Cubs, sellers not yet giving any trade discounts
Nine days to go...
The Cubs aren't offering discounts, at least not yet. Unless a club is willing to part with some of its best young talent, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer seem comfortable holding onto Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza. It still seems likely that Dempster will get traded, but the Dodgers, Red Sox and others are far from comfortable with the asking price.
The Cubs are in a terrific position. Dempster and Garza are good enough to make a real difference in the pennant race, and there aren't many players out there like that. For one thing, at least 20 teams are still in contention and are unwilling to do anything that looks like pulling the plug on the season.
Meanwhile, some of the most high-profile players won't be available. Carlos Quentin has a new deal with the Padres. The Brewers are working hard to keep Zack Greinke. Likewise, the Phillies and Cole Hamels.
Brett Myers and Kevin Youkilis have already been dealt and are off the market. The D-backs have listened to offers for Justin Upton, but it would take a package of players to get him.
Still, there could be interesting names on the move. The Rays have fielded offers for James Shields, and Vernon Wells, Shane Victorino, Jeff Francoeur, Jonathan Broxton and Wandy Rodriguez are all available.
None of those players is likely to tip the balance of power, and if the asking price is high-profile prospects, it's unlikely to happen.
One reason is that the Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Nationals, Braves and Angels probably can reach the postseason without making a single addition.
They'd all like to tweak their rosters for the stretch run, but aren't desperate to pay a price they're uncomfortable with.
The Pirates need offensive help. Quentin would have been a nice fit before the Padres re-signed him.
Josh Willingham would have helped too, but the Twins haven't made any signals that he's available.
And the Pirates are unwilling to give up their best young talent for any of the players who are available. They desperately want to make the playoffs, but they're not going to do anything to disrupt a flow of talent that should have the franchise in contention for the next decade.
The Mets have taken a similar stance. They don't appear to be good enough to make the playoffs without adding to their bullpen, but aren't going to be moved significantly from their franchise-building mode.
General managers struggle at this time of the year to see their club through the proper prism. Do they evaluate their roster by how they've played or by how the general manager thinks they're going to play in August and September?
There are no easy answers. The Rays and Cardinals both seemed dead in the water at this time last year, and both ended up in the playoffs.
When the Cardinals began their run, Tony La Russa's first goal was to finish in front of the Reds. And then strange stuff started to happen, and the Cardinals had a finish for the ages.
Any general manager would sacrifice his entire farm system to get the player that wins a championship for him. In reality, though, there's a constant push and pull between upgrading his current roster versus weakening it for the years ahead.
Besides, there may not be a trade out there that would propel any of the contenders ahead of the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, etc. If so, a cautious start to the trading season could have the same kind of ending.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.