If you're like me, the run-up to the non-waiver trading deadline is one of the highlights of the MLB season.
It's not just the flurry of news and rumors that makes late July fun; it's the game of matchmaker the media and fans play as we imagine who could go where and why.
Of course, when the dust lifted, the vast majority of rumored deals ended up to be mere false alarms. It's only logical—the same player can't be traded to a half-dozen different teams.
But we don't have to stop playing "what if?" just because we know it's not going to happen.
In this slideshow are 10 would-be game-changing trades that were rumored to be in the works over the last few weeks but didn't ultimately come to fruition.
The GMs have already said "no deal," but we can still look inside the briefcases.
The bidding war over Cliff Lee was something of a horse race. The Phillies tried to get him back, the Yankees made an offer that must have been tough to reject, and the Twins, Tigers, Mets, Dodgers, and Rays were all linked to Lee before the Rangers sealed the deal.
But lost in that shuffle was the most intriguing suitor of all: the Reds.
A popular sleeper pick before the season, Cincinnati has beaten all expectations this season; they've led the NL Central on multiple occasions, and of this writing they hold a half-game lead over the heavily favored Cardinals.
St. Louis has a lot to worry about already; Cards fans should thank their lucky stars that the Reds didn't bring in a new ace.
According to FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement statistic (WAR), Lee has been worth 1.1 wins of value over a generic fifth starter in just five outings—and he's actually been pitching worse since the trade than he had been before.
If he continues his current pace, Lee will provide 3.1 more wins worth of production in the 11 starts he has left. In other words, if the Cardinals end up winning the division by a relatively small margin, it could reasonably be inferred that the Reds' inaction cost them a playoff spot.
Then there's the enormous value Lee would provide in the postseason. If there is such thing as a big-game pitcher, his 4-0 record and 1.56 ERA in five playoff starts would have to put him at the top of the list.
Remember last winter, when the Yankees tried to trade for Roy Halladay? General consensus was that if Doc suited up in pinstripes, the other 29 teams would be wise to just give up before the season even started.
If the Yankees had landed Haren—which they reportedly tried to do, albeit not aggressively—it would have been even worse.
Assuming Cliff Lee winds up in the Bronx next year (I'm guessing no one will challenge that assumption), the Bombers' rotation would look like the pitching staff of an All-Star team.
With apologies to Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, Lee and Haren would combine to be the best one-two punch in the game. CC Sabathia would become the best No. 3 starter in the history of ever; Phil Hughes, who some teams would call their ace, would be the Yanks' No. 4 man; and A.J. Burnett would make more than $16 million to round out the back of the rotation.
With a pitching like that, New York would dominate the league at a level never before seen outside my Nintendo.
One of the most feared bats in baseball, Adam Dunn has been worth just 2.1 WAR per 600 plate appearances since 2007 because of his horrible defense both in the outfield and at first base (a -16.4 career UZR/150 at first takes a special kind of awful).
Take the glove out of his hands, though (as could happen if he moved to the AL), and that number more than doubles to 4.3 WAR/600 PA. Now imagine that bat plopped in the middle of the White Sox' lineup.
If any Twins fans are reading this, I bet they just got shivers down their spines.
The thing Chicago needed most to solidify its roster was a solid, consistent bat. You could set your watch to Dunn's annual 40 homers and 100 RBI.
There's no clear favorite to win the AL Central; the Big Donkey could have put the ChiSox over the top.
The main reason Dunn didn't move his locker to U.S. Cellular was the White Sox' unwillingness to part with Gordon Beckham.
Many fans would see Beckham's poor numbers this year (.245/.299/.356 slash line) and declare him a failed prospect. What these people are forgetting is that Beckham is only 23 years old.
When Beckham got his first taste of MLB action last June en route to his Rookie of the Year-worthy campaign, it had been less than a year since he was drafted.
Yes, he's struggling now, but the fact that he's got more than a season's worth of big-league experience under his belt while most of his peers are rookies at best more than makes up for his prolonged slump when looking at the big picture.
With that in mind, picture Beckham sliding in alongside Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, and Wilson Ramos in the Nationals' lineups of the future with Stephen Strasburg starting and Drew Storen closing. That would certainly give the rest of the NL East the chills.
More so than the Astros' demands or haggling over money, the biggest obstacle the Phillies overcame in acquiring Oswalt was getting him to waive his no-trade clause. It was particularly difficult because Philadelphia wasn't his first choice.
