Roundtable: Answering the MLB Trade Deadline’s Burning Questions

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Trade season is upon us, and while a number of notable names—including Manny Machado, Brad Hand, Zach Britton, Joakim Soria and J.A. Happ—have already been moved, several teams still have obvious holes that stand to attempt to be filled. Six of our staff writers (Tom Verducci, Michael Beller, Ben Reiter, Jon Tayler, Emma Baccellieri and Jack Dickey) gave their thoughts on some of the biggest questions surrounding the looming July 31 deadline and how it might play out.

Which team must make a move to compete for the pennant?

Tom Verducci: For a second straight year, Milwaukee has a window to get back to the postseason, and the Brewers can’t let it pass again without a bold move to try to capitalize on it. The Brewers have had serviceable starting pitching, but injuries to Brent Suter and Zach Davies leave them thin. They could go the rental route (Lance Lynn) or go big for a controllable starter (Chris Archer, Zack Wheeler). After a 5–11 slide cost them five games in the standings, this clubhouse needs a boost.

Michael Beller: The Diamondbacks. Look, we all know the move should’ve been keeping J.D. Martinez in the desert, but that didn’t happen. Still, even with the Cubs and Dodgers, the senior circuit’s overlords, atop their respective divisions, the NL is there for the taking. Both the Cubs and Dodgers have obvious cracks that were not present when they won the last two NL pennants. The Cubs have serious starting pitching issues that might not be fixable on the trade market. The Dodgers have similar problems, especially if Clayton Kershaw officially isn’t quite what he used to be. A big move for the Diamondbacks could vault them ahead of the Dodgers, getting them out of wild card purgatory, and draw them close to even with the best teams in the NL. As constructed, it’s hard to imagine them beating some combination of the Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, Braves and Brewers to get to the World Series.

Ben Reiter: The Mariners. They need a pitcher. GM Jerry DiPoto has admitted this. A rotation with a below-average 4.04 ERA, and without anyone truly dependable aside from James Paxton, is not going to be enough to get past the A’s for the second wild-card spot, even if Oakland is the only other viable contender for it. It’s certainly not going to be enough to get deep into October. I’m not sure that any of the rumored options—Zack Wheeler? Matt Harvey?—will provide a significant boost, but you know that Tradin’ Jerry is going to try.

Jon Tayler: The Brewers need to get a starting pitcher—like, “heroine in a romance novel aching for her lover” need. With soft-tossing Brent Suter done for the year with a torn elbow ligament, the starting five is Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra, Freddy Peralta and Wade Miley. Somehow, four of those pitchers have ERA+ marks better than league average, but do you want to bet on any of those guys to start the NL wild-card game or any Division Series matchup? Milwaukee has to add an above-average arm before the deadline passes.

Emma Baccellieri: Cleveland. It fixed its bullpen needs earlier this month by trading for Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, but it still has to do something about its outfield, which has hit a collective .261/.312/.382. No one outside of All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley has been doing anything at the plate, and while the team has an easy trip to the playoffs thanks to its dreadful division competition, it’ll need to make an upgrade (Adam Jones, anyone?) if it wants to make a run.

Jack Dickey: I realize the Brewers have gotten a lot of mileage out of their ragtag rotation and lethal bullpen; Jeremy Jeffress and Josh Hader were All-Stars, and Jhoulys Chacin appears to have been one of the shrewdest free-agent signings of the offseason. Still, Milwaukee would be well served by adding another starter. (Joakim Soria is not enough.) They’ll need him to beat Mike Foltynewicz, Zack Greinke or Aaron Nola in the wild-card game, or they’ll need him to help make up ground against the Cubs so Milwaukee can skip the wild-card round altogether.

Who will be the surprise player moved at the deadline?

Verducci: Adam Jones of the Orioles is not an impact player any more, but he could impact a pennant race as a part-time veteran with valuable leadership skills and a knack for good at-bats against good pitching. Jones is a platoon-neutral hitter who is hitting .315 from the seventh through ninth innings and .313 against relief pitching.

Beller: How about Andrew McCutchen? It’s not that he’s having such a great season that it would be a surprise for the Giants to move him, but rather that his name hasn’t surfaced in many, if any, rumors just yet. The Giants are technically in the race, but I find it hard to believe that a team that has played barely better than .500 ball is going to leapfrog the three teams ahead of it in its own division, or the five teams ahead of it in the wild-card race. McCutchen, who’s hitting .260/.351/.415, could bring a nice return from a contender that could use some corner-outfield help, such as the Indians or Phillies.

Reiter: Marcell Ozuna? Tough one. But the Cardinals’ season is quickly turning into a disaster, and last winter’s prize—with his 10 homers and .677 OPS—has been terrifically disappointing. Perhaps they try to recoup some value for him while he’s still a year away from free agency.

