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AL Notebook: Who will shape the Trade Deadline?

@feinsand
July 19, 2019

The National League playoff picture is a jumbled mess, with 14 of the league’s 15 teams sitting only a handful games out of a postseason berth. The American League? That appears to be a little easier to sort out. The Yankees, Astros and Twins hold their respective division leads, while

The National League playoff picture is a jumbled mess, with 14 of the league’s 15 teams sitting only a handful games out of a postseason berth. The American League? That appears to be a little easier to sort out.

The Yankees, Astros and Twins hold their respective division leads, while the Rays, Indians, Athletics, Red Sox, Rangers and Angels are within striking distance of October. That means six teams – the White Sox, Mariners, Royals, Blue Jays, Tigers and Orioles – are already looking ahead at 2020 and beyond.

Could these six clubs shape the upcoming Trade Deadline? According to one NL executive, that seems to be a distinct possibility.

“The NL is wacky,” the executive said. “No one wants to make a move in either direction right now because we’re all unsure as to what to think of our team. It’s a very strange season.”

The Mariners (Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce) and Royals (Homer Bailey, Martín Maldonado) have already started selling, while the Orioles (Andrew Cashner) have also joined the fray. So which team has the chance to make the biggest impact on contenders around the league?

“I think Toronto could really impact a team if they chose to do a starter/reliever combo,” the executive said. “[Marcus] Stroman and [Ken] Giles could really impact a club if both go to the same place.”

The other team many are pointing to are the Indians, though Cleveland entered Thursday tied for the second Wild Card position and only a half game behind the Rays for the top spot. Should Trevor Bauer and or Brad Hand become available, they would leap Toronto as the best starter/reliever combo on the trade market. That said, there remains doubt that the Tribe will deal the two pitchers as long as they’re in the thick of the race.

“I can’t see them trading those guys unless an NL team wants to overpay for them,” the executive said. “It would be tough to trade them to an AL team because they are in the mix for a Wild Card so they’d be helping their direct competitor. But you never know. They are a confident bunch and will do whatever they think sets them up best for now and in the future.”

The clutter in the NL postseason race and the fact that nine AL teams are in the mix could mean the trade market stays relatively quiet until the final 72 hours before the Deadline, when teams have a better idea of where they stand.

“I could see that,” the executive said. “But I also think there are some GMs who will look to beat the frenzy and be aggressive – one way or the other. I think this is going to be fun.”

Giant impact?

If the Indians decide to become buyers, they might give the Giants a call. No, not for Madison Bumgarner, but for a pair of under-the-radar veterans who could help Cleveland make a run: Pablo Sandoval and Kevin Pillar.

Pillar, who was traded from Toronto to San Francisco on April 2, hasn’t been an overwhelming presence at the plate (.256/.285/.427 in 91 games with the Giants), but he’s been productive at times (12 HR, 51 RBIs) and would help a Cleveland outfield that has struggled all season.

Sandoval would provide another option at first base, third base and DH, something Terry Francona’s club could use as they try to chase down the first-place Twins. It’s been a foregone conclusion that San Francisco would be a seller, but the Giants have played their way back into NL Wild Card contention, leaving that scenario a bit cloudier than it had been.

“I know the Giants are playing well and even if they sell all the discussion has been about their pitching, but those are the kind of guys that help good teams become championship teams,” an executive said. “Panda is a proven postseason offensive player, he’s comfortable coming off the bench and can play a few positions. Pillar is playing Gold Glove defense. Those guys would help someone if [the Giants] sell.”

Tale of two offenses

Wednesday night, the Tigers were shut out for the ninth time this season, the most in the AL and second only to the Marlins (14) in the Majors. Conversely, the Yankees avoided being shut out on Tuesday when Encarnacion homered to get New York on the board. The Yankees haven’t been blanked in their past 177 games dating back to July 1, 2018.

New York’s streak is now the fourth-longest in Major League history, surpassing the 1992-93 Phillies, who went 174 games. If the Yankees can keep it going for another 36 games, they’ll move past the 2000-01 Reds (208) and the 1978-79 Brewers (212), giving them the second-longest such streak ever. The longest? The 1931-33 Yankees, who went 308 games without getting shut out.

Series to watch

Next week offers plenty of candidates for this honor including Yankees at Twins and Red Sox at Rays, but the AL West showdown between the Athletics and Astros at Minute Maid Park gets the nod here. Oakland is trying to chase down Houston for first place in the division, while the Astros are seeking to put some more space between themselves and the A’s as they pursue their third straight AL West crown.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.