With the 2012 MLB season reaching the quarter pole, we are already starting to get separation between the contenders and the also-rans.
Yet some teams have been a pleasant surprise, rising from the ashes to compete once again in a way that hasn't been seen by their fans in years. However, other teams who were widely expected to play themselves into the postseason have actually played themselves into mediocrity, and may be looking at wholesale changes come late July.
Even though the trade deadline is still over two months away, it doesn't stop all the buzz from happening, as speculation reigns supreme as to who will be on the chopping block. Inevitably, all it takes is one column to casually mention one player, and all of a sudden that player is surrounded by rumors as to where he'll end up and which teams are interested in his services.
We will take a look at all the buzz happening around baseball, and check in on every MLB team to see exactly what, or who, is creating the loudest buzz right now. For some teams we will also look at possible signings in lieu of trade options.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were the popular pick to repeat as National League West Division champs in 2012, as GM Kevin Towers capitalized on last year's success by bringing in free acquisitions Jason Kubel, Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to help upgrade a team that was already deemed solid.
However, the offense has sputtered—All-Star outfielder Justin Upton has yet to get on track, Paul Goldschmidt, last year's late season hero, has also stumbled out of the gate, and second baseman Aaron Hill has stumbled as well.
Likewise for the pitching. The rotation last year was a major strength for the D-Backs, yet this year they have a collective ERA of 4.55, good for second-to-last in the NL. Daniel Hudson, a 16-game winner last season, has been shelved with a right shoulder impingement and could be back by the Memorial Day weekend. Ian Kennedy, who led the NL with 21 wins last season, has struggled as well, leading the National League in hits allowed and struggling with a 4.47 ERA.
Towers flew to Kansas City on Thursday night to hold meetings to discuss possible changes. One positive was the fact that center fielder Chris Young returned to the lineup over the weekend after spending time on the DL with an injured shoulder. Young was hitting .410 with five HR prior to his injury.
Towers hinted that he has already discussed changes with other clubs as well.
"I've had a couple people call about some of our bullpen depth," Towers said. "I have placed a couple of calls, but nothing is close. You get ideas here and there, but every idea that I've had has been shot down so far. I think you're always looking. Now I've got a much better feeling of where we're at."
And that feeling is very uneasy at this point.
The Atlanta Braves made no significant offseason changes, choosing to enter the 2012 season with largely the same group that famously collapsed at the end of the 2011 regular season.
GM Frank Wren obviously had faith in his boys, and that faith thus far has paid off, with the Braves enjoying a 1.5 game lead in the NL East over the Washington Nationals.
The Braves' Opening Day payroll was $83.3 million, good for 16th in the league, and Wren will have some money to spend should the need arise.
David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted on Friday that the Braves could be interested in starter Roy Oswalt, who has begun working out for teams.
Regarding all the Roy Oswalt #Braves questions—team has not ruled it out, from what I hear. I assume it would depend on price.
— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) May 18, 2012
Oswalt would provide depth to a starting rotation that currently ranks 12th in the National League with a 4.27 ERA.
The Baltimore Orioles are turning back the clock—back to the days when they were actually relevant.
At 27-14 heading into Sunday's game with the Washington Nationals, the O's are leading the AL East by two games over the Tampa Bay Rays and have the second-best record in all of baseball.
Yet it hasn't stopped teams from contacting the O's about relievers Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom, who together are making $9.4 million this season.
The O's have made no secret their attempts to shop Gregg. However, with a 2.08 ERA and 19 saves, the Orioles have the best bullpen in the majors, so vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette likely won't do anything to upset the apple cart just yet.
This past offseason, catcher Kelly Shoppach signed a one-year, $1.14 million contract with the Boston Red Sox to serve as the backup to Jarrold Saltalamacchia, returning to the team that drafted him in 2001.
However, if rumors persist, Shoppach may not be long for Boston.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweeted last week that Shoppach's name is no doubt being discussed by several teams.
In addition, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote on Sunday that the Red Sox reached out to the Washington Nationals and discussed Shoppach with them after the season-ending injury to Nats catcher Wilson Ramos.
