The Milwaukee Brewers, who have yet to have a winning or losing streak of more than four games, might be one good week from getting into serious contention.
They also might be a bad week or two from becoming an active seller before the July 31 non-waiver deadline – and ace right-hander Zack Greinke would not be their only attractive chip.
Two other potential free agents - right-hander Shaun Marcum and right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez – also could appeal to contenders. So might backup catcher George Kottaras.
The Brewers – 6½ games back in the NL Central, 5½ games back in the wild-card race – are in a tricky spot. They again could reach 3 million in attendance, and some ticket buyers might be upset if they concede.
On the other hand, the Brewers have depleted their farm system to stay competitive in recent seasons, acquiring left-hander CC Sabathia in 2008 and Greinke after the 2010 season.
The best thing for the franchise long-term might be to make a series of trades, with Greinke being the biggest prize.
Some large-market teams might shy away from Greinke, who has battled depression and social anxiety disorder. Others might balk at the Brewers’ asking price, knowing that under the new labor agreement, they no longer can collect draft picks if Greinke leaves as a free agent the end of the season.
Well, all it would take is one club to decide that Greinke is the missing piece. And the Giants last season traded prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for outfielder Carlos Beltran knowing that Beltran’s contract prevented them from offering him salary arbitration – and collecting draft picks.
Marcum, currently on the disabled list with elbow tightness, would need to demonstrate that he is healthy before generating trade interest. But if he did, teams could be tempted by Marcum’s 2.39 road ERA since the start of 2011, second only to C.J. Wilson in the majors.
Rodriguez isn’t what he once was, but he struck out the White Sox’s Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn to escape a second-and-third jam in the eighth inning of a scoreless game on Sunday. His velocity has increased from 90.3 mph last season to 91.6 this season, though his strikeout rate has declined slightly.
Kottaras, a left-handed hitter who has an .865 OPS in 95 plate appearances, could be expendable once Jonathan Lucroy returns from a fractured right hand, with Martin Maldonado remaining the backup catcher.
Lucroy is expected back after the All-Star break. The Rays are among the teams in need of catching help.