The chance for a repeat of last year’s star-filled, thrill-a-minute deadline may depend on one or more of the teams in the middle ranks switching into sell mode. For now, with expanded playoffs — and thus extra hope for the mediocre — just a half-dozen teams are fairly committed sellers (with one or two more seen as likely), and injury questions have cropped up for three of the better starters on also -ran team — Frankie Montas, Tyler Mahle and Kyle Hendricks.
That leaves a buyer/seller imbalance rarely seen before.
There’s no great reason to think anyone close to the stature of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo may be on the move this summer, like last. But things may improve if some of those middle-rung teams fade, and thus change course.
Among those clubs, the Rangers could offer the late-blooming Cy Young contender Martin Perez, the Marlins improving starter Pablo Lopez, the Angels outstanding closer Raisel Iglesias and talented starter Noah Syndergaard, and the White Sox many talented players on their ultra underachieving roster. The Angels, “undecided” about their buy/sell status, have never before even considered dealing Mike Trout, he has full veto rights and an expectation he wouldn’t OK many places (maybe home to Philadelphia?). But just to be sure, I checked again.
“You can rule out [a trade of] Trout,” came the official answer from Los Angeles/Anaheim.
So Trout joins Juan Soto as superstars going nowhere.
Back to reality, and the certain sellers.
The Reds, a winter fire-seller, could have a productive deadline even with Mahle on the IL and no takers for overpaid vets Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas. Top-of-the-line starter Luis Castillo plus late-blooming infielder Brandon Drury look like headliners in this environment, and if he can stick to baseball, Tommy Pham could help a contender, as might outfield mate Tyler Naquin.
The Twins, Padres and Mets are among many teams in on Castillo, and it’s no surprise the Reds seek a “top” prospect, such as Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza from the Yankees — who check on everyone but actually have a more pressing need, anyway (an outfielder of course).
The Pirates are unlikely to trade star center fielder Bryan Reynolds, whom the Yankees and others covet, since he has multiple years of control, so veteran starter Jose Quintana and possibly emerging closer David Bednar look like their best trade pieces. The Tigers don’t have much veteran trade bait — lefty relievers Gregory Soto and Andrew Chafin may be their top targets, with Michael Pineda and Robbie Grossman among others available.
The Nationals’ best hope for a return is in Josh Bell, a switch hitter having a career year, with very veteran DH Nelson Cruz (Mets?) and reliever Tanner Rainey also of interest. The Cubs will surely trade star catcher Willson Contreras and rejuvenated closer David Robertson, although outfielder Ian Happ, with a year left before free agency, seems unlikely. The Orioles — with Trey Mancini plus multiple relievers to offer, including star closer Jorge Lopez — should do well, even if they keep outfielders Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander and Austin Hays as expected.
The Athletics’ big winter sale was expected to continue, but with the status of ace Montas iffy, it may lack punch. Word is they’d have to be “inspired” to deal catcher Sean Murphy or center fielder Ramon Laureano. Veteran closer Lou Trivino is off to an uncharacteristically rough start, and Jed Lowrie finally looks done.
The Diamondbacks don’t want to trade Zac Gallen or Ketel Marte, Madison Bumgarner has limited value versus his contract, their roster is stocked with kids, and Ian Kennedy just went on the IL, perhaps leaving closer Mark Melancon and starters Merrill Kelly and Zach Davies as their trade pieces. The Rockies, a reluctant trader, would bolster the market if they’d deal CJ Cron, Chad Kuhl, Jose Iglesias and even struggling starter German Marquez.
No doubt, the best hope to save the trade deadline may be those undecided midrange clubs. Here’s a rundown (note that none are particularly likely).
The latest word is that they are more likely to buy than sell, no surprise considering their all-in winter approach. Perez would warrant a nice return. Chances (odds) to sell: 7-5.
The team is inhibited by continuing pitching needs, rampant underachievement and too many injuries, but the motivation to get Trout and fellow superstar Shohei Ohtani into the playoffs is strong. The players who make the most trade sense are Iglesias and Thor. Chances to sell: 8-5.
They started 6-0 after dumping Derek Jeter’s unpopular right-hand man Gary Denbo (“Thanks Gary,” one Marlins person noted) and are on the cusp of the race. They’re getting hits on Garrett Cooper and others, but that rare team with starting pitching depth may be more inclined to deal a pitching prospect for a hitter. Chances to sell: 3-1.
They’ve overachieved on a shoestring, but a four-game sweep to the lowly Tigers may summon reality. Chances to sell: 4-1.
5. White Sox
The superb roster continues to underachieve. Their best hope to contend: no standouts in that winnable division. Chances to sell: 5-1.
They haven’t made the playoffs in two decades and made bold moves in winter, so a sale seems farfetched. Power-hitting OF Mitch Haniger is a candidate to go. Chances to sell: 6-1.