The first domino of the trade season fell Monday when the Rays acquired Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins, but things could really heat up soon -- and Billy Beane could be the one to light the fuse.Oakland has already started shopping several players to other teams, according to a rival
The first domino of the trade season fell Monday when the Rays acquired Adeiny Hechavarria from the Marlins, but things could really heat up soon -- and Billy Beane could be the one to light the fuse.
Oakland has already started shopping several players to other teams, according to a rival executive, and while Beane will have the patience to wait until July 31 to make a deal (or two or three) if necessary, the Athletics' executive vice president of baseball operations won't be shy about trading now if he thinks it's in his club's best interest.
"Oakland hasn't been afraid to make a deal in early July in the past," the executive said. "If Billy sees a deal he likes, he's going to do it."
The Athletics appear to have jump-started their rebuilding process this season, designating both third baseman Trevor Plouffe and catcher Stephen Vogt for assignment during the past two weeks. Oakland traded Plouffe to the Rays for cash considerations or a player to be named later, while the Brewers claimed Vogt off waivers.
The player considered most likely to be dealt early is right-hander Sonny Gray, who has already drawn interest from the Astros and Red Sox among others. Gray is 3-3 with a 4.45 ERA in 11 starts this season, and while the numbers aren't overwhelming, scouts have liked what they've seen as the 27-year-old tries to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2016.
"If they get a deal they like for Sonny Gray, they'll lock it in early in July as opposed to taking a health risk on the guy," the executive said.
The market for Gray isn't limited to contenders, either. With two more years of team control, Gray would be an appealing acquisition for any club that believes it will contend in 2018 or '19, too.
Oakland is also shopping first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jed Lowrie and several of its bullpen pieces, the executive said.
An early-July deal wouldn't be uncharacteristic for Beane, who acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs for Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney on July 5, 2014. Six years earlier, Oakland traded Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs on July 8 for a four-player package that included Josh Donaldson.
Given the crowded postseason picture in the American League and the tight races in both the National League Central and West, the teams acquiring Oakland's players would benefit from an early trade.
"I'd rather be opportunistic with an extra month to play," one AL general manager said. "Time matters. You don't want to wait until the Deadline just because there's a Deadline; if you can get better, you want to consume as much of the player as possible."
Trusting the process
Entering Tuesday's slate, all 15 AL teams were within 7 1/2 games of a postseason spot, leading some to wonder when the first clubs in the league would present themselves as sellers.
"There's a pile-up in the whole AL; everyone thinks they can contend," one AL executive said. "It's more interesting than most years when you have big buyers and big sellers; there's a middle group of teams that are looking to see which way the wind blows."
The White Sox began their rebuilding process this past offseason with the trades of Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals, so although Chicago sat 7 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race and only a half-game further out of first place in the AL Central as of Tuesday, it looks like the White Sox will be among the first AL teams to begin selling off pieces.
"It's easier for them to say, 'We're staying the course.' They're in the mix, but so is the entire American League," the executive said. "They can tell their fans, 'We're not going to mortgage ourselves or change direction because of a few good months. When we started the season, we were all tied for first place, too. We've lost ground since then.'"
Another exec called the White Sox "one of the most obvious sellers," noting that closer Player Page for David Robertson and third baseman Todd Frazier are among the likely players to be dealt by July 31.
"It's harder for teams that came into the season with expectations," the executive said of the White Sox, who stood at 32-43 following Monday's loss to the Yankees, Chicago's fourth straight defeat. "There's no pressure on them to win, and they're not under any illusion that they can win. They're a pretty pure seller -- unless they run off 10 straight, of course."
Kansas City has been a fascinating team to discuss this season, from its 10-20 start to the 11-3 run during the past two weeks that got the Royals back to .500 for the first time since April 19.
With a half-dozen key players headed for free agency at the end of the season, general manager Dayton Moore has less than five weeks to decide whether to take a shot at another postseason run or deal away any or all of his potential free agents -- Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Alcides Escobar are all in the final year of their deals -- in return for prospects.
At least one rival AL executive believes Kansas City will hang on to its players and try to get to October.
"They want to win; they've seen the magic and how it all comes together, so I can see Kansas City ownership saying, 'Let's go for it,'" the executive said. "There's such an affinity in Kansas City for that team and those guys. If they decide they need to rebuild, they can rebuild later."
Three GMs confirmed that the Braves have been aggressively shopping players, but Atlanta isn't alone. The Marlins, who traded Hechavarria to the Rays on Monday, have also begun talking to other teams.
"Atlanta and Miami are out there, but they're not alone," one GM said. "The Mets have waved the white flag, at least to other teams, that they would be willing to talk about their guys. The Reds are there, too; they just don't have as many pieces to trade off. The teams that are clearly out of it are clearly out of it."
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.