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July 11, 2007

Looking Ahead

The Shape of the Second Half

by John Perrotto

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It has already been the year of the milestone in baseball. Trevor Hoffman became the first reliever ever to reach 500 saves. Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run and Frank Thomas belted his 500th. Craig Biggio got to 3,000 hits, and Roger Clemens reached 350 wins. The biggest milestone of all is just around the corner-Barry Bonds has 751 home runs, four away from Hank Aaron's all-time record.

Aside from personal achievements, a number of interesting races are developing in the two leagues and six divisions. Now that the All-Star Game is behind us, here is a division-by-division look at what to expect in the second half of the season:

AL East

What has long been the most difficult division has turned into a surprisingly weak one this season, and the Boston Red Sox (53-34) have a 10-game lead that should enable them to cruise to the title if they can just come close to maintaining what they did in the first half. Left-handed set-up man Hideki Okajima (2-0, 0.83, four saves, 3.511 WXRL) has proven to be more than just a sidekick for Daisuke Matsuzaka (10-6, 3.85, 3.3 SNLVAR), and closer Jonathan Papelbon (0-2, 1.93, 20 saves, 3.425 WRXL) has been superb, but the Red Sox are still seeking bullpen help. They would be willing to deal an outfielder, either Coco Crisp (.265/.322/.387, 5.8 VORP) or Wily Mo Pena (.208/.280/.367, -3.9 VORP), for the right reliever. Other than that, the Red Sox will wait for expected home run power spikes from designated hitter David Ortiz (.314/.434/.556, 38.5 VORP) and left fielder Manny Ramirez (.284/.385/.465, 19.3 VORP) in the second half, hope that right-hander Curt Schilling (6-4, 4.20, 2.2 SNLVAR) overcomes his shoulder tendonitis, and look for shortstop Julio Lugo (.197/.270/.298, -8.9 VORP) and right fielder J.D. Drew (.258/.368/.391, 6.1 VORP) to play better after signing them as free agents in the offseason.

The Toronto Blue Jays (43-44) hoped to contend this season after finishing second a year ago. However, those plans were sabotaged by a series of injuries to such stalwarts as closer B.J. Ryan, right-handers A.J. Burnett (5-6, 4.31 ERA, 2.0 SNLVAR) and Roy Halladay (10-3, 4.46, 2.4 SNLVAR), left-hander Gustavo Chacin (2-1, 5.60, 0.3 SNLVAR), first baseman Lyle Overbay (.256/.332/.464, 6.1 VORP), and left fielder Reed Johnson (.244/.320/.378, 0.3 VORP in only 10 games). While they profess to still be contenders for the wild card, the Blue Jays are in the midst of playing 18 of 21 games on the road. They are also wiling to listen to offers for some of their high-priced players, including third baseman Troy Glaus (.277/.386/.500, 16.8 VORP).

The New York Yankees (42-43) would never admit they are out of the race, but a 1-7 road trip to Colorado, San Francisco, and Baltimore last month pretty much confirmed that this isn't a very good team. The Yankees would need second-half surges of the largest order from second baseman Robinson Cano (.274/.314/.427, 6.6 VORP), left fielder Hideki Matsui (.274/.358/.464, 13.6 VORP), center fielder Johnny Damon (.245/.339/.344, 5.2 VORP), and right fielder Bobby Abreu (.264/.352/.373, 6.4 VORP) to have any chance of extending their string of post-season appearances to 12 in a row. George Steinbrenner won't allow the Yankees to be sellers. However, General Manager Brian Cashman is adamant that the Yankees are no longer in the business of trading prospects, meaning it will be difficult for him to fill holes at first base, in the bullpen, and on the bench.

The Baltimore Orioles (38-49) fired manager Sam Perlozzo last month and replaced him with bullpen coach Dave Trembley, but they are still on their way to tenth straight losing season. Highly-regarded exec Andy MacPhail was brought in to oversee the baseball operations and he is currently in evaluation mode. The Orioles would love to trade shortstop Miguel Tejada (306/.360/.423, 18.0 VORP) and begin the rebuilding process, but he is on the Disabled List with a broken wrist. Right-hander Steve Trachsel (5-6, 4.95, 1.7 SNLVAR), first baseman Kevin Millar (.277/.395/.441, 13.5 VORP), and center fielder Corey Patterson (.232/.280/.324, -5.1 VORP) are all on the trading block, but none figure to fetch a high return.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays (34-53) are bringing up the rear, so as much as some things have changed in St. Petersburg, much has remained the same. The travails of center fielder Elijah Dukes, now on the Inactive List, have clouded over much of the season. Second baseman B.J. Upton (.320/.396/545, 24.3 VORP) has played great but can't stay healthy, while center fielder Rocco Baldelli (.204/.268/.358, -4.1 VORP) hasn't played great and can't stay healthy. The Rays nevertheless figure to ride things out with their current roster. They would consider dealing closer Al Reyes (1-1, 4.09, 17 saves, 2.293 WRXL), although he's on the DL with a sore shoulder, and also infielder Ty Wigginton (.269/.318/.441, 6.6 VORP), but only if they get value back.

AL Central

This division figured to be a four-team race when the season began, but it has essentially been narrowed to a two-team dogfight with the Detroit Tigers (52-34) holding a one-game lead on the Cleveland Indians (52-36). Those two teams haven't gone head-to-head in a pennant race since 1940. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins (45-43) are trying to stay within hailing distance at eight games back, and the Chicago White Sox (39-47) have proven PECOTA's dire preseason forecast right by having a dismal season that finds them 13 games off the pace.

The Tigers' lineup figure to wear out pitching staffs throughout the remainder of the season with a top of the order that includes center fielder Curtis Granderson (.283/.335/.549, 30.7 VORP), second baseman Placido Polanco (.335/.380/.435, 22.7 VORP), designated hitter Gary Sheffield (.303/.410/.560, 38.2 VORP), right fielder Magglio Ordonez (.367/446/.604, 52.6 VORP), and shortstop Carlos Guillen (.325/.393/.576, 36.3 VORP). An interesting sidelight will be if Granderson, who has 15 three-base hits, can become the first major-leaguer to hit 21 triples in a season since Dale Mitchell in 1949, and then if he can challenge the AL record of 26, set by Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1912, and matched by Wahoo Sam Crawford in 1914. If Granderson breaks the record, perhaps he'll even receive a cool nickhame.

The Tigers need bullpen help, though, as their relievers have struggled with set-up man Joel Zumaya (1-1, 3.63, 1 save, 0.814 WRXL) on the Disabled List with a torn finger tendon. The Tigers are reportedly eyeing Houston's late-inning relief trio of Brad Lidge, Dan Wheeler, and Chad Qualls, as well as Texas' Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka in possible trades; their top bait is left fielder Craig Monroe.

Though the Indians remain in the thick of the race, they need to make some upgrades in order to sustain their run at the division title. Their top priority is to add a power arm to the bullpen and would consider promoting top prospect Adam Miller from Triple-A Buffalo if they cannot make a trade. They also want to deal for a corner outfielder as David Dellucci (.234/.301/.389, -1.4 VORP) is out after hamstring surgery, and Trot Nixon (.238/.333/.335, -1.9 VORP) has struggled. The Indians have a strong enough starting rotation to make a run late into October, with C.C. Sabathia (12-3, 3.58, 3.0 SNLVAR) and Fausto Carmona (10-4, 3.85, 2.6 SNLVAR) having big seasons; Cliff Lee (5-5, 5.23, 0.7 SNLVAR) and Jake Westbrook (1-4, 6.27, 0.4 SNLVAR) should improve now that they're healthy. Catcher Victor Martinez (.324/.382/.553, 38.7 VORP) continues to have an MVP-type season, and center fielder Grady Sizemore (.280/.393/.471, 35.8 VORP) will be instrumental in any potential playoff push.

The next two weeks will be pivotal for the Twins to determine if they will be buyers or sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. If the Twins decide they are contenders, then look for them to add a bat; Wigginton and Milwaukee outfielder Kevin Mench are two potential targets. If the Twins decide they are out of the hunt then a host of potential free agents could be put on the trading block, including right-hander Carlos Silva (6-10, 4.58, 2.0 SNLVAR), second baseman Luis Castillo (.305/.352/.339, 5.5 VORP), center fielder Torii Hunter (.301/.342/558, 30.7 VORP), and outfielder Rondell White (.111/.273/.111, -1.3 VORP in just three games). Hunter is having one of his best seasons and the Twins must decide if they can re-sign him. Even if Minnesota doesn't, they can still retool on the fly, building a new team around left-hander Johan Santana (10-6, 2.75, 4.0 SNLVAR), the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, and first baseman Justin Morneau (.295/.364/.581, 31.7 VORP), the reigning AL Most Valuable Player.

