During the course of the season general managers are constantly evaluating their team. They watch each game with a keen eye and open mind.
They look for ways to upgrade the team through improved performance of the players on the roster. They focus on individual players -- what players are doing right and what the areas of weakness are for players who are struggling. Because the general manager and his staff sit in a suite to watch the game, it gives them a different perspective than the manager and coaching staff who watch from field level. The distance can provide a broader view of the individual contributions to the overall whole. The GM and his staff try to identify solutions so they can discuss them with the coaching staff.
In addition to individual player evaluations, the front office also evaluates the team as a unit on a regular basis. Where are we strong? Where are we weak? Where can we make improvements? Where do we have depth, and where are we a bit thin?
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As they evaluate the team as a whole they want to identify areas where they can improve the team from within -- players returning from the disabled list, minor-league players who could be recalled, individual player improvements, etc.
Once the front office identifies internal solutions, they then have to consider external solutions to solve problem areas as well. Effectively, the same evaluation above that a GM does for his own team, he performs for every other team. That exercise includes reviewing the depth charts, stats and farm systems for each club.
The end result is a determination of a list of three distinct types of teams: buyers (contenders), sellers (non-contenders) and holds (teams that are not really in the race but are not really out of it either).
Let's take a look at the current state of Major League Baseball to determine which teams fit into which categories:
|Buyers||Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Twins, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, Rockies|
|Sellers||Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Indians, Mariners, Nationals, Cubs, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays|
Once clubs are classified in one category or another their needs and surpluses are identified. A list of potential available players is drawn up from the sellers, while a list of weaknesses are identified from the contenders. These considerations allow a GM to see where the possible matches might be among potential trading partners.
From the sellers list above, here are the players who could be available:
|Kevin Millwood (SP)||Mark Buehrle (SP)||Jose Guillen (OF/DH)|
|Jeremy Guthrie (SP)||Paul Konerko (1B)||David Dejesus (OF)|
|Ty Wigginton (IF)||Bobby Jenks (CL)|
|Miguel Tejada (3B)||Juan Pierre (OF)|
|Will Ohman (LHRP)|
|Austin Kearns (OF)||Cliff Lee (SP)||Livan Hernandez (SP)|
|Jake Westbrook (SP)||Ivan Rodriguez (C)|
|Fausto Carmona (SP)||Josh Willingham (OF)|
|Xavier Nady (OF)||Prince Fielder (1B)||Roy Oswalt (SP)|
|Carlos Silva (SP)||Craig Counsell (IF)||Lance Berkman (1B)|
|Carlos Zambrano (SP)||Brett Myers (SP)|
|Kosuke Fukudome (OF)||Brandon Lyon (RHRP)|
|Octavio Dotel (CP)||Adam LaRoche (1B)||Vernon Wells (OF)|
|Aaron Heilman (RHRP)||Jose Bautista (OF)|
|Alex Gonzalez (SS)|
|Scott Downs (LHRP)|
Contenders that are looking for starting pitchers are as follows: the Twins. Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Phillies, Reds, Dodgers and Rockies. Teams that are looking for bullpen help: the Rays, Twins, Rangers, Angels, Mets, Phillies, Reds, Cards, Giants, Dodgers and Rockies. The reality is that most contenders would like to fortify their bullpen even if it is a strength. Plus, it is the the area that a club can improve for the least cost in either dollars or prospects.
Clubs looking for offense: the Angels, Tigers, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Cards, Padres, Giants.
This is a fluid process. It will change from week to week. Players will get hot or cold. Injuries will change the needs and surpluses of teams and, as a consequence, their status as a buyer or seller. It is imperative for a general manager and his staff to continuously evaluate other clubs just as they do their own.
It is this time of year that the GM's best evaluators, pro scouts and special assistants, are assigned to evaluate other club's players so that when it comes time to pull the trigger on a deal they can do so without reservation. The trade deadline is one of the best times of the year to see how well each organization can function.
The AL East and wild card will be made up of two of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. The NL West is going to be a four-team race, while the NL wild card looks to be at least a six-team race. Some of the playoff spots this year will likely be won by the team making the most impactful deals over the next several weeks.
What this means is that it won't be a star player or pitcher determining the postseason berths.
It will be a GM.