Regardless of what MLB contenders say publicly, they are all desperate to improve personnel via trade.
August 31 is their deadline to address weaknesses. Once this month expires, reinforcements can only be recalled from within the organization.
Negotiations between potential trade partners are often unsuccessful. That’s because selling teams might be uncomfortable fooling around within their own division or reluctant to forfeit controllable players.
Let’s put all that aside and explore dream scenarios for baseball’s most competitive clubs.
Sure, Josh Beckett is somewhat of a clubhouse cancer, but the third-place Arizona Diamondbacks need a starting pitcher who can miss bats. Though Beckett hasn't done much of that in 2012, switching back to the National League and opposing hitters with limited experience against him should lead to improvement.
A simple change of scenery can be therapeutic.
Shutting down Carl Crawford was a sign that the Boston Red Sox have thrown in the towel. To rid themselves of Beckett, they would surely absorb the majority of his remaining salary (about $35 million through 2014).
His stock has plummeted, so the D-Backs could acquire the right-hander without parting with a top pitching prospect.
Equipped with speed, power, steady starting pitching and dominant relievers, the Atlanta Braves are as well-rounded as any MLB team.
They don’t desire an everyday player, just somebody who excels in one or two aspects of baseball.
Speedy Juan Pierre (31 SB in 2012) is obviously a threat on the basepaths. Don’t forget, though, that he also owns the lowest strikeout rate among active pros.
Having such a skilled individual available off the bench is a luxury.
At the July 31 non-waiver deadline, the Baltimore Orioles were reluctant to discuss 19-year-old phenom Dylan Bundy. He's been brilliant as a professional (8-3, 2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP), gifted with a repertoire that's nearly ready for the big leagues.
But in a potential deal for southpaw Cliff Lee, management might make an exception.
The O's starting rotation is already expecting to get a boost in early September when Jason Hammel returns from a knee injury. However, with eight American League squads competing for five postseason berths, this franchise needs every possible advantage.
Infielder Orlando Hudson (foot contusion) has landed on the disabled list. It's a negligible loss considering that the veteran was struggling in a tiny role.
Placido Polanco would contribute more due to his contact ability and defensive skills.
Though he wouldn't supplant Kevin Youkilis at third base immediately, Polanco is a terrific insurance policy. Also, his $5.5 mutual option for the 2013 season makes more sense than Youk's $13 million salary.
In the meantime, he could be used as an occasional fill-in for the tired-looking Gordon Beckham, or serve as designated hitter to spare Adam Dunn from elite left-handers.
Despite an ugly performance from the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff on Monday night, the organization's focus ought to be on securing a productive catcher.
Devin Mesoraco is the weaker of the team's active backstops.
The preseason Rookie of the Year candidate hasn't made necessary offensive adjustments, yet his trade value at 24 years of age remains relatively high.
All-Star Carlos Ruiz (plantar fasciitis) isn't scheduled to rejoin a 25-man roster until several days after the waiver deadline. Meanwhile, the Reds would have to call upon Dioner Navarro to make several starts.
Arming themselves for a World Series run is worth that present-day sacrifice.
When the Detroit Tigers and Miami Marlins did business a month ago, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez became men of Motown.
Infante (.287/.303/.468) has been outstanding for the reigning AL Central champions. His coveted teammate, on the other hand, isn’t making such a smooth transition.
Skipper Jim Leyland has a rotation of accomplished pitchers, but none that he would trust to follow Justin Verlander in a playoff series.
Lifetime Marlin Josh Johnson induces lots of swings-and-misses. Switching leagues won’t necessarily affect him as negatively (2.95 ERA in 17 career interleague starts).
Vernon Wells sits atop L.A.’s least-wanted list. (My verb choice is inspired by the fact that Wells has started only nine games since Memorial Day.)
The Los Angeles Angels would be glad to absorb upwards of 90 percent of his bloated contract if it returns them an experienced arm. Pairing Wells with a projectable minor league hitter could spare them from including so much cash.
Mike Scioscia doesn’t have faith in his relief corps (4.03 bullpen ERA), though he shouldn’t have any reservations about using strike-thrower Chris Perez in high-leverage situations.
