If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought Thursday was Major League Baseball’s Trade Deadline.
Despite a significant amount of activity -- some of which involved a number of the game’s biggest stars -- on the eve of the Deadline, the figurative horn will sound at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, giving contenders a matter of hours to make some final tweaks to their rosters for the stretch run and sellers a chance to add talent for 2022 and beyond.
What will the final hours leading to the Deadline bring? Here are seven key questions that will be answered one way or another:
1. Can Friday possibly be wilder than Thursday?
Deadlines create urgency, so it’s never a mistake to expect the unexpected in the final hours leading up to 4:00 p.m. ET. If Friday’s action bears any resemblance whatsoever to Thursday’s events, we’re in for a wild, wild day.
Just when it appeared the Padres were primed to acquire three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, the Dodgers -- who had already traded for Danny Duffy to bolster their rotation depth earlier in the day -- swooped in and agreed to a blockbuster with the Nationals, getting Scherzer and All-Star shortstop Trea Turner in a stunning move.
The price for Los Angeles to land the two superstars from Washington included catcher Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray -- the Dodgers’ top two prospects, according to MLB Pipeline -- but the reigning World Series champs appear to be all-in as they attempt to defend their title.
If that wasn’t enough, the Yankees -- who had officially completed their trade for Rangers slugger Joey Gallo on Thursday morning -- added some more left-handed pop to their lineup, sending a pair of prospects to the Cubs for first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Scherzer, Turner and Rizzo were three of the biggest names on the market, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of action leading up to Friday afternoon’s deadline.
2. How will the Padres respond?
Trying to predict what A.J. Preller will do is typically a fruitless exercise, but it’s a good bet that the Padres' general manager will do something notable on Friday.
Having already added Adam Frazier earlier in the week, Preller appeared to have pulled off a deal for Scherzer, a move that could have altered the landscape in the National League West. Alas, Andrew Friedman out-Prellered his San Diego counterpart, shocking the world with his deal for Scherzer and Turner, a trade that should be officially announced on Friday.
How will Preller and the Padres respond? San Diego acquired reliever Daniel Hudson from the Nationals late Thursday night, but there will likely be other moves.
Will Preller go on tilt and do whatever it takes to secure another starter, such as José Berríos or Kyle Gibson? Perhaps trade for Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant? San Diego has acquired Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Frazier in the past seven months, so there isn’t much Preller can do that would surprise anybody.
And don’t forget about the Giants, who lead the NL West with the best record in baseball. San Francisco has been connected to a number of players, but the Giants have sat on the side thus far, watching their division rivals make big moves. Will president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi do something to supplement his surprising club?
“They’ve been pretty damn good as is when no one expected it,” an NL executive said. “Feels like Farhan may be laying in the weeds, waiting to do something fun [on Friday].”
3. Which big hitters are still there for the taking?
Turner might not be available, but two other star shortstops -- Trevor Story of the Rockies and Javier Báez of the Cubs -- are still on the market.
Story had drawn interest from the Yankees, but their acquisition of Rizzo means DJ LeMahieu will remain at second base and Gleyber Torres at shortstop, essentially ending their pursuit of a shortstop.
Among the teams believed to be in the market for Story (and possibly Báez) are the Reds, Mets, Giants and Blue Jays, though there are some executives who believe the Rockies will be content to keep Story and collect the Draft compensation once he signs elsewhere as a free agent this offseason.
Báez isn’t the only notable Cubs hitter out there, as Bryant -- another impending free agent -- remains available at the right price. The Mets remain a logical destination for the third baseman/left fielder, though the Giants, Rays, Phillies and Blue Jays have also been connected to the former NL MVP in recent weeks.
Gallo and Starling Marte (who was traded to the Athletics on Wednesday) were the two most prominent outfielders on the board, but names such as Max Kepler, Adam Duvall, Michael A. Taylor, David Peralta and Robbie Grossman could still draw interest for their respective clubs.
4. How many relievers will be traded on Friday?
A lot of them. As of Thursday night, we had already seen more than a dozen relievers change uniforms in recent weeks, and at least a dozen more could be traded on Friday alone.