Tayler: There aren’t that many contenders making moves this season, and most of them seem content to add a reliever or two and call it a deadline. With the marquee names already dealt and little left on the market, I don’t think we’ll be in for a big July 31 surprise—barring the Nationals blowing it all up with a Bryce Harper deal.

Baccellieri: José Martinez. The Cardinals haven’t really positioned themselves as either sellers or buyers this year, and they’ve seemingly fallen off the biggest rumor radars, but moving the first baseman-slash-outfielder (who, ideally, would be a designated hitter) could make a lot of sense. With Matt Carpenter taking more time at first lately, Martinez has occasionally been relegated to being a bench bat in St. Louis—but he could likely net them a pretty nice return if put on the trading block, and it stands to reason that several teams would be interested.

Dickey: Any Washington National packing his bags would have been a surprise two months ago—but as it stands the 51–51 club trails Philadelphia by seven games and Atlanta by five and a half. Multiple reporters have floated the idea that ownership wants general manager Mike Rizzo to cut payroll and keep the team under the luxury tax, especially if it falls further out of contention. Jeremy Hellickson and Gio Gonzalez are both impending free agents and could fetch real returns; so are Shawn Kelley, midseason addition Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson. Matt Adams could be moved, too. As for the free-agent-to-be in right field? His departure would be truly stunning. Then again, so is the idea of the Nationals being in third place.

Which team will be the most active?

Verducci: You can never go wrong expecting Jerry Dipoto of the Mariners to be hyper-active, especially now that Seattle has lost 10 of its last 16 and its offense—never as good as its luck in one-run games let on—is leaking oil. Only the Giants and Tigers have a worse OPS in July than Seattle, and nobody has scored fewer runs this month (57; nobody else is less than 70). Dipoto could shop for a second baseman with pop (Brian Dozier?) and push Dee Gordon back to centerfield.

Beller: I think will see pretty much every contender make at least one move, but I want to give some love to the A’s here. The AL isn’t as wide open as the NL, and it’s going to be hard for any outsider to break through the Astros-Red Sox-Indians-Yankees quartet. The A’s, however, have a better chance of doing it than the Mariners. They already added Jeurys Familia to the bullpen, so now it’s time for Billy Beane to turn his attention to the rotation. The bet here is that they get at least one pitcher from the Tyson Ross/Zack Wheeler group, while making at least another fringe move or two to strengthen the bullpen.

Reiter: The Orioles. On the sell-side, anyway. Manny Machado and Zach Britton could soon be followed by Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman, Mychal Givens, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, to start. By Aug. 1, Baltimore’s clubhouse could be populated by Chris Davis, Buck Showalter and a whole lot of “who’s that?.”

Tayler: Normally around this time of year, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto is pulling 22-hour days while burning through the batteries of four different phones and texting 2,500-word trade offers to anyone who’ll listen. But with Seattle’s farm system tapped out and the roster in good shape, he’s—for once—unlikely to wheel and deal. Instead, I’ll tap the Nationals as the most likely to be busy at the deadline. Under .500 and fading in the NL East and wild-card races, Washington either needs to add help or start selling off assets. One way or the other, it should be a hectic stretch for that front office.

Baccellieri: The Orioles—selling isn’t as glamorous as buying, but it’s still activity. They’ve obviously already moved their biggest trade chips in Manny Machado and Zach Britton, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see some combination of Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy go before the deadline. As historically terrible as this team has been, it’s easy to forget that they were actually trying to contend this year, and now that it’s (very painfully) clear that they won’t be winning any time soon, it’s time for an overhaul.

Dickey: The Yankees have already swiped Zach Britton and J.A. Happ, so the crown is theirs to lose. (With apologies to the Dodgers.) The Mariners badly need pieces but their farm system may be too thin to pull off any acquisitions; the A’s have more prospects but might be more hesitant to go all-in on 2018.

Which contender is most likely to stand pat?

Verducci: Hard to imagine, but since May 31, Washington starters are 8–25. This month only the Padres’ starters have a worse ERA than the Nationals’ 6.08 ERA. The Nats are running out Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Jeremy Hellickson, but it’s not working. There is a lack of cohesiveness here—the sum is less than the parts of this roster—that can’t be fixed with one move.

Beller: The Dodgers are the least likely to make a move this week, but they already made their big splash so it would be misleading to say they’re standing pat. I’ll go with the Braves, a team that’s unquestionably one year, if not two years, ahead of schedule, and unlikely to subtract from its impressive young core to chase an unlikely championship this season. This certainly isn’t an all-in season for the Braves, and it seems they have less opportunity to address their needs on the fringes than any other contender. Honorable mention here to the Indians, who will cruise to an AL Central title and strike fear in the hearts of their postseason opponents with Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer fronting a rotation that hands the ball to a bullpen featuring Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Brad Hand and, possibly, Carlos Carrasco.

