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MLB trade deadline primer: National League

The July 31 trade deadline can be a confusing time. Wondering who is looking to buy? Who is looking to sell? We have you covered. Let's run down each team's position in the market division by division.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

NL East

Braves: Buy

Needs: Left-handed relief

The Braves have the most comfortable division lead of any team in the game right now and they could easily stand pat as a result. They are looking to upgrade their bullpen, however, and Mark Bowman of reports they are targeting several lefties, including James Russell of the Cubs, Mike Gonzalez of the Brewers and Wesley Wright of the Astros.

Phillies: Hold

The Phillies have gone 10-4 in July to pass the Nationals, but they sit 6.5 games behind the Braves and 5.5 games out of the wild card, making their position one of the more difficult ones in the game right now. Prior to their recent hot streak, players like Cliff Lee, Michael Young, Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon offered competitors some of the best opportunities to upgrade, but a recent report from Marc Narducci has Phillies ownership shunning a sell-off at this point. That could change if the team falls back again in the next ten days, of course.

For the Phillies, the hope that they could qualify for the playoffs this season might be too good to pass up. The core that helped them dominate the NL East from 2007- 2011 is largely gone and the remaining players are showing serious signs of decline. However, if they miss out this season, not adding young talent to their already-thin system is only going exacerbate that problem.

Nationals: Buy/Hold

Needs: Starting pitching

The Nationals have been one the teams continuously popping up in the Matt Garza trade rumors, despite having the fifth best starter ERA in the National League. The trio of Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez has been excellent and Ross Detwiler has given them a solid back-of-the-rotation starter (though a lower back strain may keep him from doing so going forward), but Dan Haren has been a complete disaster.

Their offense has actually been a much bigger issue this season, but they are betting on the addition of Scott Hairston and the healthy return of Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos to fix that. Top prospect Anthony Rendon is already providing a major upgrade at second base as well. Given the injury to Detwiler and the strength of the top of the rotation, the Nationals are a good bet to add a pitcher, but they do not appear to be contenders for a top arm like Garza. Yet.

Mets: Sell/Hold

Movable assets: Marlon Byrd (CF), Bobby Parnell (RP)

Much like the Mariners, the Mets have gotten some encouraging performances from young players this year, beginning with NL All-Star game starter Matt Harvey. However, they do not seem too eager to deal veteran players like Marlon Byrd and expendable assets like Bobby Parnell at this point.

The Mets have a lack of quality position player prospects in their system and the deadline could be an opportunity to do something about that, but they also have to consider the suffering of their fan base and the effect that dealing away the few bright spots on the roster might have.

While Byrd might bring in something of value, he isn’t going to net them a player of the caliber that Carlos Betran did. Even if the Mets were aggressive in shopping their expendable players, the returns would likely be minimal.

Marlins: Sell

Movable Assets: Placido Polanco (2B/3B) Greg Dobbs (1B) Justin Ruggiano (LF).

Ryan Webb (RP) Chad Qualls (RP)

The Marlins love to sell and they have no reason not to sell here in July. They have already played their biggest chip, however, sending Ricky Nolasco to the Dodgers -- and Giancarlo Stanton is almost certainly not going anywhere. Instead of fan base-destroying blockbusters, the Marlins will have to content themselves with moving some of the lesser parts of their makeshift roster.

Polanco could be valuable bench piece for a contender thanks to his strong glove and contact abilities. Ruggiano has a decent glove as well and would be a solid platoon player to be employed against lefties.

NL Central

Cardinals: Hold/Buy

Needs: Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching

The Cardinals are once again at the top of the NL Central and they have made it there without adding any significant pieces over the winter. They appear to be more motivated to make deals now, however, but GM John Mozeliak is unimpressed with the market so far. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes him, "To me, to sit here today and say what we might try to add just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not a great market to be shopping in for our particular needs."

The GM's dissatisfaction with the trade market hasn’t stopped the Cardinals from looking into inquiring on Matt Garza and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets that they were scouting Jake Peavy on Saturday. Baseball America ranks the Cardinals farm system as the best in baseball, so they have the ability to swing just about any deal, but at this point, it doesn’t seem like Mozeliak will buy big this summer.

Pirates: Buy

Needs: Right-field, shortstop

The Pirates are targeting offense as Chris Cotillo pointed out Friday with outfielders like Alex Rios and Hunter Pence drawing the bulk of their attention. They could also move on White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. After twenty seasons as also-rans the Pirates are just two games back in the division and in the lead in the Wild Card.

They are finally giving fans a reason to be excited and they are going to make the most of it. They have given every indication that they will be aggressive buyers heading into the deadline and it would be surprising if they don’t make at least one significant upgrade.

Reds: Buy

Needs: Relief Pitching, Right-handed bats

The Reds are third in the NL Central, four games behind the Cardinals but at 55-42, but they would earn the second wild-card spot if the season ended today. Their starting pitching has been excellent even with Johnny Cueto on the DL. Aroldis Chapman is a strikeout machine in the closer’s role, but they could use more support around him in the bullpen with lefty Sean Marshall on the DL.

They are also in need of right-handed hitting to the point where they even considered Jeff Francoeur briefly. Ryan Ludwick may return to fill that need, but they have also inquired on Michael Young and could look to someone like Justin Ruggiano or Cody Ransom at some point before the 31st.