The Chicago Cubs have been actively working on a contract extension for starting pitcher Matt Garza, and with the emergence of Jeff Samardzija, they have two power right-handed pitchers at the top of their rotation.
So, where does that leave Ryan Dempster?
Dempster has the right to refuse any trade due to his 10/5 rights, so he clearly has the upper hand. Recent stories ponder whether or not the Boston Red Sox might be interested. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com believes that Dempster would thrive in Boston.
Red Sox starters are second-to-last in the American League with a 5.25 ERA, so Dempster, who has yet to win a game despite a 2.28 ERA in seven starts, would certainly help.
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jake Peavy has been simply outstanding this season, with a 4-1 record and 2.65 ERA in eight starts. Yet even Peavy knows that his time in Chicago may not be long.
The White Sox are currently a game under .500 and 3.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central. While it's still early, roster decisions will have to be pondered by GM Kenny Williams if Chicago falls further behind. Peavy would be the most likely option.
Peavy is making $17 million this year, with the White Sox holding a $22 million team option for next season. There should be no doubt that option won't be exercised, although a renegotiated contract is certainly possible.
Peavy himself knows all about the reality of his situation. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, if Peavy had his druthers, Chicago is the place he wants to be.
Jake Peavy on trade possibility: “If that comes about, I’ll welcome that and do what I’m asked to do. But I’d love to be in Chicago.”
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 9, 2012
Peavy likely won't have much of a say in the matter.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Scott Rolen has been dealing with chronic pain in his left shoulder for several years, and recently landed on the disabled list yet again when the pain became too great to continue on the field.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com writes that there's a possibility Rolen may not return anytime soon, leaving the Reds with a decision to make regarding the hot corner.
Boston Red Sox Kevin Youkilis is currently rehabbing at Triple-A Pawtucket and could be returning to the lineup soon after going down with a sore lower back.
Numerous stories out of Boston ponder whether or not now is the right time to get rid of Youkilis, especially after the strong showing of prospect Will Middlebrooks during Youk's absence.
While the Reds have denied that they have discussed Youkilis internally, the longer Rolen stays on the DL, the more attractive Youkilis may become, especially if he stays healthy and avoids further injury.
With Roberto Hernandez, aka Fausto Carmona, still sitting in the Dominican Republic dealing with visa issues, the Cleveland Indians would love to find another starter to bolster their rotation.
In addition, as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports points out, the Tribe would love another right-handed bat to help offset the top-heavy left-handed batting order.
Rosenthal wonders whether or not the Tribe will be flexible enough, given that fact that they're having trouble drawing flies to Progressive Field, let alone fans.
The Colorado Rockies are a mess right now—only the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres have a worse record at this point, and the starting rotation has been absolutely abysmal, dead last in the National League with a collective 5.21 ERA.
In his latest Full Count video for FOXSports.com, Ken Rosenthal said that Jeremy Guthrie could be a likely trade candidate if the Rockies can't turn things around quickly.
Jorge de la Rosa is currently rehabbing from last year's Tommy John surgery, and while he was recently shut down after experiencing tightness in his left forearm, he is still likely to return by the All-Star break.
Guthrie hasn't been terrible—a 2-1 record and 4.85 ERA in five starts—but his $8.2 million contract certainly makes him expendable.
Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch went all in this offseason in committing $214 million to free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, and according to Buster Olney of ESPN, don't expect Ilitch to stand pat in the coming months.
Olney talked to several MLB executives who believe the Tigers will be one of the more aggressive teams this summer. Several believe that Ilitch will give the green light on spending to acquire a left fielder and second baseman. Considering Delmon Young's recent transgression and poor performance at the plate, along with a putrid .169 average out of their current second basemen thus far, it makes complete sense.
The Houston Astros currently sit at 18-22 and four games out of first place in the NL Central Division, but it would be a stretch for anyone to think that they will be in contention later this summer.
GM Jeff Luhnow recently said that the Astros weren't currently interested in selling off any of their veterans—for now.
