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Decisions, decisions: High-money clubs could sell

Angels, Yanks, Phils, Giants, Jays, Nats among those challenged to improve this year @matthewhleach

We tend to frame conversations around the non-waiver Trade Deadline as the meeting of "buyers" and "sellers." Generally, that makes sense on more than one level.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but buyers are typically high-payroll teams and sellers are low-payroll teams. Then this strange 2013 season happened, and those lines got a lot less clear.

It has not, on the whole, been a good year for high-dollar teams. Of the top nine clubs in season-opening payroll, according to USA Today, two stood in first place on Monday morning.

Seven of the teams in the top 12 in payroll can fairly be classified as disappointing thus far. That adds an unusual dynamic as the July 31 Deadline approaches.

For win-now teams like the Yankees, Nationals and Angels, building for 2016 isn't an option. But it's equally difficult to justify acquiring rental talent when the odds against playing in October are so long.

With all that in mind, takes a look at some of the big-money teams that are underperforming.

Los Angeles Angels
Vitals: 46-51, 11 games out of first place, 9 1/2 games out of Wild Card, minus-6 run differential, 5.0-percent chance of making playoffs.

Just like a year ago, the Angels have shown real improvement after a rough start. Unlike last year, it doesn't appear they're going to go down to the final week of the season in their quest for a playoff spot.

More than perhaps any team on this list, the Angels are invested in winning in the short term. With massive commitments to Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, they really can't rebuild. So they may flip a reliever or two for some Minor League talent, but the real work -- primarily on the rotation -- will come during the offseason.

New York Yankees
Vitals: 52-47 record, seven games out of first place, 4 1/2 games out of Wild Card, minus-5 run differential, 13.1-percent chance of making playoffs.

The Yankees won't give up on this year, but they could make a couple of moves that look more like selling than buying -- they just won't sacrifice this season to do it.

They're unlikely to move Phil Hughes. Instead they'll likely make a qualifying offer this winter and take the Draft-pick compensation. But Joba Chamberlain, on the other hand, could be flipped for a prospect.

On Monday morning, they reportedly were in discussions with the Cubs about reacquiring Alfonso Soriano, which would be an attempt to beef up their anemic lineup. That would not be a seller's move.

This is reasonable. The Yanks still have a shot at a postseason, and once you're in, anybody can make a run. It's going to be an interesting winter in the Bronx, though.

Philadelphia Phillies
Vitals: 49-50, seven games out of first place, seven games out of Wild Card, minus-46 run differential, 6.0-percent chance of making playoffs.

The Phils continue to go full-steam ahead, with a public stance that they are buyers, not sellers. Even with Ben Revere and Ryan Howard out, there's no indication that Philadelphia is considering looking ahead.

That would seem to be a mistake. The Phillies are one of the oldest teams around, and their core seems more likely to trend downward than upward. They will have major work to do on their lineup come winter, with questions at three of the four infield spots plus catcher.

San Francisco Giants
Vitals: 45-53, six games out of first place, 10 1/2 games out of Wild Card, minus-50 run differential, 4.5-percent chance of making playoffs.

This seemed inconceivable even a couple of months ago, but June and July have been brutal to the reigning champs. San Francisco is close enough in an underwhelming division to ponder buying. The problem is, there are big questions to face in the offseason, and anything that further compromises the 2014 Giants would be unwise.

The starting rotation, long the Giants' hallmark, is instead a question mark for next year. Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito will most likely both be free agents, and Matt Cain's baffling year makes things all the muddier.

The Giants shouldn't sell, exactly, but they should already be thinking about what gets the 2014 team back on top.

Toronto Blue Jays
Vitals: 45-53, 13 1/2 games out of first place, 11 games out of Wild Card, minus-26 run differential, 0.9-percent chance of making playoffs.

The Jays made a run in June to get into contention, but the past month has been unkind. Their odds are not looking good, and in the deep American League East, it's time to consider Plan B.

The misconception about Toronto is that it went all-in for 2013. They moved aggressively, but it wasn't just for a one-year fix. They do have some issues to address going forward, though, and it starts with the rotation -- Josh Johnson can be a free agent after the season.

Given that there aren't really long-term rotation solutions on the market, though, Toronto will likely make small moves around the edges and reload over the offseason.

Washington Nationals
Vitals: 48-51, eight games out of first place, eight games out of Wild Card, minus-25 run differential, 8.4-percent chance of making playoffs.

And here's the most baffling situation of all. No team received more universal praise entering the season than Washington, but it simply has never clicked. The Nats' bats have never gotten going, despite a rotation that has met expectations.

The problem is there isn't a lot that can be done. The Nationals need to address their on-base issues, but they are locked in at several positions. This was a team that was built not just for 2013 but for years to come. They likely won't buy or sell, instead re-evaluating after the season ends.

Matthew Leach is a national reporter for Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.