The MLB All-Star break has come and passed, which means only one more landmark date remains on the calendar before the pennant races start kicking in: the trade deadline.
Two weeks from Friday will be the last day major moves can happen without the league's waiver process. Recent seasons have increasingly seen teams string their big moves out until August, when fewer teams are as likely to claim high-priced talent that may not yet be available. Last year, the likes of Gordon Beckham, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn were all sent on the move after July 31. The deadline is no longer the be-all and end-all it used to be.
That said, it's still easier to complete a trade over the next two weeks than it will be post-deadline. One nefarious team looking to block a fellow contender's trade chances can ruin everything in waivers. For now, it's a free-for-all as teams look to pick the remains off of non-contenders and push themselves into October.
With that in mind, let's take a look around MLB and assess the landscape.
4 Teams Pushing for Zobrist
Shipped to Oakland this offseason after nearly a decade-long run in Tampa Bay, Ben Zobrist's Athletics career is off to an inauspicious start. He's hitting .261/.346/.429 with five home runs and 31 RBI, which wouldn't be that big of a problem if his defense was still at a high level. Long an advanced metrics darling, Zobrist is having by far the worst defensive season of his career by the numbers and is on pace for his worst full season overall.
With the A's sitting in last place in the AL West and Zobrist due to hit free agency this winter, well, you can do the math. He'll almost certainly be traded by the deadline as Billy Beane attempts to restock the farm system with Oakland's future low-cost superstars.
And despite Zobrist's struggles, Beane won't have to look far for interested parties. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported the Mets, Yankees, Giants and Nationals each have some level of interest. Zobrist can play second base or either corner outfield spot, making him attractive to teams needing versatile talent.
The Yankees would love to replace the struggling Stephen Drew with Zobrist, who was long the bane of their existence while he was in Tampa. The Mets have also had a bit of a dumpster fire at second going on all season, especially with most of their infield depth being reallocated to make up for David Wright's absence. Neither the Giants nor the Nationals have many glaring needs, but, hey, Zobrist is talented and available.
If there is a bidding war, look for the Mets to come out ahead. They're juuust desperate enough to make a possibly ill-advised all-in push.
Astros Go From Sellers to Buyers in 12 Months
I mean, seriously. Who could have ever dreamt the Astros would go from being one of the worst teams in baseball to competing for a division crown in 2015? The mean regression we all knew was coming started to rear its head before the break, as Houston dropped its last six games. Without a move, the Astros probably finish much closer to .500 than as a legitimate division contender.
Which, of course, brings us to the obviously solution. The Astros have no intention on standing pat. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle threw out a cavalcade of potential names the team could target, but the overall intent was clear: The Astros are a big-time buyer in the trade market. General manager Jeff Luhnow even admitted the team is considering adding pieces.
"We'll know more toward the end of July than we do right now whether or not our bats are able to come back," Luhnow told Drellich. "But we're continuing (to look at) everything: bullpen, starting rotation, offense."
Houston's farm system is so deep and talented that it could theoretically land any big name on the market. Johnny Cueto, Zobrist, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Gomez—there really isn't a limit. But this isn't MLB The Show. Luhnow has taken a markedly patient approach to building this team, and he's not about to start tearing up the foundation for a one-year run that may be a mirage.
We'll have a better picture of where the Astros stand in a couple weeks. Their recent downturn leaves open the possibility they're a few games out when the deadline approaches, leading them to stand pat. If they can get back ahead of the Angels and into the home-field advantage race, though, the conversation will have to shift.
Chris Davis Not On Block Despite Consideration
As expected, Chris Davis has had a solid bounce-back season after his lost 2014. He's not hitting for quite the average (.232) the Orioles would have hoped, but he has raised his slugging percentage more than 60 points and is on pace for roughly a 30-homer, 100-RBI season.
Baltimore is lingering on the edge of the AL East race, which really isn't so much a race but a briskly paced walk. With Davis, Adam Jones and Manny Machado doing a majority of the heavy lifting on offense, it would stand to reason that the Orioles hold onto their stars.
That doesn't mean considerations of a blockbuster have been taken off the table. Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reported team brass discussed moving Davis at the deadline before ultimately deciding it's best to keep him for now. The Orioles do not want to make a big move while a second-half push is still on the table.
If they start out slow after the break, the conversation could change. Davis is an impending free agent who has a big contract coming his way this winter. Power hitting is at a premium across baseball, and even guys who strike out a ton are still getting paid. The Orioles aren't exactly known around the sport as being heavy spenders, and you have to wonder if Davis' suspension for amphetamine use last season is playing a part in their decision-making.
For now, it looks like the status quo. Like all of these mid-tier teams, anything can change over the course of two weeks.