Whew. That was an incredible Trade Deadline season. Now that the dust has settled following the blockbuster deals that went down last week, the question arises for each of the 30 clubs: "What now?"
With the help of each MLB.com beat writer, here's a look at the key question each team will have to answer as it opens the season's stretch run toward October:
American League East
Blue Jays: Do they have a trademark run in them?
Back in 2015, when the Blue Jays loaded up at the Trade Deadline, they reeled off 11 straight wins in early August, completely redefining their season. The 2021 Blue Jays need the same thing.
This roster is talented enough to pull it off, but inconsistencies have cut streaks short in '21. Between the lineup, rotation and bullpen, the Blue Jays seem to have two working at all times, but rarely three. If they can hit their stride together, though, that’s what this club needs to make a charge in the AL Wild Card and AL East races. Their major Deadline addition of José Berríos should help both the rotation and the bullpen, while the additions of Adam Cimber, Joakim Soria and Brad Hand make this bullpen look much stronger. The Blue Jays have said all along that they feel they have a season-defining run in them, but that needs to happen soon. -- Keegan Matheson
Orioles: Do they extend Trey Mancini?
The Orioles held onto their stars at the Deadline, not seriously entertaining offers for Cedric Mullins, John Means, nor Trey Mancini as they continue to consider them long-term pieces. The action required for Mancini to fit that bill is an extension, given he is under club control only through 2022. The time for talks to open may be this winter, after both sides have long expressed mutual interest, at least publicly, without formally engaging in talks. The big question is whether GM Mike Elias considers the Orioles’ window of contention close enough to make that kind of long-term financial commitment. He’s yet to sign any player to a contract longer than one year during his tenure as GM.
“I hope he’s here as long as possible,” Elias reiterated Friday. “Ultimately, we’re going to take things as they come, like baseball teams do in the Major Leagues, and look at stuff and keep talking. But he’s a very special part of this team, and he’s going to continue to be so, and we’re happy about that.” -- Joe Trezza
Rays: Do they have enough pitching?
The Rays addressed their biggest need for a right-handed power bat well before the Trade Deadline by acquiring Nelson Cruz from the Twins. They traded veteran left-hander Rich Hill to the Mets to make room in the rotation for highly touted 21-year-old Luis Patiño. They essentially swapped high-leverage relievers with the Mariners, sending out Diego Castillo and bringing in JT Chargois. But the only other moves they made were relatively minor, so they’re now counting on the arms they have -- as well as the young prospects coming up and injured pitchers coming back -- the rest of the way. Their bullpen should be fine as several key relievers begin to return soon. But what about the rotation? They have young arms like Patiño, Shane McClanahan and Josh Fleming along with the more experienced Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha, plus the hope of a healthy Chris Archer and eventually top prospect Shane Baz. But with Tyler Glasnow expected to undergo Tommy John surgery soon, do they have the front-of-the-rotation arms it takes to win a postseason series? -- Adam Berry
Red Sox: How good will Sale be?
Citing a seller's market, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom opted not to make any impact additions to the rotation or the bullpen prior to the Trade Deadline. This makes the level of Sale’s performance upon his return to action that much more important. The way the Red Sox are constituted, they need Sale to pitch like an ace to have a realistic chance of making a deep October run. Boston’s rotation has been spotty in recent weeks, but Sale could take a little pressure off of everyone. Then again, that could put a lot of pressure on Sale, who hasn’t pitched a Major League game in nearly two years due to Tommy John Surgery. Sale could make his 2021 season debut as early as Aug. 12. -- Ian Browne
Yankees: Can they pitch enough?
The Yankees have addressed the flaws in their lineup, adding left-handed balance with Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. They should score more runs -- now, do they have the pitching to go all the way? Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery have been strong contributors, while Domingo Germán, Jameson Taillon and Nestor Cortes Jr. have shown flashes of brilliance. The trade for Andrew Heaney, plus the pending returns of Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, could change the landscape of the Bombers' rotation and reduce stress on an overtaxed bullpen. -- Bryan Hoch
Indians: Is it time to look toward 2022?
