IT'S ANYONE'S GUESS WHO WILL BE MOVED THIS MONTH, BUT HERE ARE DEALS THAT JUST MAKE SENSE AND COULD SHAPE THE SECOND HALF
THE MOST significant change to the trade market in recent seasons is that the dealing has become more about October than about September. The addition of the second wild-card spot makes it risky for teams on the margins to go all in. In the American League this year, for example, the A's, Angels and Mariners are fighting just for a chance to be a huge underdog on the road against an ace like Luis Severino of the Yankees or Boston's Chris Sale.
The July 31 trade deadline is now when teams that expect to be playing in the Division Series make moves designed to get them to the World Series. The biggest deadline deals in recent years have come when teams with playoff spots all but locked up paid big prices to win postseason games, not regular-season ones. Examples include the Royals' acquiring pitcher Johnny Cueto in 2015, the Cubs' getting closer Aroldis Chapman in 2016, and the Astros' last year bringing in ace Justin Verlander, who went on to become the 2017 ALCS MVP. This year we could see a first-place team acquire Jacob deGrom (left) to bolster its rotation or Manny Machado to complete a dream infield.
With that in mind, let's see what the top teams should do to make a deeper run once the tournament begins. This isn't sports radio: These are trades that make sense for both buyers and sellers.
INDIANS TRADE C Francisco Mejia, LHP Sam Hentges and RHP James Karinchak TO ORIOLES for 3B/SS Manny Machado
Baltimore has to deal Machado, who becomes a free agent after the season and who will not be returning to the Orioles. The O's hold the most talented player on the market—Machado, having the best-hitting season of his career, is batting .308/.378/.561 with 21 home runs—but they are offering just two months, plus a playoff run, of his services. And that may be enough: The quirk in the market is that rentals Cueto, Chapman and Yoenis Céspedes (from the Tigers to the Mets in 2015) brought significant returns because buyers were reasonably sure they were investing in a playoff run.
The Indians have a 11½-game lead in the terrible AL Central and are already setting their playoff rotation. Adding Machado would be a huge upgrade on Jason Kipnis, who has been the Tribe's worst player since the start of 2017. José Ramírez would move to second base, as he did last season when Kipnis was hurt, and the Indians put the best infield in baseball out there every day. With Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacíon, Machado would give Cleveland as dangerous a top five as any playoff team.
The price is high. Mejia is a top 20 MLB prospect whose developing catching skills have prevented the Indians from committing to him. The Orioles, who won't be worried about their win total for a while, can allow Mejia to develop his receiving in the majors. Hentges is a high-floor, low-ceiling lefty who could be in the majors a year from now, while Karinchak is a power reliever on a similar track.
BRAVES TRADE RHP Ian Anderson and OF Drew Waters TO RANGERS for LHP Cole Hamels and LHP Jake Diekman
There's a symmetry here: Adding Hamels and Diekman in a deal at the trade deadline three years ago helped push Texas to the AL West title. Hamels is a rental now, and not the borderline No. 1 starter he was in 2015. Atlanta, though, has arrived a year early thanks to some surprising performances. The first-place Braves can steal this race from the Nationals. Adding Hamels, at a cost of a prospect from their deep well of young pitchers (Anderson), will help alleviate concerns about both command and workload at the top of the rotation. The Rangers get a pitcher who could be their No. 1 as soon as next summer, and a project outfielder, for two players who can leave at the end of the season.
YANKEES TRADE OF Clint Frazier, LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and OF Everson Pereira TO METS for RHP Jacob deGrom
It's hard to see the Mets sending their ace to the Bronx, but sometimes, the back pages have to take a backseat. The Yankees have both depth in the high minors and young talent in the majors, and can assemble a package that makes the Mets better as soon as 2019. They could start their rebuilding, close the book on the '15 NL pennant winners and move forward under a new front office.
The Yankees, one of the three best teams in baseball (with the Red Sox and the Astros), wouldn't have to worry much about their patchwork rotation but for the presence of Boston in the same division. When MLB added a wild-card team to each league in 2012, it had this in mind: two great teams forced to go all out for a division title to avoid dropping into a one-game, anything-can-happen playoff spot. Think 1978, but with a net. Adding deGrom fills a hole in the Yankees rotation between Severino and the middling 15-out starters—Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka—behind him. DeGrom leads MLB with a 1.84 ERA in 17 starts.
The Mets may eventually behave like a team that shares the largest market in the U.S., but until the Wilpon family is willing and able to do so, they will go up and down like a mid-market club. This trade acknowledges what has been apparent for years: The Wilpons will not compete at the top level of the sport.
DODGERS TRADE RHP Dennis Santana TO REDS for 2B Scooter Gennett
No contender in baseball is getting less from its keystone spot than the Dodgers. Chase Utley, 39, looks every bit his age; Logan Forsythe has a .259 OBP; and the team has taken to running out-of-the-blue sensation Max Muncy out there at times. It's time to solve the problem by swapping a good pitching prospect, albeit one unprepared to help this year, for one of the season's best stories in Gennett, who went from the waiver wire to a four-homer game within three months, and who entered July leading the NL in batting (.331). Shaky defense holds down Gennett's value, but the Dodgers' strikeout-heavy starting rotation would minimize that weakness.
BREWERS TRADE RHP Adrian Houser and LHP Kodi Medeiros TO BLUE JAYS for LHP J.A. Happ
Milwaukee's greatest need is for a pitcher you'd want to start a Game 7. That pitcher may not be available, but the team will get its ace, Jimmy Nelson, who has been out since last season with a shoulder injury, back in the second half. In trading some second-tier prospects for Happ, the Brewers get a hurler who becomes their No. 2 behind Nelson for a price that reflects Happ's status as a rental who may go elsewhere at the end of the year.