If ever baseball needed a distraction this season, it's now. After yet another revelation about The Steroid Era that has sucked a once-bright star into the abyss of shame and disappointment -- that's the fourth time since February, if you're scoring at home -- come Friday the news will (blessedly) be about baseball. It will not be about the drug test that David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez reportedly failed six years ago, not about the lawyers who leaked confidential information and not about whether the game's heroes can still be trusted. Instead, it will be about the game, pure (we hope) and simple (well, at least as simple as deals with multiple players and multi-million dollar contracts can be).
The non-waiver trade deadline arrives at 4 p.m. ET on Friday afternoon, and with it may come a slew of player moves that could have a serious impact on the playoff chases and the postseason. Here are five prominent storylines still waiting to unfold as the deadline nears.
1. Doctor in the house?
All Roy Halladay trades are dead. Except maybe they're not. Which means the Blue Jays ace will be traded. Unless he's not. With the hours on the deadline ticking away, Halladay remains the biggest name available, just as he has been since Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi announced in early July that he would listen to offers for his Cy Young-winning star. On Thursday evening, multiple outlets reported that Ricciardi had classified trade talks involving Halladay as "dead" which hasn't seemed to preclude talks from continuing. Any team would surely love to have a pitcher who ranks in the top 10 in the American League in wins, ERA, innings pitched, complete games, strikeouts, fewest walks, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9 and K/BB ratio. In other words, your very likely 2009 AL Cy Young award winner.
But would any team like to send the sky-high package of prospects it will take to land Halladay? Or pay the rest of his $14.25 million salary this year and be on the hook (unless Halladay demands a trade) for his $15.75 million next year? If the answers to both of those questions are yes, then perhaps Halladay will have a new home after all and, with apologies to Cliff Lee and Matt Holliday, this year's trading season will have the megadeal it has sorely lacked to this juncture.
2. Shopping for V-Mart
Now that the Indians have shipped Lee off to Philadelphia, the question is whether All-Star catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez will be the next to leave Cleveland. Martinez is still just 30 years old with an affordable $7.5 million club option for next season (if he's dealt). The Red Sox need another bat -- and it wouldn't hurt to have something to change the storyline in Boston right now -- and Martinez would not only provide that but he would be an option to play multiple positions in the field, but they may not be willing to part with top prospects like pitcher Clay Buchholz to land Martinez. The Rays could also use a catcher with Dioner Navarro mired in a horrific season-long slump.
If the Red Sox can't get Martinez, would they be able to pry hometown hero Adrian Gonzalez away from San Diego? Given Gonzalez's popularity, affordability and production, it seems unlikely he'll be dealt, but the Red Sox -- to say nothing of a handful of other teams -- may just become desperate enough to overwhelm the Padres with a deal they can't refuse.
3. Who loves L.A.?
The Dodgers have encountered their first on-field turbulence of the season, with four straight losses before winning Thursday night. The NL West seems to be well in hand, but an upgrade, especially in the pitching department, would go a long way toward cementing their status as the best team in the National League. They added Orioles closer George Sherrill to plug a gap in the back of their bullpen. Sherrill should set up nicely in front of All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton, but do the Dodgers still need another reliver, likely a righty this time? Or should they focus on adding a starter, both to take the pressure off an overworked 'pen (which has pitched more innings than all but one team in the game) and to match the Phillies acquisition of Cliff Lee?
Meanwhile, across town, the Angels have been playing excellent baseball of late, but could also use a relief pitcher to help finally get them back to the World Series after four AL West titles in the past five years failed to translate into sustained postseason success. One option could be Heath Bell, who is just down the road in San Diego. The Padres have been listening to offers for their All-Star closer, but given that he's still under team control and is very affordable, they could be reluctant to make a trade unless they get enough decent prospects in return, and the Angels don't usually trade their best young players.
4. Buyers or sellers
Believe it or not, some teams may still not be sure which direction they're headed. For instance, the Mariners are reportedly entertaining offers for lefty Jarrod Washburn, who has been excellent of late, but they may now be leaning toward keeping him. At 5 1/2 games out in the wild-card chase entering Thursday night, they're not dead yet. In fact, they spent Wednesday acquiring players, bringing in veterans Jack Wilson and Ian Snell from Pittsburgh. It's even been reported that the Mets may be looking to buy, albeit without giving up any of their top prospects. Any teams who can't make up their minds by 4 p.m. ET won't be completely out of trading options, however. It may just increase the likelihood of trades being consummated after the non-waiver deadline passes tomorrow, as teams finally drop out of contention.
5. Now or never
Two teams that are especially intriguing are the Rangers and the Rays. Both have a number of quality young players, especially in the minor leagues, that would be attractive to any teams looking to deal, and both are likely to need a push to make up ground in their respective divisions. If there's added incentive for the Rangers to deal, as opposed to the Rays, it could be this: while the Rays were in the World Series just last year and have already proven they can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rangers have not been in contention in years (they've had only had one winning record this decade) and have never advanced to the ALCS, much less the World Series. Is that reason enough to make a big move for someone like Halladay? As with all of the questions presented by deadline day, we should finally have an answer.