While it's still relatively early in the 2012 regular season, things are starting to take shape in divisions around MLB—some more surprisingly than others.
A number of teams who were expected to be contenders for playoff berths, at this point, look more like pretenders.
Sooner or later, these teams will be faced with difficult decisions—continue pushing forward with their current rosters, which include some free agents-to-be, or to move these players elsewhere, restocking the farm system with needed talent and giving their top prospects a chance to shine?
With the clock ticking, let's take a look at 10 players who could be big-time trade chips for their current clubs and play a part in improving those teams by being shipped out of town.
2012 Stats: 5-1, 2.70 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 51 H, 12 BB, 59 K
We looked at Zack Greinke last week and not much has changed since then.
He is still set to become a free agent following the season, and while Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has not backed off his assertion that he would like to keep him, Greinke is likely to receive offers that are far more lucrative than what Milwaukee can offer.
According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, the Toronto Blue Jays are looking to make a big move to capitalize on a suddenly wide-open AL East. Additionally, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports names Toronto as one team that will be all over the Brewers to acquire Greinke if and when he is officially made available.
With Milwaukee having a pretty barren minor-league system and the Blue Jays boasting one of the deepest, the Blue Jays are one of a few teams with the pieces to get a deal done with the floundering Brewers.
2012 Stats: 6-1, 2.48 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 54.1 IP, 46 H, 10 BB, 58 K
Cole Hamels is another pitcher that we looked at last week, and like Zack Greinke, not much has changed in regards to his status.
While ESPN's Jayson Stark reported that the Phillies have no interest in trading the 28-year-old free agent-to-be, the fact remains that if the team finds itself out of contention as the trade deadline nears, moving Hamels makes sense for a club that needs an injection of youth.
Rightly so, the focus in 2012 has been on the Phillies' pair of high-profile free agents, Hamels and center fielder Shane Victorino.
But keep in mind that following next season, another pair of high-profile players—Hunter Pence and Chase Utley—will hit the free-agent market.
With Hamels expected to fetch offers exceeding $20 million a season, it may not be financially feasible for Philadelphia to keep everyone.
Hamels has far more value than anyone else mentioned, even as only a two-month rental.
2012 Stats: 1-5, 4.37 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 55.2 IP, 60 H, 14 BB, 45 K
The Angels are, without question, one of the more disappointing teams in all of baseball this season, yet it remains to be seen whether they decide to start selling off pieces.
What there is no question about, however, is that the team is going to be up against any budget constraints that owner Arte Moreno has in place for the 2013 season.
As it stands now, the team has $91 million committed to only seven players in 2013; the numbers climb to $121 million for 10 players if the team exercises options that they hold on catcher Chris Iannetta ($5 million) and a pair of starting pitchers, Ervin Santana ($13 million) and Dan Haren ($15.5 million).
While moving Santana (who we'll look at in a bit) is likely the team's preference, a deal for the 31-year-old Haren would bring back immeasurably more in the way of quality prospects for a team that is loaded with veterans.
Regardless of what his 2012 numbers look like, Haren would become one of the most sought-after players on the trade market should the Angels decide to make him available.
2012 Stats: 2-2, 3.31 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 49 IP, 44 H, 17 BB, 44 K
Another player we've previously discussed, Shaun Marcum still remains a potential trade-market bargain when compared to the likely asking prices of the other front-end starting pitchers that could be available.
A free agent this offseason, Marcum has had success pitching in the AL East previously, posting a 37-25 record with a 3.85 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over parts of five years with the Toronto Blue Jays.
2012 Stats: .335/.402/.606, 9 HR, 29 RBI
Is there a market for a 36-year-old that can only serve as a designated hitter?
When the player is David Ortiz and he's playing as well as he has thus far in 2012, you'd better believe that teams would be interested in him.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington could decide to clean house and get rid of a number of players from Boston's old regime, and Ortiz could find himself on the trade block.
Shortly after long time Boston catcher Jason Varitek retired, Ortiz told WEEI's Rob Bradford that he wasn't in a rush to join his former captain on the sidelines:
You know what? I tell people a couple more years just to make them feel good and they don't think you plan on playing this game until you're on crutches. But as long as I feel good and I can swing the bat well I want to keep on playing. What better life is there?
Does Ortiz really fit in the long-term plans of the Red Sox?
It's doubtful, which means trading Ortiz for a prospect, rather than taking their chances with a compensatory draft pick, makes sense for the Red Sox.
2012 Stats: 0-3, 5.19 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 17.1 IP, 18 H, 8 BB, 14 K, 1 SV
No longer the strikeout machine known as "K-Rod," 30-year-old reliever Francisco Rodriguez is only a year removed from being a full-time closer for the New York Mets.
With the rash of injuries and ineffectiveness plaguing the bullpens of contenders around baseball, Rodriguez could be an attractive piece to add to the back of a number of bullpens.
As John Axford owns the ninth inning for the Brewers and Rodriguez is set to hit free agency following the season, moving him while teams still have a known need for an established closer makes sense for the Brewers.
While the return likely would not be great, losing Rodriguez from their bullpen isn't likely to change the Brewers' fortunes one way or the other in 2012.
2012 Stats: .282/.306/.583, 7 HR, 19 RBI
The heir apparent to Jason Varitek in Boston is not 27-year-old Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though he's playing like he is.
No, the future behind the plate in Boston is Ryan Lavarnway, who is currently biding his time with Triple-A Pawtucket..
Once a highly touted prospect himself, Saltalamacchia is playing as well as he ever has in the majors, finally justifying some of the hype that followed him from Atlanta to Texas.
A number of teams, including Arizona, Tampa Bay and Washington, are in need of another catcher either for the rest of 2012 or in the future.
There's a market for a player like Saltalamacchia out there, but it's up to Ben Cherington to take advantage of it. Boston would be wise to explore what they could acquire in exchange for the man known as Salty.
2012 Stats: 2-6, 4.22 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 59.2 IP, 55 H, 20 BB, 45 K
Like his rotation mate Dan Haren, Ervin Santana has had a subpar 2012 so far, though it's not all his fault—the Angels offense has scored no runs in five of his nine starts thus far.
As with Haren, the Angels have a decision to make on whether to exercise the $13.5 million team option for 2013.
While he wouldn't bring back as much in the way of quality prospects as Haren would, a number of contending teams would vie to acquire Santana's services.
2012 Stats: 2-3, 3.55 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 50.2 IP, 53 H, 13 BB, 29 K
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports said recently that the Arizona Diamondbacks will begin looking to make a move with one of their starting pitchers, likely Joe Saunders, sooner rather than later.
With prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs approaching big-league readiness, Saunders becomes expendable.
Saunders, 31, was non-tendered by the team following the 2011 season only to re-sign with the club on a one-year, $6 million contract.
While he's not an overpowering starter who will blow hitters away, the southpaw has had success previously in the American League, posting a 54-32 record, 4.29 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over parts of six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
Saunders could be a low-cost addition to any number of rotations down the stretch.
2012 Stats: .219/.292/.344, 2 HR, 9 RBI
Regardless of whether Boston can continue its recent winning ways, there is no question that Will Middlebrooks is the future at third base for the Red Sox.
Which makes incumbent third baseman Kevin Youkilis expendable.
Youkilis, 33, is currently working his way through a minor league rehab stint. He has been scouted by both the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported over the weekend that the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants could all be potential suitors for Youkilis as well.
The Red Sox remain unlikely to pick up a $13 million option on him for 2013, so as long as Youkilis shows that he can still hit, the question shouldn't be if Boston will trade him, but to which team.