On the bubble

We’re two weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline and, as usual, several teams have important decisions to make. Many clubs, such as the Cubs, Mariners and Braves, are in it for the long haul despite sitting a game or three out of first place. Plenty of others—exactly half of baseball’s 30 teams, by my count—are just playing out the string.

That leaves four teams on the bubble. Odds of any one of them reaching the postseason are low, but not so low that their general managers can afford to throw in the towel. Not only is it possible to make up a 5-10 game deficit over the last two months of the season, but in some of these markets, it isn’t worth the PR effect of cashing it in by August. Let’s look at these four teams.

New York Yankees

By just about any standard you choose, the Yankees have been very unlucky this year. They’ve won six fewer games than their run differential suggests they should have, and they’ve been decimated by injuries, especially to the starting five. (Five is a figure of speech in this case; at last count, it’s an even dozen.)

The Red Sox have just about sealed up the AL East, but despite all the misfortune in the Bronx, the Bombers are only seven games out of the Wild Card. That’s still plenty of ground to make up, especially with three teams in front of them, but the Twins and Mariners may not be able to hold off a streaking Yankees squad. It’s easy to imagine the return of Philip Hughes, combined with a headline-grabbing deadline deal (think Mark Teixeira) vaulting New York into the postseason.

Verdict: Go for it.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins may have a slightly better shot at the postseason than the Yankees do, if only because they aren’t relying on so many fragile players. But Terry Ryan has to play more carefully than Brian Cashman does; if the Twins play below .500 for the remainder of the month, it would be mighty tempting to deal Torii Hunter and perhaps even Johan Santana or Joe Nathan and build a supplemental corps of youngsters to complement Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

That said, no team is in a better position to improve themselves with a single deal than the Twins. Their DHs have “contributed” a composite 253/328/351 line this year, and their third basemen (I’m looking at you, Nick Punto) have been even worse. It wouldn’t take Teixeira to instantly better the Twins; someone like Mike Piazza would fit the bill as well.

Verdict: Check back in 10 days.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Before Tuesday’s games, the Snakes were closer to their division lead—4.5 games—than any of the other teams discussed here. Despite that proximity (heck, the Cubs are 3.5 back and very much in their race), the D-Backs might be the biggest longshot. Not only do they have a heavily negative run differential, but they are in third place behind two of the best teams in the league, the Dodgers and Padres.

It’s remarkable that the D-Backs are still in the race at all. They’ve gotten this far without a single regular slugging above .500 (though Mark Reynolds managed it in his 49 games) and with disappointing seasons so far from youngsters Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Chris Snyder, and Carlos Quentin. This was a risk Josh Byrnes must have known he was taking; further, 2007 was never the year he was building toward. If Orlando Hudson, Eric Byrnes, and Livan Hernandez would bring back some organizational needs, it would be irresponsible to pass on the opportunity to solidify what ought to be a very good team for the rest of the decade.

Verdict: Sell

Philadelphia Phillies

Like Arizona, Philadelphia isn’t far back as measured by games, but they do have two teams to overcome. The Phillies are a tough team to gauge at this juncture, having gotten impressive performances from some players (Chase Utley, Aaron Rowand) and underwhelming ones from others (Adam Eaton, Freddy Garcia, Brett Myers). Complicating the situation is that many of the underperformers (notably Garcia) are the ones who, before the season, would’ve seemed to be most likely to be moved in July.

Neither the Mets nor the Braves have looked bulletproof lately, so you can make a case that the Phillies ought to give it a shot. And like the Twins, they have one glaring weakness; in this case, it’s third base, where Abraham Nunez has gotten 72 starts—about 60 more than any major league team should give him. Upgrading to, say, Troy Glaus could be the difference between a .500 season and a serious run at the Wild Card. Another credible starter (say, could Livan Hernandez be available?) would bolster their chances as well.

Verdict: Check back in 10 days.

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