This season, and the trade deadline that will bisect it, will be unlike any that has been seen before in baseball. The addition of a second Wild Card means more teams will be in the hunt at the deadline than before, but it also means less teams will be selling.
This also means that those teams which DO decide to sell will likely receive more compensation for their players than the same pieces would have received last year. This incentive could draw out some usual buyers who see opportunities to make a profit on the lack of supply on the market.
General managers have already begun piecing together their plans for a frantic grab at the few useful players who will be on the market, and perhaps some unlikely sellers will emerge, overcome by the value they are offered.
Coming off a World Series title in 2010, the Giants were clearly buyers in 2011, trading top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler for Carlos Beltran in a too-little-too-late attempt to boost their offense.
Having already locked up their three aces Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner to contract extensions (though Lincecum's was only two years), the Giants may have a one-year window to sell at the deadline, when most will be buying, and bring in some much-needed offensive talent that may not be quite ready, but close.
One name that seems to make sense for a deadline piece is Santiago Casilla, who has assumed closer duties with Brian Wilson gone. Contenders are always looking for back-end bullpen help at the deadline, and the Giants know they have Wilson (once recovered) and Romo, so they might be wise to shop Casilla if he proves he can handle the role.
Prior to their disastrous 2011, the Twins had won 85 or more games in eight of the last 10 seasons and won six division titles in that time, including two in a row going into 2010.
Now, Minnesota is 3-8 to start this season, coming off 99 losses in 2011, and bogged down by long-term deals to injury-prone catcher Joe Mauer and concussion-prone Justin Morneau. Mauer's contract looks prohibitive to a deal, but Morneau, if he proves he can hit like he did before the injury, could be an attractive target for a high-spending contender like New York.
The Twins would be wise to listen to such interest, because there is not much in their minor league system to think a revival will be home grown before Mauer and Morneau have outlived their usefulness.
Between 1991 and 2005, the Atlanta Braves won every division title in seasons in which they played over 140 games. They've won 85 or more games in three straight seasons and have a talented team this year.
That being said, their main contributors are still at least two years short of their prime seasons, with additional talent in the minors. This is the kind of team that possibly could be in a position at the deadline to buy or sell depending on the offers they receive.
Two prime candidates could be Tim Hudson or Jair Jurrjens, if they are healthy and pitching well. The Braves have barns full of talented young starting pitchers, and they could use such pieces to bolster an already deep farm system, while creating opportunity for some of their ready young prospects.
After winning 99 games and a World Series title in 2005, the White Sox have won 90, 72, 89, 79, 88 and 79 games in the last six seasons. Unfortunately, 2012 looks more likely to break the off-again-on-again trend.
There isn't much waiting in the wings either, as the White Sox minor league system is lacking near-pro-ready talent. In the meantime, one thing not lacking in Chicago is late-inning relievers. And this leads me to believe Matt Thornton could be elsewhere on August 1, with Addison Reed the closer of the future in Chicago (look at his minor league numbers and think Craig Kimbrel without the walks).
Meanwhile, Thornton has had prior success in the closer role, an attribute managers tend to value, and one that seems to entice teams to pay up at the deadline.
Watching the Red Sox this season is like watching one of those televised casino or hotel demolitions in which they show the building falling in slow motion. Since Bobby Valentine was hired (NOT, I say, because he was hired) the clubhouse has fallen apart.
The disarray in Boston isn't being aided by the lack of consistent pitching and a train wreck for a bullpen. After four games, Mark Melancon has an ERA of 49.50 and a ticket to Triple-A. Alfredo Aceves, the current closer, has an ERA of 9.00 through five games. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz have combined to allow 31 earned runs in 40 innings.
Meanwhile, with the bats, Kevin Youkilis has a .206 slugging percentage, Jacoby Ellsbury is out indefinitely with an injury, and starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is batting .083. There's trouble in Boston, and in the American League East, they could lose sight of Toronto in a hurry, without ever seeing New York or Tampa Bay.