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When the season began, Cliff Lee was going to pitch the Mariners into the playoff race, Roy Oswalt was supposed to provide one of the few enjoyable experiences for Astros fans, and the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell were expected to be dealt by the July 31 trade deadline.
A lot can change in two months. Seattle's disappointing start is making Lee look expendable. Oswalt is still in Houston but last week said he wanted to be traded to a contender. And San Diego's fast start means its star first baseman and closer may not find new homes this season after all. Here's a rundown of the impact players now most likely to be trade bait before the end of July.
The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner is eligible for free agency after the season. The Mariners (16--27, eight games behind in the AL West through Sunday) are likely to lose him then, so unless they get back into the race, expect Lee (2--2, 3.44 ERA) to be the biggest pitching star available. Whoever gets the lefthander will acquire a proven big-game winner: Last year Lee had a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts for the Phillies.
What took him so long? The frustration of pitching well for a team that's not even at the rebuilding stage yet—Houston was 15--29, worst in the NL—finally got to Oswalt; he said he would waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender. (Oswalt is 2--6 this season, but his 2.66 ERA is 10th-best in the NL.) The righthander could be a huge difference maker for a team in the playoff hunt: In his career he's 70--22 after the All-Star break.
PRINCE FIELDER, Brewers 1B
Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio has been trying to lock up Fielder, who will be a free agent after the 2011 season, but with the slugger seeking at least $200 million over eight years, the small-market Brewers might be better off dealing him for the package of young pitchers they need. Last week four out of four rival general managers surveyed said they wouldn't be shocked to see Fielder go this season.
PAUL KONERKO, White Sox 1B
The White Sox are stumbling; they were 18--25 and 7½ games out in the AL Central. Ken Williams, one of the game's most aggressive G.M.'s, isn't likely to blow up his team until the season is lost. But if he does want to deal, he has several prized commodities—starting with Konerko, a free agent after this season who was tied for the major league lead with 14 home runs. As a player with 10 years of service time and the last five with his current team, Konerko can veto any trade. If the first baseman doesn't want to move, Williams can offer catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who will also be a free agent come November (though he becomes a 10--5 player next month). One G.M. says he also has his eye on several Chicago pitchers, including starter Mark Buehrle and reliever Matt Thornton.