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Here are 3 bubble teams for Trade Deadline

@jonmorosi
June 13, 2019

After acquiring Manny Machado at last year’s All-Star break, then-Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said he’d been speaking with the Orioles about the blockbuster trade for roughly one month. In other words, the teams were talking around this date one year ago. Let’s remember that whenever we hear someone say

After acquiring Manny Machado at last year’s All-Star break, then-Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said he’d been speaking with the Orioles about the blockbuster trade for roughly one month.

In other words, the teams were talking around this date one year ago.

Let’s remember that whenever we hear someone say it’s too early to analyze trade possibilities. If anything, negotiations could gain momentum even earlier this year because of the uniform Trade Deadline of July 31 and clear distinctions between buyers and sellers.

Yet, some general managers remain stuck in between buying and selling -- and are likely to remain there for the next several weeks. Here’s an update on three bubble teams:

Nationals

For those seeking insight on the Nationals’ Deadline direction, their record over the upcoming 11-game homestand will be telling. The D-backs, Phillies and Braves -- all of whom have winning records -- are set to visit Nationals Park beginning Thursday. One source said Wednesday that the Nats’ performance in those series will be a major factor in determining president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo’s focus in July.

Of note, the Nationals have a lower winning percentage today than last Aug. 21, when they became sellers by trading Daniel Murphy to the Cubs and assigning Matt Adams' contract to the Cardinals on waivers. And they face the same deficit for the second National League Wild Card spot: 6 1/2 games.

At least for the time being, though, sources say the Nationals remain in “buy” mode, with a particular focus on relief pitchers. Washington has the worst bullpen ERA in the Majors at 6.33. Even since MLB added a second Wild Card team in each league in 2012, no team has qualified for the postseason with a bullpen ERA in excess of Colorado’s 4.62 mark last year, according to Marc Matcham of MLB Network Research.

Even though rookie reliever Tanner Rainey recently has brought some stability to the Nats’ bullpen, Rizzo is expected to seek additional late-inning relievers who are under control beyond this year. Sources say it’s possible the Nats will buy and sell at the Deadline, adding controllable MLB players while moving Anthony Rendon (free agent after 2019) and Sean Doolittle (club option for ’20).

Max Scherzer is the most intriguing trade possibility of all, in a market short on controllable No. 1 or No. 2 starters. Scherzer is due to earn approximately $35 million in 2020 and 2021. The Nats could explore the possibility of trading him for MLB-ready talent, as a way to acquire Rendon’s replacement at third base and strengthen multiple areas of the 2020 Major League roster. The Yankees have a deep enough farm system to make a competitive offer for Scherzer, as well as the financial resources to afford him in the future -- especially following the retirement of CC Sabathia.

Indians

On the surface, the standings dictate that the Indians should be buyers. They entered play Thursday trailing the Rangers by two games for the second American League Wild Card.

However, the more relevant number is 10 1/2 -- as in, the deficit the Indians face against the Twins in the AL Central. Sources say the Indians are unlikely to buy aggressively unless they believe they have a strong chance to catch Minnesota for the division championship.

The reason? Particularly as they face a decline in attendance coming off three straight division titles, the Indians believe it’s important to retain their prospects in an effort to compete sustainably over the coming years. For the Indians, the question is whether their current roster is good enough to win the World Series. When they were swept by the Astros in the AL Division Series last year, the answer was a resounding no. If anything, the gap between the teams has increased this year.

Accordingly, unless they climb closer to the Twins in the next several weeks, the Indians and president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti are poised to entertain offers for Trevor Bauer (free agent after ’20), Carlos Santana (signed through ’20, team option for ’21) and Brad Hand (signed through ’20, team option for ’21). Francisco Lindor is a stronger candidate to be made available via trade during the upcoming offseason, as there’s been no indication of progress on a contract extension for him.

Rangers

The Rangers face the opposite set of circumstances from the Indians: For Texas, reaching the AL Wild Card Game would be significant coming off a last-place finish in 2018. Moreover, it would give the Rangers valuable momentum before the opening of Globe Life Field next year.

The Rangers have yet to engage in serious trade discussions, sources say, but teams already have inquired about starter Mike Minor, an All-Star candidate who is under contract for next year. Minor, who ranks fifth in the AL with a 2.52 ERA, would be one of the most coveted players on the trade market if the Rangers made him available.

If Texas becomes a buyer, pitching is likely to be the focus for president of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels. Because the Rangers face such a large deficit in the AL West, they’re unlikely to pursue rental starters or relievers. Instead, pitchers under control for 2020 (and beyond) would be the focus: Bauer, Detroit’s Matthew Boyd, the Giants’ Jeff Samardzija and (less likely) Scherzer are candidates among starters, with Hand, Doolittle, Detroit’s Shane Greene and the White Sox Alex Colomé the possible relievers.

Texas native Noah Syndergaard, who won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, could be dealt this summer or during the upcoming offseason, depending on how Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen reacts to the team’s mediocre first half.

In any deal for a significant starter, the Rangers are likely to be asked for one of their top pitching prospects, right-handers Hans Crouse and Cole Winn.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.