MLB trade deadline primer: Top storylines, rumblings, best-available players


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Happy MLB Trade Deadline Eve Eve!

The trades have started coming, slowly but surely, and on Saturday the biggest name so far changed teams, as the Mets paid roughly $36 million for a top prospect while sending Max Scherzer to the Rangers. The White Sox have already dealt five pitchers, including Lucas Giolito, whom they traded to the Angels; Lance Lynn, who went to the Dodgers; and Kendall Graveman, who landed in Houston. Several other relievers besides Graveman have changed uniforms, including Aroldis Chapman, who became a Ranger in late June, and Pierce Johnson, who joined the Braves’ bullpen last week.

Now we’re waiting to see where the top available talent lands and whether other big names find new homes. Will the Mets deal another future Hall of Fame pitcher? What will the Cardinals do with the two mid-rotation starters they’re expected to trade? When will sellers like the Tigers and Nationals start trading their veteran players? And, what many in the industry are watching most closely, what will the Cubs and Padres do? Are they buying or selling, or both?

Before the expected flurry of activity leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline at 6 p.m. ET, here’s a primer with what you need to know, including the top storylines to watch, the best-available players on the trade market, the teams that will shape the deadline, and the latest rumblings I’m hearing in my conversations with executives across the league.

Top storylines

The Cubs are on a roll. So they’re buying, right? (Jeff Curry / USA Today)

1. Will the Mets also sell Justin Verlander?

After investing approximately $445 million, including tax penalties, last winter, the Mets shifted their focus beyond this disappointing season and started their selling when they dealt closer David Robertson to the Marlins. Things escalated with the decision to part with Max Scherzer — and millions of dollars — while landing infielder Luisangel Acuña, the Rangers’ No. 3 prospect. There’s no turning back now. The Mets are expected to trade more relievers such as Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley, and outfielders like Mark Canha and Tommy Pham. However, the big question is whether they’ll trade a second three-time Cy Young Award winner. Will Justin Verlander waive his no-trade clause? If so, will the Mets move him, which contender’s rotation will he join, how much money would New York need to eat in the deal, and what would they receive in return? Buckle up.

2. Which teams will land the Cardinals’ starters?

The Cardinals are expected to trade two of their best starting pitchers, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Montgomery, who are impending free agents. Neither one is a top-of-the-rotation starter but both would be solid No. 3 types for contending teams such as the Orioles, Reds and Diamondbacks. In a market with so many teams coveting starting pitchers, the Cardinals have two to deal, and the trade destinations for those starters could have a significant impact on the postseason race.

3. Are the Padres buying around the edges? Or selling star pitchers?

The Padres’ run differential and expected win-loss record would indicate that they are the third-best team in the National League, behind the Braves and Dodgers. However, their actual win-loss record says that they’re 5 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings and nine back in the NL West race. If I’m running the Padres, we’re adding, not subtracting at the deadline. But with star pitchers Blake Snell and Josh Hader heading to free agency, it’s understandable if the Padres decide to trade them. It’s going to be a few drama-packed days in Ron Burgundy’s hometown.

4. Are Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger staying or going?

The Cubs have been so hot they’ve literally gone from sellers to buyers in the last 10 days. However, they’ll at least listen to teams that are interested in Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger — both of whom are expected to be free agents this winter — and if someone wants to overpay, who knows what the Cubs’ front office will decide to do around 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Tick tock, tick tock.

5. Will the Orioles, Reds and Diamondbacks get veteran starters?

It’s been fun to see the Orioles, Reds and Diamondbacks make progress this year and get their young teams into pennant races, with each having a legitimate chance to do damage in the postseason. However, all three clubs have something else in common: They each need at least one more veteran starting pitcher. The big question: Which front office(s) will come through at the deadline and improve its teams chances of making the playoffs or even winning a postseason series?

6. The Dodgers have made small moves. Is a splash next?

The Dodgers have made a flurry of small moves so far, landing infielders Amed Rosario and Kiké Hernández and improving their pitching depth with the acquisitions of Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly. However, none of those transactions significantly move the needle in improving their chances of winning in October. The Dodgers are in the process of working on bigger acquisitions, like possibly trading for Justin Verlander. They’re expected by many to make a splash. If so, with who?

7. Will the Marlins land a bat?

The Marlins have done an excellent job of improving their bullpen by trading for relievers David Robertson and Jorge López. Now it’s time for them to land a bat, something they’ve been pursuing all season long. Perhaps they’ll get Jeimer Candelario from the Nationals, Elias Díaz from the Rockies or Teoscar Hernández from the Mariners.

8. Who will buy what the Tigers and Nationals are selling?

It’s only a matter of time before the Tigers trade starting pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Lorenzen, and the Nationals move on from Jeimer Candelario. But, who will be their trade partners, and what will the return look like?

