Line forms to the right

Keep hearing how this will be another slow trading season because so many teams are in contention, there won’t be enough sellers to fuel a hot market.

Please … Take an online course in Economics 101. Supply-and-demand and all that. Having 22 of the 30 teams in hot pursuit of October will jack the price of help, not eliminate it.

In other words, this is a great time to be GM of the Royals, or of the Pirates, or of the Nationals. (Hey, maybe the only time that is great.) But those guys will spend more time atop sports sections the next two weeks than their teams have spent atop the standings the last decade.

Know how you can swallow all those reports that full control of the Yankees is what convinced Brian Cashman to sign a new contract with them? Philip Hughes is still in their organization, that’s how.

In the old days, with his lineup disintegrating (Hidek Matsui, Gary Sheffield), it’s a slam-dunk cinch that George Steinbrenner would have ordered moves for some high-profile reinforcements.

But the first name Cashman kept hearing in exploratory trade talks was that of Hughes, the 6-foot-5 right-hander who just turned 20. Cashman places a heavier premium on prospects than the Steinbrenner Yankees have historically — just look at some of the fresh faces in this clubhouse — and held firm.

The Red Sox’s "true" trade deadline for reinforcing their rotation could come two weeks earlier than for others. Try July 15, Saturday: It’ll be Curt Schilling’s turn, but there is growing doubt whether the liner he took off the elbow in his last start will allow him to take the mound. So, right now, Theo Epstein is working on a different clock than his competition. … Schilling’s rebuff of a late invitation to replace Jose Contreras on the AL All-Star Team was a dead giveaway of his condition. Red-light Curt missing a chance to show up among hundreds of cameras and microphones? Call the doctor.

Choices for Boston — and, for that matter, anyone shopping for pitching — are ample. MLB teams have had eye-popping success injecting youth, even green youth, into rotations. Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Francisco Liriano, Josh Johnson, etc., etc. The trend will embolden GMs into moving some marquee veterans.

The market includes Jason Schmidt (Giants), Livan Hernandez (Nats), John Smoltz (Braves), Jon Lieber (Phillies), Greg Maddux (Cubs), Rodrigo Lopez (Orioles) — and Barry Zito of the A’s and Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins, two who stand out in this crowd because (a) they’re in their 20s and (b) they’re left-handed.

Billy Beane is agonizing over Zito. The conditions are perfect for the high future-payoff deals on which Oakland’s GM feasts. But how can he leverage his ace with the A’s in first place? He’d get a public hammering — more by fans than by the media, who understand his agenda.

And why is Willis on that list? Hasn’t everyone in Florida but Gov. Bush declared him "untouchable"? Hah! Baseball’s last true Untouchable was when Eliot Ness was playing Little League. Willis will move not because he is a luxury to the surprising Marlins, but because they’re up to the gills in pitching prospects.

Don’t expect either Pat Burrell or Bobby Abreu to be leaving Philadelphia — unless it’s in a Brinks truck along with bags of money. Burrell is set to make $13 million next season, Abreu close to $20 million — those are some big numbers, bigger than the ones in their home run and RBI columns.

Diving into the (trading) Pool

This is the time of the baseball calendar when an endless parade of shopped players will have some hyperventilating fans breathing into empty bags, and some upset fans reaching for air-sickness bags. Your bag will depend on whether your team is a player looking for reinforcements, or a prayer looking to bail.

That sound you hear are the CEOs of Bekins, Mayflower and United clinking champagne glasses.

After July 31, it’s a waiver world; to attempt deals, you will first have to expose the involved players to the claiming process. Until then, it will be simply a waver world; GMs will vacillate over pulling the trigger, or just pulling their hair out.

This is also the time of the year the Five W’s of Journalism expand to Six: Who, What, Where, When and How and joined by Wow. The Wow factor is very huge in reporting trade rumors.

Between now and then, big named will feed the buzz. Players on losers could be hitting the road, with their six tools and seven figures. Or, they could be going nowhere, just like their teams.

Whenever it all becomes a little too dizzying, just raise your hand, snap your fingers and call out, "Reality check, please!" In no time, we’ll be there to serve a dish of raw truth. No spices, no sweetening — definitely no preservatives.

Setting the tone …

AL superiority could pull the plug on the market

Historically, the biggest Trade Deadline moves have been across league lines. Mark McGwire, Carlos Beltran, Nomar Garciaparra, and so on. It makes sense: Unleash an unfamiliar weapon on the opposition.

