More than in any other sport, baseball teams use the trade deadline to identify themselves. Sellers are clearing cap room by bringing in unproven prospects in exchange for established veterans. Buyers are playoff and bubble teams that think they're a couple of pieces away from seriously contending. The 2006 market is short on stars, so there'll be no stunners this year, but there will be familiar players changing uniforms as teams jockey for playoff positioning. The deadline never lives up to the potential excitement that rumor-churning causes, but there's always some movement with a couple of big deals and already players like Aubrey Huff and Austin Kearns have been dealt. The Yankees and Angels are in rumors for just about every outfield bat, and like always everyone is looking to acquire pitching. But with less than a handful of solid pitchers on the market, many teams will be left out in the cold. Here's a guide to the names you can expect to see move by July 31st:
Bobby Abreu - Since this year's Home Run Derby, Abreu's name has been brought up for all the wrong reasons. The fans in Philly hate him (no surprise there), he's lost his power swing, his contract is bloated, blah. Apparantly the reason Abreu's transmorphed to Hitler-esque levels of villainy is that he won the Home Run Derby last year, and analysts are quick to point out that he's abandoned his productive original swing in favor of a monster stroke -- that he's trying too hard to match that home run success. Bullshit. Abreu's no newcomer, he just needs a change of scenery. Luckily for him, his name is the most heavily rumored to move. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rangers have all been linked to Abreu trades recently. The Yankees and Mets need pitching more than anything else, and neither have the resources available to help their ailing stalves AND acquire Abreu. In the end, I expect Abreu to land in Boston.
Livan Hernandez - The Nationals hope Hernandez, who's had an up-and-down career but has proven himself in the past if he can stay focused, will step up his game in the coming weeks to increase his value. There won't be a Barry Zito or Dontrelle Willis moved at the deadline, so Livan might actually be the best pitcher on the market. It makes perfect sense for the Mets to make a run at him, they'll be able to pick him up without dealing Lastings Milledge or Mike Pelfry. Like Abreu, there will be a number of teams who inquire about Hernandez including the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Yankees.
Jose Guillen/Alfonso Soriano - With the Nationals recently acquiring Austin Kearns from the Reds, they've got a surplus of outfielders. Coincidentally, the Yankees need some bats in the outfield to replace Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui. To get Soriano back in pinstripes, the Evil Empire would have to part with Philip Hughes, their top pitching prospect. Guillen could come much cheaper. I wouldn't expect either of these guys to go anywhere if they don't wind up in the Bronx.
Greg Maddux - If Hernandez is dealt early, expect the market on Maddux to heat up. The Brewers, Dodgers, Athletics, and Padres have all discussed a Maddux deal, but expect him to go to Milwaukee where his brother Mike works.
Craig Wilson - Wilson had a strong rookie year before falling back to Earth, but he's a solid hitter who's able to play behind the plate as well as at first and in the outfield. The Pirates are asking an awfully lot for him -- a young, major league-ready hitter and a pitching prospect -- but the Angels have shown interest. Wilson could step in and supply the Angels small-ball lineup with some more ammo.
Jon Garland/Freddy Garcia - The White Sox have told the Mets they'd be interested in dealing one of these pitchers to clear room for the potential arrival of Jason Schmidt, which leads me to believe they see something in New York they want that they can't find anywhere else. The price for these still young, promising pitchers might be high, but neither is a stop-gap solution -- each could temporarily serve as the two or three man in the Mets rotation and move to the top of the staff once Pedro and Glavine move on.
Miguel Tejada - Of course, the White Sox could turn around and deal one of those two pitchers for Miguel Tejada, who is on the block in Baltimore because of his problem arriving for games on time (?!). Tejada's a former MVP who's best days are behind him, but assuming he can get to Comiskie on time, he can be the piece that puts the White Sox well over the top. The Angels and Tigers are also interested, but Baltimore might be intrigued by the prospects of adding a proven playoff-tested pitcher like Garland or Garcia.