Here's the first part of a roundtable with SB Nation's other SB Nation bloggers, moderated by Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Box Score.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which teams, under which circumstances, will be buyers over the next three weeks? How about sellers? If there are any undecideds, what will be the tipping point?
Stephen Higdon (Astros): There are five teams who could justifiably (and by justifiably I mean purely based on the standings) contemplate being buyers. This entire trade deadline, however, confuses me. Team economics, bunched divisions and Wild Card races, etc. all contribute to making it difficult to say who has what to give up and and who can afford to the price it will cost to get it.
As for my supposed area of expertise, the Astros, your guess is as good as mine. They're in a classic Astros position where management can smell the oh so familiar second half surge of the last few years (save 2007), but this is a different kind of year for the Astros. For one, this is an Astros management that is finally valuing their farm system and seems to be doing well in that regard. They don't have depth in any particular place, except for the outfield. Yordany Ramirez, Brian Bogusevic, and Reggie Abercrombie have been impressive at AAA Round Rock in the outfield, but none of them are the kind of players you can sell to other GMs. Ramriez possesses a Francoeur-esque allergy to walks, Bogusevic still hasn't had a full season as a position player, and Abercrombie is too old to be at AAA to begin with. So while the Astros certainly have needs, they don't have much to work with in acquiring it unless they give up on Bud Norris, Yorman Bazardo, and Polin Trinidad who have all been impressing in Round Rock's rotation (I might spontaneously combust from the frustration if we do, though).
Al Yellon (Cubs): At 3.5 games out of first place, the Cubs are clearly buyers right now. They need a bat and some bullpen help.
Slyde (Reds): I think the broken wrist of Jay Bruce has turned the Reds into sellers. I just don't think they'll be selling a whole lot. They have some veterans in the bullpen who could be dealt, and if they are going to make a big deal, it will likely involve Aaron Harang, since he's probably the most valuable veteran chip they have. Then again, who knows what any team in this division is going to do at this point? The Reds still probably think they are in it, and at 5 games back, why wouldn't they? You may see them trade some minor leaguers for a bat in the outfield or a shortstop, but I think that's unlikely. My best guess is that they'll stand pat and hope for the best.
Charlie (Pirates): As usual, the Pirates will be sellers. John Grabow and Adam LaRoche are free agents after the season, so they could go. Jack Wilson is also a possibility, although his defensive value and the Pirates' total organizational inability to replace him may make him more valuable to the Bucs than to other teams. Freddy Sanchez is also possible, but the organization recently approached both of them with offers of extensions. That could just be a ploy to raise their trade value. We'll see.
Kyle Lobner (Brew Crew Ball): The Brewers certainly could be buyers, but it's unlikely they'll make a major splash in the market unless they have a sudden change of heart regarding Alcides Escobar, their #1 prospect who's being treated as untouchable. If they won't trade Escobar, Mat Gamel or someone like J.J. Hardy, they probably won't get a significant piece in return.
Dan Moore (Cardinals): St. Louis already bought, and unfortunately lemon laws don't apply in Major League Baseball; DeRosa was the perfect fit, but his wrists suffer from Rickie Weeks's disease. With Troy Glaus nearly ready on offense and uncertain afield, the Cardinals are in a strange placeóeither they try him back at third, or they shop him in the AL, where he could DH. It should be clearer by the deadline, but it all revolves around his gimpy shoulder.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): What holes will teams be looking to fill? What are the biggest holes they *SHOULD* be looking to fill but don't seem to be concerned about? Which holes from the first half can be plugged internally, perhaps by improvement the same player?
Stephen Higdon (Astros): If I were in charge, I'd be looking to find a second baseman, but that's only because management has some sort of aversion to Edwin Maysonet. Maysonet seems to be a more than servicable option at second base, but because Kaz Matsui is locked into his ridiculous contract and Maysonet has still has options, he'll languish in AAA while our below replacement level corps of utility guys and Matsui continue to be a drag at the major league level.
Of course the Astros could desperately use stability in the starting rotation via a three year reduction in it's average age, but yet again, there are some internal options the Astros should try rather than trying to acquire (Norris especially, even if his BB/9 is worrisome).
Wow. I can't believe I just answered a question about what the Astros need to try to do to plug holes and offered viable internal options--spooky.
Slyde (Reds): If they want to try to win something this year, the Reds need a couple of big bats now that Jay Bruce is out for a while. They should also be concerned about shortstop, but I'm not sure if they are. I think they think that things will get better when Alex Gonzalez comes back, but they rarely do with him.
Charlie (Pirates): The Pirates don't have enough talent to worry about holes right now, but if they were to acquire a young middle infielder to replace Sanchez or Wilson, I wouldn't exactly complain.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Who are the most popular trade targets for those holes? Any targets flying under the radar? Any targets your team is especially intrigued in? Any popular names they're backing away from? Any rumors you'd like to start?
Al Yellon (Cubs): With Geovany Soto out for an undetermined length of time, the Cubs are looking for another catcher. They could also use a left-handed relief pitcher so that Sean Marshall can go back in the rotation while Ryan Dempster is out. I have heard rumors that deals for these types of players might happen soon.
Dan Moore (Cardinals): The rotation is uncertain as ever, with Todd Wellemeyer back in full-pumpkin mode, but Troy Glaus has to be the first domino in any situation. There's just no way around it. The Cardinals need a third baseman, and there's a non-zero chance they have one, but he has to show he can throw it over the pitcher's mound first.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Which prospects and young major leaguers are most likely to change hands? Any that teams have deemed off-limits?
