7 trades contenders need to make

July 27th, 2022

With the advent of the third Wild Card in each league, more MLB teams than ever before can at least ponder the possibility of buying prior to the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline and beefing up their squad for a postseason run.

But not all buyers are created equal. Some teams need to strike now while their opportunity window is wide open. Others are just one significant move away from elevating a good roster to perhaps a World Series-winning one. A powerhouse franchise must do whatever it takes to make sure its impressive regular season doesn't go for naught in October.

With this in mind, MLB.com tasked seven writers to choose the team they think most needs to pull a future-changing deal this summer and present a sensible trade proposal to fill its greatest need. Check out the offers they came up with.

Notes: We're considering Juan Soto a special case, so he's exempt from this exercise. All statistics are updated through Monday’s games.

1) Padres: Friars double up on Chicago All-Stars

Proposed deal: Acquire C Willson Contreras and OF Ian Happ for C Luis Campusano (Padres’ No. 2 prospect), SS Jackson Merrill (No. 4), RHP Jarlin Susana (No. 15) and RHP Jairo Iriarte (No. 29)

Sure, the thought of having Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto in the same lineup is tantalizing, but this is a way for the club to add a pair of 2022 All-Stars while giving up far less than it would likely take to get the 23-year-old outfielder alone. While neither Contreras (a free agent this offseason) nor Happ (controllable through 2023) is as good as Soto, together they could have a similar impact on the Padres’ title chances this season, and San Diego wouldn’t have to surrender highly touted youngsters MacKenzie Gore and C.J. Abrams or their current No. 1 prospect, outfielder Robert Hassell (MLB’s No. 22 prospect).

They’d also get to hold No. 3 prospect Robert Wood in this proposal, and they’d retain the financial flexibility to address their rotation this offseason, when Joe Musgrove, Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger are all eligible to test free agency. That might not be the case if they traded for Soto and followed it up by signing him to a lucrative contract extension.

The Padres’ middling offense (tied for 18th with 4.3 runs per game entering Tuesday) should get a boost when Tatis returns from a fractured left wrist, which has kept him out all season, but there’s no guarantee he’ll immediately rediscover his superstar form at the plate. Acquiring Contreras and Happ would take some of the pressure off Tatis -- and third baseman Manny Machado, for that matter -- while addressing the team’s two biggest needs: catching and outfield.

When these two clubs came together to make the Yu Darvish trade in December 2020, the Cubs accepted a package that included four prospects who were very early in their development. It’s a similar situation here, as Chicago would pick up a 19-year-old in Merrill, a 19-year-old in Susana and a 20-year-old in Iriarte. They’d also get back Campusano (MLB’s No. 54 prospect), who could step in as Contreras’ replacement immediately.

-- Thomas Harrigan

2) Guardians: The price is (finally) right for Bryan Reynolds

Proposed deal: Acquire OF Bryan Reynolds and RHP David Bednar from Pirates for RHP Daniel Espino (Guardians' No. 1 prospect), INF Tyler Freeman (No. 6), RHP Xzavion Curry (No. 20), OF Will Brennan (No. 28) and OF Oscar Gonzalez

After years of wearing out Ben Cherington's phone, this is the year Chris Antonetti dips into the Guardians' pool of prospects to nab Reynolds.

An All-Star in 2021, Reynolds is batting .257 with 15 home runs and 32 RBIs in 84 games this year -- stats good enough for an OPS+ and WRC+ of 124. The switch-hitting Reynolds would serve as protection for José Ramírez at the top of the Guardians’ lineup while also providing Terry Francona with the versatility to construct a solid top of the lineup against both left- and right-handed pitching.

A center fielder by trade, Reynolds, who has been worth -5 Outs Above Average this year, would probably slot into a corner outfield spot, with Myles Straw in center field and Steven Kwan occupying the other corner.

In his two seasons with the Pirates, Bednar has put together a 2.54 ERA over 106 1/3 innings and earned his first All-Star game nod earlier this year. He'd be a boon for a Guardians bullpen that’s largely comprised of unproven arms. Reynolds and Bednar aren't scheduled to reach free agency until 2026 and 2027, respectively.

