If the biggest names of this year’s non-waiver trading deadline season are going to move, they will do so right as the 4 p.m. cutoff point approaches. Sunday was an active but decidedly unsexy day on the baseball trading market, one that turned the Twins into sellers, the Royals into last-chance buyers, and the Yankees into the deadline’s most fascinating case. That makes the run-up to Monday even more intriguing as prized commodities Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, Zach Britton and Brad Hand all remain on the market.
1. The Yankees added another piece, but probably aren’t done
The biggest obstacle between the Yankees and an AL East division title is their starting pitching depth, so general manager Brian Cashman assured that it was improved in the event that he can’t acquire Sonny Gray. Cashman continued his torrid July by trading for Minnesota Twins starter Jaime Garcia—who the Braves traded to the Twins just six days prior—in exchange for pitching prospects Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns.
Garcia, who will probably be nothing more than a rental for the Yankees, arrives with a record of 5–7 and a perfectly league-average ERA+ of 100 over 19 starts (18 with the Braves and one with the Twins). He is owed $4 million for the rest of the season, is a free agent at the end of 2017, and will likely assume the fourth starting pitching spot behind Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Luis Severino. The most glowing comments about his arrival came from fellow new arrival Todd Frazier, who called Garcia “a crafty lefty.” The two were division rivals when Frazier was in Cincinnati and Garcia was in St. Louis between 2011–2015. Garcia hardly sparkles, but he’s a respected innings eater who has pitched well (3–0 with a 3.05 ERA) since the All-Star Break. With the additions of relievers Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the White Sox, the Yankees will only need Garcia for five to seven innings per outing before turning it over to their loaded bullpen that also features Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.
New York likely wasn’t keen on entering the playoff run with only two proven starting pitchers (Tanaka and Sabathia) after losing starter Michael Pineda to a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and that made them an aggressive buyer in the starting pitcher market. As ESPN’s Buster Olney and Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal have reported, the acquisition of Garcia does not preclude the Yankees from trying to acquire A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray, a match that makes sense for both teams. As Rosenthal reported on Saturday night, the talks remain at an impasse. The only other team that is considered a serious contender for Gray is the Dodgers, though they have been linked to Yu Darvish more than Gray.
Gray is under team control until the 2020 season, but the Yankees won’t part with top prospects Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres to acquire him. While Cashman has done a superb job revitalizing what was a barren New York farm system, A’s GM Billy Beane may not like the rest of what Cashman has to offer, and Cashman is said to be just as protective of several of his second-tier prospects. The most alluring prospect that Cashman has left to offer is probably outfielder Jorge Mateo, once considered a future savior when signed in 2012, who is now ranked as the team’s eighth-best minor leaguer and is playing in Double-A Trenton. It’s a trade, as Rosenthal argues, that both teams need to make, but may be torpedoed by two of the game’s savviest but obstinate general managers.
2. Is Yu Darvish moving?
The Rangers sparked the hot stove when they announced that they would trade Yu Darvish before the trading deadline, but the biggest problem for Texas GM Jon Daniels is what team would pony up their top prospects to acquire him. The Dodgers are the team said to be most enamored with Darvish, but the front office is always reticent to part with top prospects, and Darvish is a free agent after the season. The two prospects most frequently discussed are outfielder Alex Verdugo and pitcher Walker Buehler, both of whom the Dodgers reportedly consider untouchable and could be up with the major league team as soon as September when rosters expand. After that, Los Angeles has an appealing trade candidate in No. 3 prospect Willie Calhoun, a second baseman who is tearing up Triple-A Oklahoma City with a .296 average and 23 home runs.
The other problem the Rangers are facing in trying to deal Darvish is that they want maximum return for a player of Darvish’s caliber, but are facing a fairly thin market for him. The Cubs have already acquired Jose Quintana to fill out their rotation and are now focused on acquiring bullpen reinforcements, the Astros are a division rival that Texas has no plans to further empower, the Yankees appear to be focusing on Gray and the Brewers are already fading from the NL Central race. Teams that could use one more starting pitcher—like the Diamondbacks or Rockies—don’t have the package of young talent that the Rangers want in exchange for the 30-year-old righty. The Red Sox fit as a darkhorse candidate for Darvish, but they functionally bankrupted their farm system to acquire Chris Sale in the off-season. Reports from Rangers beat writer Evan Daniels mentioned that the Indians were also talking to the Rangers about Darvish, but Cleveland is one of the 10 teams on the righty’s no-trade clause.
The Dodgers, who refused to deal top prospects like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson in the past, won’t surrender a top prospect if they feel like they’re bidding against themselves. That means there’s a good chance Darvish remains in Texas to finish the season unless Daniels agrees to a package of lower-ranked prospects and tries to re-sign the Japanese star in the off-season once he hits free agency.
3. The mid-market clubs are going for it
After a terrible start to the season, the Royals clarified that they’d be buyers when they acquired pitchers Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer from the Padres and make one last run with the core of players that won the 2015 World Series. On Sunday, they fortified their offense by acquiring Melky Cabrera from the White Sox in exchange for pitching prospects A.J. Puckett and Andre Davis. Cabrera has effectively rehabilitated his career after his ill-timed 2012 steroid suspension in San Francisco, and is slashing .295/.336/.436 in Chicago this season with 13 home runs. Cabrera has long been a consistent and effective bat, and he’ll add to the Royals’ inconsistent but recently surging offense.
The problem currently facing manager Ned Yost is where he plans to bat Cabrera. As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan noted, DH Brandon Miss has improved on his dreadful start to this season while Alex Gordon continues to be one of the league’s worst active hitters despite his typically consistent defense.
The Royals are one of the hottest teams in baseball right now, winning nine of their last 10 games to improve to 55–48 and pulling within two of the division-leading Indians.
The other team intent on making a surprise playoff push is the Rockies, who sit at 60–45 and acquired Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy for a player to be named later on Sunday night. After being one of the 2016 trade deadline’s hottest commodities, Lucroy has had a dreadful season in Texas, slashing .242/.297/.338 and producing a paltry four home runs one year after hitting 24 in a split season between Milwaukee and Texas. Colorado is likely hoping that a change of scenery to hitter-friendly Coors Field will jolt the struggling Lucroy and the Rockies lineup, which has received virtually no offense from starting catcher Tony Wolters (.251/.349/.302 with no homers). It’s a worthwhile rental for the Rockies, who only need to cover the remainder of Lucroy’s $5.25 million salary.