The 2021 Major League Baseball Trade Deadline is next Friday at 4 p.m. ET, and make no mistake, it is the trade deadline. By that, we mean that the August waiver period, the one that once sent Justin Verlander to the Astros in the waning moments of August, no longer exists. If you’re an executive, you’ll make your trades now, or not at all.
It is, of course, absolutely impossible to predict what’s going to happen by the end of the day on July 30 … so let’s go ahead and try to do exactly that. There are dozens of players who will either be discussed or actually moved, even if, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported, executives predict a quiet week ahead before “a frenzy” on the last day. Where will the most interesting ones land?
We’ve done this a few times in the past, and all we can guarantee is this: Most of these predictions won’t come to pass … but one or two will, as written. They always do.
All stats entering play on Thursday, July 22, and originally included Nelson Cruz to the Rays before that actually happened, so we're counting that as a win. As a reminder, we’re predicting some of the trades, not all of them. If your team isn’t mentioned, that doesn’t mean we believe it'll make no moves.
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Aside from the Cubs, who we’ll get to in a second, Story has been the most obvious trade candidate from the moment Nolan Arenado was sent to St. Louis, though the front office turmoil in Colorado and Story’s own unimpressive season (91 OPS+) has made this all even more complicated. Interim GM Bill Schmidt claims, correctly, that the club will not be forced to trade Story, and might just hang onto him in hopes of recouping Draft pick compensation when he inevitably departs this winter via free agency.
Perhaps so. But most suitors won’t be scared away by Story’s line this year, since there’s not much evidence of any particular decline in skill, and he’d spent the last five seasons being one of the five best shortstops in baseball. (Nor will teams fret about his home/road splits, given the post-Coors successes of Arenado and DJ LeMahieu.) It’s not just teams in need of a shortstop, either; there’s some thought Story could play second or third in the right situation, and at least one club is considering him as a center fielder.
There’s a fit with the Yankees, who could stand to move Gleyber Torres back to second, but the best answer here has always been with Oakland, which has received little from Elvis Andrus. Perhaps, as a way to balance the books and rosters, Andrus and some salary might head to Colorado as part of the deal, just as the Rockies once received Jose Reyes when trading Troy Tulowitzki.
Jon Gray, SP, Rockies
Sticking with the Rockies for a second, they should, in theory, be holding a second incredibly valuable piece in Gray, given the complete dearth of starting pitching available. But Gray has reportedly indicated he’d like to stay, and when you can find a successful pitcher at altitude who isn’t desperately trying to escape, you probably want to try to hang onto that guy. We’re not sure how many big deals the short-handed Colorado front office can juggle at the same time, anyway. (Though we would expect 36-year-old reliever Daniel Bard to find a new home.)
Just about all of the Cubs
Let’s just group all of these guys together, because the Cubs roster is likely to look all but unrecognizable a week from now. Joc Pederson is already gone. They probably can’t or won’t trade Jason Heyward and Kyle Hendricks, and they still need someone around in 2022, which is why we think Willson Contreras sticks around. Everyone else, though ...
We do not envy Jed Hoyer and his cell phone plan, to be honest.
Báez has said that he’d like to be a lifelong Cub, and his inconsistent performance the last two years might limit his market, especially since Story is a better all-around player and Andrelton Simmons is at worst an equal defender, though a lesser bat. That said, Báez might welcome a trade since that would prevent him from going into a deep shortstop market wearing a Qualifying Offer.
The same might be said for Rizzo. Everyone on the planet knows the Yankees badly need a lefty bat, and while Joey Gallo checks off a ton of boxes, we also don’t believe that deal will actually happen. Instead, Rizzo would be a perfect fit in terms of roster, stadium, need and experience, and if the question is “What about Luke Voit?” we might ask what about Luke Voit, because as talented as he can be, he’s played just 29 games and is currently out with a knee problem. “Too many good players” is a nice problem to have, much more so than starting Rob Brantly and Chris Gittens at first, anyway.
