Inside Baseball | Potential trade deadline buyers and their needs

Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, talks with dans on the field at Fenway Park in Boston before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Saturday, April 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Trade talk traditionally doesn’t heat up until the day after the amateur player draft, and Thursday was that day. So, yes, it is now time to start thinking about who’ll go where, and who needs what.

This should be one very interesting trading season, with a lot of teams around .500. (Parity is looked upon favorably around the game, but so many comparable teams could also make things tough for teams, keeping them on the fence, halfway between buyer and seller.) And on us market predictors, as well. What’s even odder about this year is that many of the teams with winning record were expected to be also rans, and some of the one with losing records were assumed to be contenders.

In any case, this could still be a big trade deadline.

While there will be many teams looking for starting pitching, like usual, there could be a greater than usual number of viable or better starters on the market, perhaps even enough to match the buyers. Or even the hype.

Although ace White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana is the only top-of-the-rotation starter who’s sure to be shopped (one White Sox connected person said he believes Q as they call him there will go this time), there are a half-dozen more starters who could also hit the market, depending on what teams decide. Those top starters include Ervin Santana (forget the radar gun, he’s pitched as well as anyone this year), Johnny Cueto, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija, Gerrit Cole and others.

One complicating factor is the large number of surprise contenders (Twins, Diamondbacks, Brewers, etc.) and a shocking non-contender or two (Giants). So it’s hard to say for sure who could go at this point — beyond anyone of value with the rebuilding White Sox, Padres, Phillies, Marlins and Braves, that is.

On the other side of the coin, there will be at least 10 buyers, with varying needs and wants. Pitching will be most in demand, as usual, but some other teams have particular weaknesses beyond the mound. Here’s a rundown of the expected buyers and where they might go to seek help.

1. Washington Nationals

They need a closer. Nothing’s changed there, though Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports the need is so acute players in the clubhouse are openly begging for help. After missing out on free agents Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon this winter (their offers were comparable to the winning ones but were said by sources to be backloaded, deferred or spaced out), they also came fairly close to winter deals for David Robertson and Greg Holland, with ownership reported to be balking at certain elements of those deals. The Nats have great owners and have spent when necessary, but one person connected to their team says of ownership, “They treat prospects like gold.” Robertson would seem to remain the best hope via trade. Word is Nats ownership pulled the plug on a possible deal for Robertson that would have sent lefty Jesus Luzardo and infielder Jesse Ward to Chicago, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported, but the price has to be up now, considering Robertson has pitched very well (though not quite as well as Holland) and the need is more acute than ever. The Nats have blown 11 leads to this point, and while there’s no threat in their division, they absolutely have to fortify the pen for the postseason. “We don’t need just one big reliever, we need two,” one Nats person asserts.

2. Boston Red Sox

Noted infield coach Brian Butterfield is working with struggling third baseman Pablo Sandoval on his defense that’s gone south. But with Sandoval having difficulty, Brock Holt out with vertigo and Marco Hernandez out for the year, third base could be a consideration. There are four or so names on their list of possibilities, but Mike Moustakas, who’s a free agent after the year, probably make the most sense. Todd Frazier has picked it up lately, and Yangervis Solarte could be a solid choice, too. They look better than most in the rotation, and with Carson Smith on his way back to the pen, are less desperate than some there, too. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe mentioned Mike Minor, also of KC, as a possibility, but lefties Robby Scott and Robbie Ross have been solid so far.

3. New York Yankees

They certainly have to be a buyer with their monster start, and they’re likely to look at rotation arms. Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t been himself, and CC Sabathia, who’s been better than anyone could have expected, has a hamstring issue now. Quintana, a former Yankees farmhand, was a target of theirs, even before it was obvious they would contend. They certainly have a major stash of prospects they could trade, though Gleyber Torres is surely off limits. Third base could be a question for them, too, though it’s not an area of desperation, and Torres could wind up being the answer there if Chase Headley doesn’t pick it up a bit.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

They are an interesting team since they possess an excellent five-man rotation and strong back-end of the bullpen but are still underachieving, and under .500. The defense has been spotty but the main need others see is a middle-of-the-order bat. There aren’t many expected to be available, though the good news is, no other contender necessarily needs one.

5. Chicago Cubs

They have identified the rotation as the most obvious spot for improvement, it appears. The pitching has actually been better than the hitting, but their everyday team seems pretty well set, maybe even for years to come. They’ve had great luck making trades for starters (see Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks) but with no surefire fifth starter, John Lackey struggling and Hendricks having an injury concern, this would be the easiest way to go. One rival says Quintana probably makes the most sense since he has three more years to go and Lackey and Arrieta are free agents, but it’s had to see the South Siders and North Siders working that one out. Gerrit Cole also seems to love Chicago, should the Pirates consider selling.

April 30 2015: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and General Manager Jeff Luhnow having a conversation on the field before the baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners. Houston Astros defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-2 in extra innings.

April 30 2015: Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and General Manager Jeff Luhnow having a conversation on the field before the baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners. Houston Astros defeated the Seattle Mariners 3-2 in extra innings.

6. Houston Astros

A couple weeks ago it looked they needed nothing. But with aces Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. on the DL, the speculation will center on Quintana. The ChiSox didn’t like the winter offers, but maybe with a World Series at stake, the Astros will step it up and include one or more of the big prospects in their stash.

7. Baltimore Orioles

There isn’t any doubt where their weakness lies. It’s been in the rotation from the start, and the need is that much more acute now, after a disastrous last couple weeks. As one rival noted, with the exception of Dylan Bundy “their starters have taken a step back.”

8. Texas Rangers

They’ve patched things up a bit in the pen lately, but that’s been their issue from the start. They hope to get Jake Diekman back in the second half, but it wouldn’t hurt to fortify things further. The rotation actually has outpitched expectations, but that’s another way they could go.

9. Toronto Blue Jays

The bullpen hasn’t been great (Jason Grilli “looks like he’s on his last legs, but he’s looked that way before”) so that’s one spot that could use some help. They could also look to add a starter, and move Joe Biagini back to the pen. It’s been an up-and-down starter for the Jays, but aches and pains of Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada have made things dicey. Yes, the rotation could use some more certainty.

10. Cleveland Indians

It’s hard to believe their rotation has struggled so much, but that’s been the obvious issue. The division is still theirs for the taking, but they’ll need to pitch to closer to their potential – or bring in rotation reinforcements.

11. Los Angeles Dodgers

They have done fine piecing together a pen, but one rival GM said he believes a dynamic set-up man could be just what this team needs. The incomparable closer Kenley Jansen has had to pitch in the eighth inning a couple times already, and it would sure be preferable to save that heroism for the playoffs. They have plenty of starting options, but with their bankroll, nothing can be ruled out. Some see them as a dark horse for Quintana, though they haven’t been heavily involved in those talks to this point and they hold tight to their best prospects.

12. New York Mets

Before Steven Matz and Seth Lugo returned with favorable starts, they might have looked to the rotation. But the beleaguered bullpen looks like the sore point now. Jeurys Familia goes to the doctor Friday in St. Louis for an update to see whether he has a chance to return, but help seems to be needed either way.

13. Detroit Tigers

We don’t know yet if they are going to be buyers or sellers, but if they do buy, it’s hard to see them adding much money to their $200-million-plus payroll anyway. If they do decide to add, to date their obvious issues have been center field and the pen.


Inside Baseball A.L. Notes

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