But the AL’s utter dominance may snarl this cross-league traffic. AL executives are going to think long and hard before extending themselves for an NL hot-shot, fearful of statistics inflated by the inferior company he keeps.

That puts a major warning label on two of the biggest sellers: Washington and Pittsburgh.

So-long Soriano: However which way, Jim Bowden will figure out a way to move Alfonso Soriano who, when he pulls on his next uniform, will be with his fourth team in four years. I hope his next manager asks Alfonso to play shortstop. Just to see his reaction.

Another MVP (Most Variable Player): Give Phil Nevin credit. Not many overall No. 1 draft choices could have gotten off to the wretched start he did with Houston, and bounced back to salvage a very decent career. But Nevin’s pride can still betray him. Soon after his lips move, he moves. Nevin could soon be on his way to his fourth team in years, because he has been miserable about getting to the Cubs (from Texas) just in time to sink with them.

Manny Ramirez recently had his regular mid-season audience with Theo Epstein to inform the Red Sox GM that … he’s happy, doesn’t want to go anywhere else, wants to finish his career in Boston.

Did the Cardinals insist that the Angels package a shrink in the Jeff Weaver deal? Being released in favor of your younger brother has got to leave emotional scars. Who knew Jeff was his brother’s (roster-spot) keeper?

Till next shift …

First call

Macy’s has Thanksgiving. MLB has Independence Day. That’s when the guns go off to signal the start of shopping season. Or selling season. Silly season … yeah, that’s it.

This is the time of the baseball calendar when an endless parade of shopped players will have some hyperventilating fans breathing into empty bags, and some upset fans reaching for air-sickness bags. Your bag will depend on whether your team is a player looking for reinforcements, or a prayer looking to bail.

That sound you hear are the CEOs of Bekins, Mayflower and United clinking champagne glasses.

After July 31, it’s a waiver world; to attempt deals, you will first have to expose the involved players to the claiming process. Until then, it will be simply a waver world; GMs will vacillate over pulling the trigger, or just pulling their hair out.

This is also the time of the year the Five W’s of Journalism expand to Six: Who, What, Where, When and How and joined by Wow. The Wow factor is very huge in reporting trade rumors.

Between now and then, big named will feed the buzz. Players on losers could be hitting the road, with their six tools and seven figures. Or, they could be going nowhere, just like their teams.

Whenever it all becomes a little too dizzying, just raise your hand, snap your fingers and call out, "Reality check, please!" In no time, we’ll be there to serve a dish of raw truth. No spices, no sweetening — definitely no preservatives.

Setting the tone …

AL superiority could pull the plug on the market

Historically, the biggest Trade Deadline moves have been across league lines. Mark McGwire, Carlos Beltran, Nomar Garciaparra, and so on. It makes sense: Unleash an unfamiliar weapon on the opposition.

But the AL’s utter dominance, only amplified by the just-concluded stretch of Interleague play, may snarl this cross-league traffic. AL executives are going to think long and hard before extending themselves for an NL hot-shot, fearful of statistics inflated by the inferior company he keeps.

That puts a major warning label on two of the biggest sellers: Washington and Pittsburgh.

So-long Soriano

However which way, Jim Bowden will figure out a way to move Alfonso Soriano who, when he pulls on his next uniform, will be with his fourth team in four years.

I hope his next manager asks Alfonso to play shortstop. Just to see his reaction.

Another MVP (Most Variable Player)

Give Phil Nevin credit. Not many overall No. 1 draft choices could have gotten off to the wretched start he did with Houston, and bounced back to salvage a very decent career. But Nevin’s pride can still betray him. Soon after his lips move, he moves.

Nevin could soon be on his way to his fourth team in <i>two</i> years, because he has been miserable about getting to the Cubs (from Texas) just in time to sink with them.

This is why you have to take trade rumors with a grain, or a slab, of salt: Philadelphia papers were abuzz over the weekend with rumors that outfielder David Dellucci was on his way back to the Rangers. Check out the Texas scouts at the Phillies’ weekend series.

Oh, yeah, well … the team the Phils happened to be playing were the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rangers’ next opponents. Teams <i>always</i> advance scout the upcoming foe.

Manny Ramirez recently had his regular mid-season audience with Theo Epstein to inform the Red Sox GM that … he’s happy, doesn’t want to go anywhere else, wants to finish his career in Boston.

Teams interested in taking a flyer on Jeff Weaver are strongly encouraged to include a shrink in the deal. Being released in favor of your younger brother has got to leave emotional scars. Who knew Jeff was his brother’s (roster-spot) keeper?