The Indians moved five players off their 26-man roster, including Cesar Hernandez, Eddie Rosario, Jordan Luplow, DJ Johnson and Phil Maton. Luplow and Rosario had been on the injured list and Johnson had only made one appearance for the Indians in his limited time on the big league team, however the club only got one Major League-ready piece in return in Myles Straw. Does that mean the team’s focus is already starting to shift toward '22?
“Well, I hope not,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “I think we've been pretty open with the fact that we're looking for a couple of things this year. We knew we were going to have a young roster, but our belief and hope was that those young players could continue to develop and compete at the Major League level at the same time. We're hopeful that can continue in the second half.”
Entering play on Sunday, the average age of Cleveland’s active roster was 26.6. And adding 25-year-olds Bobby Bradley and Eli Morgan on Monday won’t cause that number to creep up any higher. The team is inexperienced, but it’s been that way all season so far. The club understands that it will have its work cut out for it, attempting to cut down a huge deficit in the AL Central standings and a sizable deficit for the second AL Wild Card spot. But that doesn’t mean the Indians aren’t up for the challenge to try to remain contenders in 2021. -- Mandy Bell
Royals: How do they build toward 2022?
The Royals’ second half of the season is all about finishing 2021 off on the right foot to make sure they’re in the best position they can be for '22. It starts with the pitching: Can the Royals' young staff continue its development at the Major League level? That includes pitchers like Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Carlos Hernández, all of whom figure to be a key part of the rotation or bullpen next season. The Royals want to see some of their young prospects transition into the Majors to start to build the foundation as the organization looks toward the future. And can they go on a little run to better their position in the AL Central down the stretch? That could help the roster and confidence in the clubhouse as next season becomes the focus. -- Anne Rogers
Tigers: Should they extend Jonathan Schoop?
A few teams showed interest in Schoop leading up to the Trade Deadline, but nothing serious enough to lead to a deal. Thus, Schoop will stick around for the stretch run with free agency looming at season’s end. However, the Tigers have left the door open for signing Schoop beyond that and keeping him into what they believe is their window of contention. Schoop changed agents earlier this year and hired Scott Boras, who historically prefers his clients to test the open market. However, he has done extensions when players have wanted them, and Schoop has expressed interest in staying in Detroit. Robbie Grossman is the only Tiger to sign a multi-year contract in the last five years, and even that was a two-year deal. How far would the Tigers go to keep Schoop, who turns 30 in October?
“I’m not going to predict anything,” general manager Al Avila said. “These things don’t always turn out easily done. All I know is obviously he’s done well for us, he likes it here and we like him. Things have turned out to be pretty good so far and we’ll just see how that goes on.” -- Jason Beck
Twins: Will they get an extension done with Byron Buxton?
This will likely be more of an offseason question than one the Twins will look to address before the end of the season, but considering the numerous reports that the club was shopping Buxton at the Trade Deadline, the sides’ inability to agree on extension terms before then, and, well, the center fielder’s continued presence on the roster, this is sure to be one of the most pressing questions the Twins will need to address moving forward. Buxton has publicly expressed his desire to stay in Minnesota and his hope that the sides could find some common ground, but such ground will be difficult to find considering both his sky-high potential -- as shown on the field early this season -- and his extensive injury history.
If the Twins feel that they likely won’t be able to agree to a long-term extension with Buxton, the time is right for them to continue to seek trade options during the offseason -- though they’d also have to include in their calculation their hopes of competing in 2022, since it’s clear Buxton makes this team much better in the short-term. -- Do Hyoung Park
White Sox: How does the team handle the second half?
The White Sox ended the weekend with an nine-game lead over the Indians and barring something completely unexpected, their next truly meaningful contest will be the night or day they clinch their first AL Central title since 2008. So the White Sox are playing for October, with manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Ethan Katz already giving extra rest to their starting rotation and having the ability to balance the bullpen’s workload after the Trade Deadline acquisitions of Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal all are coming back from injury, with Jiménez having returned from a left pectoral tendon rupture in Kansas City but then sidelined again by right groin tightness. There’s no need to rush these players, giving them needed time to be in prime form by the start of the playoffs. -- Scott Merkin
Angels: Will Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon return in time to save the offense?
