This year’s Trade Deadline falls on Aug. 2, but seeing that every day is Trade Speculation Day, it’s time to start ruminating on who might be dealt, and what teams may be tempted to pull off a swap when the time comes.
A group of MLB.com analysts gathered to discuss what may happen over the next several weeks as the playoff picture becomes clearer.
Alyson Footer, editor / moderator: It’s still really early with the Trade Deadline approximately six weeks away, but it’s never too soon to start speculating on what might happen when Aug. 2 rolls around. When it comes to buyers and sellers, I think we might have some surprise teams that may fall into the “buyer” category. The big one is the Guardians, who are off to a better start than I think any of us anticipated. You think they can keep this up and be legit contenders?
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: I can see Cleveland falling into the buyer category, though not for any of the big-money players that become available. I don’t see that front office going crazy in terms of adding payroll, though the AL Central is certainly winnable.
Anthony Castrovince, reporter / columnist: The Guardians’ youth can work for them or against them. They’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of them with a bunch of makeup games. They’re currently in the midst of 18 games in 16 days. But their pitching, which has obviously been a strength for years, has only recently reached its expected level, and the high-contact offense has been surprisingly fun to watch. The division is weak enough for them to hang around, and though it’s not exactly a free-wheeling, high-spending club, we have seen that front office take advantage of trade market opportunities in the past when the club rises into contention unexpectedly.
Footer: So basically they may be able to add a modest piece or two, but their main advantage is simply being in the “right” division.
Castrovince: I would say that’s about right. They were very much in on Matt Olson over the winter, for whatever that’s worth. So they could do something bold if the situation presents itself. But this is definitely looking like a seller’s market, so I wouldn’t count on it.
Feinsand: One thing that works in the Guardians’ advantage is that they’re also in the Wild Card mix. It’s not AL Central-or-bust, which is the case for some other teams in their respective divisions.
I believe we are going to see a whole bunch of teams wait, wait, wait on this market. Teams that are four or five games out of a playoff spot could find themselves two games back or seven games back after a couple of late-July games. With the extra Wild Card spot in each league, there are only 10 teams right now more than 8 games out of a spot. This is shaping up to be a sellers ’market for the next 5-6 weeks for those teams already committed to selling, but come July 29 or so, you could have a bunch of other teams enter that market.
Castrovince: I think it’s going to be a Deadline dud, personally. Hope to be wrong.
Feinsand: You might be right, based solely on the lack of big-name rental players that will be available. Most of the good impending free agents are on contenders, so they’re not going anywhere. But with names like Frankie Montas, Luis Castillo, Nelson Cruz and Willson Contreras potentially on the move, there will be some impactful action.
Castrovince: Again, though, how big of a splash can be made in this market? That’s the overarching question for a lot of teams.
Footer: The Wild Card standings are mildly interesting, even this early. The Rangers are within five of the third spot, but they’re four games under .500. That seems like a team that should probably stand pat at the Deadline and keep the focus on ’23 and beyond. But what if they go on a little bit of a run, reach .500 and are maybe three or four back? It’s still hard to imagine them moving into “good team” territory in ’22.
Castrovince: Can’t put anything past the Rangers. In the purest baseball terms, they had no business spending half a billion dollars on middle infielders this past winter. But they did it because they are serious about turning the corner. And once you go down that road, it would be ridiculous to stand pat at the Deadline if you have a mathematically feasible road to October.
Footer: Their spending spree was something to talk about, but the absence of significant dollars going toward pitching tarnishes it a little bit.
Feinsand: Front offices have to make a decision: Is getting to the postseason enough to make a big move, or do you need to believe your team can truly make a run? I remember some years ago when the Tigers were three games out of the AL Central lead, yet they became sellers and traded David Price. [Then-GM] Dave Dombrowski didn’t think his team was good enough to make a real run in October. You have to be able to self-evaluate your club and decide if the juice is worth the squeeze.
Is a team lingering around .500 in late July going to be able to take down the Yankees or Astros in the AL, or the Mets, Dodgers or Padres in the NL? Impossible to say, of course, but that’s why being the head of a baseball operations department is a hard job!
Castrovince: It’s always market and situation-specific. Dombrowski’s Phillies, for instance, might not be good enough to actually advance, but they’ve got the second-longest playoff drought in the sport and have already invested so much in this team. Have to go for it, if there is any chance whatsoever of improving.
Feinsand: Correct. So if you’re Dombrowski or [Mariners president of baseball operations] Jerry Dipoto, you’re doing everything you can to get to October. If you’re [Rangers president of baseball ops] Jon Daniels, you might be able to look beyond 2022 and set yourself up for 2023.
Though I recently listed Martín Pérez as a potential trade candidate and Rangers Twitter lit me up. Texas fans want no part of being a seller, that’s for sure. And this was before they made a little jump in the standings.
