We continue our Trade Deadline Primer series with a discussion of the NL Central, which has some unexpected results this seaosn…
30-49, sixth place, 14 games out of first place, 13 games out of wild card
LET THE FIRE SALE BEGIN! Nearly the entire roster is up for grabs. The Cubs would love to deal Alfonso Soriano and his massive contract, and they'd probably be willing to eat a good bit of that contract too. First baseman (and All-Star) Bryan LaHair has lost his job at first base to Anthony Rizzo, and despite him starting in the outfield right now, a contender who has a hole at first could be interested in the career minor leaguer. Reed Johnson could have value to a team that needs a fourth outfielder. Catcher Geovany Soto, a former NL Rookie of the Year, could also interest teams, and due to the Cubs plethora of catching prospects, the team would be more than willing to move him. On the mound, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza will almost certainly be moved, and the Cubs would probably be willing to listen on erratic closer Carlos Marmol. Pretty much, the only Cubs players that are completely off limits are Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija…it wouldn't surprise me to see any other player get moved.
44-35, first place
The Reds are in a good position. They're leading the division, and they're looking like a pretty complete team. The Reds could use some bench help, because Wilson Valdez, Miguel Cairo, and Chris Heisey have struggled, while Todd Frazier has been stealing at bats from the oft-injured and ineffective Scott Rolen. Their rotation has been solid (albeit not dynamic), and the bullpen has been fanatastic, even without Ryan Madson. Barring an injury, the Reds are pretty much just in tweak mode right now.
32-48, fifth place, 12.5 games out of first place, 11.5 games out of wild card
The Astros are also going to be in "sell whatever the hell isn't nailed down" mode, and they'll be looking for solid parts for their future. The problem is…who can they really trade? They don't have any fantastic chips like they did last year with Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. Houston would love to dump off Carlos Lee's mammoth contract, but I don't see many teams having interest in him (even if the Dodgers did, that says more about them then it does Lee). Catcher Chris Snyder could have some value for teams who want a veteran backstop, even if Snyder is struggling this year in a platoon with former first-round pick Jason Castro. A team might be able to pry Jed Lowrie from them, but it would take a really good package for Jeff Luhnow and company to part with him. On the mound, Wandy Rodriguez is a nice looking starter for a team that doesn't want to pay for Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. Veteran bullpen arms Brandon Lyon and Brett Myers could also be dealt, but their contracts limit the return that Houston can get for either player.
37-42, fourth place, seven games out of first place, six games out of wild card
Despite only being seven games out, many people are assuming that Milwaukee will be sellers at the deadline…and that's probably accurate. However, I don't think the Brewers will deal any of their hitters. Everyone they have would either be A) sold low, B) under a bad contract, or C) just isn't impressive enough to garner any interest. Milwaukee's two major chips are on the mound: Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Greinke is the best pitcher on the market, and could get the Brewers a very nice package to build around. Marcum is a step or two below Greinke on the market, but an elbow injury that has limited his pitching lately really knocks his value down. Another guy that could be traded is set-up man Francisco Rodriguez, who has sputtered along this year but has that ridiculous tag of "closing experience" slapped onto his forehead.
43-36, second place, one game out of first place, wild card leaders
The Pirates are in full-blown "buy" mode this year, and after half-assing it last year and ending up with just Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick, I'd be shocked to not see the Pirates at least make a play for one of the sexier names on the market. After seeing their offene struggle in the first two months of the season, the Pirates have kicked things into gear lately, and have a +44 run differential in June and the two games into July they've played so far. Pittsburgh has gotten outstanding starting pitching this year, and while many are screaming for an upgrade there, I don't think someone like Greinke is likely for them…a guy like Marcum or Jason Vargas would be more likely in my mind. The offense is clicking around Andrew McCutchen, and the only position that isn't getting above average production right now is at shortstop, where veteran Clint Barmes is sucking wind for the Pirates. I could see the Pirates making a play for veteran Yunel Escobar, though Barmes's contract makes an acquisition at the position a little harder to deal with.
St Louis Cardinals
42-38, third place, 2.5 games out of first place, 1.5 games out of wild card
The Cardinals will get a nice trade deadline acquisition when they activate Lance Berkman from the DL in the next couple of weeks, but Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig have performed fantastically for St Louis while Berkman has been out. The three-headed second base monster of Tyler Greene, Daniel Descalso, and Skip Schumaker really isn't working well though, and the Cardinals could use an upgrade at second…maybe Kelly Johnson? On the mound, Jaime Garcia has been out with a strained shoulder since early-June, and if the prognosis on him isn't good, the Cardinals could look to add another starter. Garcia's replacement, Joe Kelly, has been fine in four starts, but his awful strikeout rate has him walking a tightrope. The potential return of Chris Carpenter could help the Cardinals' rotation out a ton, but after cancelling a bullpen session yesterday, his status is up in the air. St Louis could also use a bullpen arm or two, because closer Jason Motte has struggled, and LOOGY Mark Rzepczynski has struggled mightily.