Obviously, the Pirates are a huge surprise and have played .500 baseball since the first few weeks of June. Many expected them to fade away but they have gained ground and briefly had their time in first place as recently as July 19th.
Going over the playoff odds report at Baseball Prospectus, the Brewers are the favorite but it should be very, very close as it could take as few as 87 wins to wrap up this division.
|2011 Payroll||2012 FA's||2012 Arbs.|
Looking over the buyers, I would expect the Reds and, possibly, the Cardinals to be quite aggresive in this market. The Brewers will be looking to shore up their depth but are extremely limited in terms of prospects. Mat Gamel could get a few looks but he'll be 26 years old in a few days and is limited in terms of upside beyond Triple-A.
The Pirates are having an exciting season but I doubt they'll be too aggressive since a.) it would make zero sense for them to trade away their blue-chip prospects and b.) with Andrew McCutchen, Charlie Morton, Joel Hanrahan and Jeff Karstens due for arbitration as well as decisions to hold on to FA Paul Maholm, overall salary is likely to go up next season. The Pirates may elect to let Maholm go but it's unlikely the team will trade for someone expected to receive a salary in 2012.
The Cardinals were considered out of contention when Adam Wainwright pulled up lame at the beginning of the season in need of TJ surgery but both Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia have been instrumental in keeping this rotation afloat. The team is in need of bullpen help and will target Heath Bell, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, Koji Uehara, Brandon League, Kyle Farnsworth, Leo Nunez, Grant Balfour and Tyler Clippard should get the most action among available relievers.
Among the second tier Joakim Soria and Brian Fuentes could be available... or they could not. The Royals are playing tough regarding Soria's "availability" and have hinted that his value would be very high since Aaron Crow is expected to move into the rotation next season. Fuentes shouldn't be too hard to pry away from the A's but his 10 Meltdowns (MD) are a bit high.
Looking at the Reds, it's surprising that a team praised with so much starting pitching depth in April would be short on arms in July. Bronson Arroyo has seen a few extra flyballs go over the fence which may or may not have something to do with his decreased velocity. Edinson Volquez still can't find the strikezone and Travis Wood was optioned to Triple-A in order to work on his command.
But Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Homer Bailey have had their moments. The Reds do have some interesting prospects ready to change hands and they have been linked to Ubaldo Jimenez and could entice a few teams to possibly part with pitchers like Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and James Shields.
The final two teams will be classified as sellers but the Cubs look like a big expensive team with few desirable parts. Carlos Zambrano is worth nowhere near his bloated salary as is Alfonso Soriano. Both Carlos Pena and Kosuke Fukudome will be FA's at the end of this season but neither are showing the skills worthy for a team to take on half of their salary; although the Indians have been rumored to be kicking the tires on the latter.
Aramis Ramirez is interesting and has been putting together a fine season at a premium position but he has stated that he doesn't want to be traded. Kerry Wood and Marlon Byrd have made teams express some interest. Wood took a pay cut to return to Chicago and may be firm in where he'll be dealt. Reed Johnson could get some teams to peek but that's only if they think his .418 BABIP is sustainable since he has no other ability to get on base (1.4% walk rate this season).
The Astros, as expected, are a mess and everyone at the top of their pay scale should be available. Hunter Pence has been mentioned in a few trade scenarios. He has two more arb. eligible seasons and will be 29 years old next season. He has been benefiting from a fairly high BABIP (.378) due to an increase in line drives but his defensive skills have been treading downward. The Phillies have been linked in their interest for Pence but it would be difficult for this to go down without offering Domonic Brown in return (although Vance Worley has been the only key name mentioned).
The Astros also have some value in other trade chips like Wandy Rodriguez and Michael Bourn.
Rodriguez is under contract through 2013 with a $13M club option in '14. Being a NL pitcher with a diminishing K/9 (from 8.58 in 2008 to 7.75 this season) as well as experiencing some elbow trouble in May, it's not a total surprise that some teams (especially a few in the AL) are shying away. Rodriguez is still very effective against lefties and his low flyball rates still carries value. Keep in mind the Astros rank among the worst in terms of defense (-3.4 team UZR/150 and -30 in Defensive Runs Saved) with their infield taking most of the blame (Clint Barmes being the lone exception at SS). It will be tough to sell this in trade talks but if Wandy goes to a team with an improved defense then I feel one will see a dramatic increase in his numbers.
Michael Bourn may not be a defensive wizard in CF but he has the exceptional speed and age (will be 29 next season) to make up for it. Bourn does come with his limitations, he doesn't walk much (curious since his previous two seasons showed impressive gains) and seems to have trouble handeling offspeed pitches. This season he is hitting line drives much more frequently but at a 26% rate, we'll have to expect that number to fall soon. Regardless, Bourn will attract some suitors (Atlanta and Milwaukee should be interested).
One trade chip that barely goes mentioned is Clint Barmes. Off the top of my head I can think of three contending teams that could benefit greatly from his services (Milwaukee, Arizona, St. Louis). He doesn't offer much in terms of offense but both of those teams could use a defensive upgrade as we move forward in the second half.