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Wild-card races blur line between buyers and sellers

The trading deadline comes up Tuesday and I'm wondering if we're going to see the flurry of deals you might ordinarily have at this time of year. It's going to be no surprise if Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira gets dealt but other teams are still trying to decide if they're a buyer or a seller and if a new part is really better than what they already have, especially if the price to get it is a prime prospect.

When we started the weekend, there were 13 teams within 7 1/2 games of the wild-card and that's far from an insurmountable deficit heading into August. It leaves teams like the Blue Jays, Twins, Cardinals and Marlins wondering if they really have a chance and should make a deal to boost their team, rather than stage a sell-off.

Do the Jays keep Troy Glaus? Do the Marlins keep Dontrelle Willis? Hard to say. I still wish the trade deadline was perhaps another couple of weeks back (Aug. 15?). It would be easier for teams to tell where they stand.

The Padres, for instance, put their clubhouse in an uproar Wednesday when they dealt setup man Scott Linebrink to the Brewers for three prospects. Sure, Linebrink is headed into free agency but why not keep him and go for a World Series this year? It seemed like management had a different idea.

"Incomprehensible," closer Trevor Hoffman told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Four other teams in the National League West are awfully excited. I probably need to take a day before I say something about this because I'm going to say something stupid."

"You have to trust your front office when you are in the middle of a playoff run," said ace Jake Peavy. "But, man, to trade away your setup man . . . what kind of a message are we sending here?"

Here's a quick look at what some teams might be up to as the deadline approaches:

*Yankees -- Star pitching prospects Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy have been deemed untouchables and Chamberlain is expected to come up from Scranton any day to be a late-inning reliever. That likely means either Scott Proctor or Kyle Farnsworth is going. Tampa Bay utility man Ty Wiggington is also on Brian Cashman's radar. He'd certainly love to get Teixeira, but isn't parting with the pitching to do it.

*Indians -- In addition to getting Kenny Lofton on Friday, the Tribe would love a relief pitcher. But the price for Kansas City's Octavio Dotel is likely to be Ben Francisco. Houston's Dan Wheeler or Washington's Chad Cordero could be other options. There had been no real thought of another starting pitcher but do the Indians look outside in the wake of the Cliff Lee/Jake Westbrook meltdown?

*White Sox -- 2005 World Series MVP Jermaine Dye and pitchers Jon Garland and Jose Contreras could all go and the Angels are trying to see if first baseman Paul Konerko might waive his no-trade clause for a deal to Anaheim. The Halos might settle for Dye if the answer is no.

*Red Sox -- They're in the Teixeira running but also looking at Dye and Wiggington.

*Tigers -- They need bullpen help and might be interested in getting Farnsworth back from the Yankees, where he's landed in Joe Torre's doghouse for griping about being pulled from games. Texas' Akinori Otsuka or Tampa's Al Reyes could also be targets.

*Rangers -- The Braves, Dodgers and Angels are all in the lead for Teixeira. Atlanta, however, seems ready to deal switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia because they already have an all-star behind the plate in Brian McCann.

*Astros -- Relievers Wheeler and Brad Lidge could be on the market, with Wheeler bringing more interest because it seems Lidge has never recovered from Albert Pujols' home run in the 2005 NLCS and Scott Podsednik's walkoff shot a few days later in the World Series.

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Lowdown on Laffey

Aaron Laffey was in big-league spring training but started the year in Double-A. After arriving in Buffalo, he was 0-3 and gave up 10 runs in one May start against Indianapolis. Now he's won seven straight and is on the verge of a call-up to Cleveland. What's been the key?

Several scouts last week in Dunn Tire Park said Laffey throws a "heavy" ball, a sinker and a fastball that dip and cause batters to pound the ball into the ground. He's found consistency with his delivery in Buffalo and the results have been startling, with the winning streak one shy of the Herd franchise record.

"My sinker away has really become a dominant pitch for me, getting guys to roll over it and hit the ball on the ground," he said. "Other teams think the fastball is a cutter but I just throw a four-seamer with a little cut on it. I've been able to hammer and pound guys in, and then to be able to go away is a really good combo for me.

"I've always kind of had a heavy ball. Being able to get it on guys' hands just by naturally letting it cut has really helped me."

Indians manager Eric Wedge said Laffey's 7-0 June automatically put him on the big-league team's radar, with the struggles of Lee and Westbrook forcing the Tribe to ponder alternatives. Lee was sent to the Bisons on Friday.

"Being at big-league spring training, they knew what type of arsenal I have so it's great to hear," Laffey said. "To put it together and have the year I'm having is a good feeling."

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Coaches need helmets

There's shock all over baseball about last Sunday's death of Double-A Tulsa hitting coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was struck in the neck by a line drive while coaching first base during a game at Arkansas.

"It made me sick to my stomach hearing it," said Wedge, who got smoked on the ankle by Chris Coste while coaching at third and suffered a hairline fracture while managing the Bisons in 2002.

Rockies first base coach Glenallen Hill said he was donning a helmet but coaches are simply vulnerable. At first base, you're often watching the pitcher for a pickoff move rather than a batter. At third base, you're down the line closer to the plate if there's a runner on second.

Yankees manager Joe Torre said helmets should be mandatory for base coaches.

"I don't think there's any question," he said. "A lot of times coaches scare you, because some of them won't even watch the hitter, because they're trying to help the runner. So I don't think that's a bad idea."

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Around the horn

*I don't think you should get all riled up about the Yankees' "comeback" into playoff contention. The Yankees are in the midst of 26 straight games against sub-.500 teams until they hit Toronto on Aug. 6. And that number could hit 29 if the Jays are below .500 when the Yankees get to Rogers Centre.

August is going to be much tougher for New York -- seven games against the Tigers and three apiece against the Red Sox, Indians and Angels.

*The Indians' attendance problems in Jacobs Field were painfully obvious last week as Red Sox fans were often louder than Tribe supporters.

"It bothers me," said C.C. Sabathia. "It's a little embarrassing. There are such great fans in this city. I was here when we sold this place out. But when you hear cheers of 'Youk, Youk, Youk' when [Boston first baseman Kevin] Youkilis comes to the plate, that's not Cleveland."

*Does anyone want to win the NL Central? And no matter who does, are the Brewers or Cubs really a danger to do much damage come October?

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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