Five teams to keep a close eye on

  • Jayson Stark [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN.com | July 31, 2012

Editor's note: Jayson Stark will be writing a Daily Rumble each day leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

As that cool countdown clock atop our ESPN.com MLB page will attest, the trading deadline is now closing in on us, kinda like Pete Rose bearing down on Ray Fosse. So here are five teams to keep your eye on in the hours ahead:

Phillies

It's time. Time for the Phillies to say sayonara to their five-year headlock on the National League East and start thinking about stuff that matters -- like (A) the luxury tax and (B) the future.

So teams the Phillies have been talking to would be shocked if they don't make two to three deals by the time the deadline buzzer sounds. And maybe more.

Teams that have spoken with the Reds say they appear to be zeroing in on Juan Pierre. Might be the first deal the Phillies make.

The Dodgers look like the front-runner on Shane Victorino for a young, controllable bullpen arm. (Josh Lindblom?) But the Phillies have big concerns about who would play center field if they deal Victorino. So it wouldn't be a shock to see them push for someone like Tony Gwynn Jr. just to cover themselves.

And the Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays have all kicked tires on Joe Blanton. Baltimore looks like the best fit, but the $3 million Blanton has coming this year is an issue. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Phillies wait until the last minute to see whether a bidder comes out of the ozone on Blanton. He's also a candidate to get traded in August.

Hunter Pence's name remains in play. But clubs that have checked in on him believe that the Phillies will wait until the offseason, to make sure they can line up other outfielders to replace him and Victorino. There's no reason to think, said one exec, that "Hunter Pence won't have a market in the wintertime, too."

And as our colleague, Buster Olney, has reported, the Phillies have never shouted from the mountaintop anything to the effect of: "We're never, ever trading Cliff Lee." So although that's still more unlikely than likely, stay tuned on that front.

But the big thing to remember is that the Phillies' payroll is so overloaded next year, they need to submerge beneath the luxury-tax threshold this year. And that will be a priority both in July and August: "They're not that far over," said one baseball official familiar with their situation. "If they get two or three guys traded, they'll get themselves under, no problem."

Rangers

The rest of the sport keeps waiting for the Rangers to do something that reverberates on the baseball Richter scale. Is it possible that something could be named "Cliff Lee"?

Just when the Rangers had resigned themselves to the reality that it wouldn't be possible to reel in a starter who would have the same impact as Zack Greinke, multiple sources confirmed Monday that when they asked the Phillies about Lee, the Phillies didn't say no.

It would take a gigantic return, centered on third-base stud Mike Olt, a young center fielder (Leonys Martin?) and a couple of Texas' young power arms. And the $95 million or so left on Lee's contract will be a monumental stumbling block. But when you consider the other options for a team that's committed to doing what it takes to get back to the World Series, it's not out of the question.

What are those other options? Not real inspiring.

Josh Johnson and James Shields? Less likely than ever. The price would have to drop. And there are no signs of that.

Josh Beckett? Yeah, he's a Texan, but it's hard to see the Rangers overpaying the Red Sox for Beckett at this stage.

And it's always possible that Texas could just plow into the bullpen market, for a Jonathan Broxton kind of guy, and take its chances on Alexi Ogando in the rotation. But Cliff Lee is a far better prototype for what they need.

We should hedge all of this by remembering that the Rangers are a team that explores anything and everything. So this deal could easily fall apart, because the Phillies aren't that motivated to make it happen. But if there's one potential trade out there that could liven up the deadline above all others, Cliff Lee to Texas is that trade.

Dodgers

The Dodgers continue to shop for another bat in the outfield or at first base. If they can't get a trade for Victorino completed, they could turn to someone like Justin Morneau or Shin-Soo Choo, or even Alfonso Soriano. But they probably have only one major deal left in them. So their agenda depends on (stop us if you've heard this before) Ryan Dempster.

Dempster has been their No. 1 focus for a month now. But if they can't find a way to finish off that deal, teams in touch with the Dodgers say they've explored a variety of other rotation options, from Johnson and Shields to Blanton and Kevin Millwood. And it would make sense for them to see whether Beckett or Justin Masterson could be a fit.

But for now, they appear to have their sights set on Victorino and Dempster.

Giants

Those Hunter Pence rumors notwithstanding, the Giants appear to have too many payroll issues and too few chips to make that deal work right now. So there have been rumblings in the past 24 hours that, rather than trade for an outfielder, they could get creative.

One option? Dealing for Morneau and moving Brandon Belt to the outfield. And the Giants continue to look for possibilities to shore up their seventh- and eighth-inning bullpen concerns. They might be the biggest Broxton fans out there at the moment.

Cubs

Even by Cubs standards, it's been a rough week. They were all set up to move Dempster last week and Matt Garza this week. Then everything got all mixed up, in a thoroughly Cubs-ian sort of way.

So while the Cubs continue to dangle a bunch of names -- from Paul Maholm to Soriano to Bryan LaHair -- their first order of business is still to resolve the Ryan Dempster insanity.

At this point, all these days later, the Dodgers still haven't budged, the Cubs still haven't budged and the Braves are so annoyed, they've made no effort to get re-engaged. So the waiting game goes on.

But in the meantime, one club that spoke with the Nationals reports they have positioned themselves as the Cubs' perfect fall-back: The Nationals are going to trade for a veteran starter at some point, but they're clearly hanging loose, waiting to see whether a more attractive option develops -- somebody kinda like, well, Ryan Dempster.

What isn't known, of course, is whether Dempster would approve a deal to Washington. But it wouldn't be a total stunner if it turns out we're about to find out.

Monday's Rumblings

• After all that Josh Johnson talk, the Marlins were telling teams Monday they're just going to keep their ace unless something unforeseen happens. With 15 scouts watching closely Sunday, Johnson turned in a six-walk, four-whiff, five-inning start that one scout summed up with one word: "uninspiring." So the Marlins are informing clubs they see more value in keeping Johnson, heading into his free-agent year, than trading him just to say they did.

Chase Headley
Headley

• And the Chase Headley news looks almost identical. The Padres pushed for a huge package for Headley, haven't gotten it and told clubs Sunday and Monday that they'll just keep their third baseman unless the market changes dramatically.

• The Indians continue to insist they don't expect to deal either Masterson or Choo. But other teams aren't so sure. Masterson, said one NL exec, "is definitely on the market, no matter what they're saying." And Choo is a Scott Boras client who can be a free agent after next year. So several clubs say the Indians have dangled his name. But they're also looking to be "overwhelmed," and they're not anxious to take any of the $1.6 million or so remaining on his salary this year.

• The Cardinals have never been more open to dealing their onetime top prospect, Shelby Miller. But his stock has plummeted dramatically. "We've lost interest. I know that," said one NL executive. "The stuff coming out of his hand isn't as good. And the body doesn't look good. He's gotten a little heavy, and he's not the same guy."

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