more likely to find deals that fit the latter than the former.
Sellers: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, New York Mets
Houston's best trade assets are probably starters Bud Norris and Erik Bedard, though they've been trying to build up Jose Veras as a closer and might deal catcher Carlos Corporan if a good package comes their way. Both Chicago teams should be trying to sell just about anything that isn't nailed down or named Chris Sale; the Cubs, however, are going to have difficulties here due to how many injuries their trading chips have been fighting through this year. The Dodgers pretty much have to do something about that outfield logjam, even if it means eating almost the entire remaining Andre Ethier contract and sending him to Texas or New York. Giancarlo Stanton's value has fallen a bit and his payday at the end of the season is looming, so Miami might be compelled now to deal him. Minnesota should finally have reached the point where its willing to deal Josh Willingham, but who knows with that front office. The Mets have Marlon Byrd and John Buck to offer, but not much else that anyone will realistically want and that they'll want to part with. Aramis Ramirez in Milwaukee would be one of the top third basemen on the market if not for the questions about his health, but the Brewers are probably far more interested in getting Francisco Rodriguez out of town for whatever they can get.
Holders, Question Marks and Dark Horses: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Washington
These are the teams for whom it's either too early to predict how they'll act at the deadline, or for whom making moves is either not necessary or not reasonably possible. Philadelphia, for instance, is close enough to second place in the National League East that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might want to acquire another outfield bat, some arms, and try to force the Phillies into the playoffs -- but he's pillaged the farm system so many times doing so in years prior he's left with nothing that anybody really wants. The Angels, too, have a pretty barren farm system at the moment after all their recent promotions and trades, and they're far enough out of it that general manager Jerry Dipoto might just let the rest of the year's string play out. The Mariners should be sellers but their front office is currently rushing prospects to the big league to try and save their jobs, so it's hard to see even the few attractive pieces they have -- Hisashi Iwakuma, for instance -- going on the block. Tampa Bay and Oakland are
It's early still, of course -- and as noted above, at the moment there are three divisions (four if you count the American League Central) where at least three of the teams think they've got a legitimate shot at a postseason berth, which tends to create a market with more perceived buyers than sellers. We'll check in again after the All-Star Break and see where we stand when the market is fully developed -- but we could start seeing trades any day.