- 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.
It's tough to know how to proceed during a season in which everything that could go wrong has The Mets would probably like to trade all their pending free agents, but outfielder Curtis Granderson has had a wildly inconsistent and not particularly good season, second baseman Neil Walker might still need a few more days to make it back from the DL and infielder Jose Reyes’s recent hot streak doesn’t mitigate his badly declining skill set.
The good news is that there are still trade candidates, like slugging first baseman Lucas Duda (currently healthy, for a change), outfielder Jay Bruce (later-career bounce-back season) and infielder Asdrubal Cabrera, who still offers a club option for 2018 and could at least be a depth piece for a contender. The best offers might be for Addison Reed, the fill-in closer who’s excelled in Jeurys Familia’s absence and has drawn interest from a long list of teams.
As much blazing speed as he offers, Dee Gordon ranks dead last among all batting title-qualified hitters in the majors in isolated power. You could thus forgive the Marlins if they might not be so eager to pay Gordon eight figures a year through at least 2020, well into his 30s. Higher-revenue clubs could easily take on that financial load and covet Gordon for his speed (and decent defense), but again, not many teams are in dire need of second-base help. You could maybe close your eyes and imagine a deal with the Blue Jays, assuming they’ve thrown in the towel on Devon Travis ever staying healthy for an extended stretch...but that might be about it.
Elsewhere on the roster, look for the all-world outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich to stay put at least until this winter, despite persistent (and largely unfounded) rumors suggesting otherwise—with the Marlins currently up for sale, it’s tough to imagine a gigantic trade happening in that state of limbo. Closer A.J. Ramos could follow fellow righty reliever David Phelps out of town soon.
The top five earners on the Phillies are all free agents at the end of the season, setting up an excellent opportunity to shed payroll and add prospects. Problem is, not many of those earners have been particularly good. Howie Kendrick has raked, but he’s an aging player who’d work best as a low-cost bench pickup.
That leaves Pat Neshek as the belle of the ball. The 36-year-old, slop-throwing right-hander has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the league this year, flashing an incredible (and career-best) 45-to-5 strikeout-to-walk rate, with a 1.12 ERA and the second All-Star berth of his career. Multiple teams are reportedly interested, and a mini-bidding war would be most welcome for a team without much else to sell.
They’re 8–1 since the All-Star break, they already got their big prize in lefty starter Jose Quintana, they’ve erased a sizable NL Central deficit to move into a tie for first place and any objective accounting of their talent would peg the Cubs as odds-on favorites to repeat as division champs.
That doesn’t mean Chicago is going to stop here. The team scouted Yu Darvish’s most recent start and would be motivated to acquire the Rangers' ace both for their own club and to keep him out of the Dodgers’ hands, as an NLCS rematch looms as a possibility. The Cubs are also said to be exploring the market for relievers, because as using a completely gassed Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of the World Series last year demonstrated, a team can never have enough quality relief options at its disposal.
They were after Jose Quintana before he was dealt to the Cubs, and they figure to remain in the mix for starting pitching help, given Chase Anderson’s injury and a lack of quality options behind staff ace Jimmy Nelson. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Milwaukee is doing its due diligence on veteran Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, since Jonathan Villar has gone from the man who singlehandedly won 10,000 fantasy leagues for his owners last year to a complete bust (in fantasy and real life) the next.
The larger question is how aggressive the Brew Crew should be. This is yet another team that’s vaulted into contention sooner than expected. So while they’ll still try to hold on in the NL Central, trading away top prospects now could still stunt a successful rebuilding process. Given those circumstances, you’d guess that the Brewers would pay up for a young, controllable, and very good player like Quintana, or give up a B-prospect or two for a rental—but not something in between. The last thing GM David Stearns would want is to see a top prospect like outfielder Lewis Brinson making All-Star games for another team, while the rent-a-vet they got is long gone after a short stay.
It’s unlikely they’re selling any major pieces at this point, after whittling their NL Central deficit to three games, with Starling Marte off the suspended list to further bolster their chances. That means that even pending free agents Tony Watson and Juan Nicasio might stay put, because B-level returns might not be worth weakening the Buccos’ playoff chances, even if they’re somewhat remote.
It also means that whatever happens this season, Andrew McCutchen becomes a better bet to return for his 2018 walk year, with GM Neal Huntington identifying next season as a possible breakthrough season for his young and improving team.
The same mediocrity at the top of the division that’s kept the Pirates in it has done the same for the Cardinals. But St. Louis also has a more marketable commodity than any likely-to-be-available Buc in righthander Lance Lynn.
A free agent at season’s end, Lynn has caught fire in his past three starts, allowing just a single run in that span. His 21 homers allowed in 114 ⅓ innings are a warning sign, to be sure, but in an environment that has the likes of Jaime Garcia becoming a coveted commodity, the Cardinals have to at least test the market to see what they can get.
