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We’re going to see several transactions occur before the July 31 trade deadline, but the main question right now is who are some of the buyers and sellers going to be?

It’s obvious the Cubs and Astros are going to be willing to part with their top players, with the Cubs likely pleading for someone to take Alfonso Soriano’s contract, but what about the teams just barely over or under .500?

Will we see Pittsburgh make a better attempt than last season as buyers and what will the Phillies do? Boston has jumped back into the AL East mix while Tampa Bay is floundering. The Yankees and Rangers can be expected to make a move and the Dodgers are especially in need to find some new blood in their lineup.

And creeping up on the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West are the D’Backs, which now makes them a potential buyer.

Some of the top players available include Seattle’s Jason Vargas, Minnesota’s Francisco Liriano, Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels, Tampa’s James Shields, Chicago’s Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez and Kansas City’s Jonathan Broxton.

The most interesting team to watch on stage this month is the Phillies because everything else kind of falls in place based on what they do. The Phils have a major dilemma on their hands as they’re 36-45 through Sunday, 11 games out of first-place.

Do the Phils tell the proud fans of Philadelphia who have witnessed five straight postseason appearances they’re packing it in, or do they hope for a huge playoff run over the next three months?

The hope for Phillies fans is that the return of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay will shift the balance of the remaining games in their favor. When the first part of that equation, Utley, returned last week, the Phillies went on to lose five consecutive games.

Let’s just assume the mark to get a wild card birth is 89 wins, which would then mean the Phillies would have to go 53-28 the rest of the way. It’s an unlikely pace to say the least, especially with their starting rotation being nowhere near what it was in any of the five previous seasons.

Teams looking to get that extra edge by getting players with battle tested playoff performers could make the Phillies part with Hamels, Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino, or maybe all three. In return, the Phillies could pluck the top prospects from prospective teams vying for their services, but the biggest problem is selling the future to Philadelphia fans who expect to win now.

The Pirates could use an extra bat and starter, and it’s reasonable to believe after the small attempt they made last season to be buyers that they would make an extra push to get better players this time around – no offense to Derrek Lee and Eric Ludwick.

With the Cardinals appearing down and the Reds rotation being suspect, the NL Central looks to be wide open. The Bucs core of young players and new veterans – along with some experience from last year’s run – should make them stronger down the stretch this season.

The Rays have made the playoffs three of the past four seasons, but there doesn’t seem to be much optimism about their chances this season even though they were three games over .500 through Sunday. Shields, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton are players who could probably be had if the price was right.

The Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox would love to have Shields, but it’s not likely Tampa would trade him within the division. That makes the Braves seem like a probable candidate.

The starting rotation was supposed to be a strength this season in Atlanta, but only the Rockies’ funky four-man rotation has less quality NL starts than the Braves staff. Despite the deficiency in starting pitching – that includes Brandon Beachy out for the season, the Braves should feel good about where they are now, which is 4½ games out of first-place and four games over .500.

The biggest difference maker available besides Hamels, who I don’t think will be traded, is Broxton (20 saves, 2.08 ERA). The former closer for the Dodgers may not have the same velocity he once had, but he’s learned to be a better pitcher. For teams like the Angels and Red Sox, getting Broxton could be the move that helps them shore up one of their glaring weaknesses.

It would take a lot to get Gonzalez from Colorado, but whoever got him would instantly improve their chances of making the playoffs. It happened for the Astros in 2005 when they picked up Carlos Beltran, who then carried them to the World Series.

The Dodgers are a team that really needs some offensive help as was exemplified last week when they were shutout five times. They got timely hitting for the first 10 weeks of the season from unlikely sources, and were even able to withstand the loss of Matt Kemp for a while.

Now reality has caught up with them: You can’t win regularly in baseball without strong hitters at the corners.

The Dodgers need some help on first and third-base and they let a golden opportunity fly away to Chicago as the White Sox picked up Kevin Youkilis last week. L.A. inquired about the services of Carlos Lee from Houston, but Lee doesn’t want to go. Up next for the Dodgers could be Chase Headley from San Diego, Jed Lowrie from Houston or Pena from Tampa Bay.

One thing you can be assured of from the Dodgers is that the new ownership group headed by Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson will make several moves to do everything they can to win now. They know better than anyone that their team needs a band-aid and not even Kemp’s return will hide the fact.


Vote Harper!

Nationals rookie phenom Bryce Harper didn’t get selected as one of the 33 NL players for next Tuesday’s All-Star game in Kansas City, but the fans can still have their way by voting him in as the 34th and final entry to the roster. Voting will be tallied through this Thursday on

I may be a little biased with Harper because he’s from Las Vegas, but I don’t think I’m alone that his hustling style of play has made him someone every baseball fan enjoys watching. And really, isn’t that what we all want to see in the All-Star game – players we like the most who play the game at levels most major leaguers can’t. Are there really 68 better players in baseball than Harper?

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