After enjoying a restful slumber from Major League Baseball during the three-day break that included the lowest-rated All-Star Game in the history of the sport, hardball fans can now focus on the second half of the 2011 season, and whether their favorite team will be viewed as a buyer or seller with the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline less than three weeks away.
However, the quandary remains as to which teams will stockpile talent for the home stretch towards the postseason versus the organizations that are headed into fire-sale mode.
Each of the six divisions are still up for grabs, as are both the AL and NL wild-card berths. The Philadelphia Phillies, widely considered to be the preseason runaway favorites to win the National League pennant, currently sport the biggest divisional lead in baseball at just 3.5 games over the second-place Braves in the NL East. Every other current division leader is one series sweep away from squandering first place in their respective divisions.
While this exciting albeit unlikely scenario makes for hundreds of potential playoff matchups, it handcuffs many general managers who have been accustomed in years past to throwing in the proverbial towel come mid-to-late July, and dumping some of their most attractive veterans in exchange for prized prospects currently ascending the ranks of the minor leagues.
Since perennial cellar dwellers like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks still have a shot at the postseason after playing some of their best baseball in years from April through mid-July, these teams can't trade their overpaid veterans for help on the farm like the case had been in years past.
Despite the sea change in Major League Baseball, trade rumors continue to swirl around some of the most unlikely candidates to be dealt before August. Much of this chatter can be reduced to heresy, but other discussions carry weight.
This slideshow will separate the speculation from sourced rumors, with a few possible self-generated scenarios sprinkled in by yours truly.
For MLB's so-called "haves," the period in baseball from the All-Star break through July 31 is a time rife with wishful thinking when playoff contenders can rent a much-needed bat or acquire a pitcher in a contract year to possibly launch them into the playoffs.
For the "have-nots," July is a time to unload expensive payroll and milk desperate teams for their top minor league talent. But given the increased parity across both the National and American Leagues, those lines between buyers and sellers are more blurred than ever.
Let's start with what we know, followed by said rumors surrounding some of the most talented players in the game, topped off with pure speculation as to other possible scenarios.