Till next shift …

That’s a wrap

Was it a little like looking under the tree and finding a polka-dot tie for you, too? Was it like getting your first car and it’s an AMC Pacer with no radio? As Charlie Brown once said along the Halloween route as he looked into his goodie bag, "I got a rock."

This July 31 trade deadline just didn’t meet up with expectations, did it? We kept waiting for a big shoe to drop, and even though names like Manny Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano were all over the phone lines, Internet pixels and newsprint, nothing huge happened.

A little Matt Lawton here, a bit of Randy Winn there. No A.J. Burnett, no Jason Schmidt, no Billy Wagner. No Adam Dunn, no Lastings Milledge, no Hayden Penn. A lot more no than yes, that’s for sure.

So, was it really that boring or are we just expecting too much? You know, it’s probably a lot closer to the latter than the former. That’s the ultimate reality check.

Why? Glad you asked.

First of all, fans are into it more than ever and we’re certainly all over this Trade Deadline stuff here at MLB.com. You know our friends at ESPN do it up, as do all the other media outlets who cover baseball. Could be wrong, but there probably wasn’t a Trade Deadline Reality Check blog on the Internet, say, 20 years ago. (Well, Al Gore had one, but that’s another story.) Point is, there isn’t a rumor that doesn’t get out anymore, it seems. And some are even true. The deals couldn’t possibly match up with the rumors in quantity or quality.

Another thing: Sometimes, the market just is what it is — and it wasn’t much this year. When Padres GM Kevin Towers is throwing chances to David Ross and Miguel Olivo and taking on Chan Ho Park in order to move Phil Nevin, that tells you something. When GM Brian Cashman predicts the Yankees won’t be doing much and that actually comes true, that tells you something. This just wasn’t a primo market. The biggest names, it turned out, weren’t available, at least not available enough to move now.

Another aspect that’s been talked about a lot is the fact that too many teams still think they’re in the race, so there’s a shortage of sellers. Hey, if having 20-some teams in the hunt into August means a lighter July trade season, that’s fine. By all means, let’s enjoy pennant races thick with contenders over the intrigue of trades. We’ll get plenty of that on the Hot Stove.

Know what? Just because nothing of earth-shattering import took place, that didn’t take much away from the TD experience. It was still fun to hear the names bouncing around, and now we already have a few hot names to watch this winter — Ramirez, Soriano, Burnett and Dunn among them.

And, make no mistake, a big name will move this August in a waiver trade, and we just might hear of a contender blocking another by putting in a waiver claim, which is always good gamesmanship stuff.

The best part of this Trade Deadline from here, though, was getting the response from folks coming back the TDRC and posting their own ideas and rumors they’d picked up in their towns. That’s the most fun — hearing rumors and putting a take on them — and that’s what this here Reality Check thang is about.

Enjoy the stretch run.

T-minus 1 hour

… and Alfonso Soriano’s in the lineup for the Rangers in Toronto, just led off the sixth. So unless he gets yanked in, oh, about the top of the ninth inning, he’s staying there. Sorry, Twins, Mets and Cubs, no Sori for you. But, much like with the Reds and Adam Dunn, if something doesn’t happen today (guess it still could…) the door’s definitely been swung wide open for suitors this winter.

Could it really be this slow? It just might. Wow. Last year, it all blew up at the very last second with the Nomar trade, but that moment may have passed with the crumbling (until November) of the Manny trade talks. As MLB.com’s Ian Browne tells us, Manny wants to stay now, so Manny will stay.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be that blockbuster out there, just too many complicating factors like money and too many people thinking — and they might be right — that they’re in the race.

Happy to be surprised in the next hour, but it’s still quiet.

Down to the day

Baseball’s July trading season has one more night’s sleep to go before we find out if it was good, bad or indifferent. Maybe there are all-night negotiations that will turn up the heat on this lukewarm summer. Or, maybe not.

Thus far, let’s call it indifferent with some good rumors and some bad ones, too. Put it this way: No team has altered the course of its history just yet.

But tomorrow’s another day, and crazy things can happen when you have a deadline staring you in the face.

