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Trade talk heating up entering July

Has Ricky Nolasco made his last start as a member of the Marlins?
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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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Welcome to July, when the setting of baseball’s midseason trade market flips from “posturing” to “deal-making.”

Apart from the fringe contenders who likely will delay their buy/sell decisions — namely, the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals — most of the movable pieces are in play now. The industry is waiting on the first major trade to establish the market. Then others will follow.

With the possibility that deals could be announced within the next several days, here are a number of storylines to follow this week.

Has Ricky Nolasco already pitched his last game for the Miami Marlins?

Nolasco, a free agent after this season, is one of the most obvious trade candidates in baseball: The rebuilding Marlins are in last place and would rather acquire prospects than spend big dollars to keep the right-hander on a multiyear contract.

The drama now is whether Nolasco will make his next start for the Marlins — or another team. After an inconsistent June, Nolasco allowed two earned runs over seven innings Thursday in Atlanta for his fifth victory of the season. The outing may have made Nolasco more appealing to other clubs, to the point that the Marlins would be more likely to receive an acceptable offer.

The Dodgers, Giants, Rockies and Rangers are among the teams with varying levels of interest in Nolasco.

STARTING POINT

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Will the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox finally make a trade with one another?

The fit is obvious: The Tigers need late-inning relievers. The White Sox have Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Matt Lindstrom and Addison Reed.

So why haven’t they reached a deal? Well, both teams reside in the American League Central. And there’s the old baseball axiom about not trading within one’s own division.

The Tigers have shown little regard for that adage, dealing with Cleveland (Jhonny Peralta), Minnesota (Delmon Young) and Kansas City (Wilson Betemit) within the last two years. But not with Chicago.

Ken Williams, Chicago's executive vice president, was involved in the most recent Tigers-White Sox deal . . . as a player. According to research by STATS LLC, the last trade between the teams was March 23, 1989, when the Tigers acquired Williams for right-hander Eric King. Williams remained with the Tigers as a reserve outfielder for the next season and a half.

“Interesting,” Williams told FOXSports.com when informed of the historical note. “It hasn’t been for lack of trying or fear on either part. It’s just one of those things. We can fix that though if you want to mediate a deal.”

Williams went on to suggest that he’d be willing to take one of the Tigers’ top prospects “for two players of our choosing.”

“We will consider that making good on the Tigers’ steal in ’89,” he quipped.

With A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez still on the disabled list, will the Pittsburgh Pirates intensify their search for a starting pitcher?

The baseball news in Pittsburgh hasn’t been this optimistic in a generation. The Pirates have the best record in baseball and are more games above .500 than at any point since the end of the 1992 season, according to STATS LLC.

Yet, pitching concerns remain. It’s not clear when Burnett and Rodriguez will be ready to pitch again, although reports say Burnett could return as early as Sunday. Rodriguez’s status seems particularly alarming, after he experienced left forearm tightness when throwing on flat ground last Friday, according to MLB.com.

The emergence of Jeff Locke and arrival of prospect Gerrit Cole have masked the absences of Burnett and Rodriguez so far. But it remains to be seen how Locke and Cole would handle pennant-race pressure in September. It may be wise for general manager Neal Huntington to check into Nolasco, fellow rental Matt Garza or longer-term option Bud Norris.

Are the Royals about to move into “sell” mode?

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The Royals began the week with a 2.8 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Baseball Prospectus. The initial surge that followed George Brett’s return as hitting coach has faded. Reality is setting in.

Fortunately, the schedule-makers could make the buy/sell call a clear one for general manager Dayton Moore. The Royals finish the first half with three series against contenders: the A’s, Yankees and Indians. If they can’t reach .500 by the All-Star break, it may be time for Moore to make his veterans available.

One name to watch: Ervin Santana. He will become a free agent after this season and is 5-5 with a career-best 2.84 ERA. In a thin market for starting pitching, he would instantly become one of the top arms.

Will teams — and fans — remember the lesson of 2012?

At this time last year, we were focused on whether the Milwaukee Brewers would trade Zack Greinke. They did, to the Los Angeles Angels. Then the Angels missed the playoffs.

The most significant deadline move received very little attention at the time: The Colorado Rockies dealt infielder Marco Scutaro to San Francisco for infield prospect Charlie Culberson. Scutaro batted .362 for the Giants over the remainder of the season, stabilized the No. 2 spot that belonged to the suspended Melky Cabrera, and won NLCS MVP honors en route to the Giants’ world title.

Remember that if you have the urge to dismiss any deadline deal as “too small.” Scutaro may be (generously) listed at 5-foot-10, but he stood taller than anyone who changed teams in July 2012.

Tagged: White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Cubs, Pirates, Giants, Marlins, A.J. Burnett, Marco Scutaro, Matt Thornton, Wandy Rodriguez, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, Matt Lindstrom, Rockies

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