Starting the second half in first place is certainly a great accomplishment. But there’s no guarantee that it will lead to a division title, much less postseason success.
So there is plenty of reason for the six clubs currently leading their division races to look for upgrades ahead of the July 30 Trade Deadline. In that spirit, we convened a group of MLB.com writers, who each proposed a trade idea for one of those teams. Will any of these deals come to fruition over the next two weeks? Stay tuned …
All stats are up to date entering Friday.
AL East: A Rizzo return for Red Sox
Red Sox get: 1B Anthony Rizzo, RHP Ryan Tepera
Cubs get: OF Franchy Cordero, RHP Brayan Bello (Red Sox No. 18 prospect), RHP Durbin Feltman
Why it could work: There’s a certain narrative appeal to this one, because Rizzo was originally drafted by the Red Sox (sixth round, 2007) and developed into a prospect in the Red Sox system, only to be traded before reaching the Majors. But this makes baseball sense, too, because the Red Sox are one of MLB’s bottom three teams this year in offensive production at first base, where rookie Bobby Dalbec has struggled mightily. Sure, the rotation might be a bigger need, but it’s hard to find an impact starter on the market, and improvements are improvements. Rizzo and Tepera could bolster the lineup and bullpen, respectively, with Rizzo providing a steady complement to Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez.
Despite Rizzo’s stature, the Sox shouldn’t have to dig too deep to acquire this pair of rentals. While the ultra-toolsy Cordero had a rough 34 games in Boston this year, he’s absolutely raked at Triple-A (1.017 OPS), and at 26, would offer the Cubs intriguing upside. Bello (a starter) and Feltman (a reliever) both are flourishing in Double-A, with the 22-year-old Bello appearing in the Futures Game.
Who says no: Even if the Cubs sell, they might prefer to hold on to Rizzo, given his importance to the franchise over the past decade -- unless they can pry away an elite prospect. On the other hand, one could see the Sox focusing on starting pitching before the Deadline instead.
-- Andrew Simon
AL Central: Another White Sox-Rangers blockbuster
Why it could work: These two clubs came together for a deal last December -- Lance Lynn to the White Sox, Dane Dunning and Avery Weems to the Rangers -- that has worked out well for both sides. So why not do it again? The White Sox should be in win-now mode with Lynn and Carlos Rodón eligible for free agency after 2021 and José Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel and Liam Hendriks all 32 or older, and this is exactly the type of move that could put them over the top.
Sure, Chicago’s offense will get reinforcements later this season when Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Grandal return from injuries, but the club lacks left-handed pop and has a hole in right field that it hasn’t been able to fill the last two seasons with the ill-fated acquisitions of Nomar Mazara and the recently released Adam Eaton. Gallo would solve both problems, and he can be penciled into the White Sox lineup in 2022 as well, as he’s under club control for another season after this one.
Who says no: Probably the White Sox. Gallo would be a great fit, but the impending returns of Jiménez and Robert will likely influence general manager Rick Hahn’s Deadline plans. The club isn’t desperate enough to surrender Céspedes, who was MLB.com’s No. 1 international prospect in the 2020-21 signing period.
-- Thomas Harrigan
AL West: The 'Stros beef up their 'pen
Why it could work: Truthfully, the Astros might have the fewest on-paper needs of any division leader. Their lineup is just as potent as it was from 2017-19, their young starters have stepped up behind Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr. and Jake Odorizzi and even the bullpen is perfectly average. But as the owners of the AL’s best run differential, Houston knows it has a legitimate shot at yet another pennant; it might as well make sure all of its units are humming come October.
Iglesias won’t move the needle the way Justin Verlander did in 2017 or Greinke did in '19, but outside of Craig Kimbrel, the veteran righty should be generating as much trade buzz as any reliever. His 3.46 ERA (somewhat inflated by two bad April outings against … the Astros) covers up some very strong swing-and-miss numbers under the hood -- check out all the red on the top-right corner of his Baseball Savant page. Iglesias has experience as both a closer and a multi-inning setup man, if manager Dusty Baker wants to keep Ryan Pressly in save situations. Plus, Iglesias can handle matchups on either side of the plate (.621 OPS allowed to righties, .631 OPS to lefties).
We’re assuming that the Angels (-26 run differential) and new general manager Perry Minasian will be forced to face reality and become sellers by month’s end. They can’t ask for a ton back for Iglesias, a two-month rental, but they would ask for a little more back from the division-rival Astros. The Halos’ 20 Draft picks this week tell the story; they’re after as many Major League-ready pitchers as they can get. This swap nets them two high-Minors arms with ceilings as mid-rotation starters.