Cubs: Sell

Movable Assets: Cody Ransom (3B) David DeJesus (CF/RF), Matt Garza (SP), Carlos Villanueva (SP/RP), James Russell (RP)

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were charged with the unenviable task of rebuilding the Cubs with little talent in the farm system and a Major League team stocked with overpaid underachievers. One of their chief strategies in their rebuilding plan has been exploiting the desperation of contenders at the deadline.

Last season they did well with a trade that sent Ryan Dempster to Texas and netted the Cubs two solid prospects. They have already moved Scott Feldman, who may have been signed with that purpose in mind, and they have the biggest chip on market in Matt Garza. Given the amount of work the team needs and the presence of other movable players like Villanueva, Dejesus and Ransom, they may not stop there.

Brewers: Sell

Assets: Yovani Gallardo (SP), John Axford (RP) Francisco Rodriguez (RP), Mike Gonzalez (RP), Jim Henderson (RP)

Like the Cubs, the Brewers have one the top starters on the market and a number of other expendable assets to exploit. Their major league roster has a good deal of talent on the offensive side, but the team’s starting pitching is a major issue after Kyle Lohse. In the National League, only the Padres starters have posted a worse ERA than the Brewers.

The farm system, which Baseball America ranked 23rd in the game, has few potential upgrades to offer in the near future. The Brewers need to get as much as they can in return for Galladro and their veteran relievers if they want to get back to competitiveness, so they appear likely to move several players before the deadline arrives.

NL West

Diamondbacks: Buy

Needs: Starting Pitching, third base, left field

The Diamondbacks have been early to the table for players like Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo but they are not pursuing Jake Peavy according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. With the fifth worst starter ERA in the National League and starters Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill currently on the DL, the need is obvious, but it isn’t the only issue for the Diamondbacks. Arizona is only three games over .500 and they lead a very tight NL West race by just a half game over the Dodgers.

They are fifth in the league in runs scored, but just tenth in OPS and 13th in weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) which accounts for the impact of their high-offensive environment at home. With McCarthy and Cahill nearing rehab assignments, top prospect Tyler Skaggs recently called up and prospect Archie Bradley pitching well at Double-A, the Diamondbacks may be able to solve their pitching issues internally and may not be willing to overpay for help there.

On offense, the major issue has been the under-performance of veterans like Martin Prado, Jason Kubel and Cody Ross, making it difficult to upgrade without also moving someone.

Dodgers: Buy

Needs: Starting pitching, relief pitching

The Dodgers got one upgrade already, landing Ricky Nolasco from the Marlins to solidify their rotation, but they were still in on Matt Garza as recently as Thursday, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

The new Dodgers ownership has been quick to throw money at any problem they see, so pricey White Sox starter Jake Peavy may also land on their radar, but relief pitching is actually a bigger need for the team at this point.

They have the fourth-worst reliever ERA in the National League despite strong results from Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, and Ronald Belisario. Adding a lefty to take some of the pressure off Howell makes sense for L.A.

Rockies: Hold

Even at three games below .500 the Rockies are within striking distance of the NL West title, trailing the Diamondbacks by just 3.5 games. They need pitching and starting pitching most of all but CEO Dick Monfort is unwilling to deal prospects for a rental, according to Troy Renck of the Denver Post. The Rockies' hesitation here is probably prudent. They have a solid core on offense that is under team control for a long time and some quality young arms as well.

They have are not far from contention right now, but with the strength of teams in the NL East and Central, winning the West is probably their only path to the playoffs. Dealing for a rental might be enough to put them over the top, but it a serious risk given everything that is working against them. They are likely to take their chances with the team they have now and look to the off-season for opportunities to upgrade.

Giants: Sell

Movable Assets: Hunter Pence (RF), Tim Lincecum (SP),Javier Lopez (RP) Sergio Romo (RP) Jeremy Affeldt (RP) Jose Mijares (RP) Santiago Casilla (RP)

The 2012 World Champions have suffered a brutal season full of under-performances and they find themselves 4.5 games out in the NL West and on the sellers side of the market. The bullpen has been a strength for them, however, which means they are well positioned make the best of these unfortunate circumstances.

Closer Sergio Romo would probably demand an overwhelming offer for the Giants to move him and Lincecum is an even bigger long shot, but there is a good chance that some of the lesser names are moved before the deadline. Hunter Pence is one of the better offensive rental players on the market as well, but according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, his close bond with the Giants organization makes it unlikely that they will move him.

Padres: Sell

Movable Assets: Chase Headley (3B), Edinson Volquez (SP), Huston Street (RP), Luke Gregerson (RP) Joe Thatcher (RP)

The Padres have broken more than a few hearts in New York with their unwillingness to move Chase Headley and Jon Heyman writes that the third baseman is likely to stay in San Diego.

However, the Padres are in procession of a few relievers that could draw interest. Given the need for lefty relievers, Thatcher could be their most valuable asset but Street has the often coveted "proven closer" tag on him and Gregerson boasts the best K/BB ratio of the group. The Padres have been surprisingly absent from the rumor mill though, so they may not be the most aggressive sellers this season.