5 dark-horse Trade Deadline candidates for 2018

July 5th, 2018

As the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline nears, we know how this is going to go for most of the impending free agents. Players on non-contenders such as Manny Machado, J.A. Happ and Mike Moustakas are absolutely going to be traded. Important parts of winning teams such as , Andrew Miller and obviously won't be. Any team that's well below .500 will be happy to discuss players in their final years -- so any expiring Oriole, Twin, Met, Tiger, Marlin, Red, Royal and so on.

That's all known and expected. But what about the teams on the bubble? There's a handful of teams hovering around .500 who will soon have a choice to make: Do they hang on to their expiring contracts, hoping for a late run? Or do they take advantage of the market to get what they can, in some cases for very valuable players?

We may not know the answer for a few weeks, as front offices see how their teams perform leading up to the Deadline. But with all that in mind, there's a few names out there who could help shake up the trade market -- if they're made available.

, RP, Rockies

When Colorado spent big last offseason to add and (and retain Jake McGee), it expected a strong bullpen and a playoff race. Instead, the Rockies have one of the worst bullpens in team history that has them on the periphery of the National League Wild Card hunt. Sitting at fourth place in the NL West -- yes, even after a sweep of the Giants -- they have postseason odds of just five percent. While a strong run could put them back in the mix, it's almost time to look toward 2019.

If the Rockies do, then they'd have something extremely valuable to offer: the best reliever available. (Yes, Ottavino is better than Zach Britton.) Ottavino spent the offseason rebuilding his pitches, and the results have been phenomenal. Only four qualified relievers have a higher strikeout rate than his 41 percent, and he's just outside the top 20 in ground-ball rate, too. He doesn't collect wins or saves, but those things don't matter. Ottavino has a 1.88 ERA as a Rockie. Imagine how he'd look reinforcing the Astros or the Indians?

Possible fits: Astros, Indians, Dodgers, Phillies, Mariners. Really any contender.

DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Rockies

Speaking of Colorado, LeMahieu is highly regarded in Denver, but his smashing 2016 increasingly looks like an outlier year unlike any he had before or since. This year, working around missed time due to a thumb injury, he's had something of an odd year, slugging far better on the road, .512 to .375. Teams won't be fooled by that, however, since over his career, LeMahieu has had large home-field advantages in OBP (68 points) and slugging (79 points).

Still, a good defender who is above average at making contact is a useful player, and there are a few contenders who have had serious trouble filling second base. It's not hard at all to see the Red Sox looking at LeMahieu as an upgrade over , since can't be relied upon, or the Brewers moving on from 's second straight disappointing season. Given the struggles of , there's actually a great case to make for the Indians to try to get both LeMahieu and Ottavino.

Possible fits: Brewers, Indians, Dodgers, Red Sox, D-backs

, 2B, A's

The A's have been a surprisingly interesting team this year, but with baseball's three best teams in the American League plus a Mariners team playing above its heads more than just about anyone ever, an AL Wild Card run still seems unlikely. That doesn't mean they'll blow it up, but they'll trade impending free agents, because they've had great success doing so in recent years. (, , , Frankie Montas and others have come back in deals for , , Rich Hill and .)

There's a strong argument to make that over the past two years, Lowrie (.291/.357/.498) has been the third-best second baseman in the game, behind only and , and Dozier (himself a trade candidate) has struggled in 2018. As a switch-hitter who has also made 14 starts at third this year, Lowrie offers flexibility as well. All of the teams in on LeMahieu would be here as well, plus perhaps the Phillies, too.

Possible fits: Brewers, Dodgers, Red Sox, D-backs, Indians, Phillies

, C, Rays

After a 2017 mostly spent rehabbing from knee surgery, Ramos (.291/.340/.468) is again hitting near the level he showed he was capable during his '16 All-Star season. That makes him one of '18's five best hitting catchers, and assuming that the Marlins aren't going to move J.T. Realmuto, he's probably the best healthy catcher available.

The Rays are a lot like the A's, really, as they've been surprisingly competitive but still too far out to mount a serious run, meaning trades of expiring contracts make sense. (, ,  and fit this description as well.)

For a while, it seemed like a reunion in Washington seemed an obvious fit for Ramos, but the Nationals aren't so clearly buyers anymore. (More on that below.) Instead, the Red Sox (a combined .225/.265/.338 from and ) and Brewers (.218/.290/.360 from ,  and ) could make sense here.

Possible fits: Red Sox, Brewers, D-backs, Yankees (if they're concerned about the health of )

, SP, Angels

Much like the Rockies, the Angels thought they'd be in better shape than they are. They have and , they watched live up to every expectation and they thought they'd filled some holes by importing and Zack Cozart.

It hasn't happened, in large part due to an endless stream of injuries, as well as Kinsler and completely forgetting how to hit. The problem for the Halos is that they're kind of stuck; they can't rebuild with Trout, Ohtani and Simmons around, but they also don't have very many tradeable assets anyway.

The one exception to that, for teams willing to take a risk, might be Richards. It's true he's consistently dealt with injuries, but when he's been available, he's been outstanding. (Since 2014, he's pitched 512 innings, with a 3.11 ERA.) Richards still has elite starter fastball velocity, at 95.8 mph, and he still has elite spin both on his fastball and his curveball.

It's true you can't really count on Richards to stay healthy for any length of time; he actually just spent more time on the disabled list, though that was a hamstring issue, not an arm issue. (He returned on Wednesday to strike out eight Mariners in 5 1/3 innings.) But you may not need to, either. For Richards' talent, you take the gamble of getting only a few good starts -- especially if one of those comes in the playoffs.

Possible fits: Brewers, Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, Braves; anyone other than the Astros or Indians.

Bonus: Every interesting National

This isn't going to happen. This ... probably isn't going to happen. It's difficult to see a perennial contender like Washington doing anything this crazy. But hear us out for a minute here, because the disappointing 42-43 Nats have gone just 9-21 since May 31. They're seven games out in the NL East and behind six teams in the NL Wild Card race. If it doesn't get better, what if they decided to take control of the Trade Deadline with both hands?

That could include moving , , , Matt Adams, the just-acquired and, believe it or not, . Again: this isn't going to happen. Yet if you squint hard enough, you could see them not rebuilding, but reloading, since they'd still have Max Scherzer, , , , Doolittle,  and Juan Soto next year. 

It's fun to think about, anyway.