Who says no: Maybe the Astros are more content with their bullpen than we think, plus they’re already up close to the competitive balance tax (CBT) threshold. But the Angels are more likely to balk. Mike Trout’s return brings optimism, not pessimism, to Anaheim for the next couple weeks, and it would probably take more to convince the Halos to help the club that’s bullied them for years.
-- Matt Kelly
NL East: Donaldson brings the rain to Queens
Why it could work: Third base is the big area for the Mets to upgrade, which is why there have been plenty of rumors linking them to Kris Bryant and Donaldson already. We're picking Donaldson for them here, with a deal that solves an extra problem, too: New York's questionable rotation depth as Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Noah Syndergaard try to come back from significant injuries. Maeda is a proven veteran who's pitched for plenty of playoff teams and has the added benefit of capably handling pitching in a swingman-type role when needed.
The Twins get a third-base prospect back with impressive power -- the 21-year-old Vientos is slugging .588 with 14 homers at Double-A this season -- who the Mets can also afford to part with since they have Brett Baty already. Because they're also giving up Maeda, they also get two pitching prospects with some upside in the 24-year-old Gilliam, who has 108 strikeouts in 80 2/3 career Minor League innings, and the 6-foot-7, hard-throwing 25-year-old Megill, who's impressed in his big league debut this year.
Who says no: The Twins. They're probably willing to trade the 35-year-old Donaldson and his four-year, $92 million contract that lasts through 2023, but the 33-year-old Maeda has a team-friendly deal (only owed $3 million a year in salary for each of the next two years), and there's some risk of selling low on him (4.66 ERA in 2021 after his 2.70 mark in '20).
-- David Adler
NL Central: Brewers add a bat
Why it could work: The Brewers’ great starting pitching this year is part of why they’re tops in the NL Central, but the team’s offense hasn’t been on quite the same level. Milwaukee is tied for 20th in the Majors in wRC+ and could definitely use a boost at the plate. Escobar has played mostly third base this year, which makes him a great fit for a team whose third baseman, Travis Shaw, is on the injured list with a left shoulder ailment. Luis Urías has been playing in his place, but Escobar would be an upgrade and could help add to the offense as a switch-hitter who already has popped 20 home runs. He’s versatile, and can play plenty of other positions, too. That includes shortstop and second base, where the Brewers are set with Willy Adames and Kolten Wong, but it’s always good to know he could back up there if needed.
Who says no: Probably the Brewers, who may not see Escobar as enough of an upgrade to the team’s offense as a rental player. That being said, for the right trade package, it could make a lot of sense -- and he’s a player the D-backs would likely be talking to teams about, given his expiring contract.
-- Sarah Langs
NL West: Giants double down on Rogers
Why it could work: The Giants have the best record in baseball, but the bullpen has been a recurring issue. It’s largely made up of a rotating cast of dynamic young pitchers, and while they’ve performed well of late, there’s an element of chaos that comes with a young bullpen. Overall, the Giants have the fourth-most blown saves in the NL and a 56 percent strand rate, tied with the Phillies for the second-worst in baseball. San Francisco's top two relievers could use some help. Veteran lefty Jake McGee still gives up plenty of hard contact, and it’s tough to be virtually a one-pitch pitcher, even if it’s just for an inning. Then there's submariner Tyler Rogers, who has a sub-2 ERA, but is on pace for about 76 appearances -- and that’s before you account for how the postseason treats elite relievers.
So it seems only natural for the Giants to trade for Rogers' twin brother. Sure, he’d be another lefty in a bullpen already laden with them -- but more importantly, Rogers is remarkably consistent, has one of the highest chase rates in the sport and racks up strikeouts. Not to mention that his 2.58 expected ERA suggests he’d benefit greatly from playing for a team with the second-fewest errors in baseball as opposed to the second-most.
On the Twins’ end, they nab a pair of position players to balance out their pitching-heavy pipeline. Matos is an extremely precocious hitter with a high baseball IQ, never a bad sign for a 19-year-old outfielder, and with his plate discipline and raw power potential, Wyatt has plenty to build on as well.
Who says no: Maybe Minnesota. We don’t exactly know how the Twins’ front office views this season -- whether it’s incredibly bad luck or a sign they need to tear down and start over. If it’s the former, Rogers might be worth hanging on to, as he’s under team control until 2023. Ultimately though, the Twins aren’t starved for young pitching, and could just as easily use an open spot in the bullpen to try out one of their top prospects.
-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru