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Contenders jockeying for position in pursuit of big four trade targets

With one week to go before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, the Phillies remain the favorites to land ace Roy Halladay and the Cardinals emerged as a possible landing spot for outfielder Matt Holliday. Meanwhile, several teams continued their pursuit of Indians All-Stars Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, who appear to remain more likely than not to stay in Cleveland. Here's a look at what seems to be going on with the big four ...

The Phillies and Blue Jays remain engaged in dialogue regarding Halladay, and the defending World Series champions are still viewed by baseball executives as the most logical and likely landing spot for the perennial All-Star. With deep pockets, their deeper reservoir of prospects and a resolve to repeat, the Phillies appear to have maintained the front-running position in the most-watched derby in baseball, with the teams exchanging names and apparently making some progress in recent days, league sources indicate.

The Jays are said to be aiming for a package that includes one of two top young pitchers, Kyle Drabek or J.A. Happ, plus one of two top outfielders, either Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown, plus a couple other highly regarded prospects. Shortstop Jason Donald and pitcher Carlos Carrasco are among other young prospects who are believed to have been discussed.

"They're trying hard," one exec said of the Phillies.

The Phillies told the local media and other baseball people they will do what the can to keep Drabek, a dynamic young pitcher with terrific stuff. If the Jays settle for Happ, who's having a terrific rookie season, they surely would insist that the remainder of the package be stronger. But while Drabek is considered the pitcher with the higher upside ("he has a plus fastball and plus breaking ball," one scout said), one Blue Jays-connected person said they could see Toronto doing a deal without Drabek.

Jays executive Tony LaCava was scouting Drabek in Altoona, Pa., Thursday according to the New York Times. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said in an interview a few days ago that no players on other teams had yet to be ruled out entirely.

Halladay seems more likely than ever to leave Toronto with the revelation Thursday via Ricciardi that Halladay told the Jays he wouldn't be signing an extension beyond 2010, which was the trigger to put him on the trading block. One acquaintance of Halladay said he believes he is "emotionally gone," and sources indicate that Halladay -- who has a full no-trade clause -- sees the Phillies as a favorable option.

The Brewers, Dodgers, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals, Angels, Yankees, Red Sox and Mets are among other teams that have shown interest. The Brewers may be the biggest threat to the Phillies, but probably only if they're willing with shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar and maybe also top hitting prospect Mat Gamel. Left-hander Manny Parra's name is believed to be in the mix, as well.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro declined to comment when reached by phone. Ricciardi couldn't be reached Thursday night.

The Cardinals now appear to be the front-runners for Holliday, who would fit nicely into their cleanup spot, behind Albert Pujols. The Tigers are viewed as a second serious pursuer, but things appeared to be progressing Thursday with St. Louis.

"It looks like it has a good chance to happen with the Cardinals," one league source said.

The potential deal would likely send top hitting prospect Brett Wallace, a third baseman, to Oakland for Holliday. The Cardinals were believed to be deliberating whether to include Wallace in a package. But while Wallace is an excellent hitter, he may not fit the Cardinals perfectly since some scouts believe his best position ultimately will be first base.

As a young hitting prospect with power, he has excellent value, however. Word was, St. Louis might ask Oakland for cash considerations, especially if Wallace, who received a $1.8 million bonus last year, is in the deal. Halladay has about half his $13.5 million salary to be paid, as well.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was said to be pushing for Holliday deal, although it isn't known whether La Russa has quite the clout with the new Cardinals regime as he had with former GM Walt Jocketty. One source said La Russa was taken by surprise by the trade of Chris Duncan, son of pitching coach and longtime friend Dave Duncan. Regardless, Holliday would make more than an ample replacement.

The Dodgers, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies and Rays have been identified as possible pursuers of Lee. However, the Indians don't want to trade him unless they can receive in return enough young pitching talent back to give them hope in 2010. No sense giving up on next year, too.

The Rays aren't necessarily unhappy with their rotation, but Foxsports.com reported they were nonetheless looking at Lee, whose reasonable $9 million club option raises his value but also gives the Indians more reason to hold onto him.

One competing executive, speaking of Lee and Martinez, said he believed the Indians would only part with either player "if they felt compelled to ... it would have to be a bell-ringing situation."

Former Indians ace CC Sabathia said he thought GM Mark Shapiro might be slightly more willing to trade Lee than Martinez, a clubhouse leader. However, others have suggested that Lee would be the tougher one to replace, especially with the situations of other starters Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook still somewhat less than certain.

