Beyond that, the market for starting pitching is thin, filled mainly with back-of-the-rotation journeymen such as Washington Nationals right-hander Jason Marquis – one of several veterans (along with Livan Hernandez, Todd Coffey, Sean Burnett, Laynce Nix and Ivan Rodriguez) the Nationals could deal away this month.
The most ubiquitous currency in this market is relief pitching – which every contender seems to need, and every non-contender seems to have. The top reliever on the market is San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell, with the Phillies, Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds in hot pursuit.
But partly because of Beltran’s resurgence and eminent availability, and partly because so many contenders have the same need, this year’s trade market is defined by outfielders. And because there is only one Beltran, and a half-dozen or more contenders who need him, a handful of other trade-bait outfielders has emerged.
In one group is a handful of younger, more controllable (baseball-speak for “further from free agency”) semi-stars, including center fielders B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays, Colby Rasmus of the St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota’s Denard Span and the Houston Astros’ Michael Bourn. While none would affect a pennant race as decidedly as Beltran, the Nationals, who need a long-term solution in center field and leadoff, could be among the most aggressive buyers.
In another group is a handful of veteran rent-a-bats, such as Oakland’s Josh Willingham, Kansas City's Jeff Francouer and Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer, who could wind up in platoons for contending teams down the stretch.
But the biggest game-changer in this market remains Beltran. Seven years ago, the Astros snagged him in a trade from Kansas City and watched as he led them to the playoffs and as far as a Game 7 in the NL Championship Series. A year later, he helped the Astros to the World Series.
Beltran is no longer in his prime, and he may never repeat his 2004 postseason, when he hit eight homers in 12 games for the Astros. But he’s the biggest difference-maker out there, and he will almost certainly be making a difference somewhere other than Queens in less than a week.