The Angels have pitched much better in the second half but their offense has scuffled, as Trout and Rendon have both been out much longer than expected. And All-Star first baseman Jared Walsh is also on the injured list with a strained intercostal muscle. Trout and Rendon were both expected to be back shortly after the All-Star break but the Angels don’t have a timeline for either player. And they’re both likely to need rehab assignments, as Trout has been out since mid-May with a right hamstring strain and Rendon has been out since early July with a left hamstring strain. The Angels are already in a tough spot in the AL Wild Card chase and need their stars to return soon to join AL MVP frontrunner Shohei Ohtani in the lineup. -- Rhett Bollinger
Astros: How will Houston’s new-look bullpen come together?
The Astros added three key relievers in the days leading up to the Trade Deadline, acquiring Kendall Graveman from the Mariners, Yimi García from the Marlins and Phil Maton from the Indians. Those three upgrade the bullpen so drastically that they’re already among Houston’s top five relievers, with All-Star closer Ryan Pressly and Cristian Javier. Ryne Stanek can be a weapon if he cuts down his walks. Lefty Blake Taylor figures to play a key role still, but Brandon Bielak, Andre Scrubb and Brooks Raley could be pushed out of the picture. Houston manager Dusty Baker is a fan of Bryan Abreu, who has the kind of stuff to get key outs but could implode, as well. Whatever the case, the Astros' bullpen -- which was clearly their weakness -- has been improved drastically and should be able to get the ball to Pressly with more success. -- Brian McTaggart
Athletics: Can the starting rotation keep this up?
The A’s entered Sunday maintaining a solid grasp of the second AL Wild Card on the strength of what has been a surprisingly dominant starting rotation. From top to bottom, A’s starters have consistently masked struggles by an inconsistent offense to put the club in strong position to win on most days. Led by a strong 1-2 punch of All-Star Chris Bassitt and left-hander Sean Manaea, the A’s entered Sunday with the third-lowest ERA (3.60) among AL starting staffs. A large part of that success has come with the health of their starters. Prior to Sunday, the A’s had used the same five starting pitchers over their last 73 games dating back to May 7. To expect full health throughout an entire season might be wishful thinking, as evidenced by rookie James Kaprielian’s recent placement on the 10-day injured list leading to a callup of No. 4 prospect Daulton Jefferies. Still, A’s starters lead the Majors in combined innings pitched. Over the final two months of the season, that supreme durability will need to continue. -- Martín Gallegos
Mariners: How will they allocate their leverage innings?
We could’ve easily said that as big of a question would be: "How will they use Abraham Toro down the stretch?," but we’ll go with the bullpen here because it’s been Seattle’s biggest catalyst for putting them in the postseason hunt. The Mariners shipped off their closer, Kendall Graveman, but returned one in Diego Castillo, who carries three years of control and has been almost just as strong this season. While he might not carry the clubhouse the way Graveman did, can Castillo carry the back-end of the bullpen? The Mariners will continue to allocate leverage based on matchups, so Castillo won’t necessarily have the ninth every time. But they view him as their top relief arm. -- Daniel Kramer
Rangers: How does the rotation shake out? What about the rest of the pitching staff?
With ace Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy both shipped off to the Phillies, the Rangers pitching staff went through a minor overhaul during the first series post-Deadline. It’s to be seen if it stays like that. Veteran Jordan Lyles likely slots in at the top-end of the rotation, while Dane Dunning and Kolby Allard will fall in somewhere behind. Taylor Hearn got the spot start for Gibson on Saturday, and will likely continue to do so for the time being. Then it comes down to if the last spot goes to Mike Foltynewicz, who has posted a 6.00 ERA this season, or rookie right-hander Spencer Howard, who was the main return in the Phillies deal and should make his first appearance this week against the Angels.
