With a single Trade Deadline in Major League Baseball this year, many observers around the sport believed significant deals would occur well in advance of July 31.
Instead we’re witnessing an even more intriguing phenomenon: With the Deadline drama delayed, the roles of the actors are changing by the week.
One month ago, the Giants and Nationals were sellers. The Rangers and Rockies were expected to buy. Trevor Bauer was a trade candidate.
All of that has changed ... except for Bauer’s status. No one seems sure about the Indians’ plans for him, but we’re all going to find out soon enough.
With seven days before the Trade Deadline, here are seven storylines to follow.
Which path will the surging Giants choose?
The answer to this question could unlock a number of trades in the coming days -- or keep the industry in suspense leading up to July 31 at 4 p.m. ET.
The Giants’ scorching July has accomplished two things: Bruce Bochy’s final season as San Francisco's manager is more enthralling than expected, and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has newfound leverage. Zaidi can tell his counterparts, "I don’t need to trade these players. Have you watched us play lately?"
Initially, the Giants expected to trade Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith in an effort to restock their roster with Major League outfielders. Then Alex Dickerson and Mike Yastrzemski materialized. Sources say the Giants have continued discussing their relief pitchers (including Smith) with other clubs, and it’s possible Zaidi could trade Smith or fellow left-hander Tony Watson while holding on to Bumgarner.
The Rays, Twins, Braves and Cardinals are among the teams that have shown interest in the Giants’ relievers.
With the National League West out of reach, perhaps the Giants can replicate the 2017 Twins, who traded a rental pitcher (Jaime Garcia) at the Deadline -- and reached the American League Wild Card Game, anyway.
Which starter will join the Astros?
The Astros have been talking with teams about starting pitchers for several weeks, and it would be a major surprise if they don’t trade for one by next Wednesday. The reason has to do with 2020 as much as 2019, with current starters Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley eligible for free agency after this year.
The thinking: If the Astros are going to add pitching before next Opening Day, why not do so now and boost their chances in the current season?
Houston has spoken with the D-backs about left-hander Robbie Ray and the Mets regarding Noah Syndergaard. They’ve also shown interest in Blue Jays right-handers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Stroman’s value is at a relative high point now, whereas Sanchez (6.26 ERA) is a candidate for a philosophical and/or mechanical reset -- an Astros specialty under pitching coach Brent Strom.
Is any team willing to take on Zack Greinke’s salary?
While Ray is receiving interest from the Astros and Yankees, among other clubs, Greinke’s market is harder to determine. Money is the biggest reason. Only a handful of teams could plausibly take on a contract that includes the second-highest average annual value of any pitcher in MLB history. (Greinke also has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 15 teams.)
Philadelphia is one possible landing spot for Greinke, although one source said the D-backs have yet to begin serious talks with other clubs about trading him. The Phillies are looking for rotation upgrades, and sources say they’re intrigued by the concept of taking on a substantial percentage of Greinke’s contract in exchange for surrendering lesser prospects.
Greinke is earning $31.5 million this season, and his contract includes $32 million salaries in 2020 and 2021. Roughly one-third of his remaining salary is deferred.
Where will Bauer be pitching in August?
Bauer threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings on Tuesday night in Toronto, and his ERA dropped to 3.49. The Indians would host the American League Wild Card Game if the postseason began today.
So why did one source say on Tuesday that the chances of a Bauer trade remain as high as 50 percent?
The Indians are concerned about how Bauer’s 2020 salary will fit into next year’s payroll, and they realize that he’s close to peak value right now. The team’s front office believes it’s important to maximize the prospect return on such star players as Bauer as they near free agency, in order to avoid prolonged rebuilding periods.
Although the Indians aren’t desperate to trade Bauer, they remain willing to do so -- especially if they receive an impact position player in return. The Phillies are among the teams to show interest in the right-hander, one source said on Tuesday, with the Brewers another possible suitor.
Will any National League team improve itself enough to threaten the Dodgers?
The Dodgers, owners of the Majors’ best record, almost certainly will enter the postseason as strong favorites to return to the World Series for a third straight year. The Dodgers have won six consecutive division titles, and there’s a belief within the organization that this is the strongest edition of the team this decade.
Can anyone in the NL stop them? The next week should offer a clue.
The Brewers have regressed since coming within a game of eliminating the Dodgers in last year’s NL Championship Series. The Braves probably stand the best chance of challenging the reigning pennant winners, and they could make a strong statement by acquiring Smith from the Giants or Felipe Vazquez from the Pirates. A dominant left-hander could be the key to controlling Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy in the postseason, as Javier Lopez did against Ryan Howard in the Giants’ upset of the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS.
Offensively, the Cubs (and possibly the Braves) will seek to stockpile right-handed bats, such as Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos, in an effort to counteract Dodgers southpaws Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias and Rich Hill.
In a pitching-focused market, how many impact hitters will move?
The Rockies’ willingness to entertain offers for Charlie Blackmon is notable for a couple of reasons: Colorado, coming off consecutive postseason appearances, was thought to be a buyer as July began. And Blackmon is the rare (only?) All-Star position player who could move at this year’s Deadline -- although he is a stronger candidate to be dealt in the offseason.
In a historic year for home runs, many contending GMs are largely content with their offense. That’s probably a good thing, because the list of available bats on selling clubs (or even potential selling clubs) is not very long. The Tigers are nearly certain to trade Castellanos, and the Rays have called the Rangers about Hunter Pence. The White Sox are open to moving Jose Abreu, but relatively few buyers have short-term needs at first base.
The Royals’ price for Whit Merrifield is extraordinarily high. D-backs outfielder David Peralta has good value but remains on the injured list. Pittsburgh's Corey Dickerson and Toronto's Eric Sogard and Justin Smoak are available.
Will the Deadline change the balance of power in the NL Central?
The NL Central is by far the most compact division in the Majors, with the Cardinals and Brewers both within two games of the first-place Cubs. As such, this race could be shaped most dramatically by Deadline maneuvering.
The Brewers’ need for a starting pitcher is especially acute, with All-Star right-hander Brandon Woodruff expected to miss six weeks with a strained left oblique. It’s difficult to imagine the Brewers passing the Cubs -- and staying ahead of them -- without upgrading their rotation. Milwaukee has shown interest in Ray, among other options.
The Cubs are active in pursuing hitters, reportedly Castellanos and Sogard, and will look to add a late-inning reliever. The Cardinals have spoken with the Giants about Smith since the offseason and remain interested in the lefty, if San Francisco ultimately decides to trade him.
The Cardinals could choose to keep their group of position players largely intact, with 24-year-olds Tommy Edman and Tyler O’Neill starting more frequently in recent days. St. Louis is 11-5 during Yadier Molina’s most recent stay on the injured list.