The clock is ticking, yet in front offices around the Majors, it feels like the trade market is on pause.
The Trade Deadline is just five days away, and while we’ve already seen one trade of note (the Phillies’ acquisition of Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox), the next few days figure to be quiet as teams slow-play their way to Monday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.
With 16 postseason spots up for grabs, a majority of teams have yet to decide whether they will be buyers or sellers -– or neither -– come Monday. Twelve of 14 American League teams were within six games of a playoff spot as of Tuesday morning, while every National League team –- yes, even the 7-17 Pirates –- is within that same margin.
“There’s a lot of chatter, but it really feels like the teams we’re talking to are all still weighing what direction to go,” said one NL executive, admitting that his club falls in that category. “It’s been such a short handful of games and yet we have to figure something out. I think there could be a flurry of activity over the weekend -- or nothing at all. Either way wouldn’t surprise me.”
In addition to the impact of the expanded postseason field, the COVID-19 situation that has disrupted some teams’ season adds another layer of apprehension when it comes to making a deal.
“All of the teams seem concerned about the COVID situation and seem hesitant to give up anything of value without knowing exactly how the year will play out,” the NL executive said. “Maybe that’ll change as we get closer to the 31st.”
Even as decision-makers around the league feel each other out in preliminary conversations, the uncertainty surrounding so many clubs has led to equally ambiguous discussions.
“There’s a lot of talk, but it’s tough to read how motivated people are to actually do deals,” an AL executive said.
The next five days will play a major role in determining what direction front offices take by Monday.
“This week is really separating teams,” a second AL executive said.
Could Bauer be on the move?
Two executives floated the notion that the Reds could move Trevor Bauer if things go south over the next four or five days, though others believe Cincinnati will try to make a run at the postseason regardless of how the week plays out.
“I think they are going to try and win,” an NL exec said. “I suppose if they lose for a week straight, they could consider it, but it would surprise me.”
The Reds traded for Bauer before last year’s Trade Deadline, then signed Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas during the offseason, their eyes squarely focused on the 2020 postseason.
Bauer settled for $17.5 million in his final year of arbitration, which translates into about $6.5 million prorated this season. He and Anthony DeSclafani are the team’s two biggest free agents this offseason, as the Reds have approximately $102 million committed already for 2021.
That financial situation, one AL executive said, is the reason the Reds could move Bauer if they fall further back in the standings this week.
“They have too much money on the books to think they can re-sign him,” the AL exec said.
Cincinnati was 11-16 through Monday, though they sat just 3 1/2 games out of second place in the NL Central and 1 1/2 games behind the final Wild Card spot.
While many teams will spend the rest of the week deliberating their course of action, multiple execs tabbed A.J. Preller of the Padres and Brodie Van Wagenen of the Mets as general managers expected to be active buyers.
“San Diego may be aggressive,” one AL executive said.
The Padres are off to an 18-12 start entering Tuesday, just four games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and 3 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Rockies. Preller hasn’t been afraid to make big moves during his tenure in San Diego, so the idea of adding a piece or two (or three?) wouldn’t be shocking, especially in the bullpen.
As for Van Wagenen, the Mets entered Tuesday at 12-14, just three games behind the first-place Braves and 1 1/2 behind the second-place Marlins. With new ownership on the horizon and a win-now roster in place, Van Wagenen could feel the pressure to bring in a player or two to help the Mets get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“Eight teams are getting into the playoffs; he’s spent money and made win-now moves,” one industry source said. “He’s fighting for his job, in my opinion.”
One of the few teams that appear to be in full-on sell mode is the Pirates, whose -31 run differential is the worst in the NL.
According to an NL executive, Pirates GM Ben Cherington is “trying to sell everything” in his first year at the helm as he attempts to remake Pittsburgh’s roster.
“It’ll be interesting to see what kind of return they can get on their guys in this market,” the exec said.
Cherington disputed the notion that the Pirates are in full-on fire sale mode.
“‘Trying to sell everything’ is inaccurate,” Cherington said. “Our job is to listen and learn to determine if there is opportunity to match up with another team in a way that we see benefit. We’ll continue to do that.”
Pittsburgh dealt Starling Marte during the offseason, removing what would have been the team’s biggest chip. Closer Keone Kela could draw interest, but he left Friday’s game with forearm tightness, potentially impacting his trade value.
Gregory Polanco, Joe Musgrove and Adam Frazier are among the Pirates players that could be moved by Monday. Polanco is due $11.6 million in 2021, while Musgrove and Frazier are each under club control through 2022.