In return, Pittsburgh would get two of Cleveland’s Top 10 prospects. Espino boasts a 100 mph fastball, mystifying slider, a plus curveball and has all the makings of an ace. Freeman's contact-heavy approach would fit perfectly at second base for Pittsburgh.

Additionally, Brennan has enough experience in Triple-A to immediately fill Pittsburgh’s Reynolds-sized hole in center, while Curry’s plus fastball and high arm slot could allow him to become an impact reliever sooner rather than later. While Gonzalez didn’t come into the season as one of Cleveland’s top prospects, the rookie outfielder has impressed, hitting .285 with a 111 OPS+ in 32 games before going on the injured list due to an abdominal strain earlier this month.

-- Henry Palattella

3) Cardinals: Fill catching, starting rotation holes

Proposed deal: Acquire C Sean Murphy and RHP Frankie Montas from the A’s for LHP Matthew Liberatore (Cardinals' No. 2 prospect), SS Masyn Winn (No. 4) and 1B Luken Baker (No. 12)

A World Series win for the Cardinals this season would mean more than any other. Adding a potential ace in Montas and a Gold Glove catcher in Murphy could put St. Louis over the top.

There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Cardinals’ starting rotation. Jordan Hicks has posted a 5.47 ERA as a starter this season. Andre Pallante has been solid in eight starts, but the Cardinals would prefer not to rely on a rookie starting pitcher come October. Adam Wainwright will turn 41 next month. Jack Flaherty, who has started just three games in 2022, is on the 60-day IL with shoulder issues and may not pitch again in the big leagues this season.

Montas would immediately add length and star power to a Cardinals rotation desperately in need of both. He’s been excellent this season when healthy, posting a 3.16 ERA over 99 2/3 innings while striking out 9.48 batters per nine innings. The A’s were cautious with their top trade chip during his first start back from right shoulder inflammation on July 21, limiting Montas to three innings. But he looked dominant, allowing just three baserunners while striking out five.

The A’s could pair Montas with his battery mate to bring in an even bigger haul. This may be hard for Cardinals fans to hear, but St. Louis’ catchers have been atrocious this year. Injuries have limited Yadier Molina to just 40 games, but he’s posted a slugging percentage below .300 and a 46 wRC+ when he’s out there. Andrew Knizner hasn’t hit much better and plays a worse backstop. Molina may want the starting spot once he’s back from a knee injury in August. For the Cardinals to go deep into October, though, they must improve behind the plate. Murphy would do just that this year and beyond.

While Murphy’s .245/.320/.429 slash line doesn’t jump off the page, his 115 wRC+ is solid for a catcher, especially one with his defensive abilities. Murphy is tied for the second-most framing runs in baseball this season. Under team control through 2025, Murphy could help bridge the gap between the Yadier Molina and Iván Herrera eras in St. Louis, easing the pressure on the 22-year-old catcher to fill the future Hall of Famer's shoes right away. Teams can never have too many catchers nowadays anyway.

A few extra wins for the Cardinals could be the difference between a National League Central title, a Wild Card spot, or missing the playoffs entirely in a crowded Senior Circuit race for October. It's a steep price for a pair of cost-controlled, young-ish players, but if the Cardinals want to go for it in Molina, Wainwright and Albert Pujols’ final year together, the A’s are a perfect trade partner.

-- Dylan Svoboda

4) Giants: Add veteran help from division rival

Proposed deal: Acquire OF David Peralta from D-backs for C Adrian Sugastey (Giants' No. 18 prospect), OF Grant McCray (No. 25), RHP Eric Silva (No. 28)

The last time the Giants and D-backs swung a deal involving more than one player was in 2005, but with the teams clearly on different trajectories, maybe now is the time for the Giants front office to break that embargo if they want to keep up in the NL Wild Card race.

It’s no secret that the Giants have had some defensive struggles this season. They rank second-to-last in team Outs Above Average at -27, with a -11 OAA mark coming from left field alone. Peralta is one of the premier defenders out in left, as he ranks third in OAA among left fielders in 2022 at +4 and is tied for the lead in OAA since 2018 at +11. He’d also add some thump to the lineup with 12 homers under his belt this season. Peralta would likely come at a lower cost than another left-handed-hitting outfielder who's on the trade market in the Royals’ Andrew Benintendi.

