With the All-Star break now behind us, all of baseball's attention turns toward two things—the race to the postseason and the trade deadline.
While we've already seen a big trade with Jeff Samardzija being moved to the Oakland Athletics, more deals should shortly follow. Below, let's take a look at two pitchers—and one team—that should be right in the thick of the discussions as July winds down.
The biggest fish in the free-agency market continues to be Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price. While the Rays may have turned their season around enough to hold onto him rather than unload him, they've also never been an organization likely to turn away a package of talented prospects for a proven star.
As Jim Bowden of ESPN Insider (subscription required) notes, however, they may demand a particularly high price for Price:
Many contending teams interested in David Price now aren't sure the Tampa Bay Rays will actually trade him before the trade deadline.
The impression teams are getting is that if the Rays manage to get back in the playoff chase, they will hang on to Price, and if they don't, they will trade him only if they get a better package than what the Chicago Cubs got for Jeff Samardzija, which eliminates a number of possible suitors.
The Rays would be looking for an elite prospect and a top prospect in exchange for Price, and there are only a few organizations that have that type of package to offer, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Cubs and Minnesota Twins, and the latter two teams aren't really a fit for Price.
One team that has completely taken itself out of the running is the Los Angeles Angels, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:
David Price might be the grand prize in the trade market, but the Angels are out of the running.
The Angels long have known they do not have the elite prospects necessary to acquire Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. That would require the Angels to trade players from their major league roster, and General Manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday he has no intention of doing that in any deal.
'We’re not looking to move pieces from our major league club,' Dipoto said.
You can't blame the Rays for holding out for a small ransom. Price consistently produces and is an impressive 9-7 with a 3.23 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 164 strikeouts in 147.2 innings pitched. For a team looking to make a postseason run, Price would be an excellent addition.
It doesn't hurt that Price has plenty of experience in October, either.
Price has become a fairly regular fixture on the trade market, but the Rays are always just good enough—and likely can never get quite an attractive enough trade package—for him to be dealt. Will this year be any different?
More than likely, no.
Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies Fire Sale (Or Lack Thereof)
Let's call a spade a spade—the Philadelphia Phillies aren't very good. Long gone are the days of the team consistently reaching the playoffs as Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels terrorized the NL East.
And yet the Phillies seem to be putting off the inevitable fire sale that could invigorate the farm system and start the rebuilding process. It's a curious decision, but according to Bowden, one the team will likely stick to.
While Marlon Byrd could very well be dealt, several other Phillies may be sticking around, as Bowden writes:
Cole Hamels is the real trade chip the Phillies have, especially if Price isn't traded. He is the one player who could bring back major league-ready impact prospects and escalate the Phillies' rebuilding process. However, some GMs are getting the impression the Phillies won't trade him, which would be a mistake. Cliff Lee has not looked good on his rehab assignment, and he's more likely to be dealt in August rather than July, which would give him more time to prove he's healthy and productive again.
It appears both Rollins and Utley will stay put, although the Phillies should consider offering Utley to the Oakland A's or San Francisco Giants if they can find a good trade for their future.
It appears that the Phillies have already had talks of dealing Byrd to the Seattle Mariners, however. But with a no-trade clause in his contract, it remains to be seen if Byrd would give the okay on any deal. He gave Leslie Gudel of CSN Philly a fairly generic answer when questioned about waiving the draw:
The worst thing that might have happened for this organization was the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series a year ago. Why? Because that Red Sox team essentially rebooted a veteran roster by hitting the free-agency market hard rather than choosing to completely rebuild the team.
The past two seasons, the Phillies have taken a similar approach but failed to reach any level of success. If Bowden's report is to be believed, it looks as though they will now resist blowing things up and instead try to reboot this winter for a third consecutive time.
Perhaps the third time will be the charm. Or perhaps they'll once again miss a golden opportunity to restock their farm system by trading away several key veterans.
At this point, Phillies' fans would probably prefer the latter.