"Used to be if you thought you had a shot [at the playoffs] you maybe had an untouchable or two, but everybody else was in play," one club official said. "You went for it, you didn't kill a deal because you wanted to keep a Minor Leaguer. Maybe he will be a great prospect some day, but you didn't spike a deal that might get you in the playoffs over a Minor Leaguer. That's definitely not the case today."
Name a contender seeking an upgrade before the deadline, and odds are that team could have pulled the trigger on a trade but didn't because they didn't want to part with certain prospects.
The Red Sox love Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira, but those talks hit a wall in part because Boston won't part with prospects Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.
The Yankees have told teams they won't trade Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, two prospects other teams covet and would consider in exchange for dealing Major League talent that might help the Yankees this year.
Perhaps no contender is getting more calls regarding young talent than the Dodgers. The Dodgers, who are looking for pitching, have fielded plenty of proposals, but have rejected any that include certain prospects, particularly shortstop Tony Abreu, shortstop Chin-Lung Hu or outfielder Delwyn Young. The Dodgers would rather not deal third baseman Andy LaRoche, also at Triple-A, as well as some of the young talent on the Major League roster, like Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
The Phillies are looking hard for pitching, but have rebuffed proposals from potential trade partners when those partners bring up outfielder Michael Bourn. Bourn, 24, is already in the Major Leagues, and several teams with assets the Phillies could use, including Kansas City, Houston and the Chicago White Sox, would love to have Bourn.
The Mets are holding fast to their refusal to include outfielder Lastings Milledge or right-handed pitcher Mike Pelfrey in any deal.
"I've never seen this many teams flat-out refusing to deal prospects," one veteran team official said. "And nobody's budging on either side."
The sellers too, have been stonewalling any attempts to pry their best young talent away in trades. And veteran players typically moved at this time of year -- those entering free agency after the season -- are proving to be more expensive these days.
The Rangers have held firm on keeping pitcher C.J. Wilson, a popular name with teams in pursuit of Teixeira. Houston won't give up infielders Mark Loretta or Mike Lamb, both free agents at season's end, for Class A prospects. They'd rather keep them and try to re-sign them.
"If teams think a [prospect's] legit, they're keeping him," a scout said. "You don't want to give up a [Scott] Kazmir or a [Grady] Sizemore for a rent-a-player."
The Mets dealt one-time prospect Kazmir, now the ace of Tampa Bay's staff, to the Devil Rays on July 30, 2004, for Bartolome Fortunato and Victor Zambrano. The Expos sent Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens to Cleveland on June 27, 2002, for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.
At least one more player will be moving on, but it may not happen until after the deadline.
The Astros designated Morgan Ensberg for assignment on Sunday morning, meaning the team has 10 days to trade, release or send the third baseman to the Minor Leagues.
"As we just told Morgan, it's not our intention to send him to the Minor Leagues at this stage," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said. "It's not an option I think for him or us. So we'll try to see if we can make a trade for him and give him another opportunity elsewhere."
Ensberg, a ninth-round draft choice in 1998, had spent his entire career in the Houston organization.
"If teams think a [prospect's] legit, they're keeping him. You don't want to give up a [Scott] Kazmir or a [Grady] Sizemore for a rent-a-player."
-- Major League scout
"These are tough ones, a guy comes through your organization, played in the World Series for you, been a big part of your club for a long time, but we feel like this is a move that's going to make our club better and obviously with the acquisition of [Ty] Wigginton, Morgan becomes the odd man out," Purpura said.
Houston acquired Wigginton from Tampa Bay on Saturday for right-handed reliever Dan Wheeler. The Astros summoned Mark McLemore on Sunday to take Wheeler's spot in the bullpen.
San Diego might take a look at Ensberg, a Southern Cal grad and Hermosa Beach, Calif., native, to shore up third base. The Dodgers have also scouted Ensberg recently.
Elsewhere on the trade front Sunday:
Blue Jays: Talks between the Blue Jays and Phillies about Toronto right-hander Josh Towers have all but ended. Philadelphia had a representative scouting Towers during his July 21 start against the Mariners and reportedly placed a call to Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi with a trade offer. Ricciardi confirmed the two sides had talked but said Philadelphia never came up with a strong enough offer.
"Nothing's going to happen with Philly," Ricciardi said."They didn't want him bad enough. We're done."
