It's hard to conduct a full scale fire sale in 2013. With the second wild card in place, CBA improvements to level the playing field and parity overtaking the sport, justifying a complete and total rebuild of an organization—even if it makes sense on the win-curve—is difficult to accomplish.
As the years go on, the term "fire sale" will evolve. But with less than two weeks to go before the 2013 Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, three teams stand out as candidates to move multiple players who can change pennant races and reshape the power structure around the sport.
Deciphering which teams belong on this list isn't as simple as a quick look at the current standings.
All three candidates are far from 2013 contenders, have limited payroll structures, can be considered long-term rebuilding projects and could use a boost to their farm systems.
Considering the high-end talent available on the current trade market, the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are the three teams that hold the major cards from now through July 31.
How, when and if they act could change the course of the 2013 season.
Here is a look at what each team has to offer.
1. San Diego Padres: 42-54, last place in NL West
On June 17, San Diego, despite a litany of injuries or suspensions, sat at 36-34, just one game off the pace in the mediocre National League West. Since that moment, Bud Black's team has gone 6-20 and fallen nine games back in the loss column.
With a minus-61 run differential and 1.6 percent chance of qualifying for the 2013 postseason, it's time to sell in San Diego.
If general manager Josh Byrnes does indeed hold a fire sale, expect third baseman Chase Headley's name to trump all others. But don't discount the other main pieces in San Diego.
Outfielder Carlos Quentin (145 OPS+), starting pitcher Jason Marquis (3.77 ERA) and relief pitcher Luke Gregerson (2.93 ERA) all can impact contenders. But it's the upside of Headley that can change the middle of any order in the sport.
Although the 29-year-old is in the midst of a down year (98 OPS+), his breakout 2012 (.286/.376/.498, 115 RBI) is fresh in the minds of potential buyers as the deadline nears.
With another year of team control before Headley hits free agency in 2015, the best may be yet to come for the third baseman.
If San Diego markets Headley as the player he was in 2012, a team such as the New York Yankees could try to add his bat. After all, Headley is coming off a year that would fit in with the league-adjusted production mark similar to the career of a Lance Berkman.
2. Chicago Cubs: 42-51, fourth place in NL Central
In sabermetric circles, the win curve is talked about at length. To put it simply, assessing the win curve of a franchise is a blunt assessment of how close the 40-man roster and farm system are to piecing together a team that competes for a postseason spot.
If a team is close to contending, fire sales shouldn't be on the table. Furthermore, if a team thinks it is still a year or two away from optimistically accelerating its own win curve, selling makes sense, but not at the cost of long-term talent.
In other words, the Cubs are clearly sellers, but Starlin Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood and Anthony Rizzo, all prospective members of the next contending Cubs team, aren't on the table.
Impending free agents, short-term contracts and over-the-hill albatrosses all are up for grabs, though. While that may not sound entirely appetizing for contenders, the Cubs, despite profiling as a bad team, actually have some very useful pieces available this month even after already moving Scott Feldman and Scott Hairston.
If Alfonso Soriano (40 extra-base hits), Nate Schierholtz (.862 OPS vs. RHP) and Kevin Gregg (2.95 ERA, 9.5 K/9) are sold, teams in need of power-hitting outfielders or relief help will benefit. But the true prize in Wrigley lies with the right arm of Matt Garza.
Due to the Phillies' recent hot streak and insistence on ignoring their own win curve by looking to compete with a flawed team this season, Cliff Lee is not on the open market.
Enter Matt Garza (11 GS, 71 IP, 3.10 K/BB, 3.17 ERA, 3.79 FIP) as the biggest difference-maker among available starting pitchers.
With the lack of a long-term financial commitment (Garza is a free agent after the season), combined with experience in the AL (Tampa Bay) and postseason (2008 World Series), the 29-year-old right-handed pitcher is the perfect rental for any contender in need of a boost to reach and thrive in October.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 38-56, last place in NL Central
After years of contention, fan support and star power, the Brewers are in trouble, and not just for the 2013 season.
In fact, forget competing in 2013. Despite having All-Star talent at shortstop (Jean Segura), center field (Carlos Gomez) and left field (Ryan Braun), the team is a top-heavy mess, with major holes in the starting rotation and at first base.
If any franchise in baseball should consider selling veterans, or even young players no longer in the long-term plans of the organization, it's these Brewers.
Luckily, they have the type of assets that would interest many teams.
In Rickie Weeks (1.106 OPS in June) and Yovani Gallardo (on pace for five straight 30-plus-start seasons), Milwaukee can sell bounce-back candidates capable of posting gigantic numbers at team-friendly prices for the rest of 2013 and beyond.
In John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, the many teams in need of bullpen help, including the closer-needy Detroit Tigers, can look to two hard-throwing right-handed arms with closing experience.
In Norichika Aoki, a team in need of an outfielder or top-of-the-lineup help can look at a versatile defender who is among the most unique, disciplined hitters (30 BB/20 K) in the sport.
Unless Braun magically appears on the trade block, the Brewers don't posses the transcendent star the 2013 trade block seems to be lacking. But they might be able to impact many teams in the pennant races over the next two months if a fire sale commences.
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