Reiter: You think the Astros need a relief ace for October? I think they need one, even though their bullpen’s cumulative ERA is 2.96. But I’m not sure GM Jeff Luhnow thinks they need one, especially with Zach Britton and Brad Hand off the market, and especially at the future-damaging cost a similar arm will command. In fact, Luhnow might think he already has one—perhaps it’s Lance McCullers, or Dallas Keuchel, or Forrest Whitley, or Cionel Perez. Luhnow has shown that he’s not afraid to do the most controversial thing for a contender at the non-waivers deadline, which is nothing.

Tayler: The Astros have already made a move in adding backup catcher Martin Maldonado, and they’ve reportedly made noise about wanting to add an outfielder, too. But ultimately, Houston is so loaded that the team doesn’t need to do much of anything. The Astros as currently constructed are a title contender already. I’d also bet against the Phillies or Braves doing anything wild, as both teams are in good shape and unlikely to sacrifice future parts despite earlier-than-expected contention.

Baccellieri: The Astros. They went out and got Martin Maldonado earlier this week as an injury replacement for Brian McCann, but it’s hard to see them doing much else. Why would they? This team already has just about everything that they could need.

Dickey: Atlanta. The Braves have a bounteous farm system but have stuck with surprising veterans (Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki) so long already that a course correction would be surprising. Incidentally, although Dansby Swanson has rebounded this year, Atlanta probably wishes Andrelton Simmons was still around.

Which player will stay home despite rumors swirling around him?

Verducci: Jacob deGrom of the Mets isn’t going anywhere. It’s been wishful thinking by clubs for a month. The Mets, who are always PR conscious, would take a serious hit in that regard as well as on their plans to compete for the next two years if they moved him. They can’t win a deal by trading deGrom, and they consign Citi Field to a deeper level of irrelevancy if they move him.

Beller: Jacob deGrom is under team control through the 2020 season. Along with Noah Syndergaard, who can’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season, he gives teams something most of them would kill for: a 1–2 punch of legitimate aces. That is the foundation of a contender, in and of itself. The Mets have been horribly mismanaged, but they could be right back in the thick of things with a few shrewd moves. And guess what? If things don’t work out, the Mets could move deGrom in the offseason or at next year’s deadline, when he still won’t be a rental. Unless they get bowled over, they will, and should, keep deGrom.

Reiter: J.T. Realmuto. Everyone expected Realmuto to quickly follow Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich out of Miami. But it hasn’t happened yet, and it might not. He’s by far the best catcher in the league, he’s the centerpiece of the club and he’s not a free agent until after 2020. Why would even the Marlins part with a player like that, at least now?

Tayler: The Mets are probably too incompetent to trade Jacob deGrom, whose price is probably too high for any contender’s liking anyway. He’d bring a fortune back in prospects, but I wouldn’t trust New York’s current GM triumvirate or its chucklehead ownership duo to make a PB&J sandwich, much less get the right return for the team’s best player.

Baccellieri: Bryce Harper. Though Washington has reportedly opened up to the possibility of selling off bullpen pieces, it’s still hard to imagine them following that step through to its logical conclusion and trading free-agent-to-be Harper. The fan base would likely see a move like that as a sign of a scorched-earth policy, and so it’s one that the front office is understandably hesitant about, no matter how much sense it might make.

Dickey: Jacob deGrom. Not even the Mets would be foolish enough to let a lame-duck GM triumvirate sell off the leading Cy Young candidate with two years of team control remaining. It’d be near-impossible to get fair value, and the fans would riot.

How will the Mets manage to get back in the news?

Verducci: They trade Zack Wheeler for a top-10 prospect, who immediately gets hurt upon joining the organization.

Beller: They won’t. They’ll smartly resist the urge to trade Jacob deGrom, play out the string admirably like most non-contenders do, and fade into irrelevance for the rest of this season in the manner typical of a team sitting nearly 20 games under .500 heading into the trade deadline.

Reiter: A hell plague of locusts descends and eats all the grass at CitiField?

Tayler: The team spends all of July 31 negotiating a deal involving Noah Syndergaard and gets something agreed upon, then fails to send in the paperwork in time, prompting a “NO-AH WAY” backpage headline from the New York Post. An hour later, the front office reveals that Syndergaard is once again heading to the disabled list with an injury that has been nagging him for the last three weeks. The problem is described as minor, but he ends up missing the rest of the season anyway. Mets fans spend the afternoon arguing on Twitter about whether the Wilpons should be thrown into the East River or the Hudson before going back to yelling about promoting Peter Alonso.

Baccellieri: With all the jokes that people will make about the resurgence of Matt Harvey, when he inevitably gets traded for the second time this year. And maybe with a Zack Wheeler trade, too.

Dickey: Jacob deGrom will miss the rest of the season with croup. Omar Minaya will be appointed general manager for life.

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