- It's been a busy market already but there are plenty of moves that could shake up the postseason picture. Here's where things stand with one week to go.
We’re one week from the non-waiver trade deadline, and already multiple teams have pulled off notable deals. What lies ahead in the next seven days? Let’s check in with all 30 teams. (NOTE: Teams are presented in order of the standings through Sunday. American League East, Central and West are listed first, then the National League East, Central and West.)
The Yankees’ trade last week with the White Sox for power-hitting infielder Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle took on extra meaning, because the Red Sox have very similar needs. Trading away Travis Shaw and having Pablo Sandoval turn into a pumpkin made Boston's third-base situation an even bigger mess than New York's. The Sox announced Sunday that they will call up top third-base prospect Rafael Devers rather than flush away prospects for a rental who might not be any better, so that’s one need potentially addressed.
Look for team president Dave Dombrowski to now turn his attention to an erratic bullpen that’s posted inconsistent results in front of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, with Mets righthander Addison Reed one of several possibilities. Boston could also go looking for an upgrade at first base, where Mitch Moreland has hit like a pitcher for the past month.
The bullpen (Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson) and half of New York's corner-infield needs (third baseman Todd Frazier) were addressed with last week's aforementioned trade with the White Sox. But bigger issues remain. First, the Yankees must consider how to fix a rotation that’s been weakened by Masahiro Tanaka’s inconsistency and the loss of Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery.
More broadly, GM Brian Cashman has been building this team for the long haul. That means that while trading a toolsy-but-yet-to-perform prospect like outfielder Blake Rutherford to Chicago for short-term help may have made sense, digging deeper into the team’s stockpile of young talent to reel in, say, a top starting pitcher might not be in the cards. Especially if it means weakening a team that can’t help but daydream about Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper batting back-to-back in the same lineup two years from now.
The Rays are one of many teams said to have looked in on J.D. Martinez before the Diamondbacks got him from the Tigers for almost nothing. Still, this is a rare Tampa Bay team already stacked with power hitters, thanks in part to Logan Morrison’s huge breakout. Instead, improving the bullpen looks like the main goal here. The Rays have never shied away from doing things differently, so a highly effective frisbee-thrower like the Phillies' Pat Neshek could fit their needs as well as any big flamethrower out of the 'pen, especially if the price tag for the Neshek class of relievers is a fair bit lower than what it costs for a high-90s beast.
For a Tampa Bay club that is playoff relevant this deep into the season for the first time in four years, the mere act of buying at the deadline would be a welcome change of pace.
Nearly everyone of consequence in the bullpen (Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day) as well as platoon outfielder Seth Smith are on the block. Baseball’s recent volatility and unpredictability (the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, Yankees and Twins are all winning faster than expected this year, to name a few examples), combined with Manny Machado’s walk year being next season, looks like it will prompt the O’s to deal away replaceable players, while keeping their core intact for a possible run in 2018.
In fact, GM Dan Duquette’s latest comments suggest Baltimore might get involved as buyers too. Orioles' starters have the worst ERA in the AL this season and desperately need starting pitching upgrades. Having Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy finally fulfill their potential would help a lot in that department.
Toronto is yet another deeply flawed team passing on a full rebuild. Like Baltimore and Manny Machado, the Blue Jays have a star player in third baseman Josh Donaldson who can test free agency at the end of next season, so they’d like to try and make a run while he’s still under team control. Also like the O’s, the Jays believe they’ve badly underachieved this year and could contend next year with just a few tweaks. With the 2015 AL MVP (Donaldson), the 2016 AL ERA champ (Aaron Sanchez) and a 2016 20-game winner (J.A. Happ) all hurt and/or not producing much, Toronto's postseason hopes have been dealt a serious blow, but there is hope that things could turn around soon. So the move here might be to add a player or two who’s controllable through 2018 or beyond (Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon perhaps? Oakland infielder Jed Lowrie?), then hope for the best.
Of course, there are still downsides: The Jays have the oldest group of position players in the majors and a bunch of B-level prospects who might not amount to much in the big leagues nor bring back much in trade. Trying to return to the playoffs with those factors is a heck of a challenge.
The two most enigmatic teams in the majors this year are the same two teams that squared off in the World Series last year. The Indians are arguably more talented than they were during their unexpected 2016 run. They added beastly slugger Edwin Encarnacion in free agency, have outfielder Michael Brantley and starter Carlos Carrasco healthy, have reliever Andrew Miller in the fold for a full season instead rather for just a couple months and have inserted ludicrously athletic rookie Bradley Zimmer into the leadoff spot and an everyday position in centerfield.
