That sound of button-mashing you hear from every direction is 30 Major League Baseball general managers making phone calls to see if they will be able to consummate a deal that will put their team on the path to a World Series.
Trade deadline season is fascinating to watch because everyone behind the scenes, much like fans who have to hear the rampant speculation, are either going to be ecstatic or miserable based on what happens.
Fans don't want to sit through a rebuilding phase, watching their favorite players get dealt while teams must think about their short- and long-term futures. There are a lot of balls floating in the air that may or may not go in the basket.
Whatever happens over the next nine days, we've got the latest trade chatter and what it means as we reach zero hour.
Cliff Lee Drawing Scouts' Attention
No team is better positioned to cash in this deadline season, assuming it wants to, than the Philadelphia Phillies. Cliff Lee has a long track record of success and an inflated salary that doesn't make sense for a last-place team to keep.
The 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner returned to the mound Monday night against San Francisco after more than two months on the disabled list with an elbow strain, but he was commanding attention during his minor league rehab assignment, according to Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
"In fact, two teams looking for starting pitching -- the Yankees and Blue Jays -- scouted Lee's last rehab start in Clearwater," Salisbury wrote.
As of July 22, Toronto and New York are in very similar positions at two games over .500, trailing Baltimore by four games in the American League East and lacking in impact starting pitching. The Yankees, however, are as desperate as anyone to fill out a decent starting rotation. Here's how their current group looks compared to the one that started the season:
|Opening Day (Current Status)||As of July 22|
|CC Sabathia (Out for season)||Kuroda|
|Hiroki Kuroda (Active)||Brandon McCarthy|
|Masahiro Tanaka (15-day DL)||David Phelps|
|Ivan Nova (Out for season)||Shane Greene|
|Michael Pineda (Out for season)||Chase Whitley|
Lee's MLB return didn't produce positive results. The left-hander allowed 12 hits and six earned runs in 5.2 innings against the Giants, though that wasn't unexpected given how long he's been out of action.
Which player will be dealt by the July 31 deadline?
That game did continue a disturbing trend for Lee, who is allowing a career-high 11 hits per nine innings, has his lowest strikeout rate since 2010 and is averaging 89.7 miles per hour with his fastball (per FanGraphs.com).
Considering Lee will turn 36 on August 30 and is owed $25 million next year with a vesting option at $27.5 million for 2016 if he reaches 200 innings pitched next year or 400 combined innings in 2014-15, the Phillies will have to eat a lot of money to make the deal and get the package they would require.
General manager Ruben Amaro has been reluctant to sell in the past, which has hurt Philadelphia in many ways, but now that the writing is on the wall for him to make moves, the pieces to deal don't look as appealing as they once did.
Cole Hamels Still Not Going Anywhere
Speaking of Amaro's reluctance to deal anyone, notably those drafted and developed by the Phillies, ESPN's Buster Olney stated on Twitter that interested teams are getting the shaft when asking about Cole Hamels:
To date, Phillies telling other teams Cole Hamels is not available.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 22, 2014
Unlike Lee, who is nearing the end of his career, Hamels is still very much in his prime at the age of 30 and under contract through 2018 at $22.5 million per season with an option for 2019.
Because of Hamels' age, production and contract status, you can understand why Amaro would tell teams he doesn't want to trade him. There were rumblings that the Boston Red Sox were watching the southpaw, but CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman speculates that could be a simple ploy in their negotiations with free-agent-to-be Jon Lester:
Boston offered its own star lefty Jon Lester $70M over four years in spring training. Now suddenly, they'd be willing to take what's left of Hamels' $144-million, six-year deal, and give up prime prospects, too, for a very comparable pitcher? ...
And of course, it's also possible the Red Sox are at least partly viewing the reported Hamels play as a way to restart things with Lester -- who's said all along he wants to stay in Boston badly enough to give them a hometown discount. And maybe the Red Sox are just concerned they might not get Lester back now that he's tabled talks, and are just covering their bases.
If the Phillies really wanted to blow their ship up to start over again, dealing Hamels would net the biggest return because of his age, production and contract status.
However, this again comes down to Amaro's continued insistence on maintaining the status quo while making smaller-scale moves to see if by some miracle Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins discover the Fountain of Youth.
Rangers' Trade Chip for Kansas City: Alex Rios
If the Kansas City Royals hope to stay in the AL wild-card race this summer, they have to upgrade an offense that ranks 21st in on-base percentage, 23rd in average and 26th in slugging percentage.
It would also be in the front office's best interest to act fast since the Royals have lost four in a row to start the second half and eight of 10 overall to fall 4.5 games behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot.
Heyman noted that the Texas Rangers, who have been destroyed by injuries to the point that Houston is no longer the worst team in the AL West, could come to Kansas City's rescue.
"The Royals are looking for corner bats as they try to fix their offensive woes and get back into the AL Central race, and Rangers right fielder Alex Rios is one player they've considered," wrote Heyman.
Rios has been effective for the Rangers this season, though he's not exactly the game-changing hitter who will impact a pennant race. He does lead the league with eight triples and is hitting .302, but a .330 on-base percentage and .435 slugging percentage aren't middle-of-the-order-caliber.
However, for the Royals, Rios would represent a huge upgrade. As a group this season, Kansas City right fielders are hitting .261/.314/.349 with three home runs.
The Royals spent big in trades, notably acquiring James Shields from Tampa Bay two years ago, to open their window sooner than expected. It hasn't worked out that way so far, and Shields is due to become a free agent at the end of this season.
General manager Dayton Moore has to determine what Kansas City is at this point. The team is close enough to justify being a buyer at the deadline, but given the quality clubs ahead of the Royals (Seattle, New York, Toronto, Cleveland), they have a steep hill to climb.
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