Midway through May is about the time when teams begin to gauge their chances of contending that season. As a result, the trade market is starting to take shape. Winning teams might want to add another rotation arm or middle-of-the-order bat to gear up for a postseason push, while rebuilding or underperforming clubs might decide to part with veterans nearing free agency to restock their farm system.
While understanding that things could change between now and the July 30 trade deadline, let’s take a look at five players who could find themselves in another uniform before season’s end.
The Nationals are in a tricky position, currently last in the NL East. Since winning the 2019 World Series, Anthony Rendon has left via free agency and Stephen Strasburg has been hurt. Patrick Corbin has also struggled, posting a 7.36 ERA so far this season.
Scherzer’s in the final year of a seven-year, $210-million contract, and if Washington is sitting below .500 in mid-July, it might make sense to trade him for a few prospects. Entering the season, MLB.com ranked the Nationals’ farm system as the worst in baseball. It’s hard to say for sure what the return for Scherzer would be, just because the team that acquires him could be getting him for only two or three months before his contract expires. However, whatever they get for Scherzer, one of the best five pitchers in baseball with playoff experience, would help replenish the organization with young talent.
The Nationals could conceivably stay in the hunt for a wild card, or quite frankly, the NL East. Beyond their two star position players Juan Soto and Trea Turner, they have a talented group of players, a number of whom helped them win the World Series just two years ago. But they also run the risk of keeping Scherzer through the season, not making the playoffs and losing him in free agency without getting anything in return. How the next two months play out will determine whether they deal Scherzer, but if Washington is not in playoff contention, expect the 36-year-old ace to pitch the final months of his contract with another team.
Best Spot: St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis signaled its all-in approach after acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Rockies in the offseason. Why not solidify the rotation with an elite starting pitcher to join Jack Flaherty and Adam Wainwright? The Cardinals pitching staff has been pretty solid as a whole, but if they want to match up with the Dodgers or Padres, Scherzer—a native of the St. Louis suburbs—would help immensely.
Death. Taxes. Nelson Cruz hitting 35 home runs per season. Since 2014, it’s hard to find a hitter who’s been more consistent than Cruz. Currently slashing .303/.353/.563 with nine home runs, he would be a valuable pickup for any American League team looking for an experienced power bat.
The Twins (12-22) have had a surprisingly rough start to 2021, and Cruz is a free agent after the season. If Minnesota doesn’t turn things around soon, it could make sense to trade him away for some young talent considering Cruz turns 41 in July and, presumably, doesn’t have many—if any—more years left.
Best Spot: Oakland A’s
The A’s haven’t received a ton of production out of the DH spot this year, with Mitch Moreland slashing .221/.296/.384 with four home runs. Cruz would slot in as a more productive and consistent hitter in a lineup that’s been very streaky.
Oakland might not have the talent to win a World Series, but at 22–15 right now, it is on track to return to the postseason. Adding Cruz would bolster the lineup without needing to give up a top-tier prospect.
With Nolan Arenado gone, Story is now by far the most talented player on one of the worst teams in baseball. The Rockies would be silly not to trade him to a contender, given he’s in the final year of his contract and because they have a bottom-five farm system in baseball, according to MLB.com. Colorado doesn’t usually (read: almost never) act rationally, so predicting what it will do is never easy, especially with ex-GM Jeff Bridich gone. But the one thing that seems certain is Story will not re-sign with the Rockies. He just watched them extend and then alienate Arenado. Why would he risk the same fate when he’s due to make at least $300 million in free agency?
Story brings a power bat to the shortstop position and would provide a major boost to any offense trying to make a run at the postseason. He’d also be a valuable acquisition because he’s extremely consistent. Since the start of 2018, Story has played in nearly 95% of games the Rockies have played. He’s also had a batting average of at least .285 and hit at least 30 home runs (or the pace of a 30-homer year in 2020) in each of the last three seasons.
