Like just about everything else in life, the MLB trade deadline seemed more fun as a kid. The Internet and round-the-clock gossip were nowhere near as prevalent during my generation—the last to not have the World Wide Web at our disposal from the womb—so everything had an air of mystery.
There were SportsCenter updates, Baseball Tonight and the like, but even grown-ups were kept in the dark. We all found out at generally the same time when Randy Johnson was traded in 1998. And even if you weren't hanging near a news service, there was plenty of time to get caught up before discussing the evening's events at school or work.
I'm not saying life for the eight-year-old baseball fan was better than it is now at 24. It's quite the opposite. The advent of the Internet allows fans to have information within seconds of a sourced reporter. What would have constituted as breaking news a decade ago is reported, dissected and tossed into the trash heap within minutes.
Everyone with a modicum of baseball interest knows the major players who could be on the move before Thursday's 4 p.m. non-waiver cutoff period. The more informed fans could probably power rank the stars from "most likely" to "least likely" to be dealt with good level of accuracy. It's infinitely easier to follow baseball than it's ever been.
Which is great—and kind of takes the fun out of things like the trade deadline. So instead of speculating about who will and won't get moved, let's instead look at a few difference-makers who swing more toward "yes" than "no" on the pendulum.
The Red Sox have activated their "build for 2015" gift card, so we might be seeing the end of the line for Lester and John Lackey (about whom more anon) on Thursday. A year removed from winning the World Series, Boston is closer to the dregs of the state of Texas than it is to the top of its division.
Assuming Ben Cherington can get better value than compensatory draft picks, it only makes sense to deal Lester. The 30-year-old lefty is in the midst of his finest big league season, setting bests in earned run average, FIP and xFIP among myriad other categories. He's responsible for more than a fifth of Boston's total wins on the season and has been one shining positive in a sea of spoiled chowder.
And he's a free agent this winter.
Lester rejected a four-year, $70 million extension earlier this year and is said to be looking for a contract commensurate with his performance. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported Lester was looking for a deal of "$22 million-$24 million a year over five or six years," though that has since been denied by the pitcher's representation.
"The discussions we had with the Red Sox were confidential and will remain that way," Seth Levinson, Lester's agent, wrote in an email to Gordon Edes of ESPN. "There is no truth to the report, and I am not going to guess why it was written or the basis for that report."
True or not, the Red Sox have opened Lester to the highest bidder. The Orioles, Pirates and Marlins have been mentioned among possible suitors, with Baltimore seemingly having a leg up at the moment. Abraham reported the AL East rivals were working on the framework of a trade that would send Lester to Baltimore for a young pitcher. The Orioles have attractive young arms in Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, but parting with either would be a tough pill to swallow.
Landing Lester would instantly make Baltimore the favorite to run away with the East. As Jonah Keri of Grantland pointed out, the Orioles' current rotation consists of a series of arms performing right at the league average. Lester is the bona fide ace they've been missing all year, someone with the type of playoff chops to make a two-month rental worth it.
The Pirates, who have slowly recovered from an awful start, are another interesting possibility. A blockbuster of this magnitude would be unprecedented for this franchise while signaling a willingness to spend from ownership. Neal Huntington has been active at the trade deadline the last couple seasons, but he has mostly come away with middling veterans.
Pushing the chips to center table now would be a sign to St. Louis and Milwaukee that the Pirates are here to stay.
The "other" Boston starter on the market may quietly be the more interesting. Lackey, whose $80 million contract was once the scourge of Red Sox nation, is now worth every last penny. He's come back from 2012 Tommy John surgery and essentially matched his output from his days as an Angel.
But what makes Lackey so intriguing isn't the money he's already earned—it's what his contract calls for next season. Because of an interesting quirk in his deal protecting the Red Sox against elbow injuries, Lackey is locked in at a $500,000 base salary for next season. (His missing the entire 2012 season triggered the clause. Whether Lackey is actually willing to pitch next season at that salary without a number is a concern.)
While Lackey will remain expensive for the remainder of this season, in 2015 he'll become one of baseball's biggest bargains. Smaller-market clubs like the Royals and Marlins have reached out to express interest. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported the Red Sox were already probing Miami about a deal centered on outfielder Christian Yelich.
Yelich, 22, has already developed into nearly a three-win player. Trading him for Lackey would be borderline insane, and perhaps Boston's asking price will tamp down the market. The Royals have already begun balking at giving up their top-level prospects, per Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
From a pure logical perspective, it's a little curious that Miami is closer to pulling the trigger than Kansas City. The Marlins are not going to make the playoffs this season. They're a surprisingly solid 53-54, but there are four teams between them and capturing the final wild-card spot. On paper, each of that foursome is more talented. Giving up an elite young player for an aging veteran would be a sign that Marlins management has not learned from mistakes of years past.
The Royals have glaring holes in their everyday lineup that need fixing, but so does nearly every buyer on the market. Hitting talent is scarce. Substituting Lackey into the Jeremy Guthrie slot in the rotation might be the next best option.
Kansas City has a good, albeit not great, farm system. If the price dips even the slightest bit near the deadline, Dayton Moore should take the opportunity and pounce. Moore has already quite a few win-now moves in his time running the franchise. Lackey down the stretch might be enough to push a team that's only two games behind in the loss column in the wild-card chase.
Plus, like, we're going on three decades here. If the Pirates can do it, well, anyone can.
Byrd is akin to a unicorn on this open market. Which essentially means he's a non-terrible hitter who can be had via trade. The 36-year-old outfielder is batting .270/.318/.477 with 20 home runs and 60 RBI, putting him well on pace to break his career-high home run total from last season. His sudden pop is a surprise to anyone who watched him smack double after double in his previous stops.
With the Phillies continuing their descent toward the bottom of the National League, general manager Ruben Amaro should be holding a fire sale. Instead, he's holding onto his veteran assets like it's a real-live version of Hoarders.
Byrd seems the most likely of the Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, etc., group to go. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Yankees and Phillies have discussed parameters of a potential deal, though Byrd's salary is causing some hesitation. He is under contract for $8 million next season and then has a vesting option at another $8 million for 2016. He needs only to have 1,100 plate appearances between 2014 and 2015 to lock into that salary, which is looking like a strong bet.
The Yankees already added third baseman Chase Headley to improve their scuffling offense. Adding Byrd would allow Joe Girardi to move away from Ichiro Suzuki as his everyday right fielder, which should prove a slight boost offensively and defensively. New York could still really use help in the back of its rotation and will probably make at least one deal Thursday for a starting pitcher.
Are Byrd and Starting Pitcher X enough to push the Yankees into the playoffs? Maybe not. It will definitely get them closer than they are at the moment, though. The #Re2pect tour is only a game in the loss column behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot. Even if their run differential is much closer to a below-.500 team than a true contender, trading mid-level prospects to fill a couple needs might be worth it.
If the Byrd chase becomes a bidding war, though, it's probably best to pull off and wait until next year. No one wants to see Derek Jeter go out without October baseball, but these Yankees aren't headed anywhere magical with or without Byrd.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.