3 things to watch in final hours before Deadline

August 1st, 2022

The final countdown is on to the Trade Deadline, as executives continue to work the phones right up until Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET.

That countdown began in earnest on Monday with the Padres trading for four-time All-Star closer Josh Hader from the Brewers. That kicked off a flurry of action, with the Yankees acquiring A's ace Frankie Montas and reliever Lou Trivino and the Astros getting Orioles slugger Trey Mancini.

Here’s the latest from around the Majors as we head toward the final day of dealing.

Sticker shock

The relative dearth of deals before this week was noticeable, though not for a lack of impact players available on the market.

According to multiple executives from contending teams, asking prices for pretty much any meaningful player have been astronomical, as sellers try to take advantage of the abnormally large number of teams attempting to add for the stretch run.

Friday’s trade of Luis Castillo to the Mariners only made matters worse, as the Reds received a package including three of Seattle’s top five prospects for the ace, leaving clubs with starting pitching to sell -- think Miami and Pablo López, for example -- looking for a similar package in return for their arms. The Yankees on Monday had to give up four of their Top 30 prospects, including No. 70 overall prospect Ken Waldichuk, to land Montas and Trivino.

“Teams still seem to be holding out hope for lopsided deals,” one American League executive said. “Something will give eventually.”

The price tag for Juan Soto is understandably high; the Nationals are said to be seeking a package of four top prospects in addition to at least one young Major League player. But even rental players are commanding high asks, leading to a bit of a freeze in the trade market.

“As Tuesday afternoon gets closer, you would have to think that those price tags come down,” a National League executive said. “If they don’t, we’ll either see some big overpays or a lot of players that seemed like locks to be traded remaining on their current teams.”

Relief in sight

If there’s one area that figures to be costly for buyers, it’s relief pitching.

Just on Monday, the Padres gave up four players for Hader -- including their own top reliever, Taylor Rogers, former ace Dinelson Lamet and their No. 7 and No. 28 prospects, left-hander Robert Gasser and outfielder Esteury Ruiz. The Yankees gave up their No. 7 prospect, right-hander Hayden Wesneski, to get Cubs reliever Scott Effross, in addition to the four prospects they'll part with in the deal with the A's that's getting them Trivino.

The Dodgers acquired Chris Martin from the Cubs Saturday, sending utility man Zach McKinstry to Chicago for the veteran right-hander in the first notable bullpen deal of the summer. Los Angeles could still be on the hunt for another reliever, though no less than a dozen teams are also looking to bolster their bullpen prior to Tuesday’s Deadline.

According to sources, the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Twins, Guardians, White Sox, Astros, Mets, Braves, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers and Padres are all seeking relief pitching (with New York, Milwaukee and San Diego now having made moves in that area), setting up a wild two-day race for the best-available bullpen arms.

David Robertson is the top rental arm on the market, as the 37-year-old is enjoying a renaissance season with the Cubs. Other relievers slated to become free agents at the end of the season include Matt Moore, Michael Fulmer and Alex Colomé, all of whom could be moved by Tuesday. Daniel Bard, the Rockies closer who was believed to be a trade candidate, signed a two-year extension with Colorado, taking one of the better relief arms off the market.

Where the relief market gets really interesting is the controllable arms, some of whom are being shopped despite their varying levels of club control.

Left-handers Gregory Soto (Tigers) and Joe Mantiply (D-backs) and righty David Bednar (Pirates) were All-Stars this summer, yet all three could potentially be on the move this week for the right price. Soto is under control through 2025, while Mantiply and Bednar won’t become free agents until the end of the 2026 season.

Other controllable arms that have drawn interest include Detroit’s Andrew Chafin and Joe Jiménez (both under control through 2023), and Kansas City’s Scott Barlow (2024).

How the relief market shakes out could have a major impact on the top of the AL standings. The Astros are believed to be seeking a left-hander for their righty-dominant bullpen. The Yankees -- who have lost Chad Green and Michael King to season-ending injuries -- were searching for another late-inning arm to help get the ball to All-Star closer Clay Holmes. New York has now added Effross and Trivino.

Catch me if you can

Next to Juan Soto, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras has been widely viewed as the best available bat on the market. But is Contreras even the best catching option out there?

That honor may very well go to Oakland’s Sean Murphy, who has become an increasingly popular trade candidate as the Deadline draws near.

“It probably depends on who you ask,” an NL executive said. “They can both help someone.”

Murphy has 12 home runs, 41 RBIs and a .737 OPS in 380 plate appearances over 93 games, compiling a 2.8 fWAR -- the second-highest of any catcher in the Majors. Contreras has 14 home runs, 38 RBIs and an .818 OPS in 375 plate appearances over 86 games, his fWAR checking in at 2.6 this season.

“Contreras is a better player for a playoff team,” an NL general manager said. “He is a better offensive player and lengthens a lineup more.”

Murphy, 27, is 2 1/2 years younger than Contreras, 30, and is widely considered to be a better defender behind the plate, and for a team looking to introduce a new catcher into the mix for the stretch run, the belief is that the defending AL Gold Glove winner will have an easier time adapting to a new pitching staff than Contreras will.

Then there’s the contract. Contreras is owed roughly $3.2 million for the final two months of this season, nearly $3 million more than Murphy is set to earn during the same period. Murphy is owed roughly $240,000 for the rest of 2022, and he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, leaving him under club control through 2025.

Murphy’s 2023 salary is expected to be approximately $3 million, which doesn’t seem like a lot for a starting catcher -- but could be one of the highest salaries on the Athletics’ roster next year if he stays in Oakland.

“He’s about to make money,” an AL executive said of Murphy. “They just aren’t interested in paying players at this point.”

With a number of teams, including the Rays, Mets, Guardians, Cardinals, Astros, Twins and Padres, potentially looking to upgrade behind the plate, Contreras and Murphy could both be wearing new uniforms by Wednesday.