Best Spot: Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers offense has been absolutely dreadful this season. Milwaukee is hitting .214 as a team with a .299 on-base percentage. Even if some of those struggles are due to key players like Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Kolten Wong and Omar Narváez missing time with injuries, the Brewers could surely use another impact bat, especially at shortstop.
Story would be a perfect fit in the middle of the Brewers lineup. He’d provide consistent slugging on a team heavily reliant on its pitching staff. Milwaukee might not be a World Series-caliber team, but with a pitching staff as dominant as this one, addressing the offensive woes could make it a surprise contender come October.
A name who's appeared in trade rumors over the few years, Boyd would be a perfect fit for a team in contention that’s also looking to build a sustainable pitching staff beyond 2021. He can become a free agent as early as 2023, so any team that acquires him would have him for at least two more seasons. That should net the Tigers a more valuable return than if Boyd were going to be a free agent after this year.
The 30-year-old lefty has never blown hitters away (his fastball averages about 92 mph), but he has a plus changeup, slider and curveball and can give teams some length; since the start of 2018, he’s averaged nearly 5.6 innings per start. (The average starter pitched 4.8 innings per start last season, 5.2 innings in ‘19 and 5.4 in ‘18.) In other words, Boyd provides a value that’s become increasingly rare.
Best Spot: Atlanta Braves
The Braves seem like the perfect fit for Boyd. Their rotation has sputtered this season, aside from Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa. They hope to get Mike Soroka back at some point, but that possibility became more remote with Wednesday's news of a second surgery. In the meantime, they need help stabilizing the pitching staff. Atlanta is below average in innings pitched per start and has a 4.56 bullpen ERA, the ninth-worst in the sport. No team with a worse bullpen ERA currently holds a playoff spot.
Boyd is also a great fit in Atlanta because he’d be part of the rotation through 2022 at the least. The Braves have some great young hitters, but the pitching is the big question. With the uncertainty surrounding Soroka’s return and a lineup that’s built to win now, the Braves could send a couple of prospects (maybe Drew Waters and Jared Shuster) Detroit’s way in exchange for a solid starting pitcher.
For the Royals’ sake, Danny Duffy picked a great time to have a career year. Through six starts, he has a minuscule 1.26 ERA, the lowest in the American League. He also has a career-best 10.1 K/9 ratio and 1.07 WHIP.
Kansas City started the month of May with the best record in baseball. Since then, things haven’t been as smooth, with the team's losing nine in a row and dipping below .500. Should the Royals continue to slide, Duffy could be a prime target for a team looking to bolster its pitching staff. A free agent at the end of the season, Duffy has spent his entire career in K.C. And, with the Royals hoping to return to the postseason sooner rather than later, they might want to keep him around. If they’re out of the playoff race by July, they could trade him, try to get a prospect or two in return and then try to re-sign him in the offseason. There is always a risk in doing that; just look at what happened when the Red Sox dealt Jon Lester at the 2014 deadline and hoped to bring him back that offseason in free agency. But, there’s no guarantee that Duffy would re-sign with the Royals even if they don’t trade him, so if they’re not in contention come July, they should consider dealing him.
Best Spot: Boston Red Sox
It was hard to imagine when the season began that the Red Sox would have the best record in the American League on May 12. But such is baseball. After finishing last in the AL East in ’20 and getting swept by the Orioles to start ’21, there was no reason for optimism in Boston. Yet the Red Sox, with their pieced-together pitching staff and offense led by J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, continue to win.
It’s abundantly clear that Boston’s pitching rotation has overperformed. Nick Pivetta, who entered the season with a 5.40 career ERA, is 5–0 with a 3.19 ERA in seven starts this year. Garrett Richards and Martín Pérez have been about league-average so far, but they don’t exactly inspire confidence. Chris Sale will be back at some point this year, but the Red Sox still will need to shore up their rotation. If the Royals are willing to deal him, Duffy is a logical fit.
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