Manager Chris Woodward said they’ll likely try a “closer by committee” approach for save situations for the time being. Spencer Patton got the first shot on Saturday against the Mariners, but ultimately blew the save on his way to notching a win. Joe Barlow is another that will likely get a shot in save situations. Everything in between is where it gets dicey. With Hearn slotting into the rotation, and Patton and Barlow getting save situations, Texas is now looking for longer relief and late-inning, high-leverage roles from the bullpen arms. There are multiple things to figure out among the pitching staff in the final two months. -- Kennedi Landry
National League East
Braves: Will the bullpen improve?
The acquisitions of Adam Duvall, Jorge Soler and Eddie Rosario should strengthen the lineup and the rotation should get even better when Ian Anderson returns from the injured list. But even with Friday’s acquisition of Richard Rodríguez, there are lingering questions about the bullpen. Tyler Matzek has shown recent improvement, but to keep everyone fresh and productive, the Braves are going to need to see more from Chris Martin and Luke Jackson. A late-season turnaround from Shane Greene would also help. But it’s starting to feel like a lost season for Greene. -- Mark Bowman
Marlins: What happens at first base?
While the Marlins dealt expiring contracts in outfielders Starling Marte and Adam Duvall, as well as closer Yimi García prior to the Trade Deadline, they kept first baseman Jesús Aguilar. Not only does he pace the NL in RBIs, but he also is a great clubhouse presence. Aguilar has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, and he would be an affordable option should the universal designated hitter return in 2022. Here's the rub: Aguilar is blocking Miami's No. 6 prospect Lewin Díaz, who is big league ready. The Marlins would like to avoid their young players coming off the bench rather than getting regular at-bats in the Minors, so they optioned him to Triple-A Jacksonville on Sunday. The organization also wants to see how they fit into 2022 plans. When asked how the situation might play out, general manager Kim Ng said, "We're going to just see how we do in the next several days and then make a determination there." -- Christina De Nicola
Mets: Do they have enough pitching?
For the Mets, the Trade Deadline coincided with a jolt of bad news, as they learned that Jacob deGrom will remain sidelined until at least early September due to right elbow inflammation. Despite hearing of deGrom’s updated prognosis about two hours before the Deadline, Mets officials did not change course to make a major pitching acquisition, acquiring only depth starter Trevor Williams as part of their deal for shortstop Javier Báez. Will it be enough? Outside of Marcus Stroman, nearly every New York starter is surrounded by question marks heading into the final third of the season. The Mets clearly have enough rotation talent between Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Rich Hill, Tylor Megill and perhaps even deGrom or Noah Syndergaard come September. But they also don’t have much margin for error, with Williams being the only experienced, healthy depth option left in the organization. -- Anthony DiComo
Nationals: When will this new core group contend?
The Nationals overhauled their roster by trading away eight players, headlined by a megadeal with Max Schezer and Trea Turner, in exchange for 12 prospects. Each traded player except for Turner was on an expiring contract, and the Nats maximized the remaining “now” value to revamp their Minor League system for the future. Their objective will be to lock in Juan Soto to a long-term deal and build a championship contender around him. Newly acquired prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, who is making his Nationals debut Monday, are among those anticipated to be key pieces to that plan.
“We've got a great Major League staff and a good stable of players that are going to impact the big leagues in the near future, so you never put a timetable on it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said of rebuilding. “I'm a restless person and I don't like to lose, and we're not going to put up with losing for too long." -- Jessica Camerato
Phillies: When is Zach Eflin coming back?
The Phillies acquired right-hander Kyle Gibson on Friday. They desperately needed a starter before the Trade Deadline. Why? Because the only two healthy starters in the rotation who have provided any kind of length this season are Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Zach Eflin is on the injured list with tendinitis in his right knee. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Friday that he hopes Eflin returns in two to three weeks. He must. Because when the Phillies acquired Gibson they pictured him forming a top four with Wheeler, Nola and Eflin. If Eflin misses more time than expected, it means they must push forward with Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore, neither of whom have pitched well recently. -- Todd Zolecki
Brewers: Can Christian Yelich find his power?