Sure, there are ongoing problems, like every infielder except Jose Ramirez putting up weak offensive numbers and starters Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin looking like batting-practice pitchers for much of the season. Then again, a good chunk of Cleveland’s troubles can be simply traced to bad luck, such as its awful performance at the plate in big spots, a condition that history tells us is due more to random variance than any lack of a mystical clutch gene. There are real needs in the rotation (perhaps less so if Danny Salazar can build on his electrifying seven-inning, one-hit, shutout performance he delivered against the Blue Jays on Saturday in his return from the disabled list) and the outfield (Lonnie Chisenhall was in the midst of a breakout season but he’s on the DL himself with a calf strain, with no set timetable for return).
The bottom line, though, is this: The Indians could conceivably stand pat and still win the weakest division in baseball.
Trailing by 7 ½ games in the AL Central two months ago, Kansas City has shaved that deficit down to 1 ½ games entering this week and is effectively tied for the last wild-card spot. For walk-year players like first baseman Eric Hosmer, centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitcher Jason Vargas, that means not having to worry about apartment hunting for at least another few months—GM Dayton Moore isn’t about to pack everything up, not when his club is playing so well. The new collective bargaining agreement sets the stage for the small-market, small-revenue Royals to get multiple, valuable compensation picks should some of their free agents sign big deals elsewhere anyway.
If anything, Kansas City could make a moderate-sized deal in its push for the playoffs. The Royals rank dead last in the AL in park-adjusted offense, so adding even a league-average bat could lend a significant boost. And not to keep beating the same drum, but the Diamondbacks landing J.D. Martinez for a half-eaten donut bodes very well for any team that’s looking for offense. Getting Travis Wood and his extremely not nice 6.91 ERA out of the rotation forever would be a swell move too.
The Twins own the worst run differential in the AL Central and rank 12th in that category among the 15 American League teams. Which makes it strange that they’re still being discussed as viable contenders. But such is life in a weak division in which only one team—the first-place Indians—has scored more runs than it has allowed.
Recognizing its opportunity, and the fact that wins and losses are all that matter at season’s end, Minnesota has reportedly gotten close to acquiring lefty starter Jaime Garcia in a trade with the Braves (assuming the two teams can resolve a medical issue with a prospect that would go to Atlanta). If they’re going to try to pull off an unlikely run to an AL Central crown, this move actually makes sense for the Twins. With Garcia due to test free agency at season’s end but also sitting a level or two below the top commodities on the market, Minnesota (or any other suitor) likely wouldn’t have to give up a ton to get him. For a team with its best days likely in front of it as uber-skilled kids like third baseman Miguel Sano and pitcher Jose Berrios blossom into stars, keeping the future at the forefront of its plans is the obvious, wise course of action.
J.D. Martinez is gone, and while reliever Justin Wilson and second baseman Ian Kinsler are in play, Justin Verlander looms as the biggest name out there for any team. The ace righthander is owed $28 million a year through 2019, with a potential $22 million vesting option in '20 if he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting the year before. Leaving aside that a one-year, $22 million capper would be a great outcome for any team that would employ Verlander that season, the money has held back his trade value, with savvy-shopping teams like the Astros particularly vexed by having to foot that big a bill.
The latest rumors out of Detroit have the Tigers willing to cover some of Verlander’s remaining salary in the right deal; depending on how much cash is on the table, that could change things dramatically. While Verlander’s season-long numbers have stunk (thanks in large part to problems throwing first-pitch strikes), he has started to show glimpses of the Cy Young-caliber pitcher he used to be. He has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his past 10 starts, his latest a sparkling seven-inning, eight strikeout performance against the Royals. With so many contenders jonesing for quality starting pitching and the hope that Verlander will return to the form that had him finish a controversial second in last year's Cy Young voting, one more great start could have him headed out of town.
Why stop now? Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle have all been traded since the end of last season, and the White Sox now boast the best farm system in all of baseball. They might as well keep selling, until there’s nothing left but the box of baking soda in the fridge.
A pronounced buyer’s market for bats could prompt GM Rick Hahn to slow his trading roll a bit from here, given that his best remaining trade chips are mostly position players. Still, if first baseman Jose Abreu and free-agent-to-be outfielder Melky Cabrera are still wearing pale hose after July 31 (and/or after the Aug. 31 waiver-trade deadline), it won’t be for lack of trying.
Barring an apocalypse, the Astros will win the AL West this year and likely do it in a walk. That lowers the urgency to make any splashy trades that could cost Houston some of its dynamic young core, which extends all the way to the minors. On the other hand, opportunities like these don’t come around often, and the Astros have to be considered one of the two favorites right now (along with the Dodgers) to romp to the World Series.
That’s why they’re aggressively shopping around, their insanely loaded offense promoting GM Jeff Luhnow to turn his attention to pitching needs. With staff ace Dallas Keuchel out since early June due to a neck injury and wildly talented young righty Lance McCullers Jr. on pace to shatter his previous career high for innings pitched in a season, a reliable mid-rotation option would be a perfect insurance policy—especially with The SI Prophecy starting to look more and more realistic. If they’re willing to dip into their deep collection of young talent, A's ace Sonny Gray could be in Houston in a matter of days, if not hours.
