If life was one big fantasy baseball league, the Mets would have no trouble getting their price for Carlos Beltran.
He's the biggest difference-maker in the deadline bat market: He's highly motivated. (Guess why?) And he's officially en fuego (.339, with a .481 on-base percentage and 1.125 OPS in July).
But unfortunately for the Mets, they don't operate in a world ruled by Matthew Berry and Eric Karabell. They operate in a very real world, in which teams look at Beltran and see all the reasons they SHOULDN'T overpay for him.
So here they sit, with five days left before the trading deadline, and it's looking increasingly likely that they won't be coming away with an A-plus prospect for America's most talked about rent-a-player.
They asked Philadelphia for Domonic Brown or their top pitching prospect, Jarred Cosart. The response, essentially, was, "In your dreams."
They asked the Giants for Zack Wheeler, the best pitcher in their system, or Gary Brown, their most highly rated outfield prospect. "Not happening," the Giants told them.
And that's how it's gone -- with those three teams, with Texas, Boston and everyone else that has checked in. The Mets still think they're auctioning this guy off at Christie's. But next thing they know, they'll be placing him on eBay.
"Here's their problem," said an official of one team. "They've got a guy who's just a rental. You can't sign him [because he's a Scott Boras client]. And even if they eat the money [about $6 million left this year], you get no draft picks if you lose him. So what do they expect?"
#15 Right Fielder
New York Mets
Well, from all accounts, the Mets still expect somebody to blink at some point between now and the weekend. The one thing they have going for them is that the Giants, Braves and Phillies are the three teams in the National League that have separated themselves from the pack, they're all in this market, and they're all wheeling their shopping carts down the same aisle, looking for the same thing.
So it's possible, we suppose, that one of those clubs will do something it doesn't want to do in the next few days, just to keep Beltran from getting to another team it could meet up with in October.
But we're hearing mounting talk that that's not likely. And we're not the only ones. Two of the most dialed-in baseball reporters alive, the New York Post's Joel Sherman and Newsday's Ken Davidoff, are now singing the same tune.
So it's possible, perhaps, that the Mets could turn back toward a team like San Francisco, which has indicated a willingness to take Beltran's contract if it doesn't have to give up a high-end prospect. And the Mets' brass would begin gushing about all the great stuff they can do with the 6 million bucks they just dumped.
But if that's what they wind up doing, you'll have to recognize it for exactly what it is:
This is a team that has told everybody it's talked to that this deal isn't about the money, that the bidder that offers the best player or players is going to be the club that gets Beltran.
So you really think, after all these weeks and months of buildup, that Mets fans are going to want to hear: "Hey, look at all the money we just saved on our car insurance"?
"They're under enormous pressure to get the best return they can get," said an executive of one club that has spoken with the Mets. "Everybody knows that. They've got to be able to tell their fans, 'Look what we got back for Carlos Beltran, even though everyone knew we had to trade him.' I don't think those people care what they're going to do with that money in the draft or Latin America."
Right. And why should they? So the Mets are digging in for five intense days of waiting and hoping that someone says, "Uncle." For this team, this isn't just another deadline-week staredown. This is one poker game the Mets have to win.
The Rays: Our friends at coolstandings.com now estimate the odds of the Rays making the playoffs at 4.0 percent. Just for perspective's sake, that's even lower than the Mets (6.0). So increasingly, it looks as if the Rays could be doing some selling in the next few days, of players like Johnny Damon. But whether they decide to buy, sell or just keep on keeping on, there are two players that decision doesn't seem likely to affect:
Did the Rays do some listening on Shields last week? Other clubs report they did. But those same clubs now say that after getting a sense of what was out there and reflecting on Shields' true worth, the Rays have basically taken him off the market -- and not just for July.
Those clubs say they were given the impression the Rays probably won't even revisit those talks next winter, because, while they have lots of young pitching coming, they don't have the ability to replace an inning-devouring No. 1 or 2 starter on the trade or free-agent market. So you might hear some rumors surrounding, say, Jeff Niemann over the next few days and months. But Shields almost certainly isn't going anywhere.
Upton, on the other hand? At this point, it might be a bigger surprise if he DOESN'T get traded.
He's making close to $5 million now, and he's arbitration-eligible next year. So he's about to get too expensive for a team with a $41 million payroll -- and a ready-to-roll replacement in Desmond Jennings.
So unlike Shields, the Rays appear to look at Upton as a player they can deal, not significantly hurt their chances to compete in the short term and spin him into pieces that can help them over the long haul. But other clubs report they continue to insist they don't have to trade him, and they won't unless some team makes it worth their while.
The Nationals continue to hover. But there are indications they've balked at dealing two pitchers the Rays are believed to have asked about: Ross Detwiler and the much-coveted Brad Peacock. So other clubs now say the team to watch is the Giants.
"I know the Giants have moved in," one exec said Tuesday morning. "They're doing work on him as we speak."
The Cubs: For only the fourth time in the past 40 not-so-glorious years, the Cubs piled up 60 losses in their first 100 games. So you don't need to be a descendant of Ernie Banks to know they're sellers this week. But it now appears possible they might not be able to sell off anybody but Kosuke Fukudome -- not this week, anyway.
Aramis Ramirez? Won't approve a deal. Ryan Dempster? Same scenario. Carlos Zambrano? Ditto. Kerry Wood? One exec says he was told Wood is only getting traded if he goes to GM Jim Hendry and asks out, and that's almost certainly not happening. Alfonso Soriano? Still has $60 million coming through 2014, so good luck on that.
Bullpen arms? They'd prefer to keep them all, with the possible exception of John Grabow. Reed Johnson? They're listening, but this guy makes $900,000 and wouldn't figure to bring them much back. So what's the point of moving him?
Carlos Pena? One exec who spoke with the Cubs says the level of interest in him has been exaggerated -- and he's a guy they believe they can get through waivers and trade in August, when there's a lot less money left on his $10 million contract.
So who's left? Fukudome. That's who. It's the last year of his contract, and he isn't expected back. The Cubs would like to deal at least one outfielder, to clear roster space for Brett Jackson and/or the return of Tyler Colvin. And they've had several hits on Fukudome (who does have a limited no-trade clause) as a bat off the bench who at least has good at-bats (.374 OBP). So he's likely to move this week. As for the rest of this crew? Uh, not so much.
The Rangers might win our Most Likely to Make a Big Deal award. They're still working hard on both Beltran and Heath Bell. And clubs that have spoken with them say that while they're balking at trading left-hander Martin Perez, the No. 10 prospect (and No. 4 pitching prospect) on Keith Law's midseason top-prospect list, they WILL talk about their next group down. That means arms like Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Erlin, Roman Mendez and Barret Loux could all be available in the right trade. Stay tuned. One longtime friend of Drayton McLane says he thinks McLane's final act as the Astros' owner will be to convince GM Ed Wade not to trade one of his favorite players, Hunter Pence, on McLane's watch. Aaron Harang's name has shown up quite a bit in Rumor Central, but the Padres have been telling teams they're more inclined to re-sign him than trade him. The Rockies are still listening on Ubaldo Jimenez, with teams like the Reds, Red Sox and Rangers still poking around. But the price hasn't dropped one iota (three sure-thing young players, including one pitcher who goes into their rotation immediately). So an exec of one team that spoke with them estimates that the odds Ubaldo gets traded are no better than 25 percent. Another reason for teams' reluctance to overpay for Beltran: "He's playing great, but he's doing it on one leg," said one scout who went in to watch him. "You can see he's still limping. It's amazing he's playing as well as he is on one leg."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst