This Trade Deadline period has been, well, pretty dead so far. Thursday’s trade reportedly sending Tyler White from the Astros to the Dodgers was something, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of move that sets a market aflame.
A confluence of factors is responsible for the relative rut. While eliminating the August waiver trade period and making July 31 the one and only dealing Deadline should compel plenty of action before 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, teams are approaching the summer swap market in much the same way they approached last winter’s free-agent market. Slowly, methodically and with the knowledge that patience often pays off and drops price tags.
And with the National League postseason picture a total cluster and recent surges from the Indians and A’s complicating the American League alignment, there are quite a few clubs who need every possible day on the schedule to evaluate what, exactly, they are and how they should approach this opportunity to improve or reload.
But at some point soon, the dam will break, and the deals will happen. There’s too much work to be done for that not to happen. So let’s examine some possible scenarios that would get the market moving, in order from most likely to least.
1. Somebody blinks in the NL East
The hard-charging Nationals have made it a legit race with the Braves, and both ballclubs are in the market with the same need -- bullpen help. So it will be fascinating to see not just who comes out with what, but when.
Timing is everything here, because the Nats and Braves have a three-game series that begins Monday night in Washington and conveniently wraps up Wednesday afternoon, just as the countdown to the Deadline hits zero. With the Nats looking up at Atlanta in the standings and facing the mighty Dodgers this weekend, they have extra incentive to get something done before Monday. And general manager Mike Rizzo is not one to mill around in the market.
And hey, with the Phillies playing better baseball of late, maybe the club that brought us “stupid” spending in the winter will do some stupid (in a good way) trading. They’ve got a head-on opportunity in Philadelphia this weekend with the Braves coming to town.
2. Somebody ponies up the price for Marcus Stroman ahead of his next start
Stroman, who is not eligible for free agency until after 2020, is probably the most likely of non-rental trade chips of renown to be moved this month, and teams value that extra year of control. He made his most recent start Wednesday night against the Indians. With seven sharp innings, he lowered his ERA to 2.96 and pronounced himself “ready to dominate, wherever that might be.”
Stroman is scheduled to pitch Monday in Kansas City, but it makes little sense for him to make his next start in a Toronto uniform. The Blue Jays would be taking on risk that something happens that lowers his value, and contending clubs need to extract as much value – i.e., as many starts – from this deal as possible.
The Yankees, Brewers, Astros, Twins, Phillies and Braves all make sense for Stroman.
3. The Twins realize the bullpen won’t fix itself
The Indians have been among the best teams in baseball since June 1, and that’s put a ton of pressure on a Twins team that looked like a runaway train back in April and May but has been basically a .500 ballclub since early June.
Though some young arms rose to the occasion in an otherwise frustrating series against the Yankees this week, the DFA of Blake Parker and 26 earned runs allowed in a 31-inning span of relief work entering Thursday made it clear where the upgrade needs to come for Minnesota.
The Twins have the flexibility, both financial and farm system related, to be aggressive at this Deadline, and a nine-year gap between division titles and a real race with the Indians should spur them into action soon. Among the biggest names on the relief market who could deliver a big impact are closers Kirby Yates (Padres) and Felipe Vázquez (Pirates).
4. The Brewers decide they can’t wait any longer for pitching help
They’ve lost both Brandon Woodruff and Jhoulys Chacín to oblique injuries this week. This club, I would argue, needed pitching help when Woodruff and Chacin were healthy, and it needs it all the more now if it’s going to have any hope of staying afloat in the NL Central and building off last year’s NLCS appearance.
The problem (for those of us eager for some action) is that Milwaukee general manager David Stearns is really good at his job and not prone toward emotional moves. A proliferation of late-July and August off-days (including Thursday) allows them to manage the Woodruff absence, which Stearns publicly brushed off as “temporary.” And it’s not as if Chacin, with a 5.79 ERA, was contributing much, anyway. Best guess here is the Brewers do add to their rotation, but they probably won’t push the panic button with a deal that jump-starts the market.
5. The Giants decide to sell, after all
But with wins in 16 of 20 games this month, the Giants have totally turned their year around and inserted themselves into the NL playoff race. MLB.com executive reporter Mark Feinsand reported Thursday that they might be buying, not selling.
That said, we all know in this crazy game – and especially on a generally unproven club for whom this success was so unexpected, in the first place – things can go the other direction just as quickly. Should San Francisco happen to have a rough weekend in San Diego and the Wild Card deficit that is 3 1/2 games, as of this writing, grows, who knows what happens? Actually, there’s a chance they move Smith and not Bumgarner, given how valuable relief help is right now.
If Bumgarner is indeed off the market, one alternative for clubs seeking starting pitching may be Rangers left-hander Mike Minor, who's enjoying a career year.