Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Alex Presley, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and right fielder Jose Tabata celebrate as they leave the field after defeating the Detroit Tigers in an interleague game at PNC Park. Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
There are many teams with playoff dreams this season, in part due to the second wild-card spot. Yes, even the Pirates. What might that do to July's trade market?
That means we're near the halfway mark of the 2012 season, the All-Star break... and the non-waiver trading deadline, which comes up at the end of this month.
So far, the trading market has been relatively quiet. The only players of significance traded recently were Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox, Jim Thome to the Orioles and Chad Qualls to the Yankees. And of those three, only Youkilis is an everyday player, though Thome will likely get more significant playing time now that he can DH in Baltimore.
But what will the rest of this month bring? Houston's Carlos Lee has already vetoed a possible trade to the Dodgers. The Cubs have half their roster connected to trade rumors, but haven't pulled the trigger on anything -- yet.
Here's why this July could be very quiet. As of Tuesday morning, there were 23 teams within six games of either first place in a division race or a wild card spot -- and remember, this year there will be two teams qualifying for the winner-take-all wild-card game to be played before the Division Series begin.
Just two divisions -- the AL East and AL West -- have teams with leads bigger than 3½ games. And both of those divisions have teams in wild-card contention; the Angels, five games out of first place in the AL West, lead the AL wild-card race. All four trailing teams in the AL East are within five games of the Angels for the wild card, or, more accurately, the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays are all within 2½ games of the current leader (the Orioles) for the second wild card, with the Indians just two games behind Baltimore.
It's just as messy in the National League; no division is led by more than 3½ games (Nationals over Mets in the NL East), and the two wild-card leaders, the Dodgers and Pirates, have six other teams within six games of the lead. That includes two clubs (the Marlins and Brewers) currently several games under .500. (Yes, that's right. If the season ended today, the wild-card play-in game in the NL would involve the Pirates, who have not had a winning season in 20 years.)
So what do you do if you're Doug Melvin, Brewers GM? Do you punt and ship K-Rod back to the Mets, as was rumored earlier Tuesday? Or do you try to be a buyer, maybe grab a starting pitcher, and hope you can wheeze into that second wild-card spot? And what about Pirates GM Neal Huntington? In 2011 when the Pirates briefly thought they were contenders, they acquired Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. Uh... back to the drawing board, Neal.
The seven teams currently more than six games out of a postseason spot are: Cubs, Astros, Rockies, Padres, Twins, Mariners... and Phillies. The Phillies haven't found themselves in this position in several years, and they're still hoping to get Ryan Howard back soon. Maybe they make a run at it... or maybe they sell, also.
In any case, the GMs of those seven teams should be fielding quite a few phone calls in the next few weeks. You'd think they'd have quite a bit of leverage. At the same time -- which of the purported contenders really wants to pull the trigger? How close do they really think they are?
There's one last thing about all these teams close to a playoff spot. Last September 28, we had the perfect storm of a baseball day, with postseason berths determined in almost storybook fashion. Some lamented that with the second wild card, we might never have that again. But with this many teams bunched together... we could be headed for another wild finish.