Let’s look at some teams that are unexpectedly hovering around contention, what they need and who they should pursue.
The Orioles could use a starting pitcher and a bat (or two). One of the bats has to be able to play the outfield competently.
Dan Duquette is looking pretty smart for his under-the-radar off-season maneuvers getting Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom and Wei-Yin Chen. He’s not going to gut the system for a big name should one come available, nor should he.
Ryan Dempster is the type of middling pitcher they should pursue. Matt Garza can be had. Cole Hamels isn’t worth the cost for a rental unless they know they’re going to sign him.
Jim Thome has been mentioned as a DH option and he’d provide an offensive boost on the field and would be a stabilizing, quietly strong veteran leader off the field.
Carlos Lee is available from the Astros; if the Cubs are willing to give them Alfonso Soriano for a moderate prospect and pay his salary, the change to a club in the pennant race could really wake up his bat—and he’s been hitting homers lately anyway.
Carlos Quentin is on the block from the Padres.
Chicago White Sox
It was supposed to be a bridge year for the White Sox with a new manager, Robin Ventura and an altered configuration and strategy. But they’ve taken advantage of a mediocre AL Central and are in first place.
They could use a starting pitcher and if they’re still hovering around the top of the division and Wild Card at the deadline, GM Ken Williams is going to go for a big name—that means Hamels or Garza.
For the bullpen they could pursue Huston Street (who I’m not a fan of), Brett Myers, Brandon League or Grant Balfour.
It’s time to forget about Grady Sizemore and to not expect any long term health from Travis Hafner when he returns.
They need a bat that can play centerfield.
Shane Victorino is a pending free agent and the Phillies are soon going to be teetering on holding out for the return of their stars or accepting that this isn’t their season and moving forward for 2013.
Chase Headley would be an upgrade over journeyman Jack Hannahan at third base; he can also play the outfield and first base.
Casey Kotchman has been a disaster at first base. I wouldn’t give up much to get Carlos Lee, but I’d take him.
The Indians’ starting pitching isn’t impressive statistically, but there’s enough there to wait without overspending on an outsider.
They could use a bullpen arm or two and should check with the Padres on Street and the Rockies on bringing Rafael Betancourt back to Cleveland.
Kansas City Royals
What’s with all this talk of the Royals selling? They’re 5 ½ games out of first place.
Ravaged by injuries to their starting rotation, they need arms. They have the prospects to do something major like bringing Zack Greinke back. They have the money to sign him long term.
On the surface, they could use a power bat but they just got Salvador Perez back and there’s reason to believe that they have enough pop if Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer start hitting the ball out of the park.
I wouldn’t go too crazy trying to win now, but I’d explore what’s out there to improve in the short and long terms.