The Brewers reached Aug. 1 in a strong position, atop the NL Central by seven games over the second-place Reds, with the best (Freddy Peralta), third best (Brandon Woodruff) and seventh best ERAs (Corbin Burnes) among NL qualifiers, and with a deep, versatile roster for the stretch run thanks to trades for Willy Adames, Eduardo Escobar and others. But a team typically needs its stars to play like stars in order to win the World Series, and Yelich by his own admission has not done so. He began the month of August on the COVID-19 injured list after developing symptoms on the eve of the Brewers’ most recent road trip, and will return from the time away from the game with a .235/.382/.367 slash line. If you think he’s happy to be reaching base at such a high clip while waiting for the power to come, you would be wrong. “I think I’m pretty bad right now,” he said just before the All-Star break. “Terrible, actually. But we have a lot of season left and [the aim is to] just keep grinding, trying to help the boys and contribute to a winning team.” -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: How can they set themselves up for 2022?
The Cardinals executed the deals that they did at the Trade Deadline (adding Jon Lester and J.A. Happ) with 2021 at the forefront, finding a way to get through the season from a pitching standpoint while remaining above water. But equally at the forefront was 2022 and beyond. They did not want to sacrifice the farm for a pricey rental. They believe that, when healthy, their rotation can be elite, soon welcoming Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas back to the fold. Next year, too, Dakota Hudson will be back in full form from Tommy John surgery. The only thing preventing them from reaching that point is the remainder of the 2021 season. Getting through it healthy is the most important part -- though it wouldn’t hurt to pick up their 21st winning season in the past 22 years along the way. -- Zachary Silver
Cubs: Where do they go from here?
In the wake of trading core stars Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo -- plus closer Craig Kimbrel and a few others -- Chicago has gone all-in on this transition period. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer insists this situation is not a “rebuild” in the traditional sense. He said he believes the Cubs “sped up” the process by acquiring both “prospect and financial currency” for 2022 and beyond. That is true in the sense that the North Siders reeled in a dozen controllable players (nine from other teams’ Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) since the All-Star break, and there is only around $40 million on the books for the '22 payroll. That gives Chicago a lot of flexibility with how it wants to proceed.
But even Hoyer said he is unsure at this precise moment in time what direction the franchise will ultimately take.
“I don't know what the definition of a ‘rebuild’ is,” said Hoyer, when pressed on the Cubs’ path forward. “I think you should wait until after you see what we do this winter to decide what we're going to do. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. So, no one knows what we’re going to do yet. We're going to sit down and figure out the right path to try to build a championship team.” -- Jordan Bastian
Pirates: Which pitchers will solidify roles heading into 2022?
Among the names that will be fighting for rotation spots as this season winds down and the calendar flips: Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl, JT Brubaker, Mitch Keller, Wil Crowe, Max Kranick, Bryse Wilson and Miguel Yajure. It’s great to have that many options, but the Pirates would like for a few of those guys -- especially the younger ones -- to step up and earn their spots, then round out the bullpen options in turn. There is a lot of open competition in both cases. Spring Training will also prove instructive in these decisions moving forward, but the last two months of the season provide a great extended look at some guys the Bucs have high hopes for. -- Jake Crouse
Reds: How will the Reds fit the returns of Moustakas and Senzel?
Cincinnati didn’t move to add any hitters via trades, mostly because the club expects to get Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel back from extended stays on the injured list. Both players are currently on rehab assignments with Triple-A Louisville. Barring a remarkable turnaround from the season full of struggles for Eugenio Suárez, Moustakas could take over at third base since he is expected to get most of his rehab assignment reps there. That would reduce Suárez to a part-time role. It’s unlikely Suárez would move back to shortstop, where he started the season, since he played poorly there and Kyle Farmer has been solid. Senzel will likely return to center field, but has been taking grounders at shortstop and could see playing time there. Tyler Naquin, who has filled in at center field most of this season, would also lose at-bats when Senzel returns. -- Mark Sheldon
D-Backs: Who is part of the next core?
