With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaching, there's a new wrinkle in the discussion: How much of the future should a team give up for a chance to become a wild card team that could play just one postseason game?
Usually, there are dozens of players moving in trades at this time of year, but with compensation rules and so many more buyers than sellers, it's hard to determine how adding two wild card teams, one in each league, will affect transactions at the deadline.
A year ago on this date, the Yankees led the American League wild card standings followed by Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Toronto. The Rays were 6 1/2 games out, the Blue Jays 9 1/2. This season, the top eight teams in the AL wild card race are separated by four games.
So far, the Blue Jays have added pitchers J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon and David Carpenter after sending prospects to the Astros. The Rockies traded a struggling starter, former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie, to the Royals for another struggling starter, Jonathan Sanchez. Guthrie got the best of that deal because he gets to leave thin air and wide expanse of Coors Field and get a new start in Kansas City's pitcher-friendly ballpark.
A look at AL and National League East teams:
* The Blue Jays added pitching, and Jose Bautista (wrist) could return, at the latest, by Aug. 1. Injuries have ripped a part the rotation, but Aaron Laffey and Carlos Villanueva have stepped up. And Brandon Morrow is getting close to returning. The Blue Jays should be in good shape.
* Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says his team is playing well. He doesn't see a need to add to a team that is running away with the AL East. But, if the Yankees do make a trade, they'll probably look for an outfielder because Brett Gardner is injured. Denard Span of the Twins could be on their radar.
* The Rays aren't sure when Evan Longoria is going to return. Hideki Matsui didn't provide the bat they need. They have plenty of pitching to trade. James Shields doesn't want to leave, but he understands that the Rays could trade him for a bat. Several baseball people think the Rays might go after Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, and make him a teammate of brother B.J Upton.
* The Red Sox are looking for pitching and are interested in Seattle pitcher Jason Vargas and Cubs pitcher Matt Garza. The Red Sox could trade outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury because they aren't sure they can sign him long-term. A deal for Felix Hernandez of Seattle seems like a stretch, although lots of people speculate that Boston is trying to get Hernandez.
* The Orioles are looking for a hitter that can help at the top of the order, although Nick Markakis seems to like his new role as a leadoff batter. The Orioles could also use experience in the rotation, but here are the questions: What do the Orioles have to trade? Would they be willing to deal pitching prospect Dylan Bundy or shortstop Manny Machado? The Orioles apparently are interested in Vargas. Another good pickup would be Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos, but the Angels are reluctant to trade him, meaning the price is high.
* The Braves are looking for pitching. Tim Hudson is their only big-game pitcher. Tommy Hanson has been inconsistent, and even though Ben Sheets is coming back from elbow injuries from 2010, how much can the Braves depend on him in the final two months? Randall Delgado and Mike Minor are talented but young, and Jair Jurrjens hasn't been the pitcher he was in the first half of 2011, when he led the National League in ERA. The Braves are in the mix for Francisco Liriano and Zack Greinke.
* The Mets are looking for bullpen and rotation help. "We are going to miss Dillion Gee,'' Mets manager Terry Collins says. "We have some prospects in the system that might help us.'' Also, Johan Santana is on the disabled list, so if the Mets are going to keep their dream season going, they need starters and relievers, especially relievers.
* The Phillies won't be in the postseason for the first time since 2006. If lefty Cole Hamels doesn't sign a long-term deal, he'll be traded. But the guess is that he will stay in Philadelphia. Will the Dodgers go after third baseman Placido Polanco, or will the Tigers acquire him and play him at second base? The Phillies could also trade outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. Victorino might be end up in Pittsburgh, and that would give the Pirates the boost they need.
* The Marlins aren't going to rebound from the June slump that dropped them out of sight in the division. So that brings up the questions: Do the Marlins trade third baseman Hanley Ramirez and any of their young pitchers, including Josh Johnson? The Red Sox have shown interest in Ramirez and having him play shortstop.
* While Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has said that he's always open to trades that will improve the team, don't expect that the Nationals to do much before the deadline. The Nationals should be encouraged that John Lannan is pitching well in case he's an option to take over when Stephen Strasburg is shut down in September. The Nationals might be looking for experience catching to help the kids down the stretch.