Best-available players

Starting pitchers (Top 10)

USATSI 21012862 1 scaled

Blake Snell (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Stats are updated through Saturday’s games. 

1. Justin Verlander, RHP, Mets — Verlander has a full no-trade clause and it’s not known if he’ll waive it. He’s 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA over his last five starts and is scheduled to start Sunday against the Nationals. He would obviously be a difference-maker for any team that trades for him. The Rays, Yankees, Dodgers and Astros all seem to be in play.

2. Blake Snell, LHP, Padres — Snell leads the majors with a 2.61 ERA in 21 starts. The lefty has struck out 10 or more in five of his last nine starts. He is scheduled to start Sunday against the Rangers. It’s unclear if the Padres will trade any of their impending free agents as they still are within striking distance of making the playoffs. However, if Snell is available, look for the Orioles and Reds to make big pushes to acquire him.

3. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Cubs — The Cubs’ winning streak has positioned them to be buyers, not sellers, but if they get a compelling offer for Stroman, don’t be surprised if they deal him anyway. The Orioles, to name just one team, certainly have the farm system to put together an offer that would be difficult to refuse. Stroman is expected to opt-out of his contract after this season.

4. Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox — The White Sox have already traded five pitchers, so why not consider moving Cease as well? His trade value is much higher than that of his former teammates Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, and therefore, the return would be significant. Cease, last year’s American League Cy Young Award runner-up, is under team control through the 2025 season.

5. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Tigers — It’s only a matter of time before the veteran lefty is dealt to a contender. How many prospects can the Tigers corral for him?

6. Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates — Keller is 9-7 with a 3.97 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 133 2/3 innings. The Pirates are listening on Keller, who is under team control through 2025, but they’re not likely to trade him.

7. Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals — Flaherty is 7-6 with a 4.43 ERA in 20 starts. However, he’s allowed three runs or fewer in four of his last five starts. His poise, competitiveness and mental toughness make him a strong target, especially considering the expected return.

8. Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Tigers — Lorenzen, 31, made his first All-Star team and is having a career-best year. He’s logged a 3.58 ERA and a 1.098 WHIP in 18 starts and been worth 1.9 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. An impending free agent, Lorenzen will be traded soon.

9. Jordan Montgomery, LHP, Cardinals — Montgomery is a solid mid-rotation lefty who has gone 6-9 with a 3.42 ERA in 21 starts. He could be packaged with Flaherty or moved in a separate trade.

10. Brady Singer, RHP, Royals — The Royals have been shopping Singer, who is 6-8 with a 5.46 ERA in 21 starts and 100 strikeouts in 113 2/3 innings. But he has performed better over his last three starts, posting a 3.79 ERA in 19 innings with 23 strikeouts and just three walks. Singer will turn 27 on Friday and won’t be a free agent until after the 2026 season.

Relief pitchers (Top 5)

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Brooks Raley (Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

Stats are updated through Saturday’s games. 

1. Josh Hader, LHP, Padres — Hader is the best left-handed closer in the league and would be a huge difference-maker for teams such as the Twins, Rangers and Orioles, or even the Brewers in a reunion, and wouldn’t that be a phenomenal story.

2. Scott Barlow, RHP, Royals — Barlow is having a down year, but his career success has contenders calling the Royals to see what it would take to land him. In 2021, he posted a 2.42 ERA in 71 appearances and had 16 saves. Last year, he logged a 2.18 ERA in 69 appearances and notched a career-high 24 saves. This season, his ERA has jumped to 5.35 in 38 games. He has 13 saves in 16 opportunities and has averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 5.3 walks per nine. Barlow won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season.

3. Brooks Raley, LHP, Mets — Raley has been dynamite out of the Mets’ bullpen, posting a 2.43 ERA and a 1.243 WHIP in 45 appearances and striking out 40 in 37 innings. He can get out both righties and lefties but this season has been more effective against right-handed-hitters, who have hit just .167 against him, compared to .257 by lefty hitters. Raley has a $6.5 million team option for 2024, with a $1.25 million buyout.

4. Alex Lange, RHP, Tigers — Lange has recorded a 3.80 ERA, struck out 54 in 42 2/3 innings and converted 17 saves in 20 opportunities. In three major-league seasons, he has a 3.68 ERA in 150 appearances and has averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He ranks in the 99th percentile in Whiff% and comes with four more years of team control.

5. Kyle Finnegan, RHP, Nationals — Finnegan has logged a 3.07 ERA and a 1.205 WHIP in 42 appearances, including 24 he finished for the Nationals. He’s converted 14 of 21 save opportunities. Throughout his four-year major-league career, he has never had an ERA above 3.55 in any season. He will be a free agent after the season.

