With the MLB's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching, rumors and speculation have been running rampant regarding potential trades.
The most interesting ones involve pitchers who could potentially help the starting rotations and bullpens of contenders.
Top arms are seemingly much more difficult to come by than big bats, which is why there is always so much interest. One top pitcher can change the entire complexion of a divisional or wild-card race, so acquiring talent prior to the deadline is a vital race in and of itself.
With that in mind, here is the latest buzz surrounding some intriguing pitchers that could find themselves in new locales by the time July 31 rolls around.
Closing out games is vital for every team over the course of the season, but it becomes even more important as the playoffs approach. With a 1.17 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 23 saves, Philadelphia Phillies reliever Jonathan Papelbon has easily been one of the best closers in baseball this season.
Because of that, closer-hungry teams should be breaking the Phillies' door down.
The Phils don't have much use for the Papelbon right now as they sit in the basement of the NL East, so it makes sense for them to sell to the highest bidder.
One thing working in Philadelphia's favor is Papelbon telling Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer he's interested in being dealt to a contender:
Some guys want to stay on a losing team? That's mind-boggling to me. I think that's a no-brainer. ...
You know, I came here for a reason ... and I say that because I'm with a group of guys in the bullpen that can do very special things in the future. I've been waiting for that, you know what I mean? It's fun to be a part of that, it really is. We are there finally with our bullpen. So that aspect of it would kind of (stink) to leave. But at the same time, winning is the cure-all of cure-alls.
One particular landing spot that might interest Papelbon is Detroit. The Detroit Tigers have been knocking on the door of a World Series title for the past few years, but bullpen issues have largely prevented them from sealing the deal.
That has persisted this year with closer Joe Nathan struggling mightily (5.89 ERA, 1.53 WHIP).
In the midst of Nathan's nightmarish season, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports 1 notes the Tigers have monitored some Philly relievers, including Papelbon:
Tigers showing interest in Phillies LHP Bastardo, sources tell @Ken_Rosenthal and me. Keeping tabs on all relievers -- including Papelbon.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 22, 2014
As long as the price is reasonable, the Tigers would be wise to take a long, hard look at Papelbon. He is having his best season in years and knows how to perform on the big stage.
Papelbon to Detroit seems like a perfect fit and could help reestablish the Tigers as the favorite in the American League.
Papelbon is far from the only Phillies player who is garnering interest on the trade market. Veteran lefty Cole Hamels is also having a strong campaign and he could potentially be an ace for a team in World Series contention.
With a 2.83 ERA and a strikeout per inning to his credit, Hamels would help make any team's rotation formidable.
Spotrac indicates the Phillies have Hamels locked up through 2018 with a club option for 2019, so there isn't necessarily any urgency to deal the 30-year-old hurler. At the same time, the Phillies may never be able to get a better return than what they would get now.
Even with plenty of enticing carrots conceivably being dangled in all directions, ESPN's Buster Olney suggests the Phillies aren't currently biting:
To date, Phillies telling other teams Cole Hamels is not available.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 22, 2014
Things can change at the drop of a hat in Major League Baseball, but nobody would blame the Phillies for keeping Hamels.
A rebuild looks to be staring the Phillies in the face. However, Hamels could still be effective when Philly is ready to start contending again. Also, the Phillies will have plenty more chances to trade him moving forward as long as he remains healthy and productive.
It is entirely possible that some desperate playoff contender could throw an offer that the Phillies can't refuse in their direction, but the current indication is that Hamels will remain in Philadelphia for the duration of the 2014 season.
Which player is likeliest to be traded prior to the deadline?
One of the most interesting names that could be had via trade is Tommy Milone. The 27-year-old Oakland Athletics southpaw has solid numbers this season, but finds himself in the minors following Oakland's acquisition of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs.
Milone belongs in the majors, but the A's simply don't have room right now.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, that has led Milone to request a trade. He could conceivably be part of any other rotation in the league right now by virtue of his 3.55 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.
It is certainly understandable why Milone would want a change of scenery, but he doesn't have much leverage in any potential negotiations.
As pointed out by Brandon McClintock of BaySportsNet.com, Milone is a very attractive commodity to the A's moving forward:
A Lefty, controlled through '17, 1st yr arb eligible, w/ his stretches of success = exact reason A's may NOT trade Milone & others want him— Brandon McClintock (@BMcClintock_BSN) July 21, 2014
Oakland is notorious for its usual inability to acquire and keep big names, which makes players like Milone vital. The Athletics don't have to worry about free agency when it comes to him for at least a few years, so one can only assume that general manager Billy Beane would like to keep him in the fold.
The odds of Milone being needed at some point this season due to another pitcher getting injured or pitching poorly are good.
Even if it doesn't happen this year, Milone would likely start 2015 in Oakland's rotation.
Oakland does have some offensive needs, though, so trading Milone is something worth considering. If the A's are serious about trying to win it all this year, then Milone is an intriguing chip that could make it happen.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter