Once the First-Year Player Draft passes, general managers begin turning their focus toward the Trade Deadline.
Why should we be any different?
The non-waiver Trade Deadline remains July 31, though there is a strong argument to be made for pushing it back someday, given that the dual-Wild Card system presumably keeps more teams in the postseason hunt for a longer percentage of the season.
Then again, the way this season is playing out, we might have plenty of sellers to make for an active July swapping season. And while nobody knows exactly how it'll play out, it's worth making a few educated guesses at this early juncture:
If the Phillies trade Cliff Lee, they won't get much for him.
Clifton Phifer is as tantalizing a trade prospect as they come. He's one of those rare guys who can reshape a pennant race upon midseason arrival. By several statistical measures (2.55 ERA, 157+ adjusted ERA, 1.007 WHIP), he's pitching about as well now as he has at any point in his career, despite a dip in velocity.
That said, the talk of the Phils trading Lee is pretty premature, and not just because of the number of clubs on his no-trade list. Whether or not you believe in the Phils as a lasting contender (consider me skeptical), they are hovering in the vicinity of .500, and in the dual-Wild Card era, that's enough to have a pulse.
Besides, to trade Lee, the Phillies might have to absorb a significant amount of the roughly $15 million he's still owed this season and/or the $62.5 million he's guaranteed through 2015. The only reason you would do such a thing would be to reap a haul of prospects. But the Phillies know all too well how that's worked out in past Lee deals.
The full list of players acquired by the Indians, Phillies and Mariners in trades involving Lee since July 2009 is as follows: Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies, Phllippe Aumont, Justin Smoak, Josh Lueke, Blake Beavan and Matthew Lawson.
Combined Major League WAR for those players, according to Baseball Reference: 5.2.
Lee's WAR value in that time span: 22.4.
Not that the 34-year-old Lee will continue at that rate or be worth the staggering sum he's owed. But the case of the Brewers, who turned up Jean Segura in the Zack Greinke deal last summer, is more exception than rule. When you give up an ace, it's hard to get commensurate value in return.
The Marlins will deal an impactful player.
And no, it won't be Giancarlo Stanton, though his return to their lineup this week will spark yet another round of speculation and supposition.
Ricky Nolasco is the guy I'm talking about, and he'll be impactful if for no other reason than he could be on the move within the next few weeks, giving him ample time to assist a contending club's rotation.
I know, I know. The thought of the Marlins dumping a veteran player is hard to fathom. But this would make all the sense in the world. Nolasco is in the final year of his contract, he's pitching increasingly well (2.17 ERA over his last four outings) and the Marlins have Nathan Eovaldi coming back soon from a shoulder injury.
Heck, Nolasco asked to be dealt last winter, only to be denied. It's no secret he'll get his wish eventually, and probably soon.
Andre Ethier will be in the bargain bin.
The Dodgers have the financial muscle to swallow their mistakes, and it's hard not to view their six-year, $95.95 million extension with Ethier through 2017 as a mistake. The only way they'll be able to move him and get anything in return would be to eat a lot of that money. That would be a bold move on the part of the Dodgers, but certainly no bolder than last August's bartering with Boston. Yasiel Puig is, of course, the man prompting this conversation.
Most likely, given the injury woes of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, it's a conversation the Dodgers can avoid addressing until next winter. But that won't stop you from hearing Ethier's name quite a bit in the rumor mill in the coming weeks.
The Astros will get younger.
That might not even seem physically possible, but Jeff Luhnow will make it happen. Ancient 28-year-olds Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell could both wind up on the block as potential rotation aides, giving the Astros yet another opportunity to inject young talent into their system, preferably without breaking any child labor laws.
Relief will be hard to come by.
The Deadline always causes a ruckus, but it's usually something somewhat low-profile -- such as the addition of a setup option out of the 'pen -- that has the biggest impact in the grand scheme. After all, true championship contenders need finishing touches and not total remodel jobs.
Trouble is, the relief market this summer has the potential to be pretty thin. And with several elite teams -- the Tigers and Braves among them -- possibly on the hunt for relief arms, that poses a problem. A potentially pricey problem, at that.
As far as closers go, you'd imagine the Astros would listen on Jose Veras. The Indians probably would have listened to offers for Chris Perez if out of contention at the Deadline (and recent play is not encouraging), but Perez's recent personal issues don't exactly help his stock. With the Brewers fading, lefty Mike Gonzalez and right-handers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford stand out as potential trade bait. The Marlins' Mike Dunn could be another southpaw solution out there. Veteran lefties Scott Downs (Angels) or Darren Oliver (Blue Jays) could probably be had, too.
Not a lot of great options to be had here, but the Trade Deadline rewards creativity. And with the Draft in the rearview, GMs will turn their full creative attention toward the swap market.