The White Sox are also in need of retooling. They could use a power-hitting outfielder, an upgrade at shortstop over Juan Uribe (.232/.288/.360, -5.5 VORP), and relief help beyond closer Bobby Jenks (2-4, 2.38, 23 saves, 0.682 WXRL). Now that left-hander Mark Buehrle (6-4, 3.03, 3.7 SNLVAR) has signed a four-year, $56-million contract extension, the White Sox need to shed a pitcher to restructure their payroll, and will try to move right-hander Jose Contreras (5-10, 5.19, 0.8 SNLVAR) to clear some salary, as well as two potential free agents, second baseman Tadahito Iguchi (.253/.332/.383, 4.8 VORP) and right fielder Jermaine Dye (.214/.271/.402, -6.4 VORP). The White Sox will also likely look at some combination of young outfielders Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson, and Ryan Sweeney to find out once for all if they can be part of the future.

The Kansas City Royals (38-50) are in position to challenge the White Sox for fourth place, which would be progress, while continuing to build around a pair of rookie sluggers in Billy Butler (.286/.315/.452, 2.3 VORP) and third baseman Alex Gordon (.232/.321/.358, -1.3 VORP). Closer Octavio Dotel (2-1, 3.50, 8 saves, -0.210 WRXL) could fetch a decent young player in a trade, but its doubtful the Royals would get much for left-hander Odalis Perez (4-8, 5.68, 0.7 SNLVAR), right-hander Scott Elarton (2-3, 9.17, -0.6 SNLVAR), outfielders Emil Brown (.227/.294/.314, -6.6 VORP) and Reggie Sanders (.367/.446/.612, 7.7 VORP in only 16 games), or DH Mike Sweeney (.245/.307/.407, 0.0 VORP).

AL West

The Los Angeles Angels (53-35) appeared on their way to lapping the field as they held an eight-game lead on June 24. However, the Seattle Mariners (49-36) have cut the division lead to 2 games and set up what could be an intriguing race in the second half.

The Angels have compiled the second-best record in the major leagues after the Red Sox despite right-handers Bartolo Colon (6-4, 6.44, 0.3 SNLVAR), Kelvim Escobar (10-3, 3.19, 3.5 SNLVAR), and Jered Weaver (6-5, 3.67, 2.0 SNLVAR), reliever Justin Speier, catcher Mike Napoli (.243/.340/.446, 10.4 VORP), second baseman Howie Kendrick (.297/.324/.431, 7.3 VORP), utilityman Chone Figgins (.304/.353/.388, 10.8 VORP), infielder Maicer Izturis (.255/.314/.349, -0-1 VORP), and left fielder Garret Anderson (.285/.286/.424, 1.2 VORP) all spending time on the DL. Outfielder Juan Rivera has yet to play this season after suffering a broken leg while playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, but he and Speier are expected to return soon, providing a boost to both the bullpen and lineup. General Manager Bill Stoneman has never been one to make a big trade at the deadline, and that isn't any more likely to happen this season. However, if youngsters like Kendrick, first baseman Casey Kotchman (.291/.365/.490, 17.3 VORP), and outfielder Reggie Willits (.312/.408/.368, 15.8 VORP) continue to contribute and the Angels stay healthy, reinforcements from outside the organization may not be necessary.

The Mariners are all-in in their pursuit of their of the division title, and believe they need one more starting pitcher to make a legitimate run. They are willing to trade right fielder Jose Guillen (.283/.354/.441, 15.2 VORP), especially with the emergence of top outfield prospect Adam Jones at Triple-A Tacoma. The future of center fielder Ichiro Suzuki (.359/.410/.459, 44.0 VORP) was riding on the Mariners being competitive this season; he seems satisfied, tentatively agreeing to a five-year contract extension earlier this week. That removes a big distraction as the Mariners try to make a pennant push few saw coming when the season began.

The Oakland Athletics (44-44) are noted for their strong second halves and they will need to finish up that way again, as they trail by nine games. The A's got right-hander Rich Harden (1-2, 2.45, 0.9 SNLVAR) back from the DL just before the break and will receive more help when closer Huston Street (2-1, 2.50, 9 saves, 0.874 WXRL) and DH Mike Piazza (.282/.339/.379, 1.6 VORP) return. Piazza will take at-bats away from catcher Jason Kendall (.227/.263/.280, -11.8 VORP) in the second half. The Athletics would love to trade Kendall, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, even though Pittsburgh is paying $5.5 million of his $13 million salary, and go with a combination of Mike Piazza and rookie Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. They also would be willing to deal first baseman Dan Johnson (.260/.369/.455, 11.9 VORP) for pitching help, as Daric Barton is waiting at Sacramento for a shot.