After Saturday’s mini-flurry, a few thoughts:

  • With Randy Winn going to San Fran, that puts Matt Lawton at the head of the class of outfielders on the market. The Cardinals are at the top of the list of suitors, barring the unlikely event they figure out a way to pry Adam Dunn away from Cincy. Cubs are interested, too.
  • Manny Ramirez is almost certainly, really, we’re pretty darn sure this time staying in Boston, so you have to figure on the Mets making another big play for Alfonso Soriano. But they’ll have to get past the Twins to do it — they have pitching available in Joe Mays, Kyle Lohse and J.C. Romero that could help the Rangers. Still say the Rangers need to get a ton for him if they do move him, but more and more it seems like they’re trying to move him. They’re certainly not slamming down the phone.
  • The Mariners might not be done, or maybe it’s that they shouldn’t be done. Trading Eddie Guardado makes sense right now for a team that doesn’t need saves for the pennant chase this year. Red Sox, maybe?

Well, we’ll see what the big day brings. In the meantime, feel free to hit that comment link and share some ideas of your own.

Two OFs off market

Well, scratch Randy Winn off the Yankees’ and the Cardinals’ wish lists — he’s gone to the Giants. And the Sox did make a move Saturday night, too … with an outfielder … but it was acquiring Jose Cruz Jr., not shipping Manny Ramirez. Yet.

Guess you have to wonder why the Sox need another outfielder — not that Cruz could make up one iota of Manny’s loss. Dang, just can’t stop thinking about this Manny trade happening, even after killing it off a post or two ago. It just won’t die. It’s a beast of immense proportions.

The Mariners, we’re told, aren’t done tonight. That could mean Eddie Guardado or Ron Villone, though probably not Jamie Moyer, who we hear nixed a trade to the Astros with his 10-and-5 rights earlier Saturday.

It’s cranking up now …

Buc thoughts

Watching the Pirates take on the Braves on Saturday night, it was impossible not to wonder whether at least a couple of the guys in the starting lineup would be heading elsewhere by Sunday. They’ve been dealing with the rumors for a while now, as MLB.com’s Ed Eagle reports.

Mark Redman made the start Saturday, and if he makes another for the Pirates it’d be a surprise. The Marlins are the frontrunner, and that makes sense if Florida’s keeping  A.J.  Burnett and determined to make a run at a playoff spot. He certainly seems like he’s headed somewhere, if only for throwing every five days with his left hand.

The other Buc who seems destined to go is Matt Lawton. The Cardinals seem like a good fit, better than Randy Winn and more likely than Adam Dunn.  Jose Mesa and Daryle Ward also have seen their names churning through the rumor mill, but they appear to be staying put.

If GM Dave Littlefield doesn’t make one or two of those moves, you’d have to wonder why not.

Just some thoughts as the clock keeps a tickin’ away …

No Manny but no trade

He’s not in the lineup, but he’s not on his way to New York, either. Or anywhere else.

When Manny Ramirez was a late scratch Saturday, that certainly set the rumor mill spinning, as MLB.com’s Ian Browne reports from Fenway. A Sox official said in the wake of the intriguing lineup scratch that there is no deal in place for Ramirez, and the Boston Globe reported Saturday the trade possibility cooled off considerably because the Devil Rays have insisted on shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez from the Sox.

Look, it’s clear the Sox, Mets and Devil Rays have done some serious work here, but there’s just too much work to be done on this one. The clock was ticking before this one even began. Hey, maybe this winter. (Hard to write this one off the way it’s gone, but there you go.)

This doesn’t figure to be the last Manny update we’ll have, but the next one’s probably that the deal’s really dead and not coming back to life — during the season at least.

Inside 24 …

… and Manny’s still there, Sori’s still there and Big Dunn’s still there.

We are hearing some buzz, however, about Randy Winn being out of the lineup in Seattle, setting off speculation that he might be on his way out of town. The Yankees have been the primary destination mentioned over the last week or two, but they might have cooled to the idea. The Cardinals aren’t out of the question. They’re looking for an outfielder, though they’d rather reel in an Adam Dunn-caliber player, which may actually mean Adam Dunn himself. The Red Sox also have been thrown in there, but who knows with them right now?

Then again, it could just be a day off for Winn. Ha, that’s what makes this weekend fun. Besides, Matt Lawton is more of a difference maker than Winn, and you can throw Lawton on that list of players who should be moving in the next 24 — er, 23 — hours. The M’s have plenty that might go besides Winn, including a trio of lefties, the classic trade-deadline fodder. You still have to think Ron Villone or even Eddie Guardado are lefties who could be had for the right price, and Jamie Moyer’s name hasn’t stopped floating.

Gonna hit this here blog hard the next 24 hours so come on back and add your comments often.