MLB: 7 Targets No Longer Available Due to the Second Wild-Card

Sam QuinnContributor IIIJuly 19, 2012

MLB: 7 Targets No Longer Available Due to the Second Wild-Card

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    The second wild-card spot has completely changed the MLB trading deadline. Now almost every team thinks they can contend. For example, only three teams in the American League are more than three games out of a playoff spot. This means most teams aren't willing to sell off their best players.

    The second wild-card spot has taken most of the best players off of the market. While it hurts the true contenders and may lead to teams losing their players in the winter, it will also keep as many teams in contention as possible.

    Here are seven players who may have been available without a second wild-card. 

Nick Markakis

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    Nick Markakis isn't a star, but he's proven in his time both as an Astro and an Oriole that he can be a solid contributor.

    Plenty of contenders could use an extra lefty bat, so Markakis would be normally be a pretty nice trade chip. He's in the middle of a hot streak, hitting an awesome .429 since his move to the leadoff spot after the All-Star Break. 

    The Orioles are only one game out of the playoffs at the moment but, realistically, their chances don't look great. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have a minus-56 run differential, good for second-worst in the American League.

    The Nationals could use another bat. So could the Giants. In any other year we might see Markakis shipped to one of those teams, but this year the Orioles feel like they have a chance to make the playoffs. 

James Shields

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    Tampa Bay generally doesn't mind trading anyone, especially pitchers, given their seemingly unending depth in the minor leagues. Matt Garza and Scott Kazmir have both been traded in their primes, so trading Shields is certainly not out of the question.

    The problem is Tampa Bay has plenty of reasons to think it can make the playoffs. They're only one game out of the playoffs despite a rash of injuries to stars like Evan Longoria. 

    The Rays almost always make runs in the second half of the season. Considering their history and the fact that they don't have to catch the Angels, they will probably be competitive until the final week of the season. 

    If the Rays had to win the wild-card outright rather than just force a one-game playoff with the Angels, they'd probably be thinking hard about trading Shields. Now that they have a real chance to make the playoffs, the Rays will probably hold on to him. 

Grant Balfour

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    Grant Balfour isn't quite an elite reliever, but he's a useful pitcher some teams could use for depth in October.

    Oakland has been on a hot streak recently. They're 8-2 in their last 10 games, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a team without nearly as much raw talent as other contenders. They're also trapped in a division with the ultra-talented Angels and Rangers.

    They have a number of players they could hypothetically sell off, but the A's are a young team. Keeping most of the squad together makes sense. 

    Balfour is one of the few elder statesmen in Oakland at age 34. He has playoff experience with the Rays and could be useful in a middle relief role. 

    Unfortunately for teams that want relief, Oakland is just good enough to convince themselves they're contenders. Barring a complete collapse over the next few weeks, Balfour should stay with the A's. 

Shin-Soo Choo

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    Cleveland has hung around in the playoff race, but their negative 36-run differential implies that they probably won't do that very much longer. 

    The Indians have never had any problems trading their best players at the deadline for young talent. The staples of their 2007 almost World Series team (CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez and Casey Blake) were shipped off within a few year, and that doesn't even include Cliff Lee.

    Why should Shin-Soo Choo's situation be any different?

    Choo would almost immediately become the best lefty bat on the market. He'd fetch a very hefty price from a team looking for offense. For marketing purposes alone, the Mariners might get into the chase as well. 

    Cleveland has plenty of young talent. Carlos Santana in particular strikes me as a future star. They just aren't winning anything now, but the second wild-card has deluded them into thinking otherwise. 

Cole Hamels

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    Realistically, even with the second wild-card, the Phillies won't be making the playoffs. It's a shame to see such a talented (and expensive) team play so poorly, but sometimes external factors make these things happen.

    The Phillies probably want to resign Cole Hamels rather than trade him. In fact, ESPN has reported that the two sides are working hard on a deal before the deadline. Assuming his demands aren't outrageous, I'd expect a deal to get done.

    But, could the second wild-card play a part in Philadelphia's willingness to pay him? They have to realize that the Nationals aren't going away, and the rest of the division looks strong.

    Given all of their committed money going forward, it would make sense for the Phillies to trade Hamels rather than give him a big contract. They must think they're at least capable of securing one of the two Wild Card spots in each of the next few years. 

    In the old single wild-card system, the Phillies might try to rebuild. They'd trade Hamels and many of their veterans in an effort to start over. But, now they think they'll be able to fight for a playoff spot over the next few years. 

Zach Greinke

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    Like the Phillies with Hamels, the Brewers would like to lock up Zach Greinke rather than trade him. It's simply too hard to find a pitcher of his caliber, so when you get one you can't let him get away.

    The sad reality, though, is that Milwaukee is a small market. If the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs get involved, the Brewers will likely be priced out of the market.

    Fortunately for the Brewers, Greinke's anxiety disorder may make him willing to sign a cheaper extension to stay with the Brewers. He's comfortable in Milwaukee, so money may not be as big of an issue for him.

    But I'm not mind reader, and when the Yankees come calling it's never easy to say no. If the Brewers felt that they were truly out of contention, they'd probably think about selling Greinke to the highest bidder.

    At six games out the Brewers still have a puncher's chance, but not a great one. The second wild-card is the only reason they're still in the hunt. A year ago, if they didn't feel like they could keep Greinke, he'd probably already be gone by now. 

R.A Dickey

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    As much as I hate to say this, it might make sense for the Mets to trade R.A Dickey. Don't get me wrong, as a Mets fan I'd go crazy if they did. But, it makes a ton of baseball sense.

    Dickey has a $5 million team option for next year and then he hits free agency. Even with his age, if he keeps pitching as well as he has been so far this year, he'll command a huge contract. The Mets aren't exactly overflowing with cash right now, so they may not be able to afford him.

    Dickey's stock is never going to be higher than it is right now. Given his favorable contract over this year and next, they could easily demand at least one premium prospect for him. For a team claiming to be rebuilding, that's a great return on a very small investment in Dickey.

    But, the second wild-card has given the Mets hope that they can sneak into the playoffs. With Dickey and Johan Santana at the top of their rotation, they could make some real noise in October. They probably won't get there, but they're close enough now that they wouldn't trade Dickey.