The August 31st waiver trading deadline is nearing, offering teams a last chance to add any final pieces for a playoff push or shed players who won't help them for the forseeable future. Last year, the Astros added Justin Verlander to aid their playoff push; it turned out to be the most brilliant transaction of the season. What should we expect between now and Friday?
Most Likely to be Traded
Tom Verducci: Andrew McCutchen, Giants. The slug isn’t quite there any more, but McCutchen can still hit anybody’s fastball and any manager would like his veteran leadership down the stretch. The Indians might be the best fit.
Emma Baccellieri: McCutchen. The outfielder has already cleared waivers, San Francisco is out of the race, and he's a reliably solid contributor in the final year of his contract. There are several playoff-hopeful teams who could use a corner outfield bat—Cleveland and Seattle come to mind—and it'd be surprising not to see McCutchen go to one of them.
Stephanie Apstein: Ryan Madson. This is cheating a little bit because the Dodgers have reportedly claimed him, so so they’re already partway there, but the Nationals have no use for a reliever in his walk year, and L.A. desperately needs to upgrade its bullpen.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Curtis Granderson. The veteran outfielder is a fabulous clubhouse presence and a decent bench bat. He struggled last year in his September cameo with the Dodgers, but he still has plenty of value.
Jon Tayler: It’s hard to pick any one player as the likeliest to be dealt, given this deadline’s waiver rule complications. But of those we know have cleared waivers, McCutchen seems like the best bet to be on a new team by Sept. 1. He’s not had a great season in San Francisco, hitting just .255/.357/.415 with only 15 home runs in 482 plate appearances, but he’d be passable if unspectacular in a corner outfield spot for any number of contenders. The Yankees, still missing Aaron Judge, could certainly use him in rightfield; ditto the Indians, whose outfield is a patchwork mess.
Team that Needs to Make a Move
Tom Verducci: Oakland. Injuries to Brett Anderson and Sean Manaea have thinned this rotation. Not much to choose from out there, but Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Cashner or Francisco Liriano might be worth a shot.
Emma Baccellieri: The Brewers. They've struggled through August, with a losing record that's dropped them firmly out of the division race and to the middle of the pack in the wild card standings. Their starting pitching depth remains an issue, and while they reportedly tried to make a deal there with an attempt to claim Matt Harvey, they'll likely have to try again if they want to hold on to their postseason hopes here.
Stephanie Apstein: The Brewers. Their hold on that second wild card is tenuous. GM David Stearns acknowledged today that he’s trying to get a deal done.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The Brewers blew it by not landing a starting pitcher at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Now, their playoff hopes might hinge on their ability to get a low-rent starter like Gonzalez.
Jon Tayler: As noted, both the Yankees and Indians could stand to add some outfield help, and the beleaguered Red Sox and Dodgers bullpens could each use another above-average arm. But I’ll focus on the A’s, who over the last week lost two starters in Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson—the former perhaps for the rest of the season—to injury. Oakland’s rotation, never the team’s strong suit, has been reduced to Mike Fiers, Trevor Cahill and the peripatetic Edwin Jackson. The A’s are sitting pretty for a playoff spot thanks to Seattle’s second-half swoon, but any hope of chasing down the Astros for first place in the AL West will likely require some rotation reinforcements—and not one member of that aforementioned trio feels like a safe bet to start the wild-card game. Luckily, there should be plenty of veteran starters available on the market.
Player I Hope is Moved:
Tom Verducci: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays, because that would mean the guy is finally healthy enough to play. One of the game’s best hitters has been forgotten.
Emma Baccellieri: Donaldson. He's been hurt for most of the year, and even when healthy, he didn't look like himself. (See: A 109 OPS+, compared to a career average of 138.) But he's on a rehab assignment right now, which means he's eligible to be moved, and the idea of him coming back at the tail-end of the season to make a splash for a playoff team is fun indeed.
Stephanie Apstein: Bryce Harper. This seems extremely unlikely, but I’m all for the chaos that would ensue.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Justin Smoak. The Yankees are a great fit and his power bat would be a great addition to any team's playoff push.
Jon Tayler: The end is coming for Curtis Granderson. The veteran outfielder has been surprisingly productive for the Blue Jays this season, hitting .243/.340/.429 mostly as a platoon reserve and a solid .269/.333/.436 since the All-Star break. But at 37 and with teams more reticent than ever to spend on aging talent, he may find a cold free-agent market this offseason regardless. One of the game’s true nice guys, Granderson’s 15-year career has taken him to the postseason many times but has always ended without a World Series ring despite two trips to the Fall Classic (2006 with the Tigers and ’15 with the Mets). Last year, he was unable to carve out a spot on the Dodgers’ World Series roster after a rough go in the NLDS and NLCS. Here’s hoping that an outfielder-needy contender can find space for Granderson on its roster and get him that elusive championship.
Unheralded Possible Difference Maker
Tom Verducci: Sorry. Don’t see one out there. We’re talking incremental improvements.
Emma Baccellieri: James Shields. The veteran has quietly bounced back this season to... well, not quite to what he was in his prime, or even to anything in the general vicinity of that. But he's bounced back all the same! He's not plagued by home runs the way that he was last year, and his walk rate has improved, too. He can be a beneficial addition to eat up innings at the back of someone's rotation, if not potentially more than that.
Stephanie Apstein: The A’s bullpen. Oakland lost starters Sean Manaea and Brett Anderson to injury this week, and GM David Forst indicated that the team would not pursue a trade to replace them. Instead it seems likely that the A’s will try to piece together an opener strategy in the vein of the Rays. Those depth relievers could be the difference between a lengthy playoff run and an early tee time.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: There isn't a player of Justin Verlander's caliber on the market this year, but a player like Logan Forsythe could help a contender. After a difficult stint in Los Angeles, Forsythe has thrived since arriving in Minnesota (.318/.412/.364). He's a solid contact bat and a good glove who will produce competitive at-bats in high-leverage situations.
Jon Tayler: It’s weird to think of Josh Donaldson as unheralded, but he hasn’t exactly been a difference maker in Toronto this season due to injuries. A calf strain has kept him on the disabled list since late May with a severe calf strain and only just begun rehabbing, but if he can come back from that (and assuming the Jays do in fact move him), he could be a stealth superstar. Recall his red-hot second half last season, when he came back from injury to hit .302/.410/.698 over the final two months of the year. Something similar could be in the offing in 2018.