As April ends, the 2011 season moves a month closer to the trading deadline. Clubs who are carrying free agents-to-be have to start thinking about how to make the best use of those players before their tenures end, and for many teams that will mean making deals.
Small-market franchises and teams with high-priced expiring contracts are going to particularly motivated to shop their outgoing names for some return value before the off-season hits. As always, the questions of where these players will go and what their futures will be like remain tough to answer.
What's easier to assess is the handful of names that are especially likely to be moved. It's time to run through a dozen players who will probably be wearing different uniforms by August.
Broxton was a lockdown closer not too long ago, but recent struggles have made him far less of a sure thing. The Dodgers' bullpen is full of alternatives, namely Hong-Chih Kuo and Kenley Jansen.
It's true that Kuo is working through a back strain and that Jansen is an unproven 23-year-old. But both have the cops to take over as full-time firemen. In fact, Broxton's job security is already in doubt, and he's also suffering some elbow discomfort.
But teams seeking bullpen help down the stretch will no doubt look favorably on his 2006-2009 numbers. If the Dodgers are comfortable with their depth or if they fall out of the race, expect Broxton to be trade bait.
Pena's batting average is just painful, but a guy with 30-home run power will never be out of a job for long. The Cubs desperately need to rebuild their aging lineup, and the makeup of their current roster suggests that they won't be competing for a playoff spot once the deadline hits.
Someone like Pena could be a good rent-a-bat, and Chicago might be able to grab a prospect or two in return. That would provide the youth they need.
Another option is moving Pena to make way for a long-term power solution at first, and there are a couple of names in the division that might fit that bill.
Not to spoil the surprise, but K-Rod won't be the only Met on this list. New York is due for a much-needed makeover, and new GM Sandy Alderson is just the man to make it happen. But it probably won't be a smooth transition, and the team is going to have to part with some big names.
Rodriguez's character may be an issue, but his numbers have been consistently good. K-Rod has a lifetime 2.49 ERA and strikes out more than a batter per inning. He's a proven closer and a generally reliable arm that could bring some prospects back to the Mets.
New York won't be making the post-season this year, and selling at the deadline feels like a foregone conclusion.
Brought in as a stopgap solution for the Sox, Scutaro has been a major disappointment. He was supposed to have been a defensive upgrade, but last year his glove had a hole in it.
Frankly, it was a bizarre signing by Theo Epstein and company; after setting career highs at age 33, Scutaro was clearly due for some regression to the mean.
Jed Lowrie is destroying the ball this season and indeed has always been been effective in the past. Injuries have limited his time, but if he stays healthy, Scutaro is unnecessary. With Jose Iglesias set up to be Boston's shortstop of the future and Lowrie handling the present, it would be nice to see the team move Scutaro in an effort to meet other needs.
Once a hot prospect, Doumit never really developed into the star Pittsburgh was waiting for. Now he's 30 years old with a two-year option coming due. If the Pirates want to keep him, it will cost them $15.5 million.
Needless to say, Pittsburgh is not going to cough up that kind of dough.
While he has perhaps failed to reach his potential, Doumit is nonetheless a decent catcher. He's more or less average both at the plate and behind, but signed at a cheaper price, he wouldn't be a bad alternative for many teams.
The Pirates are masters at sending away veterans and bringing back unproven youth, which is what they'll try to do in this situation.
As promised, here's another New Yorker. It seems like only yesterday that the Mets' lineup was full of promise, seemingly stacked with talent like Beltran, David Wright and Carlos Delgado. But time passes, players get hurt and get older, and before you know it, promise fades into wasted opportunities.
Beltran has spent a lot of time on the DL in recent years, but when he's healthy, he's still a dangerous player. Now 35 years old, he's not going to be a 30/30 man. In fact, he's unlikely to steal at all any more. But the overall skill set keeps him relevant.
There will be teams looking for depth, and the Mets will try to get something in return for a guy who will be gone next year either way. Expect New York to have to eat some salary in any deal that gets done.
Cordero is another proven closer who is about to be replaced by younger talent. With Aroldis Chapman ready and waiting in the bullpen, the Reds will be thinking long and hard about how to leverage their current closer.
