Team needs are clear, and in many cases there are potential trade partners who might fill those needs, but as we've seen so many times in recent years, closing the deal can be difficult.
Sometimes, however, a looming deadline can help speed things along. Teams that wouldn't budge on the Fourth of July can become more pliable when the 31st is close.
The Brewers and Cubs got things going before the break with their acquisition of CC Sabathia and Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin, respectively, and another National League Central team could figure prominently in the trade picture during the next two weeks.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are sellers again this year, but this is an improved team and one that finds itself in a different situation from recent Pirates sellers in that they are not up against financial restrictions that will force them to unload salary. Thus, teams interested in some of the their trading chips, like Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, are going to have to meet the price (essentially high-ceiling young talent, especially pitchers) to pry either outfielder away from PNC Park.
If not, the Pirates seem more than willing to hold on to both players past the deadline.
Nady, a Scott Boras client with one more year of arbitration eligibility before he can become a free agent, probably has the best chance of any of the current Pirates to change addresses before Labor Day. The potential trade partners for Nady include the Rays, Yankees, Mets and Braves.
Damaso Marte is another Pirate who might be on the move. The team isn't expected to pick up Marte's 2009 option, so he's definitely available. But he might also be a Type A free agent, which means the Pirates would get two Draft picks for Marte if they keep him and he leaves after the season via free agency. So don't look for Pittsburgh to ship the reliever for less than the value they think they could get with those picks.
It's no secret the Dodgers have been eyeing Pittsburgh shortstop Jack Wilson, but those talks haven't gotten very far and as with the others, the Pirates aren't highly motivated to move Wilson.
The Dodgers, only a game out in the National League West, have another hole to fill after losing closer Takashi Saito for at least six weeks because of a strained ligament in his elbow.
With Saito out until late August or early September, the Dodgers are considering closer options, though it is unclear whether they will look at in-house candidates or go after some of the trade options like Colorado's Brian Fuentes (doubtful, considering he's heading to free agency this winter, as well as the difficulty of dealing within the division).
The 32-year-old was chosen for the All-Star Game from 2005-07 based on his work as a closer. If he's dealt, he'll be a rent-a-reliever. Fuentes is making $5.05 million this season.
"I believe I can close, I've shown I can do it," Fuentes said. "It's what I think my niche is."
Like the Pirates with Marte, the Rockies are also perfectly willing to keep Fuentes, as they would be in line for a pair of draft picks if the reliever leaves via free agency.
"For three summers, we have talked about Brian Fuentes being moved from this club," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "Brian Fuentes is still on this club. We are not just going to move people just to move them because people think it's appropriate for us to move them."
The NL East-leading Phillies, after coming up short in their pursuit of Sabathia and Seattle's Erik Bedard because of injury, are still considering Fuentes and Toronto's A.J. Burnett.
The Mets, a half-game behind Philadelphia, have been looking for a right-handed bat and more pitching, with Nady a possibility for the former and Fuentes the latter. But the Mets can't match what some of the other buyers with deeper farm systems can offer, so their chances of landing immediate help may hinge on whether some of the other buyers decide to stand pat.
Florida trails Philadelphia by a game and a half and has been searching high and low for a catcher. That search hasn't yielded a backstop, however, making it more likely the Marlins will look within for a receiver.
The Cardinals, in second place in the NL Central, are trying to shore up their late-inning relief and are interested in Fuentes.
Fuentes is also in the sights of the AL East frontrunners -- the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees.
The Yankees are also looking for another starting pitcher. They talked internally about Sabathia and Harden, but have been unwilling to give up top-level prospects thus far and aren't expected to make any major deals in the next two weeks. The addition of Sidney Ponson has helped, and GM Brian Cashman will continue to look for similar low-risk options rather than move prospects like Ian Kennedy.
"I want a good mix, and Hank [Steinbrenner] wants a good mix of youth and veterans to mentor the youth," Yankees general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "That's the way it has to be."
The Rays, midsummer buyers for the first time, have had scouts out watching Fuentes, Nady, Bay and others. With money to spend and an ample farm system, the second-place Rays are in better shape than most teams, in terms of having the necessary parts to pull off a deal. A seven-game losing streak entering the break certainly adds to the motivation to make a deal.
The Rays may be the best bet to make a deal before the deadline.
"I'll don't see them [standing pat]," an opposing GM said. "Not the way they went into the break."
The Red Sox would like to improve their bullpen and are in the running for Fuentes, though Boston is not likely to outbid other suitors for the left-hander, as it is not a glaring need for the defending World Series winners.
With no big holes to fill, the AL Central-leading White Sox and AL West-leading Angels aren't expected to make any major moves during the next two weeks. But like everyone else, both are looking to improve, and the market has a way of shifting in the days leading up to the 31st.
"That's when you find out who really wants to make a deal," the GM said, "and who wasn't bluffing."