Buy or Sell?
That is the question facing several teams that are below .500 but still believe they can be contenders
WITH A little more than a third of the season gone, baseball has one bona fide superpower (the Red Sox) and a small handful of bottom-feeders. Then there is the game's vast middle class for whom—call it parity or call it mediocrity—the possibility of reaching the postseason cannot be dismissed. At week's end 21 teams were within 7 1/2 games of either a division lead or a wild-card bid. SI identified five teams in this extremely crowded bubble who face a particularly difficult decision whether to be a buyer or a seller as the July 31 trading deadline draws closer.
1. Blue Jays
Toronto has already had its top starter, top reliever and four every-day players visit the disabled list. The Dodgers and the Angels, both rich with major-league-ready prospects, would kill to bring ex-- UCLA star and former Angels slugger Troy Glaus back to Southern Cal. Power is prized in this market, which means Matt Stairs (.563 slugging percentage at week's end) and Frank Thomas (should the Jays pick up some of the $9 million still owed him) might also fetch the more multidimensional players that the roster needs. With the promising development this season of several young pitchers, notably Dustin McGowan and Jeremy Accardo, the Jays could contend in 2008 even if they deal those veterans.
2. White Sox
According to one rival exec, G.M. Ken Williams is looking to "mix it up." That would explain why he didn't immediately reject the Yankees' suggestion of a Bobby Abreu--for-- Jermaine Dye swap. (Though ultimately he did.) But with his club in fourth place in the insanely tough AL Central, Williams is smart enough to face reality. He won't stage a red-tag sale, but he has enough coveted veteran assets—starting with free-agents-to-be Dye and Mark Buehrle, as well as 2008 free agent Joe Crede (right)—to get the infusion of youth that his aging roster needs.
For all the chaos of the season's first two months, the Cubs have already pushed $300 million in free-agent loot into the pot and some of their veterans are paid too much to trade anyway. (Outfielder Jacque Jones has had a FOR SALE sign hanging on him for months.) Also, the Cubs' starting pitching has been so good that they could probably shop free-agent-to-be Carlos Zambrano (right) and still contend, though one NL executive cautions, "It would be tough for the Cubs to believe they could contend without Zambrano. His arm slot has dropped, but he's still got damn good stuff."
The defending world champions spent the winter counting their winnings rather than upgrading their thin roster. Presumably they still have a few dollars left to pay for the starter they should've signed months ago. The problem? They don't have the prospects necessary to trade for established players who could shore up the current roster, nor do they have the valuable veteran trade bait that would bring in the young talent needed to replenish their sagging farm system. St. Louis might consider moving Scott Rolen (right), but with the $40 million owed him through 2010 and only three homers in 175 at bats, his value is limited. However, in the NL Central, in which 83 wins may again be enough for first place, there's no reason not to go for it.
Never mind what Dontrelle Willis could bring; for a shot at ultratalented (if overweight) third baseman Miguel Cabrera (right), the Dodgers would seriously consider offering some combination of their fine, young major-league-ready players, including Andre Ethier, Andy LaRoche, James Loney and Chad Billingsley. The belief here is that the Marlins will ride out the season with both stars and explore the market in the winter. Cabrera, who at the end of 2007 will still have two seasons before free agency, is the more likely candidate to go in the type of deal that G.M. Larry Beinfest struck two winters ago, when he extracted Anibal Sanchez and budding franchise player Hanley Ramirez from Boston.
Verdict: buyer (with the caveat that they'll be spending nickels and dimes, not Benjamins).
ONLY AT SI.COM Catch Jon Heyman's Daily Scoop.