By Neil Keefe

The trade deadline is upon us, and so far the Yankees and Mets have yet to make a move (though that can change at literally any second).

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I have watched the Yankees miss out on Cliff Lee and Dan Haren, which weren’t really necessities, but would have made for nice luxuries. Mets fans, on the other hand, have watched their front office let both starters go, as well as Roy Oswalt, when they were actually necessities.

With the three biggest names off the market, and still two days of trading left, it’s hard to predict what will happen. First and second place in five of the league’s six divisions are separated by 3 ½ games or less, and in the National League, six teams are within 6 ½ games of the wild card leading Giants.

Because of the congested playoff picture, there are many questions that still need answers, like, who’s a buyer? Who’s a seller? What type of move will the Yankees make? Will the Mets make any deal? Do the Mets even know the trade deadline is Saturday?

Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors joined me to find answers to these questions, as we try to predict what will unfold before 3 p.m. on July 31.

Keefe: The real dilemma most teams face right now is trying to decide whether or not to be buyers or sellers. Right now the postseason picture has taken relative shape, but there are still a lot of teams in the mix, especially in the National League. The problem with the NL is that there are several teams close enough to still have postseason dreams, but just far enough where it might be wise to start thinking about 2011.

Every year some team makes a worthwhile splash unexpectedly, while another team makes some ill-advised moves. Which team do you think will surprise at the deadline, and which team do you think will make the wrong decision to be aggressive?

Nicholson-Smith: I think people will be surprised by how aggressive the Rays are. They’re an under-the-radar low-budget team, but they’re willing to spend and they’ll inquire on impact players. They have a history of going after the best players available at the deadline (pursuing Lee, Victor Martinez and Jason Bay at various points in the past few years) so I don’t see any reason to expect anything different in 2010.

Teams like the Rockies and Angels have fallen further back from contention and may actually become sellers, but if either one of those clubs starts trading away top prospects for rental players, they’ll probably regret it. Both organizations are well run, so that doesn’t seem likely, but it’s something to watch for.

Keefe: Roy Oswalt is a Phillie, which is good for them, but it doesn’t really make sense when you consider what happened with the Phillies and Cliff Lee over the winter. Sure, that’s in the past and the Phillies got better by adding Oswalt, but what made the Phillies decide to make this move now after passing up on keeping Lee over the winter?

Nicholson-Smith: When you pair the moves up, it doesn’t look good, but in reality, they were two separate deals. Sure, most experts agree that the Phillies should have been able to obtain more than they did for Cliff Lee, but once he was gone, that trade was history.

The Phillies decided to add Oswalt because they think they’re a playoff team. They’re playing really well right now and it’s hard to argue that Oswalt won’t make that team a lot better for 2010.

They gave up some valuable pieces to get him, and that team has now committed over $140 million to next year’s team, but Ruben Amaro Jr. and the rest of the front office will worry about that later. As for now? They added the best pitcher available, even though Oswalt isn’t quite the pitcher Lee is.

Keefe: The Yankees desperately need bullpen help and Joakim Soria happens to be the reliever most connected with the Yankees. The only problem is that Soria has the Yankees listed as one of six teams he can block a trade to.

I am normally not a big fan of trading for other team’s relievers or closers, no matter how elite they are, but given Soria’s age and abilities, I think I can make an exception. Soria could certainly be the setup man the Yankees having been searching for, as well as the successor to Mariano Rivera.

How likely (if at all) is a move that has Soria going to the Bronx?

Nicholson-Smith: It’s not at all likely. The Royals maintain that they are open to dealing players on the brink of free agency, but unlike Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Bruce Chen, Soria is under team control for a while (through 2014). For the Royals to decide to move Soria, they’ll have to be blown away.

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Jesus Montero has the kind of power that blows baseball people away, but the Yankees dangled him, according to an ESPN report, and the Royals still didn’t bite. That tells me that Dayton Moore wants to keep Soria in Kansas City, even though the Royals will listen to offers.

Soria makes just $3 million this year, but his salary is on the rise, so the Yankees could have an easier time obtaining him in a couple seasons. Soria could eventually be the heir to Rivera, but it doesn’t seem like the Yankees will obtain him this year.

Keefe: Mets fans seem to hope their team is in on every big name on the trade market, but every big name ends up somewhere else. It’s obvious that the Mets are in need of help, even if this season is not worth saving.

With the job statuses of Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel hanging in the balance, and their job security for 2011 based upon whether or not the Mets see the postseason, it makes sense for the Mets to make a move since it might be their management’s last chance to salvage their own jobs.

Mets fans need some good news … is there any impact player that might be a Met before the deadline?

Nicholson-Smith: Unlike the Phillies, the Mets haven’t heated up enough to justify a major move. Ted Lilly and Brett Myers once seemed like solid fits for the Mets, but at this point, it doesn’t seem like either one will be headed to New York.

Like the Yankees – and just about every contender other than the Padres – the Mets are looking for relievers, too. If you told Mets supporters that Scott Downs or Chad Qualls was going to be their team’s big midsummer acquisition, the fans probably wouldn’t be thrilled, but this may be all Minaya does.

Realistically, there aren’t many impact players remaining. Lee, Oswalt and Haren have been traded. Jayson Werth is off the market. Prince Fielder and Adam Dunn aren’t fits for the Mets. So it doesn’t look like the Mets will add an All-Star-caliber player this week.

Keefe: There have been talks of the Yankees possibly making a move for Adam Dunn, and the thought of Dunn being added to the Yankees lineup with the short porch in right staring at him makes me very happy. But along with this rumor is the idea that Dunn won’t agree to become a designated hitter and give up his role as a first baseman, so that creates a bit of a problem.

What are the chances that Dunn becomes a Yankee? If he isn’t a Yankee, does he stay in Washington or go somewhere else?

Nicholson-Smith: There’s a good chance the Nationals trade Dunn, and the Yankees could certainly use him. Let’s not rule out a last-minute extension with Washington. And let’s also not rule out teams like the White Sox, Tigers, Giants and Rays. But Johnny Damon hit 17 homers at home last year because of that right field porch – imagine what Dunn could do.

So far, the White Sox have pursued Dunn more aggressively than the Yankees have, so they appear more intent on landing the slugger. Here’s a problem the Yankees, White Sox and every other team interested in Dunn will face: the Nationals want a lot in return. Because Dunn and Prince Fielder are by far the two most desirable sluggers out there, they won’t come cheap.

The Yankees haven’t been willing to give up enough prospects to acquire Lee or Haren. Will they give up elite prospects for Dunn when they already lead the majors in runs scored? Maybe, but it seems highly unlikely.

Keefe: Scott Downs has become the most common relief name on the market the last week or so, and it seems like every team with postseason aspirations has been linked to Downs. What kind of deal would it take for the Yankees to get him? And which team is most likely to land him?

Nicholson-Smith: The Yankees would have to give up an elite young player or prospect for him. The Blue Jays realize that Downs is the best lefty reliever out there, and possibly the best reliever available period. They’re happy to keep him around, offer him arbitration and collect draft picks next year, so the Yankees will have to give up a valuable young player for Downs (one report says the Jays asked for Montero or Joba Chamberlain).

Someone will probably hand the Blue Jays the prospects they’re looking for, but it could be anyone. The Red Sox, Phillies, Twins, Mets, Giants and Dodgers have some interest in Blue Jays relievers. At this point, the Red Sox could be favorites, since they need a left-handed reliever and they’re prioritizing bullpen help.

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