Jim Leyland once stuck his head into a meeting of Tigers scouts and announced, “I want to remind you guys that there are no perfect players.” In his not-so-subtle way, the former Tigers skipper was telling his guys it was important to emphasize a player’s strengths rather than his weaknesses.
Trades are like that, too. There aren’t many perfect ones. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman once said, “If you’re always logical in free agency, you’re going to finish third on every free agent.”
Trades are certainly like that. No asking price seems realistic. On the other hand, as Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once said, “If you get the guy you really want when you’re trying to win a World Series, the price you pay does not matter.”
That’s where we are two weeks before the July 31 Trade Deadline. As teams try to figure out whether they’re going to be buyers or sellers -- or in some cases, both -- no team is going to get precisely what it wants at the price it wants to pay.
With that in mind, let’s try some matchmaking for seven contenders, because there’s no advice like free advice:
Number: 6.11 ERA in 36 games for fourth and fifth starters
Suggestion: Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner
This is a perfect fit on so many levels. His competitive fire and playoff chops are exactly what the Astros want, and he just might thrive again in a winning environment. He might not dominate the way Justin Verlander did after his arrival in 2017, but if the Astros opened the postseason with a Verlander/Gerrit Cole/Bumgarner front three they’d be nicely positioned for another run.
Number: 5.93 ERA for Washington bullpen is 29th among 30 teams
Suggestion: Pirates LHP Felipe Vázquez
Yep, we’re thinking big. There’s a time for that, even if it means overpaying. Since Opening Day 2012, only the Dodgers have won more regular-season games than the Nationals. But the Nationals have yet to win a postseason series, and after recovering from a bad start to go 30-12 since May 24, this team has a chance to make some noise in October. Adding a dominant late-inning lefty would be a nice finishing touch.
Need: Starting pitcher
Number: 4.12 ERA for starters, 10th in MLB
Suggestion: Tigers LHP Matthew Boyd
Only a handful of teams have the resources to pull off a trade for one of the American League’s five or six best starting pitchers (top five in strikeout percentage with 10th-lowest walk percentage). Because Boyd will be under control through the 2022 season, the Tigers are under no real pressure to trade him. But Boyd is the kind of organizational asset who could bring back multiple elite prospects and move the reconstruction of the Major League roster along.
Number: 4.03 ERA for Dodgers relievers, 10th in MLB
Suggestion: Indians LHP Brad Hand
The Dodgers lead the Majors in wins and are at or near the top of the NL in runs (tied for first), home runs (second) and runs per game (third). Their rotation is the NL’s best, and over the last month, the bullpen has performed much better. But if the Dodgers have a weak link -- and that’s debatable -- it’s still the bullpen. At this point, the Indians may not even be sellers, and if that’s the case, the Dodgers could ask the Tigers about Shane Greene or the Blue Jays about Ken Giles (if he’s healthy). But if there’s even a remote chance of getting Hand, he’s worth the effort (and the bundle of prospects such a deal would require).
Number: 6.02 ERA for Rays relievers this month
Suggestion: Padres RHP Kirby Yates
The Rays have prospects to deal and a bullpen that has had some shaky moments recently. Yates would be under control for one more year, which would increase the asking price. He’d be worth it because he’s good enough to push a team that’s already good to another level.
Number: 3.69 ERA for Atlanta relievers, best in the NL
Suggestion: Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman
Atlanta’s bullpen has performed so well recently that general manager Alex Anthopoulos may decide to make a run at a starting pitcher with an eye toward the postseason. The Braves are going to win the NL East for the second straight season, but they probably need more to make a legitimate run at getting past the Dodgers in October.
Number: 4.47 runs per game, 21st in MLB
Suggestion: Royals super-utility man Whit Merrifield
The Cardinals have been checking out a long list of pitchers in an attempt to jump-start a team that is 27-35 and scoring 4.0 runs per game since May 2. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has gotten hot, and third baseman Matt Carpenter, who returned to the injured list on Tuesday, has a history of heating up at any moment. But the Cardinals are in danger of missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, and even though the asking price for Merrifield would be high, he might provide a jolt to a team that could use one.