The Texas Rangers (38-50) have nothing left to play for but pride in the second half, and its seems likely that GM Jon Daniels will begin a needed makeover of the club by making Gagne (2-0, 1.32, 12 saves, 1.876 WRXL) and Otsuka (2-1, 2.51, four saves, 1.554 WXRL) available along with first baseman Mark Teixeira (.302/.405/.554, 24.2 VORP), itinerant center fielder Kenny Lofton (.301/.386/.431, 21.8 VORP), and reborn right fielder Sammy Sosa (.245/.296/.451, 3.0 VORP). Teixeira is the one player who could fetch a lot in return, especially since he has another year beyond this one before becoming eligible for free agency. The Rangers would love to get such reliever-needy clubs as Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, and Cleveland to get into a bidding war for Gagne and Otsuka. One in-house option who figures to get a look down the stretch is Triple-A Oklahoma's DH, Jason Botts.

NL East

The New York Mets' expected divisional romp after they won 33 of their first 50 games has not come to pass. Instead, the Mets (48-39) holds only a 2 -game lead over the Atlanta Braves (47-42), while the Philadelphia Phillies (44-44) are 4 games behind. The Mets will look to put together another spurt like they did at the start of the season. They seemed on the verge of breaking open the division race by winning three of four at Philadelphia in the next-to-last weekend before the All-Star break, but then had a 2-5 road trip to Colorado and Houston to end the first half. The Mets will spend the days leading up to the trading deadline looking to add a starting pitcher to an inconsistent rotation, though their top target (Buehrle) is off the market. Right-hander John Maine (10-4, 2.71, 4.3 SNLVAR) needs to produce a reasonable facsimile of his strong first half, and the Mets need left-hander Oliver Perez (7-6, 3.14, 2.6 SNLVAR) and right-hander Jorge Sosa (7-3, 3.92, 2.0 SNLVAR) to come off of the DL quickly.

The Braves are in excellent position to make a move coming out of the break, as they play sub-.500 clubs in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and San Francisco in their first four series. They would like to start the second half as they did the first half by winning seven of their first eight games. The Braves' starting pitching just isn't what it used to be, and they would love to upgrade the rotation, though they don't have much to offer in trade. Right-hander Tim Hudson (8-5, 3.54, 3.8 SNLVAR) is flashing his old Oakland form this season and the Braves need more of the same in the second half. The may need set-up reliever Rafael Soriano (2-1, 2.79, 5 saves, 2.964 WRXL) to step in as closer if Bob Wickman (1-2, 4.80, 16 saves, 0.017 WRXL) continues to falter. Some pop off the bench would also be a welcome addition.

The Phillies face a critical road trip right at the start of the second half, with three games in Los Angeles against the Dodgers then four at San Diego. Thus, by the time they get home to Philadelphia, they should have a good read on whether they are contenders or pretenders. They would love to deal enigmatic left fielder Pat Burrell (.215/.378/.408, 6.2 VORP) for some much-needed pitching help, but there's no market for him. They could possibly deal center fielder Aaron Rowand (.310/.385/.478, 26.3 VORP), who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and use rookie Michael Bourn (.256/.337/.329, 3.1 VORP) in his place; Bourn has been used more and more frequently to spell the underachieving Burrell in left.

The Florida Marlins (42-47) are on the periphery of the division at seven games back. Like the Phillies, we will find out quickly if the Marlins can contend-they open the second half with a 10-game homestand at Pro Player Stadium, where they have just a 17-25 record compared to 25-22 on the road. While much speculation continues to center on the Marlins dealing one of their two franchise players, left-hander Dontrelle Willis (7-7, 4.72, 1.1 SNLVAR) or third baseman Miguel Cabrera (.324/.393/.576, 39.5 VORP), don't look for that to happen until the offseason as neither is eligible for free agency until 2009. The Marlins will continue their two-year quest to find a regular center fielder, though rookie Fernando de Aza will get a long look if he recovers from the broken ankle that has limited him to nine games this season.

The Washington Nationals (36-52) won't challenge the 1962 New York Mets' 120 losses, though they were on pace after a 9-25 start. However, it will be tough for the Nationals to escape the cellar this season, especially if they trade Comeback Player of the Year candidate Dmitri Young (.339/.390/.512, 27.0 VORP) and closer Chad Cordero (1-2, 3.00, 15 saves, 1.192 WXRL). However, the Nationals could begin laying the foundation for the future in the season's finale weeks as prospects like left-hander John Lannan and Ross Detwiler and right-hander Colin Ballester all might make their major league debuts.