It was St. Louis.
For now, Oswalt would have given the Cardinals a boost that could end up making the difference in their close race with the Reds. Everything I said about Cliff Lee in the first slide applies about equally to him.
But the real boon for St. Louis would come in the postseason, when opposing teams would have to face an elite pitcher every single game.
Wainwright, Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Oswalt—I have no idea who would be the odd man out in a five-game series, but even in a seven-game series those fabulous four would give the Cards an ace every game without having to worry about anyone pitching on short rest.
This would have been about a simple a trade as is possible in Major League Baseball and would have been more plausible than any others on this list.
The prototypical modern deadline deal involves a hopeless team trading an expensive veteran to a contender for whom said veteran would provide a big upgrade at his position.
Ten games under .500 and 11.5 games behind the Cardinals for the NL Central lead with little exciting talent due to arrive before the end of next season, the Brewers seemed likely to trade Hart in late July since their season was effectively over and Milwaukee's chances for 2011 weren't good enough to justify the high-seven-digit salary he's likely to earn through arbitration this winter.
The Braves played their part too; 2.5 games ahead of the Phillies in the NL East, their most frequent fillers of their two non-Jason Heyward outfield spots have been Melky Cabrera (.683 OPS) and Nate McLouth (.544). Hart was towards the top of their midseason wish list.
Ultimately, the deal was thwarted by Milwaukee's hubris; despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Brewers' bigwigs apparently consider themselves to be contenders.
In all likelihood, Philadelphia sending Jayson Werth to Boston wouldn't have made a huge difference in how the pennant race will turn out.
BaseballProspectus gives the Phillies a 32 percent chance of making the playoffs, while the Red Sox currently sit in third place, 6.5 games out—far too great a disparity for Werth to singlehandedly erase.
But this deal would have drastically changed the dynamic of the pennant race, even if it wouldn't have made much of a difference in the result.
For the Phillies, trading Werth wouldn't necessarily have meant waving the white flag, but it would have shown that winning this year isn't the team's top priority, and the Braves could have breathed a sigh of relief.
Meanwhile, while the Red Sox are far from out of it, their inactivity at the deadline implied a willingness to sit out this October for the good of the franchise. Dealing for Werth would show that they are in it to win it right now.
Let's face it: The Angels are all but out of it.
The defending AL West champions currently sit eight games behind the surging Rangers. At just one game over .500, there's no guarantee the Halos will even take second place in the division.
Yet the Angels made a huge splash at the deadline by dealing for Dan Haren—not because they think he'll salvage this season, but because they're stocking up to win in 2011.
Center fielder and aspiring GM Torii Hunter vocally supported adding a second piece to next year's core: Prince Fielder.
With Hideki Matsui gone after the season, Fielder could slide into the DH spot while Kendry Morales mans first. The result would be an intimidating one-two punch in the middle of the order.
Say what you want about the Giants' improved offense. Tell me all about Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, and Andres Torres, but this is still a pitching-based team.
As the deadline approached, rumor had it that San Francisco's top target was MLB home run leader Jose Bautista—and for good reason.
Bautista could have slid in at third, replacing the struggling Pablo Sandoval. Much as we all love Panda, so-so defense and a .705 OPS aren't good enough for a corner infielder in the midst of a tight playoff race.
Bautista's versatility could have also given the Giants the flexibility to use him in the outfield, perhaps in place of Nate Schierholtz, whose solid glove isn't nearly enough to compensate for his anemic bat.
At this point, Bautista could make a run at 50 homers, and only a monumental drop-off would stop him from reaching 40. He would give San Francisco the kind of intimidating slugger they've needed since the departure of Barry Bonds.
Speaking of the Giants' third base situation...
OK, this wasn't really close to happening—I'm assuming GM Brian Sabean hung up the phone pretty quickly when he heard this garbage coming from the other end of the line. But the Mariners really did offer Jose Lopez and David Aardsma for the Kung Fu Panda.
Given Sandoval's poor play this year and the fact that the Mariners currently sit a whopping 28 games below .500, this deal wouldn't have made much of an impact on this season.
But it would be a huge win for Seattle in the long term. If the M's had acquired one of last year's best young hitters (under team control for 2014) for one of the game's worst closers and a likely offseason non-tender candidate, it would have been the equivalent of trading Magikarp for Gyarados.
It would have rocked the AL West for years to come.