As the minutes tick away prior to Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline, all 30 Major League Baseball teams appear to be in a state of flux. Sure, there are a handful of teams that can feel good about their playoff aspirations, but are they championship-caliber clubs?
That's the question every general manager faces every year, though some start the season with an understanding of what these 162 games will look like.
Now, with three months of evidence to base it on, moves that will build for now or the future are being discussed.
All of the speculation floating around is fascinating, simply because all of the scenarios make sense. That doesn't mean deals are going to happen—most of them won't—but you can justify a lot of these moves by thinking about it.
Here are the latest rumored deals that could shake up the landscape of MLB down the stretch.
Everyone Calling About Jon Lester
With the Tampa Bay Rays winning more games, making it harder to justify shopping David Price, the best pitching option on the market is another left-hander from the American League East: Boston's Jon Lester.
According to Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com, there have been at least eight teams that have called Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington about Lester:
St. Louis, Seattle, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Dodgers are widely thought to be in on Lester, but industry sources say the Red Sox also have received interest from another handful of clubs, led by Milwaukee, Atlanta, Oakland and Toronto.
Of those, a source indicated, Toronto has been the most aggressive in its interest.
It's become clear that 2014 isn't going to be a repeat season for Boston. The Red Sox are currently 48-58, 11 games behind Baltimore in the division and 8.5 out of a wild-card spot. Lester is going to be a free agent at the end of the year, with he and the Red Sox agreeing to halt contract talks until the offseason.
Since the Red Sox have no assurances from Lester now, not to mention he's 30 years old and in line for a massive payday, it makes sense for Cherington to explore all his options with the left-hander.
Toronto is an interesting spot because the Blue Jays have intriguing pieces in the system, though Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun suggests general manager Alex Anthopoulos was unwilling to part with top prospects Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez for Jeff Samardzija last winter.
According to Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com, Anthopoulos later rejected a proposal from the Cubs for Samardzija that would have sent Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Dalton Pompey to Chicago.
If the Blue Jays wouldn't make those deals for Samardzija, who has another year of team control in 2015, why would Anthopoulos make what would likely have to be a similar offer for two months of Lester?
The Red Sox aren't a poor franchise, either in prospects or finances, so they can afford to play the market however they want and take their chances with re-signing Lester in the offseason.
John Lackey A Sleeper Candidate for Dodgers
Speaking of the Red Sox, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com speculated on a deal that would have Lester going to Los Angeles for Matt Kemp.
However, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, don't sleep on John Lackey as a fallback option if the Dodgers can't get one of the elite names:
Maybe it goes without saying, but sources say the #Dodgers are investigating every top available starter - Price, Lester, Hamels, Lackey.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 29, 2014
While no one would put Lackey in the Lester-Cole Hamels-David Price class of pitchers, he's still turning in very solid performances for a disappointing Boston team. The right-hander has a 3.60 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 137.1 innings.
Unlike Lester, who is a homegrown talent and five years younger, the Red Sox don't seem intent on keeping Lackey.
However, the Red Sox are in a position to get a significant return for Lackey if they decide to move him because of how brilliantly they structured his contract. FanGraphs' Dave Cameron indicates Lackey's deal would include a team option in 2015 for the league minimum, approximately $500,000, if he missed significant time from 2010-14 due to an elbow injury.
Lackey missed the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, which automatically triggered that clause in his contract.
As a result, whoever he pitches for next season will be getting arguably the best bargain in baseball relative to performance and money paid out.
Unfortunately for teams trying to trade for Lackey, that also allows the Red Sox to put a higher price tag on Lackey than if he were in the final year of his deal or had a more traditional option that would pay him close to the $15.25 million that Spotrac shows he's making this year.
The Dodgers and Red Sox have a recent history of making big trades, so no one would be shocked to see these two come together again. Los Angeles has been unable to pull away from San Francisco in the NL West, holding a two-game lead.
The Giants already made a notable deal with the Red Sox, acquiring Jake Peavy to stabilize their rotation while waiting to get word on if/when Matt Cain will pitch this year.
The ball is in Los Angeles' court. Ownership and the front office have not shied away from making big deals with the hopes of winning now.
Pirates Looking In-State for Deadline Deals
The top of the National League is fascinating to look at prior to the deadline. There are seven teams that have somewhere between 46 and 49 losses, no division leader is ahead more than two games and four teams are within 0.5 games of the two wild-card spots.
Which playoff contender has the most incentive to make a deadline deal?
Last year's Cinderella story, the Pittsburgh Pirates, currently trails Milwaukee by two games in the National League Central and is 0.5 games out of a wild-card spot, making it a very serious buyer at the deadline.
The Pirates have a serious need for power in the lineup, ranking 11th in baseball with 437 runs scored despite having the best on-base percentage at .333. They have power in the lineup, but it's not spread out.
Of the 95 homers hit by Pittsburgh players this season, 47 of them have come from Andrew McCutchen (17), Neil Walker (15) and Pedro Alvarez (15).
Another area of need for the Pirates is the bullpen, which was so good last year with the third-best ERA (3.26). Their relievers currently rank 12th in ERA (3.45), and Tony Watson is the only left-hander in the bullpen with more than 30 appearances and an ERA under 4.00.
According to Morosi, the Philadelphia Phillies could be coming to Pittsburgh's rescue:
Pirates showing interest in Phillies LHP Antonio Bastardo and OF Marlon Byrd, sources say. @FOXSports1— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 29, 2014
The Pirates know Byrd very well after his stint in Pittsburgh last year, which included a dramatic home run in the Wild Card Game against Cincinnati. His performance hasn't dropped that much this year with a .273/.321/.482 line and 20 homers in 411 at-bats.
Patience is never going to be Byrd's strongest asset, but that's not what the Pirates need right now. They can afford to sacrifice some OBP, especially with five players getting on base at a .350 or better clip, if it means spreading some of that power around.
Antonio Bastardo doesn't have a sterling ERA at 4.17, but he's great at missing bats with 53 strikeouts in 45.1 innings and is effective against righties (.614 OPS against) and lefties (.697 OPS against).
Unless Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro puts an abnormally high price tag on these players, which isn't out of the question, the Pirates have the need and deep farm system to make a deal happen.
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