At this time of the MLB season, nearly every franchise has speculation surrounding them.
Whether clubs are contenders or pretenders, they have a reason to look toward the future. Young prospects and veterans alike have buzz ahead of the trade deadline and could be on the move before July 31.
Names such as Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett have all been tossed around—and that's just from the Philadelphia Phillies. Meanwhile, teams like the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays are looking for pieces to help playoff pushes after the All-Star break.
With several names out on the market, here's a look at the latest buzz ahead of the trade deadline.
Papelbon, Others Drawing Trade Interest from Tigers
One of the biggest names on the closer market is the veteran Papelbon.
The former Boston Red Sox pitcher hasn't sniffed the postseason since signing with the Phillies and wants out. Earlier this month, Papelbon told Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer that 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. ...
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.
Following his statement, several teams have kept an eye on the closer. One of those clubs watching Papelbon is the Detroit Tigers, who have also kept tabs on Antonio Bastardo, according to Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.
The clear reason why Papelbon is drawing interest is because of his closing abilities. Throughout his career, Papelbon has been a consistent force and has been much better than Joe Nathan this season.
And tack on the fact that Papelbon has postseason experience—even though he hasn't been there since 2009. The right-hander has seven saves, a 1.00 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 27 innings during the playoffs, including three saves in the 2007 World Series.
Bastardo might be another consistent option with his great play of late, with a 4-3 record, 3.27 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. But if the Tigers can find a way to bring in Papelbon, he would be a much better option than the struggling Nathan.
Blue Jays Looking to Bolster Rotation, Optimistic About Players on the Mend
After nearly running away with the AL East before the All-Star break, Toronto has now fallen well off that pace. The Blue Jays have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games and are eagerly awaiting the return of some of their biggest bats.
With rotation issues outside of Mark Buehrle and rookie Marcus Stroman, the Jays are searching the market for starting pitching. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports passes along the latest from Toronto:
#BlueJays again focused on pitching - starting or relief. Believe Lind, Encarnacion, Reimold could be back next week, Lawrie in two weeks.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 23, 2014
One of the biggest reasons for the Jays being in the chase for the AL East was Edwin Encarnacion. An All-Star this season, the infielder had a .277 average, 26 homers and 70 RBI before going on the disabled list.
Along with his return and those of other notables like Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie, the Jays offense should return to form. As for the pitching staff, Rosenthal's report leaves a lot of options on the table for the franchise.
Names such as Lee, Burnett, Jake Peavy and Bartolo Colon have been rumored to be on the market. But, as Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated notes, this year's crop is noticeably slim:
The non-waiver trade deadline is a week from Thursday, and with Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel and Brandon McCarthy having already been dealt, and Cliff Lee getting roughed up in his return from the disabled list Monday night, the market for starting pitching is thin.
David Price is likely not on the radar for the Jays since the Tampa Bay Rays probably won't be moving the pitcher inside the division. But with a few names out there for Toronto to target and healthy pieces returning to the lineup, things could be looking up for the Jays.
White Sox Might Have to Sweeten Deal for Gordon Beckham
The Chicago White Sox are currently five games below .500 and fourth in the AL Central. Clearly, they are sellers ahead of this year's deadline.
One of those players reportedly on the market is Gordon Beckham, who started the year on a tear, hitting .306/.342/.468 in May with four home runs. Unfortunately, those numbers have tapered off a bit, as he now totes a .227 average with no homers since June 24.
Beckham also has a large salary for his limited production, something that Chicago might have to address in a potential trade, per Buster Olney of ESPN:
Gordon Beckham is making $4.18m this year, and some evaluators believe White Sox will have to buy down at least some $ to move him pre-7/31.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 23, 2014
With this being the final year of his contract, Beckham hasn't quite lived up to the money that he's being paid. But at 27, the second baseman still has a shot at blossoming for another franchise and putting together a productive career.
The former Georgia player spoke about trying not to worry about trade rumors swirling around him, via Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago:
There is always a chance of [a trade]. It’s there, but that’s about it. You just have to let it happen the way it’s going to happen. It’s not one of those things I’m going to worry about. ...
You come in, show up every day, you work hard, you want it to work out for you and your team. Baseball is a very unforgiving game. When you’re going well, all of a sudden it tends to not go well. It’s a tough game.
Though he likely won't deal with less pressure as a member of a playoff contender, Beckham might need a change of scenery. That doesn't necessarily mean he'll immediately excel, but playing for a team with more talent would provide relief.
If a team is willing to step up and take on some of his contract, Beckham still has the potential to shine.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: