But such an approach overlooks a basic aspect of any deal, which Oakland GM Billy Beane points out: "We're always buyers and sellers. I don't think there's necessarily a distinction there, because with every buy, you're also selling. That's the nature of a trade."
Furthermore, running a race may be as big an incentive to deal as is being an also-ran. Teams, particularly those without a pedigree for contention, seek that extra jolt of legitimacy.
As Cardinals manager Tony La Russa points out, "If you get a veteran guy who's won before and put him in a winning situation, you get an adrenaline hit."
Hits, misses and remaining targets in the American League, by division:
J.P. Ricciardi continues to regard Tampa Bay shortstop Julio Lugo as a possible "finishing" piece. Otherwise, recuperating lefty Gustavo Chacin (elbow ligament) and Alexis Rios (staph infection) are all the stretch insurance they want.
Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir in the untouchable tent -- everyone else stay outside. Lugo is the most marketable, having another solid season on the brink of free agency. But has Jae Seo given Andrew Friedman cold market feet, going 0-5 since his late-June arrival from the Dodgers?
A classic seller with a boatload of veterans to walk the plank -- Javy Lopez, Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine and Rodrigo Lopez. They can also be talked out of Miguel Tejada -- neither side wants to re-visit the acrimony of last winter, considering none of Miggy's criticism was taken to heart.
Tim Wakefield's disablement tightens the screws on Theo Epstein to add a veteran pitcher. The Sox would also like to leverage Trot Nixon, whom they do not figure to re-sign, into a long-term right fielder. But they'll keep up -- or down -- with what the Yankees are doing.
They're still waiting for Carl Pavano and Octavio Dotel, but if Brian Cashman gets cold feet in a few days over their prospects and Sidney Ponson's next start is as ugly as his last, the Yanks will reel in a veteran arm. But an outfielder remains a higher priority.
The league's biggest flops have to slice through their disappointment and make a shrewd move with Jake Westbrook, atop the list of pitching shoppers. They have already moved Bob Wickman to give Fausto Carmona a chance to test his closer's wings.
They're the team with the type of rental vets with whom contenders like to load up, with Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz. Most desirable could be Mark Redman, who even offers stretch experience with the 2004 A's.
See "La Russa." Jim Leyland is one of the great "team chemistry" managers, so he'd still like to add that pennant-race savvy veteran, preferably one who hits from the left side. The talent-lode on the farm system makes a blockbuster possible.
Twins: The AL version of the '05 Braves, fighting back into the race with huge contributions from people with little history. Manager Ron Gardenhire likes his current mix. GM Terry Ryan would still like to find a taker for Kyle Lohse, who hasn't started since mid-May and is being showcased in relief.
The Sox have been the league's busiest team thus far, netting Sandy Alomar Jr. and MacDougal on consecutive days. Their growing deficit may light a fire under GM Ken Williams, making him more intent to acquire Soriano than to just keep him out of Michigan.
They're still shopping for a big outfield bat, but now they're also interested in a first baseman, since a back injury has taken Dallas McPherson out of his platoon with Robb Quinlan. They may have to surrender a valuable arm -- Scot Shields or Ervin Santana -- so Bill Stoneman's attitude is "Huge deal, or no deal."
They may end up in a showdown with the Angels over Sean Casey, too. They could also jump into the third-base market, depending on the results of the latest tests on Eric Chavez's sore forearms. Beane, to say the least, doesn't like to shop for two months, but he can offer a package to enable long-term deals.
In the real world, GM Bill Bavasi has mixed feelings about a hot spurt that again has injected the M's back into the race. He has some solid prospects to gainfully trade Adrian Beltre, a huge disappointment in the Northwest, but he can't make the move now without drawing criticism. Cold week, Beltre could still go. Hot week, Bavasi will scramble the other way and try to add an outfielder.
Rangers: Again, see "La Russa." GM Jon Daniels is desperate to engineer an impact deal, to shake up what has been a static race, if for no other reason. There is a reason Adam Eaton is making his first start on Tuesday -- if he doesn't look right, Daniels will have time to enter the Jon Lieber-Livan Hernandez-Greg Maddux bidding.