A 34-year-old Peralta won’t really do much for a D-backs squad that’s aiming to get younger. If they ship him out, it would open up an everyday spot for MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect, outfielder Corbin Carroll, who is currently in Triple-A. Bringing in Sugastey, who was the Arizona Complex League’s batting champion at 18 years old last year, would give the D-backs a bit more depth where their talent pool is shallow, as only one of their current Top 30 prospects is a backstop.

-- Nick Aguilera

5) Twins: Call in bullpen backup

Proposed deal: Acquire RHP David Robertson and RHP Scott Effross from Cubs for 2B/3B Spencer Steer (Twins' No. 7 prospect), OF Matt Wallner (No. 8), RHP Cole Sands (No. 14) and RHP Blayne Enlow (No. 17)

The Twins are in a precarious position: If they drop out of first place in the AL Central, there would be little to no guarantee of a Wild Card spot. And while they’re never going to be best known for pitching, Twins pitchers have a 4.83 ERA across the seventh and eighth innings, which ranks 28th in baseball, ahead of just the Royals and Reds – not ideal company. In every other inning, the staff has a combined 3.66 ERA. There are some great arms in the bullpen, but few high-leverage relievers. The situation has only gotten worse with the recent hamstring injury to workhorse Caleb Thielbar. If the Twins are taking this season seriously, they can prove it by giving their bullpen some backup.

Robertson might be the best reliever guaranteed to be on the move this month, which means that more than any other club, Minnesota would regret not making a run at him. The 28-year-old Effross has five full years of team control left, and the Cubs are under no obligation to move him. Between the bidding war for Robertson, and Effross’ contract status, the price is likely to be steep, but the Twins were surprise sellers in 2021, and now’s the time to use that bolstered farm system to get the 2022 squad postseason-ready.

The Twins' best reliever has been flamethrower Jhoan Duran, and Effross and Robertson, if slotted around him late in games, would offer extreme contrast. Effross transformed his career by employing a sidearm delivery and now leans heavily on an excellent 79 mph slider that induces a ton of weak contact.

Robertson, meanwhile, brings the sharp cutter Minnesota was hoping to get out of Emilio Pagán, and he has paired his wipeout curveball with an equally effective slider. Opponents are hitting a combined .063 against those two pitches.

On the other side, if the Cubs hope to have Nico Hoerner and Brennen Davis around during their next playoff run, they’ll need to bulk up on prospects who would also be ready by then. Triple-A sluggers Steer and Wallner are likely to struggle to force their way onto the Twins’ roster over the next season or two. Chicago is also short on highly touted right-handed pitching prospects, and in Sands and Enlow, it would receive two who could be bullpen regulars or back-end starters in the near future.

-- Shanthi Sepe-Chepuru

6) Yankees: Yanks gear up for title run, get best starter available

Proposed deal: Acquire RHP Luis Castillo from Reds for SS Oswald Peraza (Yankees' No. 2 prospect), RHP Hayden Wesneski (No. 7) and RHP Luis Medina (No. 11)

For a team that has the best record and run differential in the Majors, the Yankees have a few glaring, critical flaws.

They need an outfielder to not only pick up the slack for Joey Gallo but to also fill in while Giancarlo Stanton is on the mend. They need bullpen help, especially in the wake of Michael King’s season-ending elbow injury.

But for the Yankees to achieve their ultimate goal of a World Series title, a starting pitcher has to be at the top of their Trade Deadline wish list. And among those who are evidently available right now, there’s no one better than Castillo. The Yankees got a first-hand sense of that on July 14. That’s when the 29-year-old righty came into the Bronx and held the Yanks to one run on two hits over seven innings.

Castillo really leaned on his four-seamer and his changeup in that start, and New York batted 1-for-17 against those pitches. For the year, opponents are hitting just .166 with a .260 slugging percentage against Castillo’s top two offerings.

