Deadlines force action, or at least contemplation. And the non-waiver Trade Deadline prompts action and/or contemplation that often impacts much more than just the short term. So the midsummer buy/sell/stand pat decision can be pretty darn difficult.
There's a reason some general managers are in favor of pushing the Deadline beyond July 31. In a long season prone to a multitude of shifts and sways, you want all the information you can possibly gather before you make any bold decisions. As tempting as it might be to improve your club, the last thing you want to do is make some potentially marginal, short-term upgrade at the expense of the next John Smoltz or Jeff Bagwell.
The Deadline is still several weeks away, but the contemplation is well underway and the action is not far behind. As we sit here today, there are a handful of clubs who must be particularly studious about their state in the standings and whether they're willing to make the big push.
Here are five on the fence:
Phillies: If GM Ruben Amaro Jr. made Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon available, it's a given that contending clubs would clamor for the opportunity to add a proven ace or closer.
Early indications are that the Phillies are not inclined to move either player. While there might be financial benefit to move a couple pitchers entering their mid-30s and making a mountain of money, it's not as if a Phillies club in line for one of those gargantuan local TV deals is in a salary dump situation.
Having said that, the Phillies aren't providing ample reason to believe they're going to be major factors in the postseason race. They made a nice second-half surge last season to demonstrate how long the season really is in the expanded playoff format, but it didn't amount to much. And in Chase Utley, Michael Young, Delmon Young and Carlos Ruiz, the Phils have some veteran bodies who might be worth a few phone calls. If all or some of those guys get dealt, it would signal a shift for the Phillies, but not the major rebuild some are suggesting.
If the Phillies are looking for a signal, playing their next seven games against the Braves and Nats should help.
Indians: The Indians were one of the more aggressive spenders last winter, but team officials have been careful to note that this was not a "2013 or bust" scenario, as many of the core members of their lineup are under team control beyond this season.
Yet with the 2011 Ubaldo Jimenez trade, in which the Tribe sent its top two pitching prospects (Drew Pomeranz and Alex White) to the Rockies, general manager Chris Antonetti demonstrated a belief that playoff possibilities are not to be taken lightly, particularly for small-market clubs. And the Indians undoubtedly have just such an opportunity here in the first year of the Terry Francona era.
As of now, Antonetti and Co. are happy to see Asdrubal Cabrera, Nick Swisher and closer Chris Perez, all of whom missed time with injury, back in action. The question being asked within the Tribe front office these days is whether there are enough horses in the top end of the rotation to finish the job. They do feel they have the resources on the farm to pull off a move of impact.
"The needs can ebb and flow a lot in the course of four weeks," Antonetti said.
Royals: The Indians aren't the only American League Central club with a shot at taming the Tigers, and the Royals have already invested a great deal in the here and now by trading top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis. That trade helped reinvent the Royals' formerly roughshod rotation, and the defense and bullpen are both elite. But a predominantly young offense has not held up its end of the bargain, so 2014 might be a more realistic contention timetable.
So, if you're Royals GM Dayton Moore, do you have faith that the bats will bloom and become a buyer? Do you stand pat and just let it ride? Or do you go the other way entirely and entertain offers for right-hander Ervin Santana, who is nearing free agency and enjoying a terrific comeback campaign?
"We believe in our offense," Moore said. "We believe it's going to continue to trend upward. ... We've got to believe in who we are and the answer for our team getting better lies within."
In other words, don't look for any impactful additions. As for whether Santana stays or goes, much will ride on the schedule the next few weeks, heavy as it is with contending clubs (A's, Yankees, Indians, Tigers, Orioles).
Padres: The Padres were 5-15 on April 23. They didn't exactly look like potential buyers at that point.
Much has changed, and that's a credit to their mental fortitude and, yes, an NL West that has been awfully forgiving. GM Josh Byrnes has carefully molded the San Diego organization with the depth to be a contender, but the Padres' success this season has come well ahead of the external timetable.
Internally, the Padres are both optimistic about the way things have unfolded after that brutal start to the season, but realistic enough to know that a rotation that ranks near the bottom of the National League in ERA could use an upgrade. Whether they pull the trigger on a trade to upgrade that rotation is anybody's guess, but their current 10-game road trip would seem to be a big determining factor, and it hasn't started out well for a Friars club that has lost eight of its last nine, overall.
"As with most teams, we're not going to be totally short-term focused," Byrnes said. "We still have to balance the short term and long term. Giving up prospects is a big deal to us."
Rockies: The NL West surprises extend to a Rockies club that has been better than advertised, but still needs some help. Going into the season, the Rockies felt that strong returns from Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa could vault them into contention, because they didn't expect anybody to up and run away with the West. Sure enough, that's precisely how it's played out.
How will the Trade Deadline play out? That's up to Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett to decide, but the Rockies have been actively kicking the tires to address their usual need -- pitching -- and have been linked to the likes of Yovani Gallardo, John Danks and Matt Garza. They might also seek to upgrade their bullpen, perhaps making a play for Boulder, Colo., native Jesse Crain.
Of course, those pursuits are contingent upon continued contention, and the Rockies have been living largely off the fumes of their strong start, having posted losing records in May and June. But the NL West is so wide open that it's tempting for a team in the Rockies' position to take the bait and go for it.
That is, after all, more fun than sitting on the fence.