Among the notable names to move this week were Diego Castillo, Ryan Tepera, Brad Hand, Hudson and Kendall Graveman, though the biggest -- Craig Kimbrel -- had yet to be dealt as of Thursday night. That should change on Friday, as the Cubs -- who have already unloaded a number of players -- will turn their attention to Kimbrel, Bryant and starter Zach Davies.
Relievers are the most coveted players this close to the Trade Deadline, especially when the starting pitcher market is as underwhelming as it is this year. Kimbrel could bring back a bigger return than any other player moved on Friday, though there are plenty of alternatives -- Richard Rodríguez, Ian Kennedy, Tanner Scott, Hansel Robles, José Cisnero and possibly Raisel Iglesias, just to name a handful -- for teams seeking bullpen upgrades for the stretch run.
5. Are the Yankees done? And what about the rest of the American League East?
The Yankees have added Gallo, Rizzo, Joely Rodríguez and Clay Holmes to the roster (not to mention the money to cover almost all of their remaining 2021 salaries) while also sending Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson to the Reds in a cost-cutting move.
Put it all together and the Yankees remain about $4 million beneath the $210 million CBT threshold, leaving a little room for New York to make another move.
Could the Yankees try to add rotation help in the form of Berríos or Gibson, each of whom comes with an additional year of control? Or perhaps a rental starter such as Jon Gray, Davies or (gasp!) Michael Pineda? The Yankees are hopeful that Luis Severino and/or Corey Kluber can come back and make an impact during the final two months, taking some pressure off of Cashman to add to the rotation.
The Red Sox dealt for Kyle Schwarber late Thursday night, getting the left-handed bat they had been searching for. Boston could still target a reliever -- a reunion with Kimbrel remains in play -- and possibly a left-handed-hitting first baseman, but with Chris Sale poised to join the rotation in August, a starter is not high on Chaim Bloom’s list of priorities.
Tampa Bay sent Castillo, their closer, to the Mariners on Thursday, joining Willy Adames and Rich Hill as players sent packing despite the Rays’ contender status. Of course, Tampa Bay also added Nelson Cruz in a deal with the Twins, bringing in a veteran slugger to add some pop to the lineup. GM Erik Neander could have another move or two up his sleeve.
Lastly, the Blue Jays remain in the hunt for pitching help -- both in the rotation and bullpen -- and could be aggressive in their pursuit of Berríos. Toronto is in the mix for an AL Wild Card spot this season, but adding controllable talent would make more sense, as the club is built to be a bigger factor in 2022.
6. Will the Mets make any big moves?
The Mets have been in first place since May 8, and despite a 22-23 record over their last 45 games, they haven’t lost any ground in the race thanks to a disappointing division.
Still, the Mets have some needs to address if they hope to hang on in the NL East, and more importantly, make a postseason run against the NL’s other top teams.
Pitching remains the top priority, especially with Jacob deGrom on the injured list and uncertainty about what to expect from Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard down the stretch. Having already added Hill in a deal with the Rays, the Mets remain in the hunt for rotation depth.
The lineup could also use a boost; the Mets rank 29th in the league in runs per game and Francisco Lindor is slated to miss several more weeks with an oblique injury. A deal for a star infielder such as Bryant, Story or Báez remains a possibility, though GM Zack Scott could look for other incremental upgrades if the price for those players is exorbitant.
7. Which sellers could control the market on Friday?
The Nationals have sold off their major pieces, agreeing to deals involving Scherzer, Turner, Hudson, Schwarber and Hand, but a number of other clubs have multiple players who could be dealt by Friday afternoon.
Like Washington, the Cubs have also made several moves (Rizzo, Joc Pederson, Tepera and Andrew Chafin), but with Bryant, Kimbrel, Báez and Davies, Chicago still has a number of impactful players to move if it can match up with other clubs.
Minnesota, which already dealt Cruz to the Rays, could also be a big player with a group including Berríos, Pineda, J.A. Happ, Robles, Tyler Duffey and possibly Byron Buxton and Kepler. Then there’s the Rockies (Story, Gray, Daniel Bard) and Rangers (Gibson, Kennedy), who each have multiple players on the block.