NL Central

The Milwaukee Brewers have been to the playoffs once since coming into existence as the Seattle Pilots in 1969, and that was 25 years ago in 1982. The longest drought among major league clubs beyond the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, whose last post-season appearance was in 1981. However, the Brewers (49-39) are poised to play into October this season as they hold a 4 -game lead over the Chicago Cubs (44-43) and a 7 -game lead over the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals (40-45). "We're not getting giddy, though," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "It's been an exciting year so far and a lot of our guys are experiencing winning for the first time. However, there's a long way to go and we can't lose sight of that." The Brewers aren't likely to make many changes in the second half (if any). The only things on their wish list might be that second baseman Rickie Weeks (.221/.328/.392, 3.6VORP) gets healthy after being bothered much of the season by a sore wrist that required surgery last year, and that they also get more consistency from right-hander Jeff Suppan (8-8, 5.00, 0.8 SNLVAR), their big offseason free agent pickup.

The Cubs have been changing on the fly in Lou Piniella's first year as manager; only first baseman Derrek Lee (.330/.411/.479, 24.3 VORP) and third baseman Aramis Ramirez (.312/.356/.556, 23.5 VORP) remain in the same positions from the Opening Day lineup. However, a 22-12 surge to end the first half have the Cubs on the upswing and there is now a belief in their clubhouse that they can continue that strong play in the second half. General Manager Jim Hendry's job could be on the line if the Cubs don't make the playoffs, so look for him to make a move, perhaps adding bullpen help, and possibly a right fielder with pop. If the Twins fall out of the race, don't be shocked if Hendry doesn't make a run at trading for Hunter.

The Cardinals remain on the fringe of the race, and will get a infusion of talent in the next few weeks when left-hander Mark Mulder and right-hander Chris Carpenter, shortstop David Eckstein (.313/.357/385, 9.1VORP), and center fielder Jim Edmonds (.238/.308/.394, 0.1 VORP) all come off of the Disabled List. Strong returns from Mulder and Carpenter would make a big difference. The Cardinals will still look for more pitching if they stay in the race. However, if they fall out of contention in the next few weeks, they will be open to the idea of dealing such potential free agents as Eckstein, right-hander Kip Wells (3-11, 5.92, -0.6 SNLVAR), right fielder Juan Encarnacion (.269/.301/.462, 4.0 VORP), and possibly closer Jason Isringhausen (I3-0, 1.53, 17 saves, 2.420 WXRL).

The Pittsburgh Pirates (40-48) are still on the outermost fringe of contention, trailing the Brewers by nine games, but don't appear to be serious contenders, though they would like to try to end their run of 14 straight losing seasons with a strong finish. General Manager Dave Littlefield will likely get the axe should the Pirates finish poorly, but says he doesn't anticipate many moves. However, right-hander Shawn Chacon (4-1, 3.59, 1 save, 2.029 WXRL) is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and could be moved. The Pirates may call up right-hander Bryan Bullington-he's pitched in only one major league game since being the first overall pick in the 2002 draft from Ball State, but has made a strong recovery after missing last season because of shoulder surgery.

The Houston Astros (39-50) have made second-half comebacks their specialty in recent years, using strong finishes to make the playoffs in 2004 and 2005, and then nearly overtaking the Cardinals in the final days of the 2006 season. However, it seems improbable that the Astros can get into contention this year. They have little help in their farm system, so there won't be an influx of players from Triple-A Round Rock. They may be wise to try to restock their farm system by trading such potentially attractive pieces as right-hander Jason Jennings (1-4, 4.07, 1.2 SNLVAR), Lidge (2-1, 2.34, 0.779 WRXL), and infielder Mark Loretta (.317/.394/.416, 14.7 VORP).

The Cincinnati Reds (36-52) were contenders until the penultimate day of the season in 2006, but there will be no pennant race excitement in Rhineland in 2007. Left fielder Adam Dunn (.258/.356/.549, 22.7 VORP) is at the top of the list of players the Reds are willing to move, a list that also includes closer David Weathers (1-3, 3.27, 17 saves, 1.482 WRXL), left-handed reliever Mike Stanton (1-2, 4.03, 0.788 WXRL) and first basemen Jeff Conine (.270/.327/.414, 3.0 VORP) and Scott Hatteburg (.318/.409/.493), 19.1 VORP). Center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. (.286/.390/.568, 30.8 VORP) could also go, but it would have to be the right deal as he has the right to veto any trade as a 10-and-5 player (10 seasons in the major leagues, and five with the same team).