The James Loney Era will certainly come to an end this winter.
Of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers prefer to upgrade by August 31.
Justin Morneau is also a lefty-swinging first baseman, but one gifted with more home-run ability. Especially when used in a platoon, Morneau has a sizable offensive impact.
The Dodgers would make this deal in a heartbeat because it allows them to retain Zach Lee and Allen Webster, two prized pitching prospects.
This season the New York Yankees are competing without all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera (torn ACL). Rafael Soriano has performed admirably as interim closer and David Robertson is brilliant in the eighth inning, but other Yankees relievers haven’t shown consistency.
While Colorado Rockies pitchers struggle to keep opponents in check, 37-year-old Rafael Betancourt looks outstanding.
His masterful location (career 4.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio) prevents opposing hitters from getting good wood on his offerings. A mutual option in his contract could keep him in the Bronx through 2014.
The Oakland Athletics infield was bolstered with the acquisition of Stephen Drew on August 20.
Why stop there?
Brandon Inge is currently sidelined, and the A’s just demoted second-year second baseman Jemile Weeks.
The numbers that Chase Headley posts at Petco Park suggest he could be an RBI machine in a less challenging environment. He’s under team control for another two years after 2012, which means he won’t hog too much of Oakland’s limited payroll.
Parting with promising outfield prospect Michael Taylor shouldn’t worry the A’s front office. Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick have emerged as legitimate, middle-of-the-order hitters, and both are far from free agency.
In hindsight, the Pittsburgh Pirates regret signing Jose Tabata to a long-term deal during the summer of 2011. Though they could contend in spite of him, the organizational preference is to dump him elsewhere.
Only in a dream, right?
One blue-collar city has already fallen in love with Asdrubal Cabrera—he could become very popular in the Steel City, too. The Cleveland Indians would agree to terms if given a lanky, fast-rising starter like Jameson Taillon.
Finally, the Bucs would be getting something from the shortstop position (.226/.261/.330 with 37 R since Opening Day).
Josh Willingham is capable of replacing convicted cheater Melky Cabrera. His power and team-friendly salary are desired by every club.
It will be expensive—in terms of talent—to get him fitted into a San Francisco Giants uniform, but the 2010 world champs have a few high-ceiling expendables.
Heath Hembree and Joe Panik should be ready for MLB debuts by 2013. Staying in the Bay Area means that they would be blocked by Brian Wilson and Brandon Crawford, respectively.
At first glance, it doesn't add up. The St. Louis Cardinals own the league's best run differential (plus-113)...but a third-place record?
Here’s the basic explanation: Their wins are blowouts, while their losses are competitive and devastating.
The Cardinals lack a superb left-handed reliever, so opposing sluggers—and even pinch-hitters—have haunted them in the final frames (NL-worst 44 home runs allowed in the seventh inning or later).
Glen Perkins fills that void and could be kept through the middle of the decade.
With a surplus of formidable starting pitching, the Tampa Bay Rays will shed an arm if it allows them to reinforce another area.
Jose Lobaton and Jose Molina have split time behind the plate, but neither contributes much with a bat in hand.
Ramon Hernandez's 2012 stats are misleading. He just needs regular usage to get back into the swing of things.
The Texas Rangers want a rotation leader who can challenge David Price, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver en route to a third consecutive Fall Classic.
Felix Hernandez fits that description.
Including Elvis Andrus in a package for Mr. Perfect could be risky. His understudy, Double-A shortstop Jurickson Profar, has no major league experience.
Still, an opportunity to add King Felix for only three players cannot be passed up.
If the Washington Nationals sustain their winning ways, they’ll cruise to a postseason berth.
However, the team’s starting pitching could be exposed this October with the impending shutdown of ace Stephen Strasburg.
Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmermann would be the new top three, but who qualifies to complete the quartet? Ross Detwiler? John Lannan?!
I’m skeptical that the Nats can reach the 2012 World Series as currently assembled.
Shaun Marcum is their savior. As a rental, he won’t disrupt their 2013 rotation plans.