The Cubs have inquired to the Rangers on the availability of ace Yu Darvish, according to sources, and a trade match between the teams is more plausible than it would've been entering the All-Star break.
Consider what has transpired since then:
• The Cubs have won six straight games to start the second half, conveying to the front office that the 2017 roster is worthy of further investment.
• Theo Epstein already acquired a long-term rotation piece, Jose Quintana, giving him the freedom to pursue rentals such as Darvish.
• MLB Buzz: Trade talk, deals and rumors
• Texas, meanwhile, has lost five straight games, including a four-game sweep in Baltimore. The Rangers would need to pass six teams to move into the second Wild Card position in the American League, which is unlikely. And while general manager Jon Daniels hasn't formally decided to sell, executives around the league believe he will in the coming days.
• Darvish, who turns 31 next month, is having his best, healthiest season since 2013, with a 1.141 WHIP in 125 1/3 innings.
• Ervin Santana (Twins) and Gerrit Cole (Pirates) were viewed as trade candidates at various points this season, but neither is likely to be moved now. Santana's Twins identified themselves as a buyer Thursday, by reportedly nearing a trade for the Braves' Jaime Garcia; Pittsburgh is likely to hold, rather than trade Cole and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
In other words, the Cubs have few high-end, controllable pitchers to pursue -- especially if Sonny Gray ends up in Houston. (The Cubs remained interested in Gray as of Thursday night, one source said.)
• Despite the Cubs' 6-0 start since the All-Star break, they have room for an All-Star starter in their rotation -- even if Kyle Hendricks pitches like the 2016 version of himself once he returns from the disabled list. John Lackey has a 5.04 ERA this season, and Mike Montgomery has been much more effective out of the bullpen (2.50 ERA) than in his current role as a starter (5.13 ERA).
Yet, it's far too early to characterize the Cubs as the leader to acquire Darvish. The Yankees and Dodgers, among others, are expected to pursue the right-hander if the Rangers formally make him available. For the Cubs, Darvish would be a bold, logical move -- the type of trade Epstein has made numerous times in his future Hall of Fame career.
• For weeks -- months, even -- Twins officials wrestled with how aggressively they should buy at the Trade Deadline, given a run differential that remains minus-61 and the reigning AL champions above them in the division. But Thursday's attempt to acquire Garcia was a sensible move. At a half game back in the standings, the clubhouse deserves a reinforcement -- especially for a rotation that has posted a 4.91 ERA this season and relied excessively on Santana and Jose Berrios.
• The Mariners aren't finished looking for pitching upgrades, even after Thursday's acquisition of David Phelps from the Marlins. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has spoken with the Giants and Padres about their available starters, according to sources.
• The Tigers are expected to continue dealing, following this week's J.D. Martinez trade. Justin Wilson has drawn interest from the Astros, Brewers and Red Sox, among others, sources say. And if Detroit general manager Al Avila moves catcher Alex Avila, he'll become the first GM to trade his son since Al Campanis dealt Jim Campanis soon after becoming GM of the Dodgers in 1968, according to MLB Network research and MLB communications.
Meanwhile, a source confirmed the report by Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press that the Brewers have some interest in Justin Verlander. The Tigers would need to include substantial cash to defray Verlander's $28 million salary in each of the next two years; it's also unclear if Verlander would waive his no-trade clause, given his preference for large markets.