With 6 weeks to go, 5 ideal Trade Deadline fits

June 16th, 2023

There is a little over six weeks to go until the Trade Deadline arrives on Aug. 1, and the picture remains cloudy. Entering play Thursday, 23 of the 30 teams still sat within five games of a playoff spot, leaving few clear sellers -- and even fewer with many attractive trade pieces to offer.

Still, we can identify some stark needs among the obvious contenders in the field and begin to think about how they might address those. To that end, we asked five MLB.com writers to pick both a potential playoff team and an ideal fit to pursue through the trade market in the coming weeks.

This isn’t so much about predicting deals that will happen as it is about identifying some that would make sense for the buyer. (Again, it’s far from certain all of the potential trade partners involved will actually sell.) 

With that in mind, here are the picks, with all stats through Wednesday’s games:

Paul Goldschmidt to the Phillies

The need: A power threat at first base. With Rhys Hoskins out for the season recovering from surgery to reconstruct his left ACL (though he hopes to be back by the postseason), the Phillies are missing his production at first base. While Kody Clemens has filled in admirably, he doesn’t provide the pop that Hoskins has traditionally brought to the position, averaging 36 home runs per 162 games in his career. Philadelphia’s offense, which features a dangerous lineup on paper with Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto and others, is still ranked in the middle of the MLB pack. If the Phils are going to make a run at the World Series for a second consecutive year, they’ll need to improve that standing.

The answer: Paul Goldschmidt. The reigning NL MVP isn’t having a career year like he did in 2022, but he’s still very productive at the plate, with numbers that align fairly closely with his career norms. Goldy would meet the Phils’ need for power to replace Hoskins’ at first base and, as MLB.com’s Will Letich notes, the Cardinals may end up finding it in their best interest to deal Goldschmidt prior to the Trade Deadline given that St. Louis hasn’t been able to emerge from its unusual season-long malaise and could use some young starting pitching to restock its farm system. Goldschmidt is also under contract through the 2024 campaign, so that covers the Phils with Hoskins scheduled to become a free agent after this season.

-- Manny Randhawa

Corbin Burnes to the D-backs

The need: Rotation help behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The D-backs are one of this season’s most surprising teams, recording the second-best record in the NL and taking control of first place in the NL West. However, the club’s rotation has been suspect behind Gallen and Kelly. While Arizona’s top two starters have combined for a 3.07 ERA and 3.11 FIP over 28 starts, all of its other starting pitchers this season have posted a collective 6.00 ERA and 5.71 FIP across 34 starts entering Thursday.

The answer: Corbin Burnes. While other trade candidates such as Marcus Stroman and Eduardo Rodríguez will likely have lower price tags considering they’re eligible to test free agency this offseason, Burnes should be Arizona’s top target. The D-backs may be ahead of schedule after their rebuild, but they shouldn’t get shortsighted. Arizona needs to be thinking about 2023 and beyond, and Burnes allows the team to do just that, as he’s controllable through 2024.

The 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner has rebounded from a rough start to the season, recording a 2.66 ERA with 77 K's over 74 1/3 innings in his past 12 starts. Although it may seem like a long shot that the Brewers (34-34) would seriously consider trading their ace while they’re still in the postseason race, we can’t rule it out after they dealt All-Star closer Josh Hader to the Padres last August despite being in first place with a 57-45 record at the time. Milwaukee made that deal when Hader had more than a year of team control remaining, like Burnes does now.

-- Thomas Harrigan

Cody Bellinger to the Rangers

The need: A power bat in the outfield/at DH. The Rangers have a lot of good hitters in their lineup, but they're really missing a slugger in the DH spot. Texas has tried nine different players there, with none emerging as a steady regular, and the team's .712 OPS from its DHs ranks 24th in the Majors. What would be even better? If that extra slugger can play the outfield. Robbie Grossman hasn't produced in left field, leaving breakout utilityman Ezequiel Duran as the strongest offensive option there. But it would be much more valuable if there was one more outfielder in Texas who could free up Duran to move around the field.

