- Injured stars across the game will play a major role in how the pennant races take shape over August and September.
The trade deadline has come and gone, meaning MLB teams are stuck with what they’ve got. Things were relatively quiet in the first year with only one trade deadline, although a deal just before the Wednesday afternoon buzzer sent Zack Greinke to Houston and made the Astros clear favorites in the American League.
There were plenty of smaller moves last week, with relievers and bench bats moving to new teams and inconsequential returns headed back the other way. Those were moves that would’ve typically happened in August in years past.
Perhaps, though, teams opted to stay quiet this week as they hold out hope for the return of key pieces. Several contenders have important players on the IL who may not be superstars, but could return in August or September and have a similar impact to the bygone Aug. 31 deadline pickup. Let's run through some of the big names slated to return before the regular season ends.
Cleveland Indians: Starting Pitchers Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco
Although Greinke was the biggest name to change jerseys this week, Trevor Bauer isn’t too far behind. He's now with the Reds after a three-way deal brought back power bats for the corner outfield spots, something Cleveland desperately needed.
Under normal circumstances, trading away one of your top starters in the midst of a tight division race would seem unwise. But Kluber, a two-time Cy Young winner, is on the verge of making a rehab start—he’s been out since May 1 when a comeback liner broke his right forearm—and Carrasco has indicated he’d like to pitch again this year following a leukemia diagnosis in early July. Getting both pitchers back into the fold could give the Indians a postseason rotation to rival the Astros.
Philadelphia Phillies: Outfielder Jay Bruce
The Phillies' trade for Bruce in May didn't send any shockwaves around the sport. But it wasn't more than a few days later Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL and suddenly, Bruce was the everyday leftfielder in Philly. Despite his .230 average this season, the lefty slugger has mashed, hitting 10 homers in 121 plate appearances for the Phils, and his defense has somehow been better than any of his recent seasons.
Philadelphia traded a player to be named later to Pittsburgh for Corey Dickerson, but that was more of a move to sure up the bench—both Bruce and Dickerson are lefthanded leftfielders. Whenever Bruce returns from his oblique injury, he’ll slot right back into the middle of the lineup and give the Phillies some much-needed pop.
Milwaukee Brewers: Starting Pitcher Brandon Woodruff
Another team, another oblique injury. Woodruff had been the Brewers' most reliable arm, logging 11 wins in 20 starts and a 1.17 WHIP in 117 2/3 innings before going to the IL about two weeks ago. He was expected to be out six weeks, meaning the righty could be back on the bump around the first week of September.
Milwaukee added a bunch of arms, none of which are more than a reliever or a very low-end starter. And though the ‘pen could be pretty good down the stretch, starting Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles and Adrian Houser three out of every five games isn’t going to cut it for a team with postseason aspirations. They need Woodruff back.
New York Yankees: Pitches Luis Severino and Dellin Betances
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Yankees are placing PLAYER on the Injured List. It’s been the story of the Bronx Bombers’ season, with Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Luke Voit all presently hurt on the offensive side of things. Even so, the expectation leading up to the trade deadline was that the team would bolster its beleaguered pitching staff. That didn't happen.
Instead, GM Brian Cashman appears content to sit back and wait, perhaps because he believes Betances and Luis Severino will provide the lift that a trade would have. Both have had setbacks and it’s not certain they’ll pitch again this year, but those are two powerful arms that would do a lot of good in October.
San Francisco Giants: Starting Pitcher Johnny Cueto
A two-time All-Star, Cueto has had a rough go in the last two years. He started out 2018 with a 0.84 ERA in five starts before going on the IL May 1, only to return for four more starts before his season came to an end with Tommy John surgery August 2. Now Cueto is back on the mound and on track to return next month.
Johnny Cueto struck out 5 hitters in 2 innings of work in his first rehab start. He threw 19 of 21 pitches for strikes, including 7 swings & misses. His only two balls were on 0-2 pitches. Allowed one baserunner on a weak high grounder to short.— Alex Simon (@AlexSimonSports) August 5, 2019
It’s certainly possible that the Dodgers will have clinched the NL West by that point. Still, the Giants could be in the mix for a wild-card spot. They didn’t trade Madison Bumgarner or deal Will Smith. San Francisco may need a few heroic outings from Cueto to reach the postseason, but it doesn’t seem out of the question.
Tampa Bay Rays: Starting Pitchers Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow
These two are probably the longest of shots. Glasnow said in mid-July he may not pitch again this season. Snell indicated he hoped to return in September. The former is healing from right forearm strain while the latter recovers from a procedure that removed loose bodies from his elbow.
The Rays did a bunch of bullpen shuffling at the deadline since they really only have two true starters at the moment. That said, Snell was the AL leader in WAR among pitchers last year and had a top-10 ERA before getting hurt. It feels like Tampa Bay’s only chance of reaching the playoffs is if Snell comes back this year.