Cubs ace Ryan Dempster is 5-5 with a 2.25 earned-run average this season. (Dilip Vishwanat / Getty…)
And then the baseball world trembled with fear. What if they had a trade deadline and nobody moved?
What if all that juicy intrigue approaching, the nonwaiver trading line dissipated because so many teams were in contention for the additional wild-card spot that precious few became sellers?
Where's the off-the-field fun in that?
Fear not. Already there has been movement aplenty and there appears to be a decent number of moves still to come.
First baseman Carlos Lee was all but traded to the Dodgers. Then, after he nixed that, was sent to the Miami Marlins, who may very well trade him again. Ichiro Suzuki is suddenly a New York Yankee. Hanley Ramirez is unexpectedly a Dodger.
Zack Greinke, James Shields, Ryan Dempster and Josh Johnson are among the starting pitchers reportedly available. First baseman Justin Morneau, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third baseman Chase Headley could all be on the move.
This July 31 may not set any records for player movement, but neither will it limp into baseball's history books. The number of teams in contention for two wild-card spots is essentially the same as would be fighting for one. A market has definitely developed, if a seller's market.
The biggest surprise could be two of baseball's most successful franchises — the prideful but struggling Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox — finding themselves unforeseen sellers and not buyers. That's a blow to tradition.
The Red Sox are 49-50 and 101/2 games back of the Yankees. The Phillies, despite showing improvement of late, are 45-54, a stunning 14 games out and last in the National League East. They may need instruction on how to do this selling thing.
Tuesday's deadline is still four days out, and already there are some clear winners and losers.
Some early winners:
The Dodgers: Reduced to watching the deadline parade go by under Frank McCourt the last few years unless the other team was picking up serious salary, now the Dodgers are everywhere in trade talks.
There is hardly a significant player being discussed — Dempster, Shields, Morneau or Greinke — for whom the Dodgers are not in the mix. New ownership and its deep pockets have made the Dodgers a sudden player destination. Dempster is holding out for the Dodgers, who may yet get him from the Chicago Cubs at their asking price.
And they swooped in and picked up a position player with star power in Ramirez, who said the Dodgers were his No.1 choice.
Detroit: The Tigers had glaring holes at second base and in the rotation, and solved both with a single trade.
They picked up second baseman Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the vanishing Marlins for 21-year-old right-hander Jacob Turner and a pair of minor leaguers.
The Tigers are in first place in the AL Central and acting like it off the field too.
The Yankees: Suzuki is on the wrong side of 38 and has been in decline, but could flourish given a second life in New York on a title contender. And he cost only a pair of minor prospects. Small risk, nice potential upside.
Some early losers:
Marlins: What an embarrassing mess. They spent the off-season trumpeting their new stadium and spent $191 million signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. It's the new Marlins!
Only barely into the second half, they weakly raised the white flag. They very much became the old Marlins, the franchise that had no problem unloading salary. Ramirez, Infante and Sanchez are gone. Johnson is available.
The team is 45-53 and attendance is disappointing. But hey, Marlins Park still has cool, giant saltwater aquariums.
Houston Astros: They have the worst record in baseball (34-66) and somehow are getting worse. They have already made four trades, and they're not the kind that gives Houston reason to actually watch the team.
Gone are Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter and Lee. It's not as if a title contender was torn up, but neither did they get much in return.
Oakland Athletics: They wanted Ramirez and thought they had a good shot, at least until the Dodgers stepped up, willing to take on all of his remaining $38-million salary.
Their strong recent play has turned heads, but do they buy or sell? They are the low-budget A's. But they're also in a four-way tie for the two wild-card spots. What would Brad Pitt do?
There is still more to play out. Moves expected, and in all likelihood, unexpected.
Greinke is the primary target, and he's a two-month rental who can become a free agent at the end of the season.
The Texas Rangers, Angels, Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Atlanta Braves and plenty of others are all interested in the former Cy Young Award winner. And why do you get the sneaky feeling the Yankees will yet be heard from?
Dempster is holding out for the Dodgers, but they may like teammate Matt Garza even more. The Angels' formerly impressive rotation needs help, but they have limited trade chips.
The market may not exactly be robust, but neither has it shriveled to wild-card dust.