July is when trade speculation escalates to a frenzy in Major League Baseball as clubs assess their current season prospects before the end of month transaction deadline.
The bullish clubs are the buyers and the bearish clubs are the sellers. It's baseball's month-long symposium on microeconomics at work.
Most of the airwaves, press, and blogosphere center on the big names that can push teams over the top and command a king's ransom in return.
This season, players such as Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Derrek Lee, Adam Dunn, and Prince Fielder dominate the media—and for good reason.
But, often times, astute trades that involve players flying a little under the radar can have big impact on the pennant races. A perfect example is the Philadelpia Phillies acquisition of Tad Iguchi to fill-in for an injured Chase Utley that helped them win the NL East in 2007.
Here is a look at 10 "small" moves that could pay huge dividends for contenders down the stretch. Who might be this year's Iguchi?
The Los Angeles Angels currently sit 3.5 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. They have likely exceeded expectations considering that they have a part-time catcher playing first base and a minor league second baseman holding down the hot corner.
Regular third baseman Maicer Izturis has been out of action for an extended period due to a lingering forearm injury. Reports are that he may be ready for a minor league rehab assignment shortly.
The greatest impact has been the loss of slugging first sacker Kendry Morales, who was lost to the now infamous walk-off grand slam celebration gone bad. In one second, Morales transitioned from the thrill of victory to the agony of a broken ankle.
With the time table unclear on Izturis and Morales holding out hope of returning before season's end, the Angels are in clear need of corner infield help. They also need someone to replace the pop that had been provided by Morales.
The Florida Marlins may have the solution in Jorge Cantu. He plays both positions and possesses the bat to help.
With Cantu heading to free agency at the end of the year and the Marlins appearing to not be a serious contender, the notoriously frugal organization might be happy to save a few bucks and garner some minor league talent.
Strong pitching has helped to overcome mediocre hitting to land the Atlanta Braves in first place. The team has been particularly challenged by injuries to their outfield corps and an overall lack of power.
With the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies lurking behind them, as well as looking to get better, the Braves would do well to add another outfielder with some long-ball potential.
The apple of the Braves eye may be Josh Willingham of the Washington Nationals. The Nats left fielder is having a solid year, batting .281 with 15 HRs and 46 RBI.
As Washington falls back in the standings and they look to build around their young talent for future seasons, the club may be willing to deal for the right price. Although he has said he prefers to remain put, Willingham could provide a nice boost to the laboring Braves offense.
Reports continue to circulate that the St. Louis Cardinals are trying to swing a blockbuster deal to acquire Cliff Lee. As they currently reside two games in back of the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds, who are also interested in improving their club with mid-summer trades, the Cards feel a sense of urgency to address their starting pitching.
The first three spots in their rotation have been held down nicely by Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and rookie sensation Jaime Garcia. Unfortunately, Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse reside on the disabled list, creating the need for another strong hurler.
If the Cardinals do not land Lee, there is another lefty who might be available with the potential to help them greatly. With the Houston Astros appearing headed for 100 losses, they might be willing to part ways with the struggling Wandy Rodriguez.
Although the Astros might normally prefer to deal with teams outside their own division, they may be willing to make an exception figuring they are a few years away from contending. Dumping Rodriguez and his $5 million salary for some prospects to help their re-building efforts might be an appealing option.
And, the Cardinals have a pitching coach who specializes in getting struggling pitchers back on track.
By now, most baseball fans have seen the gruesome footage of Tigers smokeballer Joel Zumaya fracturing his arm while making a delivery to home.
Zumaya was lost for the season, so what is perceived as a somewhat thin relief corps got a little bit skinnier. With Jose Valverde holding down the closer role, the Tigers could use a top notch set-up guy.
As the Washington Nationals fall off the pace, they will become increasingly committed to serving youth. Drew Storen, the team's "other" first round pick last year, is primed and ready to take over the closer role.
That means Matt Capps should be available for a needy team down the stretch. The former Pittsburgh Pirates closer has been solid for the Nats after signing a one-year deal in the offseason.
Capps could easily step into Zumaya's role and provide the added benefit of closing should Valverde falter or need a blow. In a tight division race that could go down to the end, Capps could be a difference maker for the Tigers.
The San Francisco Giants have dropped seven games off the pace in the NL West, but probably still believe they can pass the three teams ahead of them. As usual, the Giants feature strong pitching and a mediocre offense.
The club has gotten substantial dividends from recently obtained Pat Burrell. Knowing that Burrell has a history of being hot and cold, the Giants could still help themselves by acquiring a left-handed hitting outfielder that provides better glove work.