Bryant’s hamstring injury might give suitors pause, but it’s not expected to be serious, and injured players can be traded anyway. His versatility makes him a fit in most any situation, which makes a prediction tough. We’ll guess the hot Mets offense lets them focus more on pitching; we’ll guess the Braves aren’t replacing Austin Riley or trading for a second Cubs hitter. Instead, we’ll take the Giants, who are squarely in the “it’s very real” category of contenders, and could use Bryant to cover for injuries to Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria at the infield corners now, and reinforce an underperforming left field spot later.
So far as the relievers go, there’s a little bit of “throwing darts” here, because it’s easier to name contenders who don’t need bullpen help than ones who do, and if you’d rather argue that the Phillies or Blue Jays or Astros have a stronger need for Kimbrel, well, we can’t really argue against that.
But to at least explain our thinking here: Chafin to the Mets, because as good as Aaron Loup has been, he’s their only lefty reliever, and no contending team has had fewer bullpen pitches coming from lefties. (Davies hasn’t exactly been stellar, but the Mets badly need rotation depth.) Plus let's also say Ryan Tepera, who’s really been quite good, to the Phillies, because Philadelphia will revolt if nothing is done to improve one of baseball’s weakest bullpens.
Finally, the resurgent Kimbrel to the Dodgers, because their desperate need for rotation help is likely to run into the fact that the starter market is weak -- they aren’t the type of team to talk themselves into a Kyle Gibson type -- and if you can’t strengthen the front, strengthen the back, especially with Kenley Jansen having a rough pair of games in an otherwise strong season.
Starling Marte, OF, Marlins
Miami and Marte are reportedly no longer considering a contract extension, which means he’s among the most likely players to get traded, given that the impending free agent is having a year that is both very good (.289/.388/.445, 129 OPS+) and not really out of character with a long track record of success. There are obvious fits here in Philadelphia or the Bronx, perhaps San Francisco too, but we like Houston, because Myles Straw profiles better as a bench piece than a starting center fielder.
While we’re here, let’s go nuts. Houston badly needs a reliever or three, too. Enjoy southeastern Texas, Dylan Floro.
Jesús Aguilar, 1B, Marlins
Speaking of Miami righties with power, Aguilar is having a second straight good season for the Marlins (118 OPS+, after 117 last year), though he’s not your stereotypical platoon masher; he has little in the way of career platoon splits. Take a look at 2021’s weakest first base spots, and among contenders you’ll find two clubs who probably would rather have a lefty (Yankees, Red Sox) and one that is thirsty for any sort of production it can find to complement a fantastic pitching staff: Milwaukee, where Aguilar enjoyed a breakout All-Star campaign in 2018.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Rockies
Cron, however, is more of a stereotypical platoon masher, having a nearly 70-points-of-OPS edge against lefties over his career, and more than that in 2021. That would fit nicely in San Diego, where Eric Hosmer’s relatively unimpressive Padres tenure might look better if he had to face fewer lefty pitchers (.666 OPS with San Diego) in favor of more righties (.796).
Jonathan Schoop, 1B/2B, Tigers
Prediction: Red Sox
Boston might prefer a left-handed first base option, given the presence of right-handed Bobby Dalbec, but we already sent Rizzo to New York, and Dalbec has a .259 OBP and hasn’t drawn a walk in a month (no, seriously). Now that Danny Santana, Marwin Gonzalez and Christian Arroyo are all injured, other internal first base options are limited -- and as much as we like Franchy Cordero, even we don't think he's the answer there. So maybe they’ll take what they can get, especially with Chris Sale close to a return to reinforce the rotation, and Schoop (122 OPS+) is having his third consecutive strong season, and fourth in five.
As a bonus, Schoop has plenty of second base experience, which might just come in handy, because Arroyo and Gonzalez have started 71% of games there for Boston. While Kiké Hernández is capable enough, he may also be needed back in center field at times to help support young Jarren Duran, too.
Adam Frazier, 2B/OF, Pirates
Prediction: White Sox
This has been an obvious fit from the moment Nick Madrigal went down for the season, and it remains so now, from both sides. Frazier’s 131 OPS+ is the highest of his career, to the extent that it’s hard to believe fully in this suddenly being the “new” him. Still, he’s a good defender, a lefty bat on a team that needs one, and he’s got one of the lowest strikeout rates in baseball. It’s true that Leury García has performed well enough (.370 OBP over the last month), but it’s more true that he’s best served playing multiple positions anyway.
