Now that the Chicago White Sox have acquired a third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, the question is whether the Orioles will do the same. The Orioles would be a stronger contender if they had a stabilizing third baseman instead of a revolving door at the hot corner.
Wilson Betemit is a fill-in player who can hit, but he's not a regular third baseman. Mark Reynolds is better defensively at first base. Manager Buck Showalter says Chris Davis could be an above-average third baseman, but it's too late in the season to try that. Robert Andino is better as a utility player and wouldn't hit like a third baseman needs to hit. Miguel Tejada didn't work out and was released.
With an extra wild card team in each league, it's difficult to identify how the trade market will develop before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but here's the how the third-base market is taking shape:
Atlanta, Pittsburgh, the Dodgers, Arizona and Cincinnati could be looking for upgrades at the position. Atlanta needs insurance for an injured Chipper Jones and the Reds might need the same for Scott Rolen. The Dodgers, Pirates and Diamondbacks could all use offense.
There are a few teams out of contention. San Diego is one, but the Padres aren't going to trade Chase Headley. The Twins have no chance to contend, and no third baseman to trade. The Cubs have Luis Valbuena, but his experience is limited. And, the Rockies have Jordan Pacheco, who is a good hitter, but challenged defensively.
So a few teams worth calling would be the Phillies (Placido Polanco), Brewers (Aramis Ramirez) and Athletics (Brandon Inge). And, if the Orioles really wanted a shakeup, they could call the Blue Jays and ask about outfielder Edwin Encarnacion, a power-hitter who used to play third base in Cincinnati.
Encarnacion would be a stretch, but Polanco, Ramirez and Inge all seem like reasonable targets. Ramirez would cost the most in prospects, Polanco would be mid-range in price and Inge might not be expensive at all. All three would be solid defensive players with valuable experience for the stretch run.
Inge would be the biggest question with the bat, but if he solidified the defense, the Orioles, especially when outfielder Nick Markakis returns from injury, have enough offense to make up for it.
The Orioles have been trying to figure out a solution at third base for more than a year. Maybe the surprising contention will lead to an answer.
The first-place Nationals, who are loaded with pitching but need offense, are harder to gauge as the trade deadline approaches.
The big question: If the Nationals traded for a bat, where would the new acquisition play?
It's difficult to imagine replacing anyone in the starting lineup, unless there is injury or major slump.
With Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, Michael Morse, Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, and the return of Jayson Werth in August, the Nationals have plenty of potential. They just aren't hitting.
Best guess is that the Nationals are hoping to hit well enough so they don't have to make a trade. But they have to be checking the market and planning backup scenarios, just in case.
What happens if Werth's wrist doesn't respond? Would the Nationals look for catching help for Jesus Flores, who was supposed to be a backup but is full-time after the injury to Wilson Ramos? Do the Nationals worry about LaRoche and his June slump?
Can the Nats get by with Steve Lombardozzi hitting .270 and learning left field on the job? Will Zimmerman be able to play with a sore shoulder and cortisone shots? Could Danny Espinosa slump in the second half as he did last season? Is Morse going to show up? Is it reasonable to count on a talented, but inexperienced 19-year-old in Harper in the heat of August and September?
These are legitimate questions with the Nationals. No doubt the decision-makers are mulling the scenarios.