Cordero has occasionally posted some high ERAs, but in general has been effective at finishing games. Even if teams can't offer him that particular opportunity, they would be more than happy to add a veteran arm that doesn't wilt under pressure.
Cincinnati has a number of excellent young players, and the team will be looking to sign to long-term deals. Cordero's $12 million salary doesn't fit into those plans.
Like Pena, Ramirez is an aging regular whom the Cubs should be looking to move. He still has some upside and should therefore draw some interest, but he's probably not worth the $16 million it would cost the Cubs to keep him through 2012.
A-Ram does carry a $1 million trading fee, but the Cubs would be willing to absorb that hit if the right deal could be made.
Though he lost time to injuries in each the last two years, Ramirez still has the potential to hit 25 homers and drive in 80 or more RBI. If he can hit through the first half of this season, he'll probably be shopped at the deadline.
Is there a bigger early-season surprise than the Big Puma? Berkman has turned back the clock in 2011, smashing eight homers and posting a ridiculous 1.263 OPS through his first 90 plate appearances. As a result, he's earned regular playing time in the Cardinals' lineup.
In his first 22 games played, Berkman scored 22 runs and drove in 22 RBI. It's jaw-dropping.
Of course he'll slow down, but his April has proven that Berkman can still hit. For a team needing a bat during a run to the playoffs, he could be a key acquisition. The question is whether St. Louis will be willing to part with him.
That will largely depend on where the team stands in July. If the Cards become sellers, Berkman will be on the trading block.
I telegraphed this one with my choice of intro photo, but Papelbon is one of the most obvious names in this list. He's costing Boston a fortune and would demand a hefty contract in order to re-sign. The Red Sox are not going down that road.
Daniel Bard is already being groomed as the team's future closer and could take over any time. Papelbon is earning $12 million this year and will probably command double-digits in each of the next few seasons, so despite his talent, he's going to be elsewhere come 2012.
If the Sox trade him, at least they can get value in return as he departs.
Don't be surprised to see Papelbon as part of a package deal, even if it requires Boston to fork over some cash.
Once more for good measure. The Mets can complete their fire sale by dealing Reyes, who at 28 is still technically in his prime. His upside is obvious; blistering speed, a decent on-base percentage and 15-homer power.
His glovework isn't bad either, and all in all, Reyes is one of the game's best options at a very thin position.
There are teams who would give a lot to get a productive shortstop, which is exactly what the Mets are counting on. Reyes is the biggest name that the team is likely to move, and the haul could be exactly what Alderson needs to jump-start his rebuild.
Mets fans will be sorry to see him go, but under the circumstances, it's the right thing to do.
The small-market Brewers just spent $105 million to lock up left-fielder Ryan Braun. What does that mean for the Big Veggie? Braun's extension was a shocker, but gave a pretty clear indication of the club's intentions.
Fielder will command similar money and more years, and after offseason expenditures that included Shaun Marcum and Zach Greinke at a combined $17 million, it's difficult to see the team to keep its other big bat.
Fielder and Braun have been the Brewers' core for the past few years, and fans will be sad to see him go. But Milwaukee has to trade him this year rather than let him leave for nothing. He's simply too valuable.
Perhaps better suited to a DH role, Fielder could bring back a princely sum from an American League club. The Yankees? Their farm system is loaded, and current DH Jorge Posada will be 40 and a free agent himself next year.
OK, this was mainly for shock value.
But when the game's best player is up for a new contract, and no significant headway has been made in negotiations. Well, let's just say that his name will be at the epicenter of trade talk unless and until the Cards extend him.
Right now, St. Louis is the leading contender for his services, but if the team falls off the pace in the Central, that could change. It would be tough to find a team with enough players who could be offered in return, but there's no questioning that Pujols would be the most highly prized acquisition in many years.
Rumors have the Cubs being interested, but they may lack the necessary firepower. Certainly the big AL contenders like Boston, New York and Los Angeles have to be mentioned. If a deal does happen, it will be of the 11th hour variety, which will provide plenty of suspense as the season goes on.