Position players (Top 10)

USATSI 21078344 scaled

Nolan Arenado (Joe Camporeale / USA Today)

Stats are updated through Saturday’s games. 

1. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals — Arenado has a full no-trade clause and Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has publicly said the team is not trading him. However, Arenado is also their best trade chip and might be the most viable way to quickly rebuild their rotation. The Cardinals and Dodgers have at least discussed a possible deal involving the superstar, and Los Angeles certainly has enough controllable starting-pitching prospects to make a trade of this magnitude work. By the way, Arenado would consider waiving his no-trade clause depending on the trade destination, and it is believed he would waive it if he has a chance to go to L.A.

2. Cody Bellinger, CF, Cubs — The Cubs look like they’ll buy, but they still could decide to sell (or do some of both). If they sell, they have teams lining up for Bellinger, who is the front-runner for NL Comeback Player of the Year. His defensive versatility — he can play above-average defense at first base and in right field, center field and left field — and left-handed power make Bellinger attractive to teams like the Yankees, Guardians, Marlins, Phillies and Astros.

3. Lane Thomas, RF, Nationals — The Nationals are not shopping Thomas because he’s only 27 years old and having a breakout season, but with so many outfield prospects in their pipeline, they will consider trading him if they receive an overwhelming offer. They’ve continued to field phone calls and texts from contenders looking for outfield help. Thomas has been worth 3.1 WAR this season and is under team control through 2025.

4. Jonathan India, 2B, Reds — The Reds’ search for starting pitchers starts with the goal of landing a long-term controllable starter, not a rental, and India is their lead trade chip, thanks to a big-league roster and farm system that are loaded with middle infielders. However, his health is now a question mark. He was scratched from Saturday’s game with left heel pain and the team is awaiting MRI results.

5. Teoscar Hernández, RF, Mariners — The Mariners are caught in between buying and selling but are expected to deal Hernández, taking advantage of the strong demand from contending teams for corner outfielders with 25-home run power. Hernández will be a free agent after this season.

6. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox — The White Sox are in all-out sell mode, so they might as well trade their longest-tenured player. Anderson had a slow start to the season but has picked it up in July. (He’s batting .276/.326/.322 this month and hit his first home run of the season on Saturday.) A change of scenery could benefit him. Don’t be surprised if Anderson becomes a second baseman with his next team. He has a $14 million team option ($1 million buyout) for 2024.

7. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals — No team in baseball has given up on talented outfielders before they hit their prime more than the Cardinals — from Adolis García to Randy Arozarena to Lane Thomas. Carlson, who comes with three more years of team control, could become their next mistake at this year’s deadline.

8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Nationals — Candelario led the majors in doubles in 2021 but this is his career-best year, as he’s already amassed 30 doubles, 16 home runs and 53 RBIs. The Angels, Marlins and Yankees have all discussed Candelario with the Nationals’ front office.

9. Elias Díaz, C, Rockies — Díaz played in his first midsummer classic this year and was the surprise All-Star Game MVP. The Rockies haven’t been shopping the 32-year-old catcher, but when the Rays, Marlins and Padres come calling, they at least have to listen based on where they are in the standings. Díaz is batting .273/.330/.423 with 10 homers and will play under a $6 million contract next year.

10. Brent Rooker, OF/DH, A’s — Rooker has posted a 132 OPS+ and hit 17 homers. He represented the A’s in the All-Star Game. He isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2025.

Rumors, rumblings and industry talk

• The Orioles, Marlins, Rays, Astros and Diamondbacks have shown interest in Detroit starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Lorenzen. The Tigers are looking for everyday position players in return and won’t be afraid to put Rodriguez and Lorenzen in the same deal if that delivers the prospects they want.

• The Padres are more inclined to add around the edges than sell, but they are listening to offers on both Blake Snell and Josh Hader. Asking prices for both pitchers have been exorbitant, according to industry sources, as detailed this story by The Athletic’s Dennis Lin and Ken Rosenthal.

• The Cubs are more likely to buy than sell unless they are overwhelmed with offers for Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger.

• The Reds are open to trading Jonathan India if they can land a young, controllable starter with similar or less service time.

• The Rays have been active in looking for trades that would improve their chances of winning a World Series this year. They are not shied away from big contracts nor trading top prospects.

• The Nationals are more likely to trade Jeimer Candelario, Joey Meneses and Kyle Finnegan than they are to trade Lane Thomas.

ETC.: The Yankees have prioritized adding a starting pitcher and an upgrade for left field. … The Red Sox are chasing a veteran starting pitcher. … The Astros are focussed on landing a starting pitcher and a left-handed bat. … The Twins seek to improve their bullpen and add a complementary right-handed bat. … The Diamondbacks are more focused on future years than “going all-in” this season.

(Top photo of Justin Verlander: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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