The Yankees’ need for a starting pitcher was out of sight while the team was blessed with a long run of sustained health during the first half of the year. But Nestor Cortes’ workload was going to become a question mark at some point; he’s fewer than 15 innings away from setting a personal high for innings in any season of his pro career. That need was exacerbated when Luis Severino suffered a lat strain on July 13. He is still shut down from throwing.

Castillo, who is under contract through 2023, has posted a 1.00 ERA over his past four starts, three of which lasted seven innings. He’s gone at least six frames and exceeded 100 pitches in all but one of his nine starts since May 31, and he gives the Bombers a second legitimate workhorse to pair with Gerrit Cole.

The Yankees would almost certainly dig into their shortstop surplus to pull this deal off. They have three shortstops among their top six prospects, per MLB Pipeline, highlighted by Peraza and No. 1 prospect Anthony Volpe. The 22-year-old Peraza is a smooth fielder who has really tapped into his power since the start of 2021. He has 25 homers and 45 steals over his past 159 games between Double-A and Triple-A.

Wesneski is almost MLB-ready at age 24. He hasn’t been as dominant this year at Triple-A compared to his 2021 stints at High-A and Double-A, which led to a big leap up the club’s Top 30 prospects list. But he possesses a plus, high-velocity fastball, a plus slider, a developing changeup and superb control. He has issued only 10 walks over his seven most recent starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Finally, Medina’s calling card is a fastball that cracks 103 mph, and he complements it with an above-average curve. Although he’s been a starter in the Minors, his future is probably in the bullpen because of his extremely high walk rates. But it’s easy to envision Medina developing into a nasty MLB closer.

It’s a hefty price to pay, but New York hasn’t won a championship in 13 years. That’s also known as “forever” in Yankee years. Castillo could be the missing piece to ending this possibly historic season with ring No. 28.

-- Brian Murphy

7) Astros: Time to load up for October

Proposed deal: Acquire 1B Josh Bell from Nationals for RHP José Urquidy, RHP Peter Solomon (Astros’ No. 6 prospect) and OF Wilyer Abreu (No. 29)

They love Yuli Gurriel in Houston, so it would be tough to relegate the veteran first baseman to a part-time role. But Gurriel, who won the AL batting title last year and caught the final out of the 2017 World Series at first base for the Astros, has struggled at the plate this season. In his age-38 campaign and in the last year of his current contract, he’s hitting .234/.287/.384 with seven homers in 345 plate appearances.

Enter Bell, who is having a big year at the plate for Washington. The switch-hitting first baseman is hitting .302/.388/.492 (a career-best 153 OPS+) with 13 home runs. Do the Astros need Bell? That’s debatable. But the fact that it’s debatable is why it would make sense to make a deal for him.

Houston has been in the World Series in three of the past five years but hasn’t won it all since winning its first title in 2017. This year’s club is showing why it belongs in the class of the Yankees, who have been considered the best team in baseball all season to this point. But in what would be an epic AL Championship Series between the two juggernauts -- as well as in the Fall Classic if the Astros reach it once again -- Gurriel’s dearth of offensive production could be a significant liability.

Adding Bell would be renting a slugging first baseman, and it might require something of an overpay to acquire him given the reported interest many other clubs have in him. But what price do you place on a World Series championship? Because that’s what the Astros again have a real shot to win in manager Dusty Baker’s final season under contract. Baker has never won a World Series despite taking five different clubs to the postseason during his illustrious managerial career.

The Astros have a great problem on their hands now that Lance McCullers Jr. is on his way back from injury: too much starting pitching. So, letting Urquidy go wouldn’t be all that painful. Same goes for Solomon, who was very good in 14 relief innings for Houston last year, when he made his MLB debut with a 1.29 ERA in six appearances.

Abreu, meanwhile, has been productive at Double-A Corpus Christi. The 23-year-old outfielder has posted an .852 OPS with 13 homers and 22 steals in 84 games this season. He’s shown great plate discipline, with 74 walks to fuel a .402 on-base percentage, demonstrating his promise for the years ahead.

-- Manny Randhawa