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Deal or No Deal

A few key teams will shape baseball's trade market in big ways—and several squads on the bubble have tough choices to make
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WITH THE ALL-STAR Game behind us and the second half underway, attention turns to the Aug. 1 nonwaiver trade deadline. There's no one on the market like ace David Price or shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, last year's big prizes, but sellers have plenty of outfielders and relief pitchers to move. These are the teams that should make the biggest headlines by the end of July:

YANKEES

Team president Randy Levine has been adamant that the Bronx Bombers have no plans to sell, telling Fox Sports that they've never been "quitters." That may be so, but New York had a 45--46 record through Sunday (the first time the team has been under .500 after the All-Star break since 1995) and hasn't won a playoff game since 2012. Retreat doesn't have to mean surrender, and a strategic retreat—which, in this case, means trading at least outfielder Carlos Beltran and relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller—is long overdue. The Yankees haven't produced an everyday player since Brett Gardner in 2008, or a starting pitcher since Ivan Nova in '10. (The jury remains out on starter Luis Severino, now back in the minors.) There is a crop of prospects on the way, but it will be '18 or '19 before they could form a solid core. New York needs to target those seasons, rather than this October, for a return to contention.

CUBS

So maybe this isn't the greatest team ever after all. A 25--6 start was followed by a 30--30 stretch, with Chicago losing 15 of 21 heading into the break. The Cubs' pitching depth, their weak spot coming into the season, collapsed come summertime; Chicago has a 5.11 ERA since the solstice. Even with all that, the Cubs still had an eight-game lead in the NL Central at week's end and can make deals as much geared toward the postseason as the pennant race. GM Theo Epstein would be well-served to bolster his bullpen, and with a surplus of young talent—Chicago is as deep in position-player prospects as any team in baseball—he can overpay to acquire a top-tier reliever. Someone like the Yankees' Miller, the Brewers' Will Smith or the A's Sean Doolittle could be critical for a team that may have to go through the lefty-heavy lineups of the Nationals (Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy), Giants (Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford) and/or Dodgers (Corey Seager, Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson).

INDIANS

Cleveland ripped off a 14-game winning streak at the end of June that showcased its fantastic rotation and defense. But the Tribe still has holes. The outfield remains patchwork until Michael Brantley's shoulder heals; third baseman Juan Uribe and the catchers have contributed nothing; and a lefty reliever has yet to be effective. Cleveland has two top hitting prospects in outfielders Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer, but as a true small-market team with serious attendance issues, dealing that kind of cost-controlled talent is hard—especially if it means taking on a high-salaried slugger like the Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez or the Brewers' Ryan Braun. Still, the Indians have a chance to win back a city in which they've become the third team behind the Cavaliers and the Browns. It would be worth their while to make an investment and take advantage of that.

BUBBLE TEAMS

Three teams on the border of buy/sell/hold could shape the deadline activity.

PIRATES

Right in the thick of the wild-card chase, Pittsburgh is unlikely to sell. Nevertheless the Bucs have to create space for young talent like first baseman Josh Bell, outfielder Austin Meadows and shortstop Kevin Newman. It would make sense for them to consider dealing first baseman John Jaso, second baseman Josh Harrison and, yes, even centerfielder Andrew McCutchen.

MARINERS

Sitting five games out of a wild-card berth, it's hard to argue that Seattle should overpay for 2016 help. Then again, how many more chances can the team hope for with aging key contributors Robinson Cano (33), Nelson Cruz (36), Felix Hernandez (30) and Hisashi Iwakuma (35)?

ROYALS

The reigning champs are 4½ games out of a wild-card spot and have the same flaws they did a year ago, with a weak rotation and a hole at second base. Kansas City cashed in much of its farm system to get Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist last summer, but the Royals lack that kind of prospect depth now. They need to fill those same gaps again and will have to get creative to do so.

GO FIGURE

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