As MLB creeps ever closer to the non-waiver trade deadline, more names come up in various rumors and scenarios.
Some of the names appearing in recent weeks have been expected, either due to expiring contracts, expendability or current teams not able to meet contract demands.
Other names, however, have been surprising—names not largely considered to have been made available. In some of those cases, the players mentioned might not be made available at all, but it hasn’t stopped pundits from writing about them regardless.
Bleacher Report will explore some of the more interesting targets out there, and we will break down the biggest name available at each position that is likely just a pipe dream for many teams.
We will only include players who have been the subject of rumors thus far this season, so if you’re thinking that guys like Matt Kemp and Joey Votto could be on this list, dream on.
Earlier this season, Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia was the subject of trade speculation, mainly due to the play of prospect Travis d’Arnaud at Triple-A Las Vegas.
With a .333 average, 16 HR and 52 RBI, D’Arnaud’s play was indeed causing teams to salivate at the possibility of one of them becoming available.
However, that speculation can now be completely put to rest, as D’Arnaud tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a game for the Las Vegas 51s on June 25, putting him on the shelf for six to eight weeks.
With many teams needing offensive help behind the plate, they could now turn to the Boston Red Sox, who have Kelly Shoppach backing up Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway waiting in the wings at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau may qualify as a pipe dream more for reasons other than his play thus far in 2012.
Morneau appears to be recovered from a concussion suffered in July 2010 that stole a good portion of the last two seasons. However, he is still nowhere near the player he was when he captured the AL MVP award in 2006.
With a .239 average, 10 home runs and 34 RBI, Morneau is still struggling to regain his form. The cavernous confines of his home stadium certainly haven’t helped, as Target Field is a place where potential home runs hit to right field go to die.
Morneau’s contract is also an issue for many teams. He is still owed roughly $7 million for the remainder of this season and another $14 million for 2013. Given his production thus far, the value for many GMs doesn’t equate.
Interim GM Terry Ryan has said that no player on the Twins roster is deemed untouchable, but Morneau’s injury history and salary will make it difficult to move him.
The Houston Astros are a team widely expected to be sellers at the trade deadline. While many assume that the Astros will make their veterans available, speculation about younger players has been raised as well.
Last month, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Astros would be willing to listen to offers on “virtually all of their players.”
Rosenthal threw names out there like shortstop Jed Lowrie, third baseman Chris Johnson and even second baseman Jose Altuve, who was selected as an All-Star reserve on Sunday.
At just 22 years of age, Altuve has shined in his first full season in Houston, hitting .308 with 27 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases.
Rosenthal’s reasoning is that players like Lowrie and Altuve could return a larger and more attractive group of prospects.
It doesn’t mean that GM Jeff Luhnow will be looking to deal Altuve. For that, he would likely have to be completely blown away.
The Chicago Cubs are one of the few teams thus far who have essentially been identified as sellers heading into the non-waiver trade deadline. One rumor in particular generated a ton of discussion, however.
Back on May 31, Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote that the Cubs would entertain offers on everyone with the exception of starter Jeff Samardzija, according to high-ranking team officials.
Nightengale went on to say that shortstop Starlin Castro, who was selected as a reserve for the NL All-Star team for the second straight season, could be had for two impact prospects.
However, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was very quick to dispel that notion, telling ESPNChicago.com that Castro would not be made available.
"Starlin Castro is the type of player we're looking to build around," Epstein said. "There has been no trade consideration with him, whatsoever."
Apparently, that hasn’t dissuaded teams from asking about Castro. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that many teams contacted the Cubs about Castro after the USA Today story was published, and the Seattle Mariners apparently contacted the Cubs recently.
This may in fact may be one of the biggest pipe dreams on this list. Unless Epstein gets a Godfather-type offer, Castro isn’t going anywhere.
The market for quality third basemen was recently downsized with the trade that saw Kevin Youkilis change Sox—from Boston to Chicago.
Now, another third baseman could draw more than a few inquiries.
Courtesy of Jason A. Churchill of ESPN, Miami Marlins star Hanley Ramirez is now among the many players mentioned in rumors.
Churchill was clearly just speculating in print, naming no sources for his piece whatsoever. Nonetheless, the fact that he’s associated with ESPN and that the piece was listed in ESPN’s "Rumor Central" section certainly qualifies his ramblings as a rumor.
Does it mean the Marlins are even remotely interested in trading Ramirez? Certainly not, especially with the team still technically in contention and just 7.5 games out of the lead in the NL East.
But hey, it’s ESPN—there must be some relevance to it, right?
With a record of 33-45 as of Monday and mired in last place in the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins are largely considered to be sellers. Interim GM Terry Ryan has already indicated that no player on his team is considered untouchable.
However, some may be more untouchable than others.