However, that's likely to change as the summer months draw near. Starter Wandy Rodriguez and closer Brett Myers will both draw interest. Myers has a no-trade clause, so as much as he would like to stay in Houston, he also knows it's beyond his control.
"I don't necessarily look at people saying 'Oh, you're gonna get traded here' or 'You're gonna get traded there,'" Myers told ESPN's Jayson Stark. "That's not weighing on my mind at all. … I'm not looking to get traded. It's not my decision. I don't have any no-trade clause or anything like that. It's out of my hands. All I can do is go out there and perform. And if something like that happens, it happens. But hopefully, it won't happen, because that means we're playing good baseball."
Good left-handed relief pitching has always been a hot commodity for every MLB team, and often hard to find.
The Kansas City Royals have a pretty good one right now in Jose Mijares, but as the season progresses and the Royals continue to slip further in the standings, Mijares will likely draw interest for several contending teams.
Mijares has a 2.60 ERA in 20 appearances thus far for the Royals, and with his team-friendly $925,000 contract, he'll be a very viable option for any team regardless of market size and payroll.
The Los Angeles Angels bullpen was much maligned in the first month of the season, and rightfully so—they were simply horrid.
Angels GM Jerry DiPoto sought to upgrade early, dealing minor league infielder Alexi Amarista to the San Diego Padres for reliever Ernesto Freiri, and the move has paid off. In six appearances for the Angels, Frieri has yet to even allow a hit, striking out an amazing 12 batters in 5.2 innings.
However, DiPoto will likely continue seeking upgrades. Earlier rumors also had the Angels shopping speedy center fielder Peter Bourjos, but DiPoto quickly shot down that notion.
Could James Loney's days in LA be numbered?
At 27-13 entering Sunday's game with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in baseball, but that won't stop GM Ned Colletti from considering upgrades where needed.
Colletti told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times that he'll have the financial flexibility needed to look into possible deals to bolster his roster.
"If we have a chance to improve our club, they're open-minded to doing it and everything that it entails," Colletti said.
Two specific areas that Colletti may target are at first and third base, where both James Loney and Juan Uribe are struggling offensively.
On Sunday morning, the Miami Marlins announced that they had optioned first baseman Gaby Sanchez to Triple-A New Orleans.
Sanchez had been hitting just .197 with one HR and 11 RBI this season after placing fourth in National League Rookie of the Year Award balloting in 2010 and making the All-Star team last season.
Presumably, the Marlins could be looking at options, and at least one source suggests taking a peek at Toronto Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind.
— Juan C. Rodriguez (@JCRMarlinsbeat) May 20, 2012
Lind will receive attention now that he's been placed on waivers by the Jays, but with an average of .186 along with three HR and 11 RBI, he's not much better of an option than Sanchez.
It will be likely that a $100 million contract or more will be needed to keep starting pitcher Zack Greinke in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has expressed a desire to work out a long-term commitment with Greinke.
"Sure, why not? We'd like to keep him He's able to stop losing streaks," Attanasio told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. "The team plays with a lot of confidence behind him. We'll see.''
Greinke would love to stay in Milwaukee as well, but it all may be dictated by money. Milwaukee is a mid-market team with financial limitations, so if the two are unable to come together on a contract, teams like the Toronto Blue Jays will be ready to swoop.
Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal is one who believes the Jays are prepared to go after a big-time, either Greinke or even Matt Garza if talks between the Cubs and Graza break down.
Ron Gardenhire, in his 11th season as skipper of the Twins, appears to be safe despite his team's dismal start.
Earlier this month, Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad expressed his unwavering support for both interim GM Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire, essentially saying that neither of them have anything to do with the team's on-field performance.
Apparently, Pohlad doesn't buy into the theory that the manager or GM should be the fall guy for the team's woeful standing.
So, now what?
The Twins have already tried roster shake-ups, demoting third baseman Danny Valencia, releasing pitcher Matt Maloney and a host of other smaller moves. With a record of 14-26, when does it become time to blow up the roster and start a fire sale?
Stay tuned, folks—that may just be the next move.
