How the Trade Deadline could impact Hot Stove season

August 4th, 2023

Although the Trade Deadline could have a significant impact on the rest of the 2023 campaign first and foremost, the ripple effects will likely be felt long after the final out of this year’s World Series, carrying into Hot Stove season.

Here’s a look at some of the key offseason questions and storylines we’ll be watching that stem from this year’s Deadline. (All stats below are through Wednesday.)

Can these sellers-turned-buyers retain their star free agents?

A number of clubs were trending toward selling coming out of the All-Star break but ended up buying, and none has a bigger spotlight on it than the Angels after they decided not to trade .

All eyes are on the Halos as they try to make a postseason run in Ohtani's final year under team control, and the focus will remain on the team as it attempts to re-sign the two-way superstar, likely for the richest deal in baseball history. The Angels also dipped into their farm system to trade for two other pending free agents, and .

Like the Angels, the Padres flirted with selling before going in the other direction. They reportedly listened to offers for and but didn’t trade either one, risking losing both this offseason for nothing but Draft compensation.

The Friars have a lot of talent signed to long-term deals, but it would sting to lose two of their top players heading into what might be 's final year with the club before he can test free agency. That said, it remains to be seen how aggressive the team will be with its spending this offseason, considering what its expensive payroll has yielded to this point.

Then there’s the Cubs, who seemed poised to deal away and , only to go on a hot streak that led to a change of plans. Chicago held onto both Bellinger (2024 mutual option) and Stroman (opt-out) while dealing for third baseman (pending free agent). The North Siders could see all three depart in a few months.

Who can get a qualifying offer and who can't?

Speaking of free agency, the market could be directly impacted by who was traded at the Deadline -- and perhaps more importantly, who wasn’t -- thanks to the qualifying offer.

Clubs wishing to receive Draft compensation for the loss of a free agent can make a one-year qualifying offer, worth the mean salary of MLB's 125 highest-paid players, to their free agents if and only if the player has never received a qualifying offer previously in his career and spent the entire season on that team's roster.

The latter provision is relevant to the Trade Deadline, because in-season acquisitions such as Giolito, and will now be ineligible for a qualifying offer this offseason.

Pending free agents who weren’t traded, such as Ohtani, Snell, Hader and Bellinger, remain eligible to receive one. It won't matter for Ohtani's market, but we've certainly seen some free agents linger on the market longer than expected in the past due to the Draft compensation attached to them from rejecting a qualifying offer.

Cease on the block?

The White Sox were one of MLB’s most aggressive sellers at this year’s Deadline, trading away Giolito, López, , , , and .

Although Chicago held onto , , , and , this doesn’t seem like a club that will be ready to seriously contend in the next two seasons, which are Cease’s last two years under team control.

So why not shop the 27-year-old righty?

Cease drew some trade buzz leading up to the Deadline, with the White Sox reportedly fielding offers for him, but he ultimately wasn’t moved. We could see the South Siders revisit those talks in the offseason, perhaps selling Cease as a less expensive alternative to free agents such as Snell, Giolito, and .

What is the Mets’ plan?

Many assumed the Mets would be one of the top suitors for Ohtani this offseason, but after owner Steve Cohen’s expensive plan to spend his way into contention turned into a big budget flop, the franchise’s immediate direction is now unclear.

In an interview with The Athletic (subscription required) after being traded to the Rangers, right-hander said that he decided to waive his no-trade clause after Mets general manager Billy Eppler told him the team was, “not going to be signing upper-echelon guys” to reload for 2024. Rather, the new plan would be to build for 2025 and 2026. (Cohen later acknowledged that he told Scherzer he couldn't promise the team would be all-in on free agency this offseason.)

Does that mean Cohen is really going to sit out of the Ohtani sweepstakes? Or that he’s going to be content making small additions to a rotation that just lost Scherzer and to trades? The Mets’ 2024 starting five, as currently constituted, would be , , , and .

Taking a step back in 2024 would mean wasting another year of ’s prime as well as ’s final year before free agency, which makes it hard to believe they’ll stick with that plan.

Will E-Rod stay in Detroit?

With the Tigers heading toward a seventh straight sub-.500 season and ’s contract giving him the ability to opt out this offseason, it seemed likely that the left-hander would be traded before the Deadline. He wasn't, but not for a lack of interest.

The Dodgers tried to acquire him and reportedly had a deal in place with the Tigers, but Rodriguez invoked his 10-team no-trade clause to block a trade, which raises questions about his opt-out plans.

If he opts out, he’d be one of the top starters on the market, having recorded a 2.96 ERA, a 3.10 FIP and a 4.36 K/BB ratio -- all career bests -- in his age-30 season.

However, Rodriguez made it clear Wednesday that he made the decision to invoke his no-trade clause because he and his family are happy in Detroit.

If that’s the case, it’s possible we’ll see him forgo his opt-out power and stay in the Motor City for the remainder of his five-year, $77 million contract. He has three years left after 2023.

Astros, Rangers improve rotations for 2023 and beyond

As usual, many of the players who were traded prior to this year’s Deadline are rentals just a few months away from free agency. But two of the biggest names who were moved -- Verlander and Scherzer -- are under team control beyond 2023, which could impact how the Astros and Rangers, respectively, proceed this offseason.

The Astros have Verlander for 2023, 2024 and possibly 2025 (he has a vesting option), and , , , , , and are all under control through at least 2025 as well, so Houston probably won’t be shopping for upper-level starting pitching anytime soon.

The Rangers also gave their 2024 rotation a boost, as their trade for Scherzer involved the right-hander agreeing to exercise his $43.3 million option for 2024.

Although (right elbow UCL surgery) is expected to be sidelined for most of 2024 and the club could lose Montgomery, and (opt-out) to free agency, there will be less urgency for Texas to splurge on another big-name starter now that Scherzer is in the fold.

Scherzer, , and are all controllable through at least 2024.

Cards still looking to trade an outfielder?

While the Cardinals dealt pending free agents Montgomery, Flaherty, and along with (2024 and 2025 club options), they refrained from moving any of the controllable assets who were mentioned as possible trade candidates.

While it’s not a surprise that first baseman and third baseman weren’t dealt, we expected St. Louis to alleviate a logjam by trading from its glut of outfielders.

The Cards could try again this offseason, with and the most likely St. Louis outfielders to be moved. But it could be more difficult to find a trade partner during free agency, when there will be plenty of veteran outfielders available.

Teams that didn’t address weaknesses

While many clubs worked the trade market to fill holes, not every contender addressed every weakness, and even some of the teams that did only found a short-term fix in the form of a rental, which means they’ll be back at it again in the offseason.

Despite their much publicized issues in left field, the Yankees didn’t trade for an outfielder. They’ll need to fill two outfield spots in the offseason after center fielder hits free agency.

The Guardians and Mariners have bottom-10 offenses, in terms of OPS, this season, and both clubs will enter the offseason needing to add multiple bats after neither did much (or anything) to improve its lineup at the Deadline.

On the other side of the ball, the Reds, D-backs and Orioles all pursued starting pitching help leading up to the Deadline, but only the O’s made a move for one, trading for Flaherty.