It's still very, very early in the season; early enough, in fact, that nearly every team not only feels like they're right there in the race, they're actually right in thinking so. Thanks in large part to the wild card system, even teams struggling to maintain visibility with the top of the division have a potential road to the playoffs to consider.
All that being said, we're seeing currently in the Seattle Mariners a team not in it, who knows they aren't in it. Or at least, I should say, a team which should know they're not in it. I suppose it's possible they haven't realised their season is pretty much over yet; the same sort of delusion preventing the Houston Astros from recognising the need to rebuild has to exist somewhere other than Drayton McLane's office.
It's still early, sure, but not so early we can't look around and see who's in it, who's out, and begin trying to determine who may be buying and who may be selling.
I think it's fairly safe to say the New York Yankees will always be buyers, regardless of the standings. Ditto the Red Sox, though that's not quite as sure a thing. Thus, we'll just avoid each of those teams. With that caveat, I think there are about five teams we can safely say are going to be buying as we move toward July and trading season, and only about three I feel good counting out and putting in the sellers column.
St. Louis Cardinals -- Since this is a Cardinal blog, I figured we may as well begin here. The Cards currently find themselves in a dogfight atop the NL Central with the Cincinnati Reds, and it doesn't look as if either team is going to go away all that soon. That said, the Cards are still very much one of the top teams in the National League; they've underperformed their Pythagorean record and have the best record in the NL looking at third-order wins. Put simply, the Cards are most definitely in, and they'll be looking to improve the team as the summer goes on.
Needs -- The Cards' middle infield has been absolutely dreadful, even with Felipe Lopez providing solid offense on a nightly basis. The braintrust seems to still have faith in both Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker, but I wonder if that would preclude the acquisition of an upgrade in the middle of the diamond. (And no, Aaron Miles does not count as an upgrade.) The timetables on both Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse remain hazy; another starter could be a definite possiblity. The emergence of Jason Motte has made the back end of the bullpen much stronger, and relief help now looks like a much lower priority.
The problem, of course, is that the Cards used up most of their ammo for trading last summer; any upgrades they do make will be marginal at best, considering the dearth of tradeable assets.
Philadelphia Phillies -- The Phillies have struggled lately in a big way, and look much more vulnerable this season than they have the last couple. The offense isn't quite what it was, and they're fighting it out with the rest of the NL East rather than simply dominating.
Needs -- Another starting pitcher, though with J.A. Happ hopefully returning soon from injury that may be less of a need. The back end of the bullpen has been unsettled, and if the Phils plan on returning to the fall classic for a third consecutive season they may need to find some help in closing out games.
Minnesota Twins -- We expected the Twins to run and hide from their division, which hasn't really happened, but they're still clearly the most complete team in the AL Central.
Needs -- Jon Rauch has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Joe Nathan, but I still see the Twins looking for a big arm to help out late in games.
Tampa Bay Rays -- Possibly the best team in baseball (okay, probably the best team in baseball), the Rays don't have many holes, and the few they have are closer to chinks in their armour than actual holes to be filled. Still, if the Rays are serious about taking a shot this year (and why wouldn't they be?), they may want to bolster their roster somehow.
Needs -- Honestly, they don't have many. Rafael Soriano has done an outstanding job closing out games, making relief help less of a priority than for most of the other teams on this list. The lead-in to Soriano has been less stout, and there could be a need there. Beyond that, not much, as even their bench has a guy like Reid Brignac on it, whom I would take over any of our middle infielders every day of the week. The outfield has been fine, but if there's a Larry Walker out there to be had, the Rays just might be able to find room for him.
Colorado Rockies -- The Rockies are the best team on paper top to bottom in the NL West, but haven't quite lived up to expectations yet. Still, with the Dodgers uncertain finances, the Padres' likely inaction on the trade market and the Giants' tenuous position at the contender's table, the Rockies appear to me the best bet out there to try and upgrade their team to make a run at the division. There's also a bit of a pride component here as well; I think the Rockies feel they should be contending, and so will be more likely to try for an upgrade than a team which simply finds itself in the hunt.
Needs -- As bizarre as it sounds to say, Colorado could really use some help on offense. Todd Helton hasn't hit this season, and Dexter Fowler is going through some definite growing pains. (Of course, why Fowler is getting so many at-bats while Carlos Gonzalez is around is a good question, but hey.) Their bench is very strong, but a real offensive force to stick in the middle of their lineup would be huge. They also could use bullpen help (notice a pattern among the contenders?), as Huston Street's iffy health has created a hole late in games. Manny Corpas has been solid, but he's tough to trust. The Rockies could also use another starter; Aaron Cook has been awful and Jorge de la Rosa hasn't been healthy.
Seattle Mariners -- Hey, why not start with the guys we're seeing right now, eh? The Mariners came into the season the hot pick for many people to win the AL West, but haven't come anywhere near that level of performance. (I thought they would be good, and can't quite figure out what went so wrong.) With three strong teams in their division, the M's are quickly becoming irrelevant.
Assets -- Cliff Lee is the big one, and I can't imagine he'll be in Seattle much longer. Beyond that, there's not a ton on the M's roster they would be willing to move that other teams would be all that interested in.
Arizona Diamondbacks -- The DBacks are hugely disappointing this season as well, and like Seattle came into the year as a trendy pick to contend. Unlike Seattle, though, Arizona has a fair number of usable parts they could move. They've already started dismantling, sending Conor Jackson out the door.
Assets -- You have to think Dan Haren is available, though he won't come cheap. Hell, pretty much anything not nailed down is probably available, as there are several players on the DBacks who will shortly begin to see more money. Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson could both represent significant upgrades for teams, but both will cost the acquiring team a serious haul of talent. (Drew more than Johnson, of course.) The bullpen has virtually no assets, as it's been the biggest factor in knocking Arizona out of contention.
Chicago White Sox -- Now, this one is a little less sure, largely because they play in a weak division, but even more so because Kenny Williams, the White Sox GM, is at least a little bit insane. Still, it should be clear the White Sox aren't a very good team this season, and they're not likely to climb back into contention very soon.
Assets -- Bobby Jenks is a solid closer, and with the number of teams who need bullpen help he could find his way on to the block. Carlos Quentin has been shockingly awful in 2010, but was a legitimate offensive force in the recent past, and there may be teams who look at him as a change-of-scenery bat. Given Mark Buerhle's looming free agency, I wonder if Williams might not want to try and get at least some sort of value for the veteran lefty.
There are plenty of other teams at least close to be sellers, including both the Indians and Royals who sit below the White Sox in the standings. However, both of those teams are building for the future and may not have much in the way of talent they're willing to move, and what they would be willing to move not many other teams want. Same goes for teams like the Orioles.
The Baron's playlist for the 16th of June, 2010 -- Britzapoppin'
"End of the Century" - Blur
"Trash" - Suede
"Common People" - Pulp
"Sleeping In" - Menswear
"Alright" - Supergrass
"Here Comes a Soul Saver" - The Charlatans
"Obscurity Knocks" - Trashcan Sinatras
"Car Song" - Elastica