Major League Baseball's trade deadline is approaching more quickly than usual. This year's deadline is set for 4 p.m. ET on Friday, July 30, or a day earlier than the traditional date. MLB moved up the deadline because it wanted to avoid it coinciding with afternoon games, thereby preventing situations where teams would have to play short handed or risk a player getting hurt.
Regardless of what day the deadline falls on in any given year, this part of the calendar is always a fun one for fans. The frenzied amount of rumors and the rampant speculation are parts of the appeal, but ultimately the deadline is an object of hope. Buyers and sellers alike can instill the belief in their supporters that better days are ahead, albeit sooner for some than others.
With that in mind, we wanted to kick off our deadline coverage by highlighting 21 players whose situations merit watching over the next two weeks. It should go without noting (though we'll note it anyway) that these players are not the only ones who could be moved between now and then. They are in our estimation, however, 21 of the most interesting trade candidates in the league.
The players are presented in order of expected impact.
1. Kris Bryant, Cubs
A split between the Chicago Cubs and Kris Bryant has been in the works for years. He's done his part to atone for a disastrous 2020 season that left him as a plausible non-tender candidate, hitting .271/.353/.502 (133 OPS+) with 16 home runs in the first half. In addition to being a fantastic hitter, Bryant is a versatile defender who can play each corner spot; heck, he's even spent time in center field this year. He also carries himself the way the face of the franchise should. Bryant is the total package, in other words, and he's going to be a welcome addition to someone's lineup and clubhouse heading into August.
2. Max Scherzer, Nationals
It makes sense for the Washington Nationals to trade Max Scherzer ahead of the deadline. They're seven losses back in both the National League East and the race for the second wild card spot; he's an impending free agent who is weeks away from his 37th birthday; and they already have a few other long-term commitments to veteran starters that have aged poorly (Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin). Still, there's some doubt as to whether Scherzer will be moved, and it goes beyond his own veto ability. The Lerner family squashed a trade that would've sent Bryce Harper to the Houston Astros in 2018, and it's possible they'd do the same thing here. Keeping Scherzer for a meaningless stretch run before potentially losing him to free agency wouldn't seem like the wisest decision, but let's be honest: it would be refreshing for an ownership group to make a decision that's designed to please fans.
3. Trevor Story, Rockies
Trevor Story has been the league's most obvious trade candidate since the minute the Colorado Rockies moved Nolan Arenado. Even now, it remains baffling that the Rockies didn't execute a Story trade over the offseason, thereby maximizing their return and avoiding a scenario in which he could get hurt or underperform. Instead, the Rockies held onto Story, seemingly with the ill-conceived belief he might agree to an extension. Guess what? He got hurt (he missed several weeks with an inflamed elbow) and he's heretofore underperformed, posting what would be the second-lowest OPS+ (99) of his career. Undoubtedly some will have concerns about his career home-road splits (or, at least, about the psycho-geographical effects that come with hitting all the time in Coors Field), but we think he's going to be just fine.
4. Kyle Gibson, Rangers
Who would've thought? Kyle Gibson had an abysmal Opening Day start, in which he allowed five runs while recording a single out. He's since reeled off a 16-start stretch that has seen him post a 1.86 ERA and record more strikeouts (87) than hits allowed (74) in 101 innings. Gibson's low-90s sinker is his primary pitch, but the breadwinner of his arsenal is a slider with a 44 percent swing-and-miss rate. He has one season, valued at less than $8 million, remaining on his contract, so the Texas Rangers would be right to ask for a ton.
5. Pablo López, Marlins
It's unclear how serious the Miami Marlins are about entertaining trade offers for Pablo López, but they should receive a ton if they decide to move him. He won't hit free agency until after the 2024 season, and he's in the midst of a banner year that includes a 3.03 ERA (134 ERA+) and a 4.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio. López isn't overpowering, but he's intelligent and gutsy and he does a great job of deploying his standout changeup as an equalizer. It doesn't hurt that he has exquisite taste in socks (he wears stirrups), either.
6. Javier Báez, Cubs
The second of three Chicago Cubs on the list, Javier Báez is a phenomenal defender and brilliant baserunner with a nearly unrivaled sense of where he is on the diamond. He's also a talented batsman, at least it pertains to putting a charge into the ball. Báez's average has slipped by the wayside the past season-plus as his strikeout rate has ticked up, first above 30 percent and now above 36 percent. Because he's never been one for walking, the increase in strikeouts has him sporting a gnarly 8.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It's a testament to Báez that he remains so valuable, but it's understandable if his game no longer appeals to everyone.
