Paul: Razor-thin line between teams being buyers or sellers

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
White Sox starter Chris Sale is expected to be on the block after his uniform-shearing tantrum last weekend, which led to a five-day suspension.

So often, for so many teams, it's a fine line between deciding whether to be sellers or buyers.

Take the New York Yankees, for instance.

They entered play Tuesday at 51-48, yet have sent clear signals they will be exploring a firesale of sorts, after trading flame-throwing, lefty reliever Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs on Monday for a nice, four-player package.

Contrast the Yankees to the Tigers, who are just a half-game closer in the wild-card race, at 52-48, and yet have given off the impression they won't be selling this year like they did last year, even if they won't be big-time buyers, either.

It's a fun time of year, the game within the game as the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaches.

There's already been a bit of action, with Chapman giving the powerhouse Cubs a much-needed lockdown closer, the Boston Red Sox adding starter Drew Pomeranz from the San Diego Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays nabbing outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., also from the Padres.

It'll be interesting to see whether the pace of trades progressively picks up over the coming days, or whether teams wait till the last minute Aug. 1, which could be the most likely scenario, given, again, that fine line between contending and surrendering — and also given the steep prices reportedly being asked for marquee players, given the lack of appealing pieces, especially at starting pitching, which most contenders crave.

Motivated sellers

* Padres: They continue to be a disaster, cruising toward a sixth consecutive losing season. They've already dealt James Shields, Fernando Rodney, Pomeranz and Upton, and are shopping starter Andrew Cashner, as well. Catcher Derek Norris and outfielder Matt Kemp could appeal to the right contenders, as well, though Kemp's salary remains an obstacle.

* Yankees: It's not often you see them waving the white flag, but the reality is this team has aged fast, with not much relief in sight. Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner give the outfield market quite a boost, and Andrew Miller could soon join Chapman out the door — as easily the biggest difference-maker among relievers.

* Rays: There's not a ton of quality starting pitching available, and yet a bunch of contenders looking for it. That's why the Rays have to be considering making just about everyone in their rotation available outside of blossoming phenom Blake Snell. That means you, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore.

* Brewers: They've already dealt infielder Aaron Hill to the Red Sox, and also have a big-ticket item in catcher Jonathan Lucroy available, with the Cleveland Indians reportedly very interested given the Yan Gomes injury. But you have to believe sluggers Chris Carter and Ryan Braun are available, too, as well as reliever Carlos Torres.

Motivated buyers

* Red Sox: With Dave Dombrowski at the helm, you knew how this was going to play out. He loves the big deal, and already made one for Pomeranz. But Boston still needs starting pitching, and will aim very high. The question is, high enough to include top hitting prospect Yoan Moncada in a deal? Don't rule it out.

* Cubs: It's been a bazillion years, give or take, since the Cubs won a World Series, and this year's team has as good a shot as any at getting it done. So Theo Epstein and Co. will do whatever it takes to upgrade, especially at outfield, where they've been bitten by injuries. The Cincinnati Reds' Jay Bruce is one rumor.

* Nationals: Clearly the class of the NL East, they still will be pushed by the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, especially if they don't find a way to upgrade the bullpen a bit. Miller would be the desired piece. Also, you can't rule out a back-end addition to the rotation, which is top-heavy.

* Dodgers: Amazingly, in the month that ace Clayton Kershaw has missed with a back injury, the Dodgers have managed to get hot — and cut 5.5 games off the San Francisco Giants' division lead. It's at 2.5 now. With no word when or if Kershaw will be back, they need to add at least one starter, probably two.

Others to watch

* Chris Sale: The White Sox are a team that has a lot of rebuilding to do, and no player would net more than Sale, an ace who has a team-friendly contract through 2019. He's also had run-ins with the GM and manager, most recently the jersey saga that earned him a five-game suspension. Change of scenery is likely.

* Sonny Gray: Why would GM Billy Beane trade this kid, who is struggling this year but still has top-shelf stuff — and can't be a free agent until 2020? Why would Beane trade Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays a couple years back, under similar circumstances? He doesn't shy from big deals, or the unpopular ones.

* Zack Greinke: This name could surprise some, but it shouldn't — given how booming the starting-pitching market could be for sellers. The Arizona Diamondbacks might not get a ton of prospects in return, but they'd get some serious salary relief after giving Greinke $206.5 million over the winter.

* Wade Davis: The Royals don't want to part with their stud closer, for whom they have a reasonable, $10-million club option for 2017. But given the package Chapman commanded, and Miller surely will, GM Dayton Moore has to at least be open-minded to the idea if some contender is willing to knock his socks off.

And the Tigers?

GM Al Avila says they'll stand pat, but it's hard to buy that, given the team still could have a good run in it — especially with the  expected returns of Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris to the rotation, and J.D. Martinez to the lineup. Those additions will almost feel like deadline pickups, and ease the burden of what Avila still needs to get — which is a back-end starter (Smyly?), and probably one more bullpen piece (Miller probably is a stretch). I can't see prospects JaCoby Jones, Joe Jimenez or Beau Burrows being shopped, but just about anybody else is fair game. Steven Moya, who upped his stock a bit with some impressive major-league at-bats earlier this season, is most likely to be dealt.