Al Yellon (Cubs): Josh Vitters is the only real position player prospect the Cubs have right now, and he's 2-3 years away. But I don't see them trading him at all -- it was rumored that the Padres wanted Vitters as part of a Jake Peavy deal last winter and the Cubs said no.
Slyde (Reds): The Reds don't have any top-level prospects outside of possibly Yonder Alonso, who broke his wrist a few weeks ago. What they do have is a bunch of mid-level prospects that could potentially be packaged together in a deal. At the big league level, I think Edwin Encarnacion is probalby the only young player who might be available right now, though the Reds haven't really indicated as such. I'm not sure if they've got what it takes to make a major splash in the market though.
Stephen Higdon (Astros): I am pretty sure that the current organizational philosophy is that if you were signed by Bobby Heck, you're off limits. As for how much they value anyone one that Purpura signed, I have no idea--I still miss Drew Sutton.
Dan Moore (Cardinals): Cards fans are worried about Jess Todd, who is rumored to be the PTBNL in the DeRosa trade. It'd be tough to lose to fine relief prospects in one bad-luck deal like that.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): For the teams probably out of the running, what acquisitions and decisions based on the 2010 and future seasons would you consider a "win"?
Stephen Higdon (Astros): I don't think that there's a whole lot at the MLB level I'd like to see, other than JR Towles getting another crack at the MLB level. Towles, I think, is likely destined to be trade bait in the next year or two, and I'd like to see the Astros help him raise his stock a little bit.
In September, I'd also like to see Yorman Bazardo and Polin Trinidad get a few starts if the Astros are out of it, but I would also like to see them play it safe with Bud Norris more than anything. His career high for IP is 96.2 IP and he's already at 106 IP in 2009. As much fun as it would be for him to be able to contribute to a stretch drive (if there even is the potential for one), I think the Astros have to keep their eyes fixed ahead. The last thing this organization needs is Bud Norris being shelved for a season or two be injury.
Charlie (Pirates): The Pirates are the top contenders to sign Dominican mega-prospect Miguel Sano, who'd provide a huge boost to their farm system. They've signed their first four draft picks, but some of their highest-upside selections came later in the draft and haven't signed yet. Their ability to get draftees Zack von Rosenberg, Trent Stevenson, Colton Cain, and several others to put pen to paper will determine whether they had a good draft or not. They also need to figure out how best to turn their handful of remaining veteran players into young talent. Finally, this isn't a "decision," but I'd really like to see improvement from rez" class="sbn-auto-link">Pedro Alvarez in the second half of the season. The Pirates have a lot riding on him, and while he's shown big-league power so far, he's also struck out far too much.
Slyde (Reds): If we're going to call the Reds out of contention (they're definitely teetering), I'd say the best outcome for 2010 is to not deal prospects just to fill 2009 holes. That's not to say that they shouldn't deal prospects, but any move they make this season needs to be focused on making the team a winner in 2010. The Reds are on the cusp of finally having a winner. They just need a couple pieces to go along with their good, young pitchers and their core offensive players. Acquiring someone who will only help in 2009 is short-sighted and may prevent them from fill that hole next season, when the team should be in even better shape to compete.
Sky Kalkman (Moderator): Without any trade-deadline moves, what has to happen for your team to win the division How much more likely is your team to make the playoffs by plugging its holes or adding an impact player?
Al Yellon (Cubs): In this division, with teams struggling to stay over .500, a short winning streak -- even five or six games -- could put someone in the driver's seat. All the Cubs really have to do is have players like Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley hit the way they are capable of; the Cubs are 15th in the NL in runs scored, but have allowed the third-fewest runs in the league. Start scoring some runs and keep the pitching as consistent as it has been, and the Cubs could put one of those streaks together.
Stephen Higdon (Astros): If the Astros want to have a realistic shot at winning this division, they will have to maintain their .500 record through the month of July. With series against the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Mets (but...it's the Mets*), the Cubs, and then the Cardinals, there's no room for dropping these series but still looking to October. To accomplish this, Roy Oswalt will have to be Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez has to have found consistency, and the gruesome trio of Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz, and Mike Hampton have to find a way to for 2/3 of them to have decent outings each time through.
There have been reports this week that the Astros might look to give Bud Norris a shot in the rotation, which could go a long way in helping legitimating any Astros fan postulating about October. Norris' IP could be a concern in the long run (not to mention his inauspicious BB%), but as a short term stop gap to the maddening inconsistency that comes from employing three starting pitchers over the age of 35. I don't see him pitching in September, or rather, I hope he isn't.
*As bad as the Mets have been, I think that Astros' season series split with the Nationals proves there's no such thing as a gimme for them.
Slyde (Reds): The best hope for the Reds to win the division this year is for Edwin Encarnacion to get hot and help drive the offense with Joey Votto. Also, we'll need to see solid performance from the group of Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, and Chris Dickerson as they split time in the outfield. And probably most important is that Willy Taveras needs to start getting on base in a consistent fashion. So basically, the offense outside of Votto needs to wake up. If that can happen and the Reds can continue to play good defense and get solid work from the bullpen, they might have shot. Oh, and Bronson Arroyo needs to stop being terrible.
Kyle Lobner (Brewers): This Brewers team has enough talent to win the division, but only if their starting rotation stays healthy and effective. There's enough firepower in the lineup to win much of the time (with the recent slump as an exception), so this team will win as many games as the starting rotation can keep them in.