Hey look, it’s another American League team in limbo. More realistically, at 49-51 the Angels lean toward the lower end of the AL’s fringe contenders, with a pitching staff riddled with injuries and a supporting cast around Mike Trout that’s still likely too weak to be a real contender.
If anything the Halos should try to be sellers over this next week, but fate has colluded against them there too. Outfielder Cameron Maybin looked like he might finally stay healthy for a full year, getting on base at a better-than-average clip and setting himself up to potentially swipe 40–45 bases. Instead, a knee injury will likely sideline him into August, a tough break given that Maybin is in his walk year and might’ve brought back at least a decent prospect or two in trade. Fellow pending free agent Yunel Escobar could still be a passable fallback plan for a team that needs infield help, like the Yankees or the Red Sox.
With Houston holding a 17-game lead entering the week that has all but locked up the AL West, the Mariners have to ask themselves how far they want to go for a shot at a second wild-card when they’re sitting below .500 and 90,000 other teams are in the mix.
Just don’t tell that to Tradin’ Jerry Dipoto. The M’s GM seemed to make a deal every 12 seconds last off-season, and he followed through with a five-player deal last week, shipping four prospects to the Marlins for stingy reliever David Phelps. Even though outfield prospect Brayan Hernandez looks like the only truly intriguing name of the four sent to Miami, thinning out a so-so farm system to chase a reliever doesn’t look like the move a team would make if it were lying low.
If Seattle is going to vault back into the race and end the longest playoff drought in baseball, though, it would help if some of the team’s established stars could power through some 2017 woes. Felix Hernandez allowing just two earned runs over his past three starts is a helpful step in that direction. Another would be having Kyle Seager build on his strong start to the second half, in which he has hit .318/.381/.684.
Few impact starting pitchers figure to be available at the deadline. Plus we’ve seen rental players fetch huge returns, as Aroldis Chapman did last July when the Yankees flipped him to the Cubs for terrific infield prospect Gleyber Torres.
That’s why the Rangers should push hard to get everything they can for pending free agent Yu Darvish. The ace righthander would immediately become the best available starter if Texas abandons its run at a wild-card berth in a ridiculously crowded field that has eight teams within five games of the two spots. Even with just two months of service time (not including the postseason) to offer, Darvish would fetch a tasty return (far more than readily available teammates like catcher Jonathan Lucroy and 1B/DH Mike Napoli) if the Rangers decide to trade him. But with Texas now sitting just 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot, a Darvish trade will become more unlikely if they keep climbing over the next few days.
Aside from seeing his favorite team lose a lot, the most frustrating phenomenon a baseball fan can endure is watching his favorite players constantly get shipped out of town. Sounds like Billy Beane now feels the same way.
After trading relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals for prospects on July 16, the A's boss said he was as sick of trading away beloved core players for no-name youngsters as A’s fans are. So Oakland is now reportedly sniffing around for a possible Yonder Alonso contract extension, while eyeing potential sell deals for veterans like pitcher Sonny Gray and infielder Jed Lowrie on one condition: near-major league-ready talent is acquired in exchange. Beane can then focus on locking up the next generation of A’s talent as long as possible so that the team can field a winner and its fans won’t have to trash their shirseys after two or three years.
Washington's bullpen finally got its desperately needed upgrade, with Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson being brought in from Oakland. Considering what a death trap that 'pen has been this season, though, the smart money is on GM Mike Rizzo to pick up another arm or two. Doolittle and Madson both have significant injury histories, and trusting the team's season to Matt Albers just doesn’t sit right, even if his recent numbers have been solid.
The biggest lift the Nationals could get, though, would be to get a healthy position player or two back in the lineup. In the next month Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor could be back in the outfield and Trea Turner could return to reclaim the shortstop role, which would be plenty good enough for a team that already has a virtually insurmountable lead in an otherwise lousy NL East. But with Adam Eaton out for the season, so many health variables in play and the clock ticking on the Bryce Harper-in-D.C. World Series window, a deal for immediate help wouldn’t be the worst idea.
The Braves had already done plenty of selling and roster retooling coming into this season as part of their rebuild, so it’s unlikely they’ll make any blockbusters in the next week. Jaime Garcia is pretty much a lock to land elsewhere since he’s a free agent at year’s end and everyone seems to need starting pitching. Fellow free-agent-to-be Brandon Phillips is enjoying his best offensive season in six years, but very few contenders are in dire need of a second baseman, other than maybe the Brewers (Jonathan Villar has turned back into a pumpkin).
One other possibility: veteran closer Jim Johnson has spiked his strikeout rate to career-high levels this year and remains a prolific generator of ground balls, so he could offer setup help for a few different relief-hungry teams.