The D-backs long ago said goodbye to any hopes of making the postseason and they seem more open than ever to hitting the reset button and starting over. The final two months of the season have to be spent taking a look at some of their younger players and deciding which ones they want to build around and what position those players are best at. That process has already started with Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith, but it will be important to see what players like infielder Josh VanMeter, third baseman Drew Ellis, outfielder Stuart Fairchild and some of their young pitchers have to offer, and if they are going to be part of the future. -- Steve Gilbert
Dodgers: Can they stay healthy?
When healthy, there isn’t a roster in the Majors that has more talent than this Dodgers team. They arguably have the deepest lineup in the Majors after adding Trea Turner, a loaded rotation and a bullpen that should be good enough. But none of that will matter if the Dodgers can’t keep most of their stars on the field. Mookie Betts and Corey Seager are back from the injured list, which should be a big boost to an inconsistent lineup. Betts, however, has been dealing with multiple nagging injuries this season.
The real trouble might be on the pitching side, even with the addition of Max Scherzer. Clayton Kershaw is dealing with soreness and his return next weekend is now in question. Tony Gonsolin hasn’t been able to shake off a right shoulder injury and he’s back on the IL. Danny Duffy, who was acquired from the Royals on Thursday, is still at least three weeks away from becoming an option in the rotation. They’ve been talented enough to withstand the large wave of injuries this season. But if they want to win another World Series, they’ll need all their pieces on the field. -- Juan Toribio
Giants: Can they retain their surprise hold on the division?
The Giants have been in first place in the NL West since Memorial Day, yet the Dodgers are still viewed as the favorites to win the division for the ninth year in a row. The Giants have thrived while embracing their underdog persona, but their second-half schedule is tough, and there will be little margin for error with the Dodgers and the Padres continually lurking. The arrival of Kris Bryant and the return of injured veterans such as Tommy La Stella, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria will shore up the lineup, though the Giants will also need their starting rotation to stay healthy and effective to give themselves the best chance at clinching the West. San Francisco will face Los Angeles only three more times in the regular season, but 10 of its final 19 games will come against San Diego, so the division race could end up coming down to the wire. -- Maria Guardado
Padres: Do they have enough starting pitching?
For most of the past month, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the Padres would add to their starting rotation. Only Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have been reliable starters this year and the team clearly needed a middle-of-the-rotation arm, at least. But after missing out on Max Scherzer and José Berríos, the Padres front office decided to stand pat on the starting-pitching front, finding prices exorbitantly high. That places a huge burden on Blake Snell to figure things out down the stretch. But the Padres' pitching might not be as thin as you think. Consider their already excellent bullpen, the best in the Majors, ERA-wise. That bullpen added Daniel Hudson at the Deadline, and it could add Matt Strahm and Dinelson Lamet to its ranks when they return from injury later this month. The Padres will ask their elite bullpen to carry them down the stretch -- and it just might be deep enough to do it. -- AJ Cassavell
Rockies: What moves will be made this winter to make the Trade Deadline results make sense?
The two biggest news items were the revelation that the club and righty pitcher Jon Gray are working on a multi-year contract, and the decision not to trade shortstop Trevor Story. It is incumbent upon the Rockies to connect these dots. Re-signing Gray keeps together a rotation the club truly likes. But what's the point if the Rockies don't improve the key factor in the horrid road record -- an offense without enough power to score runs without stringing together hits? One shortcut to improving the offense would have been to trade Story, or even Gray, and obtain at least one emerging player capable of being a game-changing bat. If they lose Story, as expected, do the Rockies have the wherewithal to obtain multiple bats through free agency and trades? If on the off-chance they retain Story at a high salary, they still are light on impact hitters. It makes no sense to have a rotation capable of supporting a winner in 2021 but field a position-player roster associated with a rebuilding team. -- Thomas Harding