Surprise Buyers—American League

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Let’s look at some teams that are unexpectedly hovering around contention, what they need and who they should pursue.

Baltimore Orioles

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.

Cleveland Indians

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.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Cole Hamels

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Name: Cole Hamels

Tale of the tape: 28-years-old; bats left; throws left; 6’3; 200 lbs.

Contract status: $9.5 million salary for 2012; free agent at the end of the season.

Would the Phillies trade him?

Earlier in the season, there was no chance they’d deal him. The talk of a mid-season selloff for the Phillies was suggested by websites and “insiders” in the interests of generating webhits. It stemmed from a paucity of other things to write about. Now that’s no longer the case.

The Phillies have played poorly and are still waiting for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to return from injury with no concrete dates for their comebacks and no justifiable expectation of what they’ll provide or that the Phillies will be in contention when they do return.

Roy Halladay is on the disabled list and won’t be back until late July at the earliest.

In recent years the Phillies have been unabashed buyers at the deadline, but their injuries, age, demolished farm system and dwindling hopes to contend are making doubling and tripling down an exponential mistake and will speed their teamwide decline. Are they willing to keep Hamels and hope that he’ll stay as a free agent? Hamels has given no indication that he’ll provide a hometown discount and paying him $140-$160 million isn’t the soundest financial decision for the Phillies. Their payroll is bursting as it is and they have to draw the line somewhere. That somewhere is increasingly looking like it will be Hamels’s contract demands.

It’s unlikely that they trade him, but if they’re hopelessly behind in both the division and the Wild Card, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to listen.

What would they want for him?

If they’re trading Hamels, they’ll have a hole in their rotation for 2013 and would need a young starter who could—at the very least—slot in behind Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley immediately. They also need a bat that can play third base, second base or centerfield.

Which teams would pursue and have the prospects to get him?

Forget the National League East. The Phillies aren’t trading him within the division no matter what they’re offered. They’d prefer to send him to the American League if they can help it, but would send him to a National League club if their season is lost.

The Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates, Giants and Dodgers could all do it.

Would Hamels sign with the team that trades for him and forego free agency?

At this point, it makes no sense. But if a team comes up with the money and blows the other clubs out of the water as a preemptive financial strike, why not? The Dodgers are a team to watch in this regard because they have a new ownership and will be looking to make a splash, win in 2012 and put a team together that their fans can buy tickets to see for years to come.

What will happen.

I don’t think the Phillies are going to give up on the season under most circumstances. If things really spiral out of control and they’re trailing in both the division and Wild Card by double digits, they have to deal him.

That’s hard to see happening, but it’s possible.

What teams that are interested in Hamels should do (and presumably are doing) is to call Amaro and let him know they want Hamels and he should start thinking—in an act of due diligence—about which prospects he wants in exchange.

A month-and-a-half ago, it was a fantasy to suggest that the Phillies would be deadline sellers. 45 days of uninspiring baseball, the still-awaited returns of Howard and Utley and Halladay’s trip to the disabled list may not have put Hamels on the table, but he’s a specialty item on the menu available for a hefty price and contingent on the environment.

The Phillies’ environment is growing dark.

That dark will put Hamels in play.

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