The single July 31 trade deadline is now only a little more than two weeks away. There have already been a handful of trades this summer (, , ) and no doubt there are many more to come. Contenders and rebuilders only have a short time to act.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, we here at CBS Sports are going to take a division-by-division look around the league to see which teams are buying, which teams are selling, and which teams might do a little of both. Our venture begins today with the AL East. Here is our buy or sell guide for one of the tougher divisions in baseball.
Status: Definite seller
After losing 115 games last season and coming into this season with an even worse roster, the Orioles were always going to be a seller this year, and nothing has changed. The selling process started this past weekend when Andrew Cashner was shipped to the Red Sox for two lower level prospects.
Cashner was the O's only tradeable impending free agent (Mark Trumbo is rehabbing from knee surgery and hasn't played this year) but he was hardly their only trade chip. Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports reports reliever Mychal Givens is drawing interest despite his down year, and I imagine fellow bullpen arms Richard Bleier and Miguel Castro are in demand as well.
On the position player front, slugger Trey Mancini might be the closest thing the Orioles have to an untouchable, but new GM Mike Elias recently acknowledged even he is available at the right price. "We're not looking to part with Trey. That said, as I've said all along, we're open to anything," Elias told Kubatko last month.
Truth be told, the Orioles did most of their selling last year when they shipped out Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Kevin Gausman, and others. Cashner was their most obvious chip this year and he's already been moved. That leaves Givens, Mancini, Jonathan Villar, Dylan Bundy, and a few relievers.
Status: Buyer that might be done buying
Even with their slow start, there was never any chance the Red Sox would throw in the towel and sell. Bullpen help was their top priority and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski addressed that by adding a starter (Cashner). He's expected to return from the injured list soon.
The Eovaldi move is creative -- it is also a bit risky given his injury history (how will he handle pitching back-to-back days, etc.?) -- and Dombrowski indicated the Red Sox may be done. From MassLive.com's Chris Cotillo:
Cot's Baseball Contracts puts Boston's payroll at $241 million for luxury tax purposes. That leaves $1 million in wiggle room under the final $246 million luxury tax tier, and remember, some of that $5 million will be needed for injury and September call-ups. The Red Sox seem intent on avoiding that final luxury tax tier and the associated penalties.
Any additional buying prior to July 31 will likely involve the bullpen and pitching depth in general. Boston doesn't have the prospect capital to win a bidding war for, say, Giants closer Will Smith or Pirates flamethrower Felipe Vazquez, so they may have to settle for lower-profile targets like Givens, White Sox righty Alex Colome, or other Giants hurlers like Tony Watson and Sam Dyson. The sense here is Boston has already made their big move with the Cashner trade.
Status: Big buyer
"Our interest is improving our pitching. Certainly the target would be to continue to reinforce the rotation because obviously that's where the majority of your innings are going to have to come from, and we have a long way to go. Those innings are vitally important. We're going to target starting pitching, and if not, we're going to continue to reinforce the bullpen. Bottom line is just trying to add quality to what we already have."
Last month owner Hal Steinbrenner indicated the final $246 million luxury tax tier would not stand in the way of a deadline addition -- "If I really felt we needed that deal, that it takes us over the top, then yes, I would (approve it)," he told David Lennon of Newsday -- and right now the club's payroll is at $232 million for luxury tax purposes, per Cot's Baseball Contracts. They have payroll space and prospects to trade, namely outfielders Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial, and righty Deivi Garcia.
The starting rotation has been the top priority pretty much since the offseason and the Yankees have been connected to all the big name trade candidates in recent weeks. To wit:
Luis Severino will miss several more weeks as he rehabs his lat strain, so the Yankees can't count on him returning to make an impact. Anything he gives them is gravy. Also, the Yankees aren't looking for a starter to help get them through the season. They want someone who can make a difference in October and have an impact in the postseason.
At this point, the question is not "if" the Yankees will trade for a starter, but "when" and "which one." In addition to a starter, they could also seek another reliever to further deepen one of the game's top bullpens. Dellin Betances is still out with a shoulder injury and, like Severino, it's tough to count on him for anything at this point. The Yankees are a clear-cut buyer this summer and, after adding Encarnacion weeks ago, their top priorities are pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
Rays were looking to trade infield prospect Nick Solak for pitching help, and they did exactly that over the weekend when they sent him to the Rangers for reliever Peter Fairbanks. Low-cost pitching depth remains the priority for a team that has had issues in the late innings in recent weeks., the
Historically, the Rays have never gone "all-in" at the trade deadline and instead focusing on moves that improved their short-term chances without damaging their long-term outlook. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but Tampa intends to do it again this summer. Here's what vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently:
The Rays have arguably the top farm system in baseball, one good enough to make impact trades even while declaring shortstop Wander Franco and two-way stud Brendan McKay off-limits. Money? Well, that's another question. The Rays did dip into free agency to sign Charlie Morton over the winter, yet their Opening Day payroll was down $15 million or so from last year. It's unclear whether they're willing to take on money at the trade deadline.
The good news: None of the top available relievers come with exorbitant salaries. Giants closer Will Smith is owed roughly $2 million the rest of the year. Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez is signed affordably through 2023. Padres closer Kirby Yates has less than $1.5 million still owed to him this year. Relievers like that would give the Rays a big boost in the late innings without breaking the bank, though they would require parting with quality prospects.
As always, the bet here is Tampa continues to look for under-the-radar players like Fairbanks. They don't want Will Smith or Kirby Yates. They want to find the next Will Smith or Kirby Yates. Although a case can be made the Rays should do something big, I'm not sure I'd expect another Tommy Pham trade or Chris Archer trade. Smaller deals, but active.
Status: Big seller
Even though they lost their game to the Yankees, Sunday was a good day for the Blue Jays. Marcus Stroman took the mound for the first time in 14 days after dealing with a pectoral issue, and he pitched well. He looked like the same guy he was before the injury. The Blue Jays are not very good and Stroman is their top trade chip. Teams got to see him healthy Sunday and will presumably see him a few more times before July 31.
Closer Ken Giles, on the other hand, is still dealing with a nagging elbow issue. He was not available this past weekend with what the team called nerve inflammation. They said it stemmed from a massage he received during the All-Star break. Giles, who has been lights out this season, missed time with elbow trouble in the first half as well, and that's going to cut into his trade value. A few healthy outings between now and the deadline would go a long way.
Truth be told, the pitching market could run through Toronto at the deadline. The argument can be made they have the best starter (Stroman) and best reliever (Giles) to offer, at least when healthy, plus interesting secondary pieces like Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Hudson, David Phelps, and Joe Biagini. Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Freddy Galvis, and Brandon Drury are the top position player trade candidates.
Stroman is under control through next season, and while signing him long-term would be a sensible move, it seems the Blue Jays are ready to cash him in as a trade chip. The Astros and Yankees are among his primary suitors, and don't discount teams like the Nationals or Padres either. Stroman is the tough call for Toronto. Otherwise everyone else figures to be part of an "everything must go!" sale these next two weeks.