Time to crank up the pressure cooker as the calendar creeps closer to July 31.
As the trade deadline creeps ever closer, there's no doubting pressure starts to mount for GMs, managers and players. They all face it in some form. With plenty of big decisions on the horizon, our staff weighs in on who's facing the most heat as each day gets us closer to July 31.
Welcome to life as the point man in decision-making, Farhan Zaidi. The Giants are in a box. They have the two most valuable trade chips, Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, a losing record after almost one hundred games, the toughest second-half schedule in the National League, and need to get younger. That's a team that should sell. But they are playing well, have lost attendance in a market that has come to expect winning, have a Hall of Fame manager in his last year with the team, and have an actually shot at a wild-card (though they have to jump many teams). That's a team that should hold.
The danger is that Zaidi does nothing and this team stumbles the same way it did in the first three months. The boldest move would be to trade Smith to the rival Dodgers, Zaidi's former team and one he knows well when it comes to their young talent.
Nathan Eovaldi. The Red Sox bullpen is a nightly horror show, with an AL-worst 18 blown saves. The 2018 World Series champs have almost no chance to repeat unless they can lock up the end of games, so they plan to move starter Eovaldi out there when he returns next week from surgery to remove loose bodies from his pitching elbow. That's a good start, but unfortunately it seems it will also be the end of the team's moves: President Dave Dombrowski is unlikely to add another reliever at the deadline. Good luck, Nate!
Brodie Van Wagenen. The Mets' season has featured an impressively varied set of disasters, but BVW's first deadline season as GM would likely look tricky even without this context. He's clearly in a position to trade—which is a failure in and of itself, given that the team spent the winter building for contention, only to end up with the National League's worst record outside of Miami. But can Van Wagenen still move Zack Wheeler, who was among the team's most obvious trade chips before his recent trip to the IL?
(From another club, this might not be viewed as too much of a problem, but given the Mets' medical staff's record with pitching injuries, it's reasonable to wonder if other teams might be skeptical that "Wheeler to the 10-day IL with shoulder fatigue" doesn't actually mean "Wheeler to be monitored in case his arm is literally about to fall off.") Jason Vargas is another pitcher likely to be moved, but will interest be hurt by the whole threatened-to-beat-up-a-reporter thing? Does anyone want, uh, Juan Lagares? It's a tough situation for a GM to succeed, but Van Wagenen hasn't given himself any room to fail.
To dig a little deeper on the dilemma facing Farhan Zaidi and the Giants, can they afford not to trade Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith? With a roster constructed of many relics from the franchise's championship years, Bumgarner and Smith not only represent the team's best chance to restock a mediocre farm system now, but for the next few seasons. There aren't exactly a line of teams waiting to pay up for Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford or Joe Panik.
Zaidi is facing increasingly difficult decisions as his team continues to climb the wild-card standings. Punt on contention with a veteran-heavy team, or miss out on adding quality prospects to an organization badly needing them? The guess here is Bumgarner and Smith are moved by July 31, regardless of what the win-loss record says.
Arizona should be aggressive in dealing their veteran arms before the trade deadline. The Diamondbacks are light years away from the Dodgers in the NL West, and they'll need to fend off a slate of quality teams to qualify for the wild-card. The prudent move is to play for the future.
Robbie Ray can fetch a quality haul on the market with one year of arbitration left before his contract expires after 2020. The Yankees and Red Sox could start a bidding war, and Milwaukee can't be discounted on the starter market. Perhaps a team will make a major splash and rescue Arizona from the Zack Greinke contract (are the Astros in play?), positioning the D-backs for more sustainable long-term growth. Their 2019 trade deadline should be fully geared toward building the franchise's future.
One way or another, 2019 feels like the end of the road in the North Side of Chicago for Joe Maddon, the avuncular skipper of the Cubs who has spent the two-plus seasons since the team won a World Series watching things go slowly downhill. After an offseason in which the front office loudly and rather pointedly criticized how the Cubs had blown a division lead and then quietly flunked out of the playoffs and with no contract past this season, Maddon's seat is practically glowing red from the heat. That his Cubs are in first place in the NL Central is a relief, but probably only temporary: It feels like only a championship will extend his time in Wrigley beyond 2019.
“Whoever thought of that basket, whenever that occurred, tell them thank you. ... When it works for you, it’s awesome.” —Joe Maddon after Kyle Schwarber’s walk-off homer landed in the basket, winning it for the Cubs 4-3 in 10.— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) July 17, 2019
⚾️ https://t.co/cG5en6x2Cs pic.twitter.com/6InLx4RxuS
If that's the case, then he and his roster need reinforcements—offense, preferably, either at second base or in the outfield. Some pitching wouldn't hurt either. If the Cubs don't add from outside, though, then the front office is counting on improvements from within—a task that will be Maddon's, to get a talented yet inconsistent group to play up to its potential. If Chicago falls short, though, it's not hard to guess where the majority of the blame is going to fall.