Trading to the postseason

    At the beginning of every season there is one date that each player, manager and general manager circles on the calendar. This one date illustrates whether a team’s season has unceremoniously ended before schedule or just begun in time for the final stretch.

That date is the infamous July 31, known around Major League Baseball simply as the “Deadline” and easily the most important day in the season.

    Why would a day in late July, and not October, be considered the most crucial day of the MLB season? Well, that’s simple. July’s final day marks the point in the season where teams prove they are either contenders or pretenders for the postseason. For some major league teams this is judgment day. So, July 31 is more significant than any day in October because if a team doesn’t perform well on deadline day they won’t have to worry about performing in October. They will be watching the World Series at home.

    Moves made at the trade deadline will be especially important for teams that are in a tight division race, like the four teams in the AL West. All season long the Mariners, Rangers, Athletics and Angels have been battling for supremacy in the competitive AL West, but the next couple of days will decide which squads are ready for a playoff push.

    There have been several reports that the M’s are pondering sending rookie center fielder Adam Jones to the Nationals for veteran left fielder and former second basemen Alfonso Soriano. Soriano, who is enjoying a great season in Washington with 31 home runs and 62 RBIs, would be a great addition to a Seattle squad that could use a boost. The M’s need to look towards the future by keeping the young, athletic Jones and passing on the appealing Soriano. Even if Seattle won the division this season they wouldn’t be able to topple the AL powers like Boston, Chicago, New York and most recently Detroit. The smart bet would be to keep the young talent for a more realistic chance at winning it all next season.

    While the M’s aren’t necessarily buyers or sellers at this point, the remaining teams in the division are in more definitive positions. The Angels are most definitely sellers except they don’t really have many desirable players to deal outside of Vladimir Guerrero, who is certainly not going anywhere. The most interesting squads are the Rangers and Athletics because they have many valuable pieces to move, but they have to decide whether they are serious contenders or not. Most reasonably, the Rangers will win the division due to their potent offense and steady pitching. If the Rangers continue to win, A’s GM Billy Beane may be forced to send fabulous lefthander Barry Zito to a contender for some prospects.

    The NL West is nearly as complicated as the AL West. Every team is in contention, but only one will advance to the playoffs. The Dodgers and Rockies are beginning to fade, so they are likely sellers, meaning it will be a three-horse race between the Diamondbacks, Giants and Padres until the end. With the acquisition of first basemen Shea Hillenbrand the Giants appear to be the frontrunners. Consequently, if they begin to pull away then look for Arizona to deal outfielders Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez very quickly. Teams that could be interested in the D-Backs’ outfield duo include the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers.

    Most baseball fans are still having a hard time believing that the perennial bottom-dwelling Tigers are going to beat out the Twins and White Sox for the AL Central crown. Detroit may try to snag the aforementioned Soriano to add some power to their lineup, but with a great young rotation and promising lineup they are ready for the postseason.

    The White Sox and Twins will battle for the AL Wild Card. A significant indicator of which squad will be the buyer and seller is their upcoming three-game series. If the Twins falter in that series they could be forced to trade electrifying center fielder Torri Hunter and possibly left fielder Shannon Stewart for financial reasons (Hunter and Stewart are the first- and fourth-highest paid players, respectively, on the Twins’ roster).

    Like the AL Central, the NL Central has a team with a comfortable lead in the Cardinals. The inconsistent Reds are the only team in the division within less than 10 games of division-leading St. Louis. If the Cards make any moves at all, the most likely move would be snatching one of the bigger names in Phillies’ left fielder Bobby Arbeu. He would solidify their outfield on defense and add not only a run producer, but also a very clutch hitter to their lineup.

    As for the rest of the division, the biggest move may be the Brewers unloading “El Caballo” Carlos Lee to a team in search of a big bat like the Mets or Yankees. Another notable move would be the Astros launching the Rocket Roger Clemens to a contender, although the Astros and the Rocket have stated that the 22-year-veteran has no chance of departing Houston anytime soon.

    The most anticipated division, as usual, is the AL East. Trade talks have been rabid amongst the teams in this division, with huge names like Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez supposedly on the block. Many say that Tejada could be on his way to Houston in exchange for shortstop Adam Everett in an attempt to push a late resurgence for the Astros. Tejada might not call Houston home by the time the deadline passes, but it is even more unlikely that he will continue to call Baltimore home. He has worn out his welcome in an Orioles’ uniform and should find another uniform a better fit.

    Everyone is aware of A-Rod’s recent woes at the plate and league-leading 18 errors, which means that George Steinbrenner is probably harassing GM Brain Cashman to deal the troubled third basemen. New York fans despise last year’s AL MVP for his terrible play at the hot corner and poor discipline at the plate. Lately they have let him know by showering him with boos every time he comes to the plate. While there has been plenty of talk about A-Rod being shipped out of the Bronx, that is all it is. The Yankees would be making a dreadful mistake if they decided to deal arguably the best player in the game.

    The Red Sox have also been mentioned in many rumors. Supposedly, they would like to secure their rotation by picking up Jake Peavy from the Padres for third basemen Mike Lowell. Additionally, Boston has shown interest in Devil Rays shortstop Julio Lugo as a replacement for Alex Gonzalez, who has only committed four errors all season.

    In the NL East, the Mets are in a very comfortable position and are on pace to be the first division winner other than the Braves in the last 15 years. Even with their great play so far, they may be interested in trading for an outfielder like Abreu or Pat Burrell, also from Philadelphia. Despite the fact that the Mets covet the Phillies’ outfielders, it may be extremely difficult to finalize a trade because Philadelphia doesn’t want to compete against Abreu or Burrell nearly 20 times a season.

    The Mets may be running away with the division with a double-digit lead, but Atlanta has won so regularly that they still feel they are still in contention for the division title and definitely for the Wild Card. With so much hope still alive in Atlanta, look for them to seek more pitching help for the bullpen even after acquiring Cleveland’s old closer Bob Wickman last week. Bobby Cox appears to be content with his offensive production as of late, so there won’t be many changes to the lineup unless it to acquire a pitcher.

    With teams mired in tight division and wild-card races, every GM is working overtime to upgrade their talent for a postseason run. There are plenty of big fish in the sea to choose from, but only those teams that make the right moves will still be playing late into October. Be prepared for a flurry of activity where lots of big named stars will be changing area codes, teams on the outside looking in will become frontrunners and teams will be trading for a pass into October.