This much we know about this year's trade deadline: There will be no shortage of buyers. And as July 31 nears, it's no mystery what the most eager buyers covet. The Indians, in third place in the AL Central and 24th in the majors in OPS against lefthanded pitching, need a righthanded masher. The NL Central--leading Reds, whose leadoff hitters rank second to last in on-base percentage, need a table setter. The Dodgers, second in the NL West and last in the league in homers and OPS since the start of June, need Mike Piazza circa 1997. And everyone always needs starting pitching.
But where are the sellers? "Usually around now, the phone's ringing—but not this year," the G.M. of an American League contender said last week. "It's as dead as I've ever seen, because no one wants to sell yet. Everyone thinks they're still in it."
With two wild-card slots up for grabs in each league this year, almost any team can convince itself that it's a contender. When the second half began, all but three AL teams (Kansas City, Minnesota, Seattle) were within 2½ games of a playoff spot. In the NL eight clubs were within six games of the wild-card lead. Even if the races weren't so tightly bunched, more teams might be inspired to stay in the chase this year after seeing the Cardinals win the World Series in 2011 despite being 8½ games out of the wild-card lead as late as Sept. 5.
Another twist adds to the uncertainty of this trade season: Under the new collective bargaining agreement, a club that acquires a player at the deadline will no longer receive draft-pick compensation if that player leaves as a free agent the following off-season. This makes potential two-month rentals such as starters Cole Hamels (Phillies), Zack Greinke (Brewers) and Ryan Dempster (Cubs) less attractive than they might have been. Fewer good options in the trade market, in turn, drives up the value of such players as Cubs starter Matt Garza and Diamondbacks rightfielder Justin Upton, who are under team control through 2013 and '15, respectively.
Many executives believe that in this seller's market, as the AL G.M. says, "the asking price for an elite player is going to be high." But, he adds, "that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to see fewer deals. If you're leading your division, you'll be more motivated than ever to improve and win the division because you don't want to play a one-game playoff [in the wild-card round].
"It's dead now, but that could change in a hurry. One thing I've learned: This time of year, nobody knows anything."