The July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline is less than 10 days away, but some teams have yet to make up their minds as to whether they're buying, selling or simply sitting this one out. What follows is a quick rundown of where things stand among National League teams. I'll also identify the top needs among contenders and the top candidates to be dealt among non-contenders.
As a reality check, I'm using the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds report to provide a snapshot of each team's chances at reaching the postseason. The report uses a Monte Carlo simulation to account for run differential, strength of schedule, expected distribution of playing time and performance (via PECOTA projections), and it suggests that the teams on the fence are in danger of making suckers' bets whose chances of paying off with a playoff berth are 10 percent or less. Within each group, the teams are ranked by their cumulative odds (chance of winning the division plus chance of winning a wild-card spot).
St. Louis Cardinals (59-37, 57.0% division/41.3% wild-card /98.3% total)
With a deep farm system, the Cardinals can fill many of their needs internally even if starting pitcher Chris Carpenter isn't able to come back from his latest nerve problem, or they could cash in some of that depth to acquire a big piece. They've checked in on Matt Garza and Glen Perkins, though they're unwilling to trade blue-chip prospects. An upgrade at shortstop, where Pete Kozma is hitting just .237/.281/.295, would be helpful.
Pittsburgh Pirates (57-39, 26.2/67.6/93.8)
Their biggest priority is a corner bat for either rightfield or first base, if not both; White Sox outfielder Alex Rios is said to be a target. The Pirates have considerable depth in their system to find an upgrade without surrendering a blue-chipper. Fortification for a strong but heavily used bullpen appears to be in order as well.
Atlanta Braves (55-43, 88.8/2.1/90.9)
With relievers Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters both gone for the year due to Tommy John surgery, a lefthanded reliever is Atlanta's top priority, with Perkins one name the team has checked out. The Braves are said to be monitoring the righty reliever market as well, with Jesse Crain an item of interest. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see them fortify their outfield given the struggles of B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward.
Cincinnati Reds (55-43, 16.8/70.7/87.6)
With relievers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall both on the disabled list, the bullpen is a priority. With Ryan Ludwick beginning a rehab assignment as he returns from a separated shoulder suffered on Opening Day, outfield help isn't as high on the list as it might be; in the meantime, with Todd Frazier (.240/.332/.396) unable to replicate last year's success, Cincinnati is among the teams interested in the Phillies' Michael Young.
Los Angeles Dodgers (50-47, 60.8/2.9/63.7)
Money is no object here. Though the Dodgers have already landed Ricky Nolasco from Miami, they're said to be interested in either Garza or Bud Norris as well, which would round out a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Nolasco. The bigger priority should be another righty for the bullpen, given the inexperience of Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez and the many ways that Brandon League has disappointed.
Arizona Diamondbacks (51-47, 27.9/4.1/32)
So much for that vaunted pitching depth. With Ian Kennedy struggling, and Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy on the disabled list, the Diamondbacks have checked in on Garza but appear more interested in pitchers under club control such as the White Sox' Chris Sale or the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija. They'd almost certainly have to give up considerable talent to get either, with Tyler Skaggs a likely target. With Heath Bell and J.J. Putz both supplanted as closer by Brad Zeigler, an upgrade or two in the bullpen would appear to be an even greater priority.
ON THE FENCE
Washington Nationals (48-50, 6.9/5.6/12.5)
For all of their talent on paper, the Nats have been unable to clear .500 by any significant margin, which should temper their appetite to buy. With Ross Detwiler continuing to deal with back issues, Taylor Jordan eventually facing an innings cap and Dan Haren only starting to show signs of his old self, rotation help is a priority. Bench assistance should be as well, particularly given the struggles of lefty bats Chad Tracy and Roger Bernadina.
Colorado Rockies (48-51, 6.6/1.0/7.6)
Since starting the year 13-4, Colorado is just 35-47, for the third-worst record in the league. Though they haven't declared themselves out of it, the Rockies have professed a lack of interest in rentals and won't trade Michael Cuddyer. If they buy, they'll look for club control, but as their chances fade, the most likely route for them is to trade a reliever such as Rafael Betancourt or Matt Belisle.
Philadelphia Phillies (49-50, 3.5/2.3/5.8)
With Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Young all pending free agents, they've got some of the market's most tradeable commodities, not to mention one of the game's most worn-down farm systems and a big league roster that will be without Ryan Howard and Ben Revere for the foreseeable future. Still, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. appears reluctant to deal either a franchise icon such as Utley or unload salary by trading starter Cliff Lee or closer Jonathan Papelbon.
San Francisco Giants (45-52, 4.4/1.1/5.5)
A 2-14 stretch probably buried their chances but they've won five out of seven since, to retain some hope of contending in the tightly-packed NL West. If the Giants stay in, they need rotation help, with Norris a potential target, and the loss of Jeremy Affeldt for four-to-six weeks creates a need in the bullpen as well. If they fall out, they're said to have no interest in trading Tim Lincecum or Hunter Pence.
New York Mets (43-51, 0.8/0.6/1.4)
Clearly going nowhere, the Mets should be sellers, but nonetheless, they don't appear to have interest in trading their most tradeable commodity, rightfielder Marlon Byrd (.277/.322/.519), unless they're overwhelmed. Closer Bobby Parnell is another player who has widespread interest, but they don't appear to be all that willing to move him, either, and with two more years of him under club control, they certainly don't have to.
Chicago Cubs (43-53, 0.0/0.5/0.5)
Garza is the top available pitcher, and was said to be headed to Texas as of Friday before talks hit a snag. Particularly as he's scheduled to start on Monday night, he could go at any time. As for the rest, there's plenty to move here including closer Kevin Gregg and outfielders Alfonso Soriano (who has a no-trade clause and lots of money remaining), David DeJesus (currently on the disabled list) and Nate Schierholtz. Lefty reliever James Russell is drawing interest as well.
San Diego Padres (43-56, 0.2/0.1/0.3)
Chase Headley is said to be nearly untouchable despite a dismal showing (.235/.333/.364) on the heels of last year's breakout. Relievers Huston Street and Luke Gregerson are possible trade options, particularly because they have club control years remaining.
Miami Marlins (35-61, 0.0/0.0/0.0)
Nolasco is gone, and Giancarlo Stanton isn't going anywhere, so there isn't a whole lot to deal here besides salty past-prime veterans like Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre, all of whom are bench parts at best. Reliever Chad Qualls could appeal to a desperate team with a short memory given his 5.24 ERA for six teams from 2010-2012; he's at 2.75 now, with a 3.6 striekout-to-walk ratio, by far his best since 2009.
Milwaukee Brewers (41-56, 0.0/0.0/0.0)With righties Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford and lefty Mike Gonzalez all experienced at closing and all said to be available, Milwaukee holds the key to the reliever market. Starter Yovani Gallardo, who's signed through 2014 with an option for 2015, is drawing considerable interest in a down season (4.58 ERA, 7.2 strikeouts per nine, both career worsts). Aramis Ramirez is a candidate to be moved during the August waiver period given that he'll remain on the disabled list with a knee sprain through at least the end of the month and has at least $20 million in salary remaining beyond this year.