Major League Baseball has rounded the All-Star Game and is headed for the Trade Deadline on July 31 -- the only Deadline this season as there will be no August trades for the first time this year.
In the competitive National League Central, expect a lot more buying than selling.
Consider this: All four NL Central teams, from the first-place Cubs to the last-place Reds, reached the break within 4 1/2 games of each other. None of the second-place teams in baseball’s other five divisions were that close to first place. Whatever your view of what that says about the teams in the NL Central, the fact is that a postseason spot is there for the taking.
What follows is one player to watch for each team as the Deadline approaches. It could be a player on the market of interest to other teams, a player on the hot seat as his club weighs potential upgrade, or a player whose health will determine a course of action.
Player to watch: Keston Hiura
Would the Brewers trade their consensus top prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, if it lands them the sort of starting pitcher it appears they desperately need? Probably not, but president of baseball operations David Stearns tends to be dispassionate in his decision-making, so it’s impossible to answer with a categorical “no” until Stearns says so publicly himself. The Brewers would far prefer to build a deal around No. 2 prospect Brice Turang, No. 3 prospect Corey Ray or No. 5 prospect Mauricio Dubon, but if they want a difference-making pitcher like Noah Syndergaard, to whom Milwaukee was linked in recent rumors, and who is under club control for another year and a half, the ask would surely begin with Hiura, the hitting savant who ranks 12th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list. For a free-agent-to-be like Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler, perhaps a deal can be done without Hiura involved.
Player to watch: Michael Wacha
Wacha has been elite in the past, but he has struggled this season on the cusp of free agency. He’s shown flashes of what made him an All-Star in 2015, the 2013 NL Championship Series MVP and a steady starter for the Cardinals, but he’s lacked consistency in 2019 since returning to the rotation after a short bullpen stint in May. As the Cards look to upgrade their rotation with a consistent, front-line starter at the Trade Deadline, Wacha is on the hot seat to improve this month and be an asset again for St. Louis. Otherwise, the Cardinals might be looking to replace him.
Player to watch: Robel Garcia
If Chicago wants to add offense, second base is one spot on the roster where an upgrade could be made. The Cubs have received a collective 82 wRC+ (18 percent below average offensively) from a group that has mostly included Daniel Descalso, Addison Russell and David Bote. Garcia -- who spent the past several years playing in Italy -- was called up before the break due to his impressive showing through Double-A and Triple-A (.958 OPS and 21 homers in 291 plate appearances). If Garcia impresses in the coming weeks with the Cubs, maybe the team will shift its sights elsewhere in a potential search for offensive help at the Deadline.
Player to watch: Corey Dickerson
No matter where Pittsburgh stands in the division come July 31, Dickerson likely will be on the market assuming he’s healthy. The Pirates have a crowded outfield that consists of Dickerson in left, Starling Marte in center, rookie Bryan Reynolds in right and veteran switch-hitter Melky Cabrera occasionally starting in the corners. They also have right fielder Gregory Polanco working his way back from a shoulder injury and prospect Jason Martin progressing in Triple-A. Even five outfielders feels like one too many, and a trade seems to be the most obvious way to fix that problem.
Dickerson will be a free agent at the end of the season, making him a likely trade candidate whether the Bucs are buyers or sellers. The 2018 NL Gold Glove Award winner is due the rest of his $8.5 million salary for this year. Without Dickerson, the Bucs still could move forward with Reynolds in left, Marte in center and Polanco in right -- presumably a preview of their everyday outfield in 2020. Teams might be more interested in Cabrera, however, given his versatility as a switch-hitter, experience as a pinch-hitter and a more affordable salary.
Player to watch: David Hernandez
Reds veteran right-handed reliever Hernandez has picked up his team in some big spots this season -- his striking out five of his six batters against the Indians on June 11 springs to mind. But Hernandez has given up runs in four of his last five outings and lefties are hitting him hard, opening the possibility that Cincinnati may look for upgrades in the bullpen. Fellow righty Michael Lorenzen was off to a blazing start, but he has shown some vulnerability over the past month. Both, along with injured lefty Amir Garrett (left lat strain) are considered big late-inning bullpen pieces. Garrett has been dominant most of the season with a 1.70 ERA in 42 appearances, but Cincinnati could use another lefty. And if Hernandez and Lorenzen aren’t able to post zeros consistently, the club could also look for some power right-handers to set up Raisel Iglesias.