The Kansas City Royals' David DeJesus appears to be a good fit. He's currently hitting .329, making $4.7 million in 2010, and scheduled to make $6 million next season.
The Royals are going nowhere once again, so shedding payroll and acquiring prospects looks to be the continuing M.O. in Kansas City.
The Boston Red Sox have been hit hard by injuries. Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Lowell, Clay Buchholz, and Jason Varitek all reside on the disabled list.
Somehow, the Sox find themselves still in the race, just 2.5 games behind the New York Yankees. In order to hang in the race, though, reinforcements are likely needed quickly.
With so many positions weakened by injury, a highly versatile player like the Baltimore Orioles' Ty Wigginton would pay big dividends. This is especially true considering his ability to play second base and Pedroia's return expected not to be until mid- to late-August.
The Orioles easily have the worst record in baseball, so moving the 32-year-old Wigginton appears to be a smart move despite his team leading 14 HRs. And, his numbers project to only increase playing half his games staring at the "Big Green Monster."
Similar to the Red Sox, the Phillies have battled injury setbacks all season long. Neither team has been able to get out from under the black cloud hovering above—and recently were doused again.
The latest visitors to the DL are Chase Utley and Placido Polanco—half of what appeared on paper as the best infield in baseball to start the season.
The Phillies have other needs, and are also reportedly interested in reacquiring Lee, but obtaining a second or third sacker with some pop is high on their list.
While all eyes are on Lee, the Phillies could pull a slight of hand and quietly extract another Mariner who could provide help. Jose Lopez has seemingly worn out his welcome in Seattle and could be had for cheap.
Lopez would be an ideal fit because he primarily played second before shifting to third this season. Additionally, his right-handed power would be a great fit for the team and Citizens Bank Park.
Don't rule out the Phillies working to bring Lee back to the "City of Brotherly Love," but Lopez might make it there first.
The emergence of Wilson Valdez, along with the return of Jimmy Rollins, gives the Phillies a surplus of middle infield glovemen. Should the Phillies acquire Lopez or another second or third baseman, the team would likely need to part ways with Juan Castro.
Exit Castro. Enter Colorado Rockies.
The Phillies utility man proved that he can still pick it at shortstop when Rollins served two stints on the DL. With Rockies regular shortstop Troy Tulowitzki out with a broken wrist until at least mid-August, Castro would provide some much needed flexibility and defense.
The veteran shortstop will not provide much offensive help, but can provide quality play anywhere in the infield. In a division that should come down to the wire again, Castro's defense could help preserve a couple wins while the team waits for their star shortstop to return.
Make no mistake about it, the New York Mets organization and their entire fanbase would love to see Cliff Lee in blue and orange.
Besides helping to push them over the top as a contender by shoring up their rotation, acquiring Lee would have the added benefit of delivering a nasty blow to the arch rival Phillies.
Considering their competition in the sweepstakes, that dream may not become a reality, though. With that in mind, Mets GM Omar Minaya would be wise to have a back-up plan similar to the way Lee was for the Phillies a year ago when they first openly courted Roy Halladay.
An interesting and beneficial "Plan B" for the Mets might be Cleveland Indians large righty Fausto Carmona. After a breakout 19-8 campaign in 2007, Carmona struggled for two years, but now appears back on track this season with a 3.69 ERA.
With a hefty salary in question, and young talent waiting in the wings, the Indians might be willing to sell on the high. After all, this is the same club that dealt CC Sabathia and Lee the previous two seasons.
The front-running Cincinnati Reds have no problem putting runs on the board. They are not so proficient keeping opponents off it.
Nonetheless, the Reds have posted a 48-37 record and enjoy a two-game lead over the preseason favorite St. Louis Cardinals. In all likelihood, Cincinnati is going to need to beef up its rotation to keep the Cards in their rear view mirror.
The Reds are prepared to set their sights high. If they fail to land a big prize like Lee or Roy Oswalt, expect them to turn their attention to the southwest.
The Arizona Diamondbacks seem willing to conduct a fire sale, so high-priced hurler Dan Haren ($25.5 million over the next two years) should be readily available. Normally the Reds shy away from big salaries, but the team seems willing to pay up to make a legitimate run at the postseason.
Haren is a veteran power pitcher with a good resume. After getting rocked in May, he has a 2.91 ERA since then. The tall right-hander would fit nicely at the top of the Reds rotation and could prove instrumental in completing unfinished business.