David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
We figured a month in advance would be a good time to officially start the clock on the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But given the construct of the calendar, consider this an extra two-day warning. And although it's easy to identify each team's needs for the second-half playoff push, the difficult part is figuring out who the buyers and sellers will be. Another week or so might be needed to sort that out.
Just look at the standings. Through Friday, the American League had nine teams within 4 1/2 games of a playoff spot. Another three were within 6 1/2 games -- a daunting hill to climb, over a number of clubs, but close enough to keep hope alive.
And the National League? That also was very competitive -- 11 teams were inside of a 4 1/2-game deficit for a postseason berth. Another two were within 5 1/2 games, which is right on the brink. One bad week, and it could be over.
"The easiest deal is when teams want to sell off,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "Meaning give up and live to fight another day. But if they're in a position that they're actually in the race, it's hard to give up. They're trying to improve their club. They don't want to subtract and they're looking ahead at the same time. That just makes it harder.''
With that in mind, let's run down a few of the players who could be traded in the coming weeks, starting with the Mets and Yankees.
Bartolo Colon, RHP, Mets
Unless the Mets start making up some ground, there's no point in holding on to Colon, 41, who will be coveted in a pitching-hungry market. Depending on what they can get in a swap, the Mets wouldn't mind shedding some part of his $20-million contract ($11 million due in 2015).
Dillon Gee, RHP, Mets
A year ago, Sandy Alderson got the most phone calls about Gee, who finished with a 3.62 ERA and fell one inning short of 200. Gee hasn't pitched since May 10 because of a strained lat muscle, but he's expected back soon and could have enough time to convince a contender that he's fine.
Daniel Murphy, 2B, Mets
This is a tough call for the Mets. Murphy is the best pure hitter on an offensively challenged team. But a number of contenders would love to have a second baseman who's a threat at the plate (if the occasional defensive lapse can be overlooked). That's where part-time DH work would be attractive for AL clubs.
Francisco Cervelli, C, YankeesCashman already has said he's determined to make a move, so figure that a catcher will be part of any package for rotation help. With Brian McCann on a five-year deal, and two more young catchers stacked up in the minors, Cervelli, 28, has value as a sturdy backup with some pop.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Cubs
After rebuffing the Cubs' attempts to talk about an extension, Samardzija has made it clear he'd like to take his talents elsewhere. Chicago should have plenty of choices. Despite a 2-6 record, Samardzija has a 2.53 ERA in 16 starts, and he won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season.
David Price, LHP, Rays
As the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, Price has deep ties to the franchise. But the Rays, operating in a tiny market with limited resources, can't afford to be sentimental. Price figured to be next in line if they locked up anyone after Evan Longoria, but GM Andrew Friedman knows that long-term deals for starting pitchers aren't smart. Plus, it's a reloading year for the Rays.
Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies
GM Ruben Amaro must be dying to work out a cash-and-carry deal for Lee, who still is due a guaranteed $37.5 million after this season. If Lee's easily attainable 2016 option vests, that number becomes $52.5 million, so it would be better for the Phillies' bloated payroll if he's off the books. Problem is, Lee has a limited no-trade clause that includes 21 teams, and he hasn't pitched since May 18 because of a muscle strain in his elbow.
Brandon McCarthy, RHP, DiamondbacksBy conventional means, McCarthy doesn't look like a must-have: 2-10, 5.11 ERA in 22 starts for lowly Arizona. But he's been a tad unlucky with a .338 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), and a 3.75 FIP (fielding independent pitching) suggests he's pitched better than it's looked. Also, he has 87 strikeouts versus 18 walks in 104 innings and only $4.45 million left on his expiring contract this season.
Alex Rios, OF, Rangers
It's that time of year for Rios, who has switched teams twice in August and was traded to Texas by the White Sox during the middle of last season. Rios is a strong offensive boost (.305/.337/.440) for a contender and due roughly $7 million, including the $1-million buyout of his $13.5-million option for 2015. Picking up some salary could net the Rangers a decent player in return.
Chase Headley, 3B, Padres
Time for the annual Headley Watch, in which everyone talks about San Diego's pending fire sale and how its third baseman will be the first to go. Well, Headley showed no interest in talking extension with the Padres, so he's ready to leave. But he's also had back issues, which might help explain .205/.290/.332 through 59 games. A change of scenery might not be the cure-all here.
Aaron Hill, 2B, DiamondbacksAnother second baseman with some offensive punch, but this one comes with serious money in tow. Hill is due $24 million after this season, which has been a downer by his standards (.254/.291/.383).
Ben Zobrist, 2B, Rays
A versatile utility player at three positions, Zobrist is priced to move with about $4 million left this season and a $500,000 buyout on his $7.5-million option for 2015. A solid complementary piece for a contender, Zobrist has been underperforming. His .698 OPS is nearly 90 points below his career mark.
Jason Hammel, RHP, Cubs
He may not be generating as much hype as Samardzija, but Hammel, with only $3.2 million due before free agency, would be a nice rental for the remainder of this season. Hammel, 31, has a 2.98 ERA in 16 starts. His 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best of his career.
Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies
Another valuable chip from the Phillies' expensive stable, Utley's unique contract has roughly $18 million left on it through 2015 but then has three -- count 'em, three -- $15-million vesting options after that. Utley, 35, is not showing his age, either (.296/.356/.459). But as a 10-and-5 player, he can veto any trade, and Utley has given every indication that he wants to stay put.
Bronson Arroyo, RHP,
Arroyo went on the DL for the first time in his 15-year career, snapping a streak of 369 consecutive starts. But unless something more serious than elbow tendinitis develops, he should generate plenty of interest. He's in the first season of a two-year, $23.5-million deal, but if he's traded, his 2016 club option jumps from $11 million to $13 million.