I hate to break this to you, but some of the division races won't be that interesting down the stretch.
The Braves have killed all suspense with their a 14.5 game lead over the Nationals in the NL East. Though there's a slight chance that the Diamondbacks could give the Dodgers a bit of trouble, the 7.5 game lead is likely enough to take the NL West, and unless something goes terribly wrong, the Tigers will win the AL Central.
The other divisional races, however, are wide open at this point, and those teams that don't have a clear path towards victory are still seeing what they can do to make the playoffs, scheming behind closed doors with telephones close by. Any decisions need to be made quickly, however, because there are just two weeks to add players before the waiver deadline, and every loss is just a glaring reminder of a day wasted for these quasi-contending teams.
There are just a few lingering possibilities that could make sense not only for buyers that need a boost down the stretch, but also for sellers who are attempting to move in new directions. If these trades were easy and clear-cut, they would have happened before the deadline, but waiver deals aren't about creating happy and long-term marriages, but fall more in the Stephen Stills school of thought: If you can't have the player you want, love the one you're with (or replace him with a marginally better substitute, because, after all, the playoffs are coming).
Dan Haren, Nationals
No one likes to talk about the Nationals as sellers. Maybe it's because they have a core of talented young players that have endless upside, or maybe it's because everyone is too embarrassed to mention the Nationals since so many, myself included, grossly miscalculated their chances of making the playoffs this season.
Whatever the reason that's keeping everyone quiet, the Nationals are in a great position to move Haren now and potentially get something in return. The Nationals don't have a prayer of making the playoffs this season, and even though Haren was signed to a one-year, $13 million deal to add depth to the rotation, it largely has not worked out.
Haren got off to an abysmal start this season, posting a 6.15 ERA in 15 starts, and giving up the most home runs in the majors in the first half. In his last six starts, Haren has dramatically improved, but even though he's held opponents to .198/.255/.282 with 39 strikeouts in 37 innings pitched, his 2.43 earned run average during that stretch hasn't been enough to improve the Nationals' chances at the postseason.
Haren will be a free agent again next season and has talked about how much he misses his family, which remains in southern California. He would likely be a low-cost, short-term solution for a team that needs a veteran starter now, such as the Athletics.
Haren was placed on waivers on August 8.
The White Sox' breakup with Adam Dunn is inevitable; they're just looking for the right opportunity to deal him. There was a little momentum prior to the trading deadline, but the Sox couldn't find a buyer and he's remained on a roster that's such a mess it can't be saved by the slugger.
It's easy to make jokes at Dunn's expense -- his .229 batting average tees up plenty of them -- but it also doesn't tell the story of his real ability. There's no doubt he's struggled in his three years with the Sox, but his days of an OPS+ of 54 (in 2011) seem to be behind him. So far this season, Dunn has 27 home runs, and since July 1st, the Big Donkey as he's sometimes called, has hit .303/411/.492 in 146 plate appearances.His defensive value is laregely non-existent, but he can spot at first.
Dunn has one more season on his contract, and the fact that he's owed $15 million next season has been limiting the enthusiasm in acquiring him. If the White Sox kick in some cash it will certainly make acquiring Dunn more palatable for a team like the Orioles or Indians. Still, it won't be easy to deal a 33-year-old who has shown that when he hits rock bottom, it gets really, really ugly.
Dunn has already cleared waivers and can be dealt to any team.
Another first base/designated hitter possibility is Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who was placed on waivers on Tuesday. After hitting eight homers through July, Morneau has suddenly remembered how to hit with power again, slugging .673 in 12 games this month. He's in the final year of his contract.
On August 29, 1985, 34-year-old Cesar Cedeno was traded from the Reds to the Cardinals, as the birds made their final push for the pennant. Cedeno, in the twilight of his career, hit .434 with six home runs in 28 games, helping the Cardinals clinch their first playoff berth since they won the World Series three years earlier.