The answer: Cody Bellinger. The former MVP has had a nice bounce-back so far in Chicago, with a .271/.337/.493 slash line, .830 OPS (123 OPS+), seven home runs and nine stolen bases in 37 games. He's only on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2024, so he's a player the 31-37 Cubs can afford to move, and the Rangers can take a chance on. Rangers DH duties would let Bellinger stay off his feet as he returns from his left knee contusion, and when he's ready, he could take over an outfield spot, where he's a top-tier defender. Bellinger, Adolis García and Leody Taveras would be a dynamic trio. Plus, Belli could reunite with his longtime Dodgers teammate, Corey Seager.

-- David Adler

Alexis Díaz to the Rays

The need: Bullpen help. Does any contender have a more obvious need? The Rays’ relentless offense leads the Majors in extra-base hits and steals. It has six players with at least a 135 wRC+ (min. 150 plate appearances). The starting rotation, even with some injuries, is set up well for any postseason series and is headed by arguably the best pitcher in baseball. The relief corps, conversely, could use some work. The bullpen’s 7.59 strikeouts-per-nine rate would be the club’s lowest mark since 2011. The Rays’ middling 4.07 relief ERA is at least a half run higher than each of the past three seasons. The front office could stand pat with the likes of Jason Adam and Pete Fairbanks. Or it could attack this weakness and even further strengthen the team with the best record in baseball.

The answer: Alexis Díaz. What better way to get more strikeouts in the late innings than adding the reliever who leads the National League with a 46.3% K rate? Armed with a power fastball and a high-whiff slider, Díaz has limited hitters to a .108 average and .393 OPS. He has secured each of his 17 save chances and has given up only two runs in his previous 26 appearances (25 innings pitched).

Will the Reds consider dealing their closer? The vibes are quite good in Cincinnati, where they're just one game out of first place in the NL Central. However, the Reds have the fourth-worst run differential in the Senior Circuit (minus-29) and could get a huge haul for their continuing rebuild by dealing a dominant reliever who is under club control through 2027.

Will Tampa Bay make this type of trade? History says no. The Rays are a team that succeeds in part by unearthing talent and getting the most out of players who may have been overlooked elsewhere. They are not a team that unloads multiple prospects for a proven commodity. But they have the farm system depth to pull off just about any swap. And if there was ever a time to go against the organizational orthodoxy, this is it.

-- Brian Murphy

Tim Anderson to the Dodgers

The need: Shortstop. The Dodgers rank in the top three in the Majors in position player WAR and runs per game, so their lineup isn’t exactly hurting. However, the offseason departure of Trea Turner and Gavin Lux’s season-ending knee injury left the club in a bind at short. While Mookie Betts has made a few cameos, L.A. has mostly plugged the hole with Miguel Rojas and Chris Taylor. Rojas remains solid defensively but has a .507 OPS, while the Dodgers are better served playing the versatile Taylor elsewhere. For now, L.A. ranks 24th in FanGraphs WAR (0.3) and 26th in OPS (.606) at shortstop.

The answer: Tim Anderson. On one hand, the White Sox have barely gotten more production than the Dodgers at short, in large part due to a down year from Anderson. On the other hand, Anderson clearly comes with more upside, having hit .318/.347/.474 from 2019-22. Although the two-time All-Star missed 18 games early this season with a left knee sprain and has struggled to get going since then, he still boasts a 90th-percentile expected batting average, while making hard contact as often as ever. The main issue has been going from a ground ball hitter to the most extreme ground ball hitter in the sport.

Even a modest adjustment -- perhaps with the Dodgers’ help -- could make Anderson a difference maker in the NL West race and into October. And with an affordable 2024 club option ($14 million), Anderson would also bolster L.A.’s depth next season, providing insurance in case Lux encounters any setbacks returning to full strength. The White Sox still have a shot in the weak AL Central, but if the team ends up selling, the Dodgers and their No. 2-ranked farm system would make for a nice match.

-- Andrew Simon