The Indians are believed to be seeking top young pitchers like Wade Davis from Tampa Bay, either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes from the Yankees and very likely Drabek, Happ or Jason Knapp from the Phillies. The Indians in some cases would likely seek multiple prospects back in return. The Foxsports.com report suggested the Rays did not want to part with Davis, possibly necessitating a third team to get involved, which would further decrease the chances for a deal.

The Red Sox have been pursuing Martinez for weeks, leading some to wonder whether a deal can be made. The teams appear to match up well, as Boston has the types of young pitching prospects the Indians covet. The Red Sox retain interest even after acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche, who one competing exec said was "cheap" ($3 million) insurance for them.

Competing teams suggest they don't believe the Red Sox would part with their top young pitching prospect, Clay Buchholz. Assuming Buchholz is off limits, the Indians might seek a two-pitcher package from a group of Junichi Tazawa, Casey Kelly, Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard and some others -- though the Indians prefer starters and Bard is a classic closer type and Bowden is viewed as a possible reliever. Bowden's stock actually seems to be falling a tad.

The Rays, whose starting catcher Dioner Navarro has struggled offensively, are an interesting new entry in the Martinez sweepstakes. Tampa Bay seems intent on doing something big this year as it endeavors to catch the big-market Red Sox and Yankees and repeat as division champions. But ultimately, both they and the Red Sox value their prospects dearly.

Shapiro, speaking generally about all teams' recent valuations of prospects, said, "There is an understanding of the value of young prospects in roster construction. But it's almost to the point where there's an over-evaluation of these guys. There's almost an over-correction."

• The Mets bowed out of talks with the Jays for Halladay at the mention of top outfield prospect Fernando Martinez in a four-prospect package. Shapiro is right that the value of prospects is way up, and the Mets especially don't want to trade young players when they understand this season is close to a lost cause. The mention of Martinez made Mets people think of the failed Scott Kazmir deal (for Victor Zambrano, as if anyone has forgotten), and how they don't want to repeat it. While Martinez struggled in a cameo this year, he is sill very highly regarded.

• The Rays were looking to clear money to set up a big move, and one way to do that would be to find a taker for the very same Kazmir, who is no longer a prospect and is scheduled to make $22 million over the next two seasons. Sources say the Rays were scouting the Angels' minor-league system. AOL Fanhouse first reported that Kazmir could be an Angels target.

• The Mets' investigation of feisty assistant GM Tony Bernazard is under way, and while there are three altercations being looked at, it appears that so far a couple of the stories of his combativeness are slightly exaggerated. One, whereby he demanded a scout get up from his seat and told a subordinate to shut the (bleep) up, lasted no more than 30 seconds. Meanwhile, the Binghamton paper reported that the incident where he yelled at the struggling Double-A team was somewhat overblown and quoted players saying they had no problem with Bernazard. It also appears that when Bernazard removed his shirt while challenging the Double-A Binghamton Mets, at least he was wearing a t-shirt underneath. A small detail, perhaps. But the image is better. Bernazard continued to get ripped in the New York papers, and while the Mets do notice the papers, the prevailing belief is still that he will survive thanks to strong relationships with GM Omar Minaya and COO/owner Jeff Wilpon.

• The Yankees seek pitching, and a starter would make the most sense now that Hughes and Alfredo Aceves are thriving in relief. Meanwhile, Chien-Ming Wang has been referred to Dr. James Andrews as his pain persists.

• The Rockies made a nice move to pick up Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt for a big, strong pitching prospect Connor Graham. They also plan to promote top pitching prospect Jhoulys Chacin sometime soon.

• Colorado has dangled Garrett Atkins. But no takers have come forward so far.

• The Nationals should deal veterans Nick Johnson, Josh Willingham and Adam Dunn, though there's been no buzz about Dunn, as it's possible the market isn't as great as one might expect for a consistent 40-homer hitter.

• Nationals executives are expected to travel to California soon to meet with the Stephen Strasburg camp. The vibe thus far is negative for a deal. One competing exec said, "The Nationals absolutely have to sign him."

• Congrats to the amazing Mark Buehrle, who's known for his durability but can obviously also be spectacular in short bursts. He became the 24th pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters when he beat the Rays 5-0 in a perfect game aided DeWayne Wise's incredible over-the-wall, ninth-inning catch. Buehrle is the sixth pitcher to have thrown at least two career no-hitters, including a perfect game. Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Jim Bunning, Addie Joss and Cy Young are the others.

• Thanks to you (well, some of you), I have moved into third place behind @NickSwisher and @CC_Sabathia in the MLB category of Twitter. You can follow me at http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.

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