With July more than half over and the All-Star break fully in the rearview mirror, a single topic dominates baseball these days: the approach of the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Clubs are sorting out whether they're buyers or sellers and trying to assess how new Draft-pick compensation rules affect their valuation of players, all while also trying to, you know, win ballgames.
From now until the July 31 Deadline, we'll be checking in on the trade news around baseball, with help from MLB.com's reporters. The countdown is under way.
With the National League's best record but the Stephen Strasburg innings limit looming, the Nationals have been among the clubs mentioned as being in the hunt for starting pitching. The logic is there: It'd be nice to have someone fill those missing innings from one of the game's top young arms down the stretch.
Well, there's one person who wonders if that's such a great idea -- Davey Johnson, the manager who has led the young team to the top of the NL East standings.
"I like what we have here and I don't see any emergency move needed," Johnson said. "Then comes the question -- why pick up a pitcher? We've got other options. We don't have to ship away a couple talented Minor Leaguers for somebody. It's not a wise move for a month or whatever."
John Lannan -- the team's Opening Day starter in 2009 and 2010 -- is coming up from Triple-A for Saturday's doubleheader, so the Nationals do have options, perhaps another strike against the rotation with the NL's best ERA adding a rent-a-pitcher.
But, like Strasburg's innings count, that'll ultimately be up to general manager Mike Rizzo.
One final Nats note: With reliever Drew Storen back and Jayson Werth and Chad Tracy on their way back to the lineup, the roster is strong and deep enough that they designated for assignment Rick Ankiel and went with eight relievers.
Zack might be back:
Zack Greinke called it "pretty accurate" that the Brewers have offered him a five-year contract in the neighborhood of Matt Cain's $112.5 million deal with the Giants, so it's pretty possible Greinke could be coming off the trade market.
Meanwhile, Brewers GM Doug Melvin wouldn't reveal whether the Brewers had made the offer. "Don't have to," he said.
The timing of all this is quite curious, considering Greinke has had a horrible July and had his most recent start pushed back to next Tuesday so that he could get back on track. And yet, much like Cole Hamels in Philadelphia, Greinke might sign a lucrative contract to stay in Milwaukee or get traded to a team that wants to do it.
You can count Melvin among those skeptical there will be a lot of action before the Trade Deadline.
"If you go by the Internet, there's going to be tons of trades," Melvin said. "If you go by my phone calls, there's going to be nothing."
Spotlight on Dempster:
Ryan Dempster pitched in a Cubs uniform at Busch Stadium on Friday night, so the biggest buzz name out there this week hadn't yet changed teams. But was it a finale for Dempster and the Cubs?
The Dodgers head a list of what could be as many as seven or eight teams that reportedly have checked in on Dempster, including the Tigers, Nationals, Cardinals and Braves. The Dodgers, as MLB.com's Ken Gurnick reports, will not get into a bidding war over Dempster because they have bigger needs on offense, preferring a corner infielder -- the Brewers' Aramis Ramirez is one name rumored.
MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reported the Cubs were prepared Friday just in case a Dempster deal was made. Casey Coleman was scratched from his start Thursday for Triple-A Iowa, but a team official said that was done in case newly acquired pitcher Justin Germano could not get to St. Louis.
Between the lines, Dempster saw his personal scoreless streak of 33 1/3 innings end in the first inning, when the Cardinals strung together three earned runs on four straight singles and a groundout. He'd allowed three or more earned runs in a game just three other times in his first 14 starts before giving up four to take the loss Friday -- but this blip won't change the level of interest in the right-hander, who still holds the Majors' ERA lead at 2.11.
Starting pitching continues to dominate the discussion. And with J.A. Happ dealt from Houston to Toronto in the 10-player doozy announced between the two teams Friday and Jonathan Sanchez acquired by the Rockies after being designated by the Royals, a couple of starting pitchers have changed hands. But the season's hottest market remains active.
The big name of the day Friday was the Rays' James Shields, whose Friday start against the Mariners was scouted by numerous teams, according to multiple reports. The Tigers and Angels were there, according to Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, and he said the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and Blue Jays also had scouts on hand. The Tigers, sources tell Morosi, have had interest in Shields for years and have the young catcher the Rays might be seeking in either Rob Brantley or James McCann.
MLB.com's Bill Chastain has doubts as to whether the Rays would be willing to part with such a steady performer who's making a relatively reasonable $9 million next year. Shields snapped a bit of a skid Friday, striking out 10 while allowing three earned runs on four hits in 7 2/3 innings.
The Angels' angle:
Under the halo, they're keeping their eyes and ears open just in case there's a fit to help in an area that has been a great strength until recently: starting pitching.
With Dan Haren dealing with back stiffness and the rotation delivering a 5.28 ERA in July, the Angels need to determine how willing they'd be to trade for a premium starter.
GM Jerry Dipoto told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez pitching shouldn't be any more difficult to come by with the new rules for this Trade Deadline, including the new compensation issues making signing a free agent-to-be a priority.
"I think there are different dynamics at play that are creating a little bit of a drag on the market, but I don't think it's moving at any quicker or slower pace, or there's any more or less players that are available at the right price," he said. "I just don't know that we've determined, as an industry, what the appropriate value for those players might be."
As MLB.com's Mark Bowman reports, here's one reason the Braves could be in on Dempster: Braves general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have known Dempster for approximately 15 years, dating back to the days when they were with the Marlins together.
Bowman reports the Braves are unlikely to mortgage their future for a rental, and they might hold out on Greinke until he becomes a free agent in the offseason, assuming the Brewers don't lock him up.
The Braves might be more interested in infield bench help, and turning to an old friend in Omar Infante, now with the Marlins, is a possibility.