Take the case of left fielder Josh Willingham. Willingham has provided the bulk of the offense for the Twins in his first year there, hitting .268 with 17 HR and 55 RBI. At this point, Willingham is on pace to shatter career highs in both home runs and runs batted in, despite playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Target Field.
Earlier last month, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Willingham would be one of the more highly sought-after hitters at the trade deadline.
More recently, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com said that the Twins would me much more willing to deal center fielder Denard Span over Willingham.
Heyman believes the Twins will be reluctant to deal Willingham just months after signing him to a three-year, $27 million contract.
Considering the offense Willingham has provided for the Twins thus far and the fact that no power hitters in the Twins’ farm system are anywhere near ready, I’m more inclined to agree with Heyman. This is clearly a seller’s market, and interim GM Terry Ryan will likely be asking for the moon from anyone interested in Willingham.
The ownership situation in San Diego has certainly thrown things into flux for the Padres, including the future of outfielder Carlos Quentin.
However, that situation could be cleared up soon. CBSSports.com reported last week that current Padres owner John Moores entered into an exclusive negotiating window with a group headed by local businessman Ron Fowler and the O’Malley family.
The idea of the O’Malley family getting involved in baseball once again appeals to MLB commissioner Bud Selig, so if a deal is reached, it’s likely it would get swift approval from MLB.
If that indeed happens, Quentin may not be going anywhere. It’s thought that the Padres would like Quentin to anchor an offense that would also feature Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal and others.
All along, it’s been the cloudy picture surrounding Padres ownership that has had many believing Quentin is up for grabs. GM Josh Byrnes dealt for Quentin over the offseason specifically because he felt he was a piece to build around, not a piece to trade.
Sometimes, all it takes for a rumor to get started is for a well-known journalist to mention a name under the guise of speculation.
That’s exactly what Joel Sherman of the New York Post did last month in talking about Colorado Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez.
Sherman surmised that the Rockies would find it hard to justify paying between $36 million-$40 million to two players in Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki through the 2014 season in a smaller marketplace.
Sherman brought up some good points to justify his reasoning, but the likelihood that the Rockies would even entertain the thought is remote.
In fact, GM Dan O’Dowd told Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com rather emphatically that Gonzalez is not available.
"The Carlos Gonzalez thing is a joke,'' O'Dowd said. "We're not trading Carlos Gonzalez.''
Heyman went on to say that the rumor about Gonzalez’s possible availability came about when Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo spoke to O’Dowd about Gonzalez.
A pipe dream? Yes, I’d say so.
With the Philadelphia Phillies free-falling into the basement of the NL East, speculation about several players has run rampant, including players Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels.
However, one player discussed on several occasions really raised a few eyes: southpaw starter Cliff Lee.
Recently, several blogs have explored whether or not the Phillies should part with Lee, who was traded by the Phillies to the Seattle Mariners back in December 2009 in a deal that helped facilitate the acquisition of Roy Halladay.
The Phillies have clearly started a gutting, so to speak, trading slugger Jim Thome to the Baltimore Orioles and reliever Chad Qualls to the New York Yankees over the weekend. Considering the current state of affairs, more is likely to come.
However, despite a tough season thus far for Lee (0-5, 4.13 ERA in 13 starts), few teams will likely want to, or can afford to, take on over $90 million in salary commitments.
The Seattle Mariners are a team who could very well be sellers at the trade deadline, although they have yet to declare their intentions.
One player who will likely garner the most attention yet is also be deemed close to untouchable is starting pitcher Felix Hernandez.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports believes a deal could happen, if the right package were offered.
However, let’s keep in mind that Hernandez’s contract could only be absorbed by precious few teams, and it’s likely another long-term deal would need to be negotiated as well.
Hernandez is only 26 years old, yet he is already a grizzled veteran. Just entering the prime years of his career, King Felix could be king on just about every team in baseball.
But that doesn’t mean he will be. Much like Starlin Castro earlier on this list, GM Jack Zduriencik would have to receive an offer he just can’t refuse.
Earlier this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were scuffling a bit, playing sub-.500 ball and hitting around .220.
As is almost inevitable that when teams are playing like dirt, speculation about the future of players comes into play. That was certainly the case for closer Joel Hanrahan.
Even as recently as four weeks ago, Hanrahan’s name was being bandied about, forcing Hanrahan himself to comment on his status.
"I know it's a business and anything can happen, but I don't foresee them trading me away," Hanrahan said at the time. "I think they're going to keep me here so we can win a championship together."
That’s the funny thing about rumors and expectations—they can quickly change.
Pittsburgh now finds themselves above .500 and knocking on the door of the NL Central lead behind the Cincinnati Reds. Hanrahan was named an All-Star for the second consecutive season, and the Pirates are certainly looking like a team ready to add rather than subtract.
Unless the Pirates deem Hanrahan too expensive to sign to a longer-term contact, teams can just dream about the possibility of acquiring him.
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.