National League West

This has been a three-team race all season, and it should continue to be one the rest of the way, as the San Diego Padres (49-38) lead the Los Angeles Dodgers (49-40) by one game, while the Arizona Diamondbacks (47-43) are just 3 games back. At 5 games back, the Colorado Rockies are angling to make it a four-team race, while the relevancy of the San Francisco Giants (38-48) ends pretty much as soon as Barry Bonds hits 756.

The Padres and Dodgers haven't been any further apart than three games out since Labor Day, 2006, and San Diego has done its best in recent weeks to add some distance by trading for catcher Michael Barrett (.262/.304/.414, 0.4 VORP) and outfielder Milton Bradley (.306/.386/.444, 1.3 VORP) to aid the offense in providing support to an outstanding pitching staff that includes All-Stars Jake Peavy (9-3, 2.19, 4.8 SNLVAR), Chris Young (8-3, 2.00, 4.0 SNLVAR) and Trevor Hoffman (2-3, 1.91, 25 saves, 2.578 WRXL). The Padres desperately want to add another big bat but their payroll is already maxed out. Thus, they will count on the best pitching staff in the major leagues to continue to dominate, hoping that it can add to the whopping 12 shutouts they threw in the first half.

The Dodgers would also like to upgrade their offense, though they are making internal moves. First baseman James Loney (.385/.442/.603, 11.9 VORP) will get a long look after moving into the starting lineup, causing the shift of Nomar Garciaparra (.276/.319/.334, -4.3 VORP) to third base last month while Matt Kemp (.357/.402/.500, 8.6 VORP) seems ready to push Andre Ethier (.282/.348/.435, 7.9 VORP) out of the starting right field job. To add the right pitcher, the Dodgers would consider dealing Ethier, infielder Wilson Betemit (.206/.344/.458, 4.8 VORP), or Triple-A Las Vegas third baseman Andy LaRoche. LaRoche's name may surprise some, but he has fallen behind Tony Abreu (.277/.320/.402, 1.9 VORP) on the organizational depth chart. There should also be concern about All-Star catcher Russell Martin (.306/.374/.492, 32.1 VORP) wearing down in the second half, as he has started 80 of 89 games so far this season.

The Diamondbacks brought left-hander Randy Johnson (4-3, 3.81, 1.3 SNLVAR) back to the desert in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees and looked at him as the final piece to a potential contender. While the Diamondbacks are indeed contending, they may have to have their second-half run without Johnson, who is feeling pain in his back that was surgically repaired over the winter. The Snakes may never see classic vintage Johnson again, but they will have a hard time staying in the race if he doesn't regain at least some of his old form. All things being equal, the Diamondbacks would like to stand pat, but they have an excess of corner infielders in first basemen Tony Clark (.211/.267/.450, -1.3 VORP) and Conor Jackson (.266/.366/.399, 5.1 VORP) and third basemen Mark Reynolds (.272/.337/.517, 8.2 VORP) and Chad Tracy (.263/.343/.462, 7.4 VORP) and may need to move one to acquire a replacement for Johnson or a frontline set-up reliever to use in front of closer Jose Valverde (0-3, 2.83, 26 saves, 1.961 WRXL).

The Rockies have a challenge coming right out of the chute in the second half as they go on a 10-game road trip to Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. Though they feel they are legitimate contenders, the Rockies figure to have much better idea after that road trip. If the Rockies are ready to pack it in, then they have two interesting players that they would consider dealing at the deadline in left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes (0-4, 4.06, 20 saves, -0.859 WXRL) and third baseman Garrett Atkins (.259/.331/.445, 7.9 VORP). If Atkins is dealt then the time will have come for touted prospect Ian Stewart, playing at Triple-A Colorado Springs, to take over at the hot corner.

Bonds' historic blast that will move him past Hank Aaron and into the all-time home run lead will be the last hurrah for an aging roster. GM Brian Sabean's job is said to be in danger after years of building contending teams in San Francisco. The Giants will be sellers for one of the few times in many years. While they won't trade an icon like Bonds (.295/.512/.589, 41.6 VORP), they will be willing to move most of the other veterans. One who could be particularly attractive is right-hander Matt Morris (7-5, 3.55, 2.5 SNLVAR).

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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