Rick Sutcliffe’s name will be thrown around a time or two as the July 31 Trade Deadline approaches. Thirty-five years ago, he became the kind of impact acquisition against whom every other can be measured.
The Cubs got Sutcliffe in a seven-player deal with the Indians on June 13, 1984 (prior to 1986, the Deadline was June 15 each year). The Cubs led the National League East by 1 1/2 games in a quest to make the playoffs for the first time in 39 years, and were especially trying to avoid the kind of meltdown they’d suffered in 1969.
Sutcliffe started 20 games for the Cubs. They won 18 of them. He was officially 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA with seven complete games and six other starts in which he completed eight innings. He allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of those 20 starts, and the Cubs won the division by 6 1/2 games.
Plenty of other players have had a dramatic impact on their teams -- Justin Verlander for the Astros in 2017 and Aroldis Chapman for the Cubs in 2016 come to mind.
Here are nine players who could have a big impact on the 2019 races.
1) Matthew Boyd, SP, Tigers
To say there’s a large amount of skepticism about Boyd's actual availability is an understatement. In addition to that, Boyd has not been at his best the last month. Nevertheless, he has the potential to reshape the postseason race, and the Tigers are at least listening to offers. Because the 28-year-old is under team control for three more seasons, there’s the potential to land multiple top prospects. He’s averaging 12 strikeouts per nine innings and has allowed three runs or fewer in 13 of 19 starts.
Contract: $2.6 million salary in 2019, then one more year of arbitration before hitting the free-agent market prior to the 2021 season
Potential landing spots: The Astros, Yankees and Brewers would be nice fits, and all three have the Minor League depth to make this kind of trade.
2) Kirby Yates, closer, Padres
Yates is allowing less than a baserunner per inning (0.80) and averaging 14.05 strikeouts per nine, and he has made good on 30 of 32 save chances. He’s also under team control for one more season before hitting free agency. Although the Padres aren’t actively shopping him, their place in the standings and the demand for great relievers may force their hand.
Contract: $3.06 million, with one more arbitration season before hitting free agency after the 2020 season
Potential landing spots: The Rays and Braves have enough Minor League depth to tempt the Padres to make this deal. The Nationals and Twins would be in line, too.
3) Felipe Vázquez, RP, Pirates
Vazquez is one of the dominant late-inning relievers in the game, and he could dramatically alter the postseason outlook if he landed with, say, the Dodgers, Rays or Braves. He’s averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings and regularly touches 99 mph. He has a team-friendly contract that potentially runs through 2023.
Contract: $4.5 million in 2019, $5.75 million in 2020, $7.75 million in 2021; team options worth $10 million apiece in 2022 and 2023
Potential landing spots: He could be traded, because late-inning relievers are volatile stocks, and a team like the Dodgers, an organization with a deep Minor League system, might see him as the final brick in the wall for winning a World Series.
4) Madison Bumgarner, SP, Giants
If the Giants keep winning, Bumgarner's availability is going to be a tough decision for new Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. But if he is available, he’s going to bring an elite prospect, because he is the guy who can alter a postseason picture the way Verlander did in 2017. He can block trades to the Braves, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Yankees, Phillies and Cardinals, but that, too, is negotiable.
Contract: $12 million in 2019, then he hits the free-agent market
Potential landing spots: The Brewers, Astros and Yankees seem to be the most logical destinations, even though all three are on his no-trade list. If the Giants do decide to move him, the no-trade situation almost certainly can be figured out.
5) Mike Minor, SP, Rangers
The Rangers are another team that, like the Giants, has surpassed expectations. General manager Jon Daniels still seems likely to trade his No. 1 starter, in part because of the demand for starting pitching. At 31, Minor is pitching the best baseball of his career, having allowed three runs or fewer in 16 of 19 starts while averaging 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Contract: $9.83 million in 2019, $9.83 million in 2020, then free agency before the 2021 season
Potential landing spots: Minor makes sense for the Brewers and Astros, but he could end up being the most sought-after starter on the market, since the Boyd and Bumgarner discussions could get complicated.
6) Marcus Stroman, SP, Blue Jays
Stroman is the prototype of what teams are seeking in this high-spin rate, high-velocity era. His fastball regularly touches 95-95 mph, and his cutter is in the 91-92 mph range. He has allowed three runs or fewer in 10 of his last 11 starts and is allowing less than one home run per nine innings.
Contract: $7.4 million in 2019, then arbitration eligible in 2020 before hitting the free-agent market ahead of the 2021 season
Potential landing spots: The Yankees would be a nice fit since he grew up on Long Island and seems eager to pitch in New York. He’s right for the Brewers as well ... and pretty much every contender.
7) Whit Merrifield, utility, Royals
General manager Dayton Moore has steadfastly refused to trade his best player despite serious interest by multiple teams. This summer could be different, only because the postseason races are so murky and a player of this caliber could be a difference-maker.
Contract: $1 million in 2019, $5 million in 2020, $6.75 million in 2021, $2.75 million in 2022, $10.5 million team option in 2023
Potential landing spots: Merrifield is exactly what the Cardinals need. He would provide badly needed offensive production, and he can play all over the diamond, giving manager Mike Shildt lineup flexibility. The Cubs and Rays could also use him in a Ben Zobrist super-utility role.
8) Will Smith, closer, Giants
Smith has appeared in just 94 games the last two seasons, and that should increase his value as teams look for fresh arms for October. He has made good on 38 of 44 save chances, with a 2.63 ERA in that time, and his 0.94 WHIP is the ninth lowest among all Major League relievers. His impending free agency will lower his value a bit, but given the demand for pitching, the bidding should be intense.
Contract: $4.225 million in 2019, then eligible for free agency
Potential landing spots: He’s a perfect fit for the Braves, Twins and Nationals, but he would upgrade every bullpen.
9) Trey Mancini, OF/1B, Orioles
Pitching is going to be in such demand that hitters may be the last to go, and in some cases, that’s where teams will turn for one final roster tweak. Mancini is having his best season, and at 27, is under team control for three more seasons. He won’t be the most sought-after player, but he is one capable of affecting races.
Contract: $575,500 in 2019, then arbitration eligible next three seasons
Potential landing spots: The Cardinals are sorting through offensive options. He would be a nice fit for the Giants or Indians as well.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.