Reliever D.J. Carrasco was the first major casualty for a shaky Mets' bullpen.
New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson sent a message to his bullpen, designating D.J. Carrasco for assignment on Friday.
Alderson didn't spend a lot of money this offseason, but much of what was spent was on bullpen arms, and those arms have been horrible. As of Sunday morning, Mets' relievers were last in the majors with a 5.13 ERA.
The Mets don't have many options in the minors who are major-league ready at this point, so Alderson has few options. Money for the team was freed up when owners reached a settlement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, but whether or not that money will be available now to help out is another story.
In any event, look for Alderson to go bargain shopping for now, and possibly some high-end shopping at the end of the season.
All has been quiet on the Yankees front this season thus far, and that in itself is unusual.
Despite a season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera and a strained left oblique for replacement David Robertson, the Yankees have opted to fix things internally, going with Rafael Soriano as their temporary closer until Robertson is ready.
One name that has been bandied about is catcher Francisco Cervelli, currently playing at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre.
According to Wilmer Reina of the Venezuelan publication Diario La Verdad, at least two teams have inquired about Cervelli, but the Yankees have been unwilling to let him go.
The Yankees currently have Russell Martin and Chris Stewart on their 25-man roster and also have highly regarded catching prospects Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine waiting in the wings as well.
The closer's role in baseball during the 2012 season has seen a slew of changes due to injuries and poor performances. The Oakland Athletics made a change of their own as well.
Grant Balfour was replaced as closer by Brian Fuentes after Balfour struggled, posting an 11.81 in his previous seven outings before the transition.
Balfour was none too pleased about the switch, but he may not have to worry about it for too long. With the A's relocation situation still in limbo, GM Billy Beane could very well be offering up Balfour's services to other teams later this season if the A's fall out of contention.
As Boston Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis works his way back into the lineup after spending time on the disabled list with a sore back, more than one pair of eyes will be monitoring his progress.
While the Cincinnati Reds were mentioned as possible suitors earlier in this slide, the Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly interested as well.
ESPN's Jerry Crasnick is reporting that the Phillies have scouts watching Youkilis' progress during his minor league rehab. However, in Philly's case, they'll be looking at Youkilis as an option at first base.
The trio of Laynce Nix, John Mayberry and Ty Wiggington have combined for a .291/.352/.417 slash line this season, but collectively have only produced four HR and 18 RBI. With Ryan Howard's return date up in the air, Youkilis could easily provide that same production, if not more, than the current cast of characters.
If it weren't for the offensive efforts of center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be ranked as the worst hitting team in the National League.
Oh, wait a minute—they are the worst hitting team in the National League.
Needless to say, the anemic bats that make up the Pirates' batting order aside from McCutchen (.346, seven HR, 20 RBI) has been painful to watch. And according to GM Neal Huntington, help may not be coming soon. Externally, that is.
“There are very, very few trades of substance made in May and there are few trades of substance made in June, Huntington told Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "So our solutions are going to have to come internally unless we’re willing to be less than intelligent and dramatically overpay. That’s just the way it is.
“We’re certainly looking externally, but the extra wild card has made it that much more of a challenge. There are fewer sellers out there, and we’re going to have to be creative.”
The struggling San Diego Padres have had to suffer through a spate of injuries combined with poor play, and this past week saw an example of just that.
Second baseman Orlando Hudson was given his outright release after hitting just .211, shortstop Jason Bartlett was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right knee, and starting pitcher Tim Stauffer joined Bartlett on the DL with a sprained elbow.
All of these moves make way for youngsters to show their stuff at the major league level, with the recently acquired Alexi Amarista now manning second and 25-year-old Everth Cabrera temporarily manning short.
It's likely a lost season for the Padres, who are also currently vetting five possible ownership groups, with the team likely to change hands sometime before the end of the season.
One name that has been mentioned lately as a possible trade chip for GM Josh Byrnes is starting pitcher Edinson Volquez. Volquez has posted a 2-3 record and 3.04 ERA in nine starts, but seven of those starts have come at Petco Park, long known as a pitcher's best friend.
The Giants are still patiently awaiting the return of Freddy Sanchez.
Emmanuel Burriss, Brandon Crawford, Joaquin Arias and Charlie Culberson currently comprise the infield, with the exception of first base, for the San Francisco Giants. None of them will be ever be accused of being household names.
With Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Theriot all on the disabled list, the Giants are clearly short-handed and have thrown out feelers to other teams in hopes of somehow finding a diamond in the rough.
Sanchez's return from shoulder surgery last year is still uncertain, and Sandoval is weeks away from returning from a broken hamate bone.
The Giants have played better of late, surging to two games above .500 before Sunday's game with the Oakland A's, but no doubt that GM Brian Sabean would like to find better infield alternatives sooner rather than later.
With a record of 19-24, the Seattle Mariners are in third place in the AL West, and with the second-worst team batting average (.234) in the league, it's hard to imagine they'll be in contention anytime soon.
At least one source believes that the Mariners should jump at the chance of trading one of their best assets sooner rather than later—closer Brandon League.
Dave Cameron of U.S.S. Mariner believes the M's will lose value the longer they hold onto League. His reasoning is that the M's can afford to offer up League now and not suffer all that much in the bullpen.
He may have a point. It's not like Mariners fans haven't suffered enough already, what's another year?
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, rival GMs in the National League believe that the St. Louis Cardinals will be aggressive on the trade market if a need emerges.
Maybe that need has arrived.
The Cardinals placed first baseman Lance Berkman on the disabled list for the second time this year after Berkman injured his knee taking a routine throw from shortstop Rafael Furcal in Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cardinals won't know the severity of the injury until an MRI is performed on Monday. However, if Berkman is out for an extended period, expect GM John Mozeliak to get busy.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been besieged by a spate of injuries, yet they continue marching on, just two games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.
Three of the injuries have certainly been devastating in nature—third baseman Evan Longoria tore his left hamstring after his leg got tangled up with an infielder while attempting a stolen base on April 30.
Left fielder Desmond Jennings strained his left knee, also on the basepaths, in a game on May 6 and was finally sent to the DL last week after missing several games.
Last week, starting pitcher Jeff Niemann suffered a broken right fibula when he was hit with a batted ball in the first inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
All of the three will be back at some point within the next couple of months, and utility outfielder Sam Fuld should return from the disabled list in early August.
In essence, the Rays will be getting major upgrades with their returning starters, and as long as the current cast of characters holds on, the Rays made not need to be very active at the trade deadline.
Thus far in the first two months of the 2012 season, all of the talk surrounding the Texas Rangers has largely been centered around outfielder Josh Hamilton's otherworldly start to the season and his impending free agency.
In the Rangers' case, no news is good news.
The Rangers currently hold a comfortable 5.5 game lead in the AL West over the Oakland A's, they have an offense that is scary throughout the batting order, and the pitching has been solid.
It's quiet times these days for GM Jon Daniels. However, one injury could change that in a heartbeat.
The Toronto Blue Jays have picked up a load of prospects through several trades over the past few seasons, largely due to shrewd dealing by GM Alex Anthopoulos. At least one source believes those prospects could pay large dividends come the trade deadline.
In his latest Full Count video, FOX Sports baseball guru Ken Rosenthal thinks that the Blue Jays will be major players for starting pitching at the deadline, and will have attractive pieces in order to go after pitchers like Matt Garza or Jake Peavy.
With a rotation that already features Ricky Romero and the emerging Brandon Morrow, adding either one of the above will give the Jays a formidable front three for an anticipated playoff push.
The Washington Nationals already sport the second-best starting rotation in baseball with a 2.79 ERA, and they have depth as well, with John Lannan currently toiling in Triple-A and veteran Chien-Ming Wang ready to return from the disabled list.
Wang will likely join the Nats' bullpen upon his return at the end of the month, and there have already been teams interested in the Taiwanese-born right-hander for starting rotation depth.
ESPN's Jayson Stark reported that the Nats' have thus far rebuffed all inquiries, so Wang is safe...for now.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle. Follow Doug on Twitter, @Sports_A_Holic.