The additions of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien seem to have injected some life and hope into the fan base, so maybe Daniels and [GM] Chris Young decides to make a move or two in an effort to get to the postseason and have something to build on.
Castrovince: You can’t trade away a homegrown ace like Martín Pérez. (Before I get e-mails, see, this is a joke, because he was their top pitching prospect a decade ago and then wasn’t very good and left for a while but now is back and is very good.)
Feinsand: Especially if we’re talking about a pitcher with an additional year of control such as Montas or Castillo.
Footer: Castro, you said you without this deadline could be a dud. Is it because of the lack of a Max Scherzer type being on the block? Is Willson Contreras the highest-profile player who might be dealt?
Castrovince: In a word, yes. Many of the biggest deals have already happened in those frantic days after the lockout [was lifted]. The expanded playoffs and lack of obvious inventory cast doubt on this being a blockbuster Deadline. Unless we can convince the Nationals to do right by listicle writers everywhere and come off their stance against trading Juan Soto.
Feinsand: Great. Now the Soto talk will get going again. Thanks, Castro.
Castrovince: And we’ve seen a lot of true aces dealt in relatively recent Deadlines, be it Justin Verlander or Zack Greinke or Scherzer. Frankie Montas is very good, but he’s not an established Cy Young winner like those guys. And after him, the pitching market gets pretty suspicious pretty fast.
Feinsand: Contreras will likely be the biggest name moved, though it wouldn’t shock me to see someone acquire him as a DH and part-time catcher. Installing a new starting catcher with two or three months left in the season can be tricky, especially for a contender that is already playing well. But the Cubs moved everyone else last year, so he’s as good as gone in his walk year.
The top starters (Montas, Castillo, Tyler Mahle, etc.) are not the established aces like Scherzer or Verlander, but they can certainly make an impact on a pennant race.
Castrovince: Yeah, I don’t see Contreras stepping in as the No. 1 catcher on a World Series team. But there are plenty of at-bats to go around with the DH spot.
Feinsand: Andrew Benintendi should draw plenty of interest for the Royals, which adds another notable name to the list.
Castrovince: They can definitely make an impact. I just don’t think we’re going to see one of those deals that compels us to write, “Does [TEAM THAT MADE BLOCKBUSTER ACQUISITION] have the greatest rotation ever ?! “And that makes me sad.
Feinsand: Right now, you would look at the Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Athletics, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds and Rockies and figure those are definite sellers. So which players on those 10 teams will make a difference? I’d go with Trey Mancini, Benintendi, Montas, Nelson Cruz, Contreras and Castillo as my top 6, but there are more in that group. David Robertson will also be a sneaky good acquisition for someone.
Footer: I’m sort of surprised Mancini is still an Oriole.
Feinsand: He’s going to be a free agent. Don’t they sort of owe it to him to give him a shot to play for a contender at this point?
Castrovince: Well, as we write this, the Orioles have as many wins as my AL West pick, so I guess he is kinda sorta on a “contender” in that sense. (Or put another way, my predictions stink.)
Feinsand: All predictions stink, Castro.
So while this list might not contain the “HOLY COW!” kind of names, there will be plenty of players that can help a contender down the stretch.
Castrovince: People will keep trying to trade for Bryan Reynolds, I would guess.
Feinsand: I would think so. But they’re going to have to pay. A lot.
I would be intrigued to see young players like Jo Adell or Jarred Kelenic get moved. They have both struggled mightily, but you would think there’s still value given their age and talent. Maybe the Angels and / or Mariners try to move them while they still have some of that value? Other teams might look at them as change-of-scenery candidates. Unlikely, but you never know.
Footer: Those two have been followed by so much buildup and expectation from their respective markets. Maybe they’d benefit from being a little more anonymous while starting with a new organization.
Castrovince: That’s a good thought. And whether it’s those players or not, that could be a place where this Deadline gets interesting. Post-prime prospects who, for whatever reason, didn’t click.
Feinsand: We focus so much on the impending free agents (and rightfully so), but some teams get creative. This could be a year when we see more controllable players / prospects moved in old-fashioned baseball trades along the lines of the Zac Gallen / Jazz Chisholm Jr. deal.
Feinsand: Precisely. That was a Trade Deadline deal.
Castrovince: I like those.
Footer: Back to Contreras – for much of the past month or so, the Astros and Giants were considered the most logical landing spot. Has that changed?
Castrovince: Not unless Buster Posey has come out of retirement.
Feinsand: I think the Mets have to be in the Contreras mix as well. But the Astros and Giants are still sensitive landing spots for Contreras. I would count out the Yankees, though. I can’t see them messing with the catching given how well Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka have done defensively and with the pitching staff.
Castrovince: The Mets are paying a heck of a lot of money to James McCann … but it’s only money. Add the Guardians to the list, too.
Feinsand: Contreras is only a 2-3 month commitment, and with the universal DH, there are plenty of at-bats to be had.