Braves: Talks between the Braves and Rangers about a trade for Teixeira appear to be at a standstill, with Atlanta reluctant to improve its offer of Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Atlanta is also looking to improve its starting pitching and its bullpen and is trying to find a reliever with success against left-handed batters.
Cubs, Orioles: New rumors have arisen that the Mets aren't the only team interested in dealing for outfielder Jay Payton. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Cubs have now expressed interest and could send two mid-level prospects to the Orioles in exchange for the 34-year-old Payton. He will make $5 million next year to finish his contract.
Diamondbacks: The D-backs have expressed interest in adding Teixeira to their inconsistent lineup, according to Major League sources. Arizona has young first baseman Conor Jackson to offer, but Texas wants pitching as the key cog in such a trade.
Industry sources said the Rangers have heavily scouted the D-backs' farm system in case Arizona steps up its offer for the slugger. General manager Josh Byrnes has said any move would be made with an eye toward 2008, which fits Teixeira, who is signed through next year. However, the D-backs already have a glut at the corner infield position, with four players at the two spots.
Indians: Cleveland continued its search for another late-inning reliever to ease the workload on Rafael Betancourt and might try to make a pitch for Troy Percival of St. Louis. The Cardinals, meanwhile, climbed to within seven games of first-place Milwaukee with their sweep of the Brewers on Saturday, which might keep the Cardinals from making any major moves for now.
Nationals: The Nationals are interested in Wily Mo Pena, an outfielder the Red Sox are currently shopping. The White Sox have also had discussions about Pena. Nationals GM Jim Bowden is reluctant to give up a player like Chad Cordero. Pena is a 25-year-old who Bowden feels can hit for power, something the Nationals need. Bowden originally acquired him when he worked for the Reds in 2001. So far this season Pena has struggled, hitting .219 with five home runs entering Sunday.
Phillies: The Phillies sent a scout Saturday to watch Anthony Reyes, according to a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Cardinals pitcher went six innings against the Brewers and allowed two earned runs. He picked up his first regular-season win since Sept. 3, 2006, but his 1-10 record this season is indicative of a lack of run support. The Cardinals have scored two runs or less in seven of his losses this season. The 25-year-old garnered praise as a top young arm when he went eight innings to beat the Tigers in last year's World Series. The Phillies could deal Bourn, who has started in center field the Phillies' past two games.
Pirates: The Pirates are more likely to make moves this winter rather than before the deadline. With only two players heading into free agency and not much interest in shortstop Jack Wilson at present, odds are the Pirates won't do anything else before the deadline.
Tigers: The Tigers are still browsing for a reliever, but have also begun looking for a reserve shortstop, according to the Detroit Free Press. Clint Barmes, the former starter at shortstop for the Rockies, has drawn the most interest, the Free Press reported. No one is looking to replace All-Star shortstop Carlos Guillen, but Guillen has been nicked up with minor injuries and hasn't had many days off this season. There aren't many capable backups for Guillen in the Tigers' Minor League system due to injuries. The Tigers are still linked to several relievers, including Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls and Octavio Dotel, according to the Free Press.
Twins: The Twins can cross Wigginton and Washington's Dmitri Young off of their wish list. Wigginton went to Houston in a trade Saturday and Young signed an extension with the Nationals. Now the hot rumor around the Twins is that second baseman Luis Castillo has piqued the interest of the Mets. Castillo, who will be a free agent after this season, has expressed his desire to stay with the Twins until the end of the season.
White Sox: Things remained slow as usual on the White Sox trade rumor front on Saturday. Manager Ozzie Guillen continued to insist that the Sox were unlikely to make a move before the deadline, while GM Ken Williams send that a deal was possible, but still unlikely because the market is not there for his big-name players. Williams has maintained that he will not trade for the sake of making a move and unless he gets a player he has in mind heading into negotiations, he is content to stand pat. The Chicago Tribune reported that Williams was looking to the Boston Red Sox for either Buchholz or Ellsbury in exchange for Jermaine Dye, but Boston was unwilling to part with two of their top youngsters. At this point, it is looking unlikely that there is a market for Jose Contreras.
Yankees: The Yankees, along with competition from the Mets and Red Sox, are trying to land Rangers closer Eric Gagne, according to the New York Post. GM Brian Cashman, however, appears to be balking at trade proposals that include Hughes, Chamberlain or Melky Cabrera, according to Newsday. The Yankees are also eyeing Dotel and Qualls.