Zack Cozart got his donkey. Now the question is, will he soon have a new address too?
The All-Star shortstop is having a monster season, hitting .319/.406/.564. He’s a free agent at season’s end, so the Reds’ asking price probably won’t be prohibitively high. Even if a potential suitor believes Cozart’s bat is ripe for regression, he’s still a slick-fielding shortstop who can at least hold his own at the plate. Even as a bench contributor on a team with World Series aspirations, he’s worth pursuing. No need to mule it over.
Let’s start here:
That point about Los Angeles having the best record in baseball is the most relevant one. With a 10 ½-game lead in the NL West, the Dodgers don’t need to make any kind of panic trade now that ace Clayton Kershaw is on the 10-day DL with a bad back. They could go after someone like Rangers righty Yu Darvish as another weapon in the postseason and as a hedge against either Kershaw being slower to heal than expected or against Alex Wood’s magical season turning less magical.
You can bet L.A. will do something about its bullpen, though. We’ve seen too many meltdowns by Dodgers relievers over the years for management not to have learned its lesson by now; even the miraculous performance by Kenley Jansen and Kershaw to close out the Nationals in NLDS Game 5 last fall underscored how much easier life would be with a lights-out setup man (or two). The Orioles' Zach Britton or the Mets' Addison Reed looks likely to be a Dodger by this time next week, and adding multiple relievers can’t be ruled out.
At 58-42, the Rockies own their best record in franchise history after 100 games, and they have a chance to end both their eight-year playoff drought and a string of six straight losing seasons. After years of flailing just to find the innings to staff five rotation spots, Colorado now has a slew of young starters in tow, with more help on the way once three of its injured arms make it back from the disabled list.
That means that win-now upgrades might come cheaper to the Rockies than for other teams, since the scarcest commodity on the market isn’t a screaming need for them. Colorado was in on J.D. Martinez before he was dealt from Arizona to Detroit because free-agent signing Ian Desmond has been a bust, as expected (76 OPS+), and because Carlos Gonzalez (59 OPS+) suddenly can’t hit anymore. Reuniting with an old friend like the Orioles' Seth Smith or finding other, underrated sources of outfield offense could be a good fit. So too could a relief pitcher: Even with Greg Holland and Jake McGee thriving, the rigors of pitching in Coors Field, and maybe pitching into October(!) make depth a priority.
It’s our 4,000th J.D. Martinez mention of the column, everybody do a shot! The addition of the power-hitting outfielder has fortified an already dangerous middle of Arizona's lineup. The rotation is the most improved in baseball. And the bullpen received a big boost from young righty Archie Bradley and unheralded lefty Andrew Chafin.
So as wild as it sounds, a team that lost 93 games last season may not need much more than a tweak or two to round out the roster for the home stretch. The Diamondbacks enter the week with a 4 1/2-game lead in the wild-card race, so maybe they'll want to grab one more bullpen arm as insurance against a Fernando Rodney meltdown or consider a bopper for the bench. Other than that, the rest of the league better not sleep on a very good Diamondbacks team, one that could do serious damage in October.
It’s the Brad Hand Show, starring Brad Hand! General manager A.J. Preller has made no secret of his intention to aim high with his All-Star middle reliever with a 2.12 ERA, seeking a package comparable to the Yankees’ haul when they traded another southpaw, Andrew Miller, to the Indians last July.
What happens next will offer an intriguing test into how teams evaluate relievers. On the one hand, Hand wasn’t particularly good until last season, having come to the Padres after the Marlins (the Marlins!) let him go in April 2016 for nothing. Are teams that hung up on who’s pitching well now that one of them will empty the farm system for Hand? Or will buyers hold the line, remembering that relievers are the most fickle commodities in baseball, and that a pitcher who was a waiver claim just 15 months ago could start unraveling just as quickly as he started producing?
Oy. Johnny Cueto’s hurt, so they can’t trade him. Mark Melancon’s hurt (and overpaid), so they can’t trade him. Jeff Samardzija got roasted twice in a row by the Padres, so they can’t trade him. The rest of the roster has a couple of untouchables (catcher Buster Posey and ace Madison Bumgarner), a few decent performers who aren’t going anywhere, plus a handful of aging busts.
That leaves reliever Hunter Strickland and third baseman Eduardo Nuñez, who can also play shortstop or the outfield. You might remember Strickland as the guy who got smoked by Bryce Harper in the 2014 playoffs then threw at him three years later, as if his own failures were Harper’s fault (Strickland does own a live fastball and strikeout-an-inning results this year, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice). That leaves the free-agent-to-be Nuñez as the Giants’ best trade bait. Memo to inquiring clubs: If a hitter with one of the emptiest .305 batting averages in recent baseball history (he’s hit four homers and walked just 12 times all year) and whose versatility is belied by his inability to play good defense at any position is to your liking, step right up!