As a bonus, Frazier is also under team control for one more season, providing insurance if Madrigal isn’t healthy or a winter trade possibility if he is.
All of those Twins
Somewhat like the Cubs, the Twins are in the unusual situation of being non-contenders who are still full of talented players.
That said, they still claim to want to be contenders in 2022, which makes dealing away controllable players much more difficult. (Not that it’s easy to find a precedent to an in-season deal for an immensely talented, rarely healthy player like Buxton, anyway, and Donaldson’s injury problems might make his contract unmovable.)
Much more likely, if far less intriguing, is that Minnesota trades veteran pitchers Michael Pineda, Hansel Robles, Alex Colomé and J.A. Happ in low-impact deals, and there are so many clubs that could use another arm on hand that it’s not even worth making specific guesses. (Fine. Pineda, Mets. Robles, Blue Jays. Colomé, Phillies. Happ, A’s.)
And those Rangers
Is this surprising? Hear us out. No, this Texas team isn’t very good, but that doesn’t mean it can just empty out the roster, either. Gallo has made it clear he would like to stay, and he’s not a free agent until after 2022, so the choice isn’t urgent. Gibson, also, is not a free agent until after 2022, and there are two compelling arguments to hold here: first, with the rest of the rotation imploding, his continued presence is badly needed; second, even teams in need of starters won’t fully buy into his sudden step forward (one that has not come with an increase in strikeouts, for what it’s worth), and so the offers that come in might not be terribly impressive.
Kennedy, at least, is having a solid -- if oddly fastball-heavy -- season and would provide useful depth to a contender.
Charlie Morton, SP, Braves
Atlanta finds itself in an odd position, in that it's an under-.500 third-place team without its best player (Ronald Acuña Jr.), biggest offseason signing (Marcell Ozuna) and two of its best starters (Ian Anderson, Mike Soroka), and yet in Pederson and Steven Vogt, Atlanta still has been making moves to improve. That is, partially, because the Mets haven't pulled away yet in the East, and Atlanta's next nine games, coming against the Phillies and Mets, will define its season. If it goes sideways, Morton, still effective at 37, would seem to be an obvious trade piece, and he's made it very clear over the years he prefers to stay in the Southeast. Like, for example, on a contending team in Tampa Bay, where he spent the last two seasons.
Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Royals
Merrifield has been the target of trade rumors for years, as the Royals have not finished above .500 since winning the World Series back in 2015. Signed to an incredibly team-friendly contract, and capable of playing multiple positions well while carrying what's usually a solid bat, Merrifield would seem to again be an obvious trade candidate, especially as he'll turn 33 this winter and the Royals, losers of 29 of their last 39, still seem considerably far from contention. That's been true for several years, though. We bet he'll stick around again.
Eduardo Escobar, INF, D-backs
There have been rumors for weeks that Escobar would land with the White Sox, but that hasn’t happened and doesn’t appear likely to. Escobar, 32, is in the final year of his contract and is the type of switch-hitting defensively versatile solid-average-to-above hitter who always ends up mattering in October. We’ll be going with the Brewers here because Travis Shaw has been injured and unproductive, and between the righty-swinging Luis Urías and lefties Kolten Wong and Jace Peterson, manager Craig Counsell should have no problem finding use for Escobar. The more bats the better for Milwaukee, anyway.
We think, however, that his teammate Ketel Marte remains in the desert.
Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals
The fourth-place Nationals, five games under .500, should want to trade Scherzer, just like they should have wanted to trade Bryce Harper in 2018. They’d corner the starting pitching market, since Scherzer, even at 36, has been fantastic again this year. But in addition to this kind of move seemingly not being the Nats' style, Scherzer has full control over if and where he is moved, and with his hometown Cardinals falling out of contention, it’s not clear what his thoughts are on the matter. The Giants or Dodgers sure would be interesting, though.