Making a move for an aging veteran who subsequently carries a team across the finish line is the sort of saccharin-sweet storyline you might expect from a baseball movie instead of the real world, but perhaps that could be Byrd's story this year. Cedeno and Byrd aren't a perfect parallel since Cedeno had many better seasons than Byrd has had, but given that the latter is having one of the best years of his career, it's hard not to root for him to get the same opportunity; Byrd has never played in the postseason and time is running out.
Byrd's OPS+ (131) is the highest in his career, and he's already hit 17 home runs. He may be cooling off -- he's hitting just .194/.342/.323 in August -- but perhaps a chance of scenery is the shot in the arm he needs to get back to the huge numbers he posted in July (.336/.361/.569 with five home runs). There's no reason to expect that Byrd will continue this sort of production long-term, but since he's a free agent entering 2014, a team can hope for two more months of good games from him before parting ways with him, much as the Cardinals did with Cedeno.
The Mets entertained offers on Byrd before the trade deadline but didn't work out a deal. While it's been quiet for the past two weeks on the trade front, surely teams like the Orioles, Pirates, and perhaps even the Diamondbacks are considering their chances if they add Byrd down the stretch.
( Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE )
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
It's not abundantly clear if the White Sox see Ramirez as part of their rebuilding core or just another player they'd love to clear from the payroll, and part of that ambivalence comes from how hard it is to figure out what sort of player Ramirez really is at his core.
Ramirez is in his sixth season in the majors, yet he's hard to evaluate because he's never been consistently good at anything. That's not to say he's a bad player -- his career WAR is 17.9 -- but he's been a grab-bag from season to season. Some years he hits for power, and others he does not. Over the last two seasons he's showcased his speed, stealing 45 bases in 59 attempts, whereas he stole just 20 in the two seasons before combined. Most seasons he's been good with his glove, but this year he has the second-most errors in the majors. Such inconsistencies make it difficult for the Sox to justify hanging on to him any longer, not when he's owed $9.5 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015 -- and there's a club option for 2016, as well.
It's not clear if there's a buyer for Ramirez at this point, but a team like the Pirates might be willing to take the chance before the month is over. It's hard to speculate on who might be interested in him as most of the contenders seem to be pretty settled at shortstop, but crazier trades have happened. While there may not be calls lined up in the queue to ask about Ramirez, if there's a team who needs to fill the niche of a sometimes power-hitter, occasional base stealer, and a wizard with the glove (except for those 18 errors), then Ramirez is their guy.
Despite their 52-65 record, the Phillies haven't moved to ditch any players or their respective salaries yet this season. The days of considering trading Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon seem to be behind them, but Michael Young is still a prime target for departure -- it's just a question if anyone wants him.
Moving Young, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, seemed like a non-starter at first prior to the trade deadline, but he may be more inclined to accept a trade since he'd be leaving for a contender, even though his current level production really shouldn't garner much interest.
This season, Young has played mostly at third base, but he's more natural fit across the diamond at first or designated hitter. Young is 36 this season and has improved a little over last season's disappointing production, but at .270/.336/.397 with eight home runs there's not a lot to like here beyond the low-percentage chance that he might bounce back to his old .320-.330 form. A career .310/.362/.467 hitter versus left-handed pitching, he's averaging only .228/.322/.376 against them this year.
Since he's a free agent at the end of the season, Young may be a serviceable addition for a team that's looking for short-term help like the Orioles, who could use some help from a designated hitter. Young has reportedly cleared waivers, but there's no telling if the persnickety Young would accept a deal to all but a very select handful of teams.
Josh Willingham missed 33 games this season due to a knee injury that required surgery, but as of Friday, he's back in the Twins lineup. He hasn't done much at the plate yet, other than take Matt Lindstrom deep for one home run, but his time with the Twins could be limited if teams are willing to gamble that his knee is healthy enough for him to perform in September.
Willingham is expendable to the Twins, and even though he has one season left on his contract, he's owed just $7 million next season, which might make him a good gamble for a team that could use right-handed power in the outfield for the remainder of this season and next. It's doubtful that Willingham will match his production from 2012 going forward (.260/.366/.524 with 35 home runs), but given that the free agent market is awfully thin he could be a good opportunity for a team like the Pirates to get an outfielder who can make a difference this season and still be around for next year.