7. Joey Gallo, Rangers
Joey Gallo is having the best season of his career thanks to a 32-game stint that saw him hit .280/.459/.740 with 15 home runs and nearly as many walks (33) as strikeouts (35). His seasonal OPS inflated from .765 before that stretch to its present-day .923 mark. That'll play. Gallo has one more season of team control remaining, and it's possible the Texas Rangers decide this is the opportune time to cash in. (The Rangers have discussed him in trades dating back to last summer.) The Rangers do have a brand new ballpark, however, as well as zero guaranteed contracts on their books past next season, so perhaps they'll decide it's worth keeping the present-day face of the franchise in place a while longer.
8. Starling Marte, Marlins
The Miami Marlins have reportedly offered Starling Marte an extension worth something like $50 million over three or four years. That would seem too team-friendly to get a deal done, but perhaps the Marlins can close the gap between now and the deadline. If not, he's going to make for an enticing rental. He's hitting .272/.383/.414 (120 OPS+) this season with six home runs and 17 steals (on 19 attempts). Marte has also been playing a good center field, meaning that he's a legitimate all-around contributor.
9. Nelson Cruz, Twins
Nelson Cruz celebrated his 41st birthday on July 1. You wouldn't have known based on his seasonal statline: .304/.381/.549 (159 OPS+) with 18 home runs in 318 trips to the plate. It's fair to write that all he does is hit. We're docking him a few spots because that's literally true: he hasn't played an inning at a defensive position since 2018. The lack of a universal DH means that an acquiring team will have to weigh how to work him into their lineup if they reach the World Series. Champagne problems? Well, yes, but it matters.
10. Craig Kimbrel, Cubs
All it took for Craig Kimbrel to return to an elite standing was a normal offseason. He was stuck in purgatory until June in 2019; then he had his 2020 season delayed alongside everyone else by the global pandemic. Kimbrel has looked like his old self this year, pumping upper-90s fastballs over bats when he's not dropping curveballs under them. He's certain to be the best closer available at the deadline, and he carries with him the added bonus of having a $16 million club option for next season that includes a $1 million buyout.
11. Garrett Cooper, Marlins
We're giving Garrett Cooper the nod over the other right-right first basemen on the list for two main reasons: number one, he's the most accustomed of the three to playing another position; number two, he's under team control for an additional two seasons, as opposed to one apiece with the others. We can stick with the "two" theme by pointing out that he does two things really well at the plate: hitting the ball hard and drawing walks. That's a mighty fine combination to excel at, and it helps to explain why he's batting .284/.359/.465 (120 OPS+) since the onset of the 2019 season.
12. Adam Frazier, Pirates
The first of three Pittsburgh Pirates included on this list, Adam Frazier earned the start in the All-Star Game after hitting .330/.397/.463 (137 OPS+) with four home runs and five steals (on nine tries) in the first half. He's not an exit-velocity whiz (he ranks 132nd of 136 qualifying batters), but he does launch the ball in the 10-to-30-degree range as frequently as Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., and some other high-quality hitters. Frazier is unlikely to keep up his current statline, yet he's attractive as a versatile defender and high-contact hitter who has another year of team control remaining.
13. Jon Gray, Rockies
There's long been curiosity around the league about how Jon Gray will fare once he's freed from the burden of pitching his home games at Coors Field. The answer should be revealed soon. Gray doesn't offer much nuance to his game: he's almost all mid-90s fastballs and sliders, with the latter missing bats at a 38 percent clip. It'll be interesting to see if Gray's next employer can help him develop a third pitch. His current changeup seldom inspires chases or whiffs, leaving him with a top-heavy arsenal that hurts him versus lefties.
14. Tyler Anderson, Pirates
Tyler Anderson's 4.35 ERA (94 ERA+) doesn't tell the real story of his season; rather, it's skewed in the wrong direction by a disastrous nine-run outing against the Atlanta Braves in late May. He's more interesting than he seems, in other words. The same can be said about Anderson's fastball. It checks in just above 90 mph, but it has a good deal of induced vertical break. Add in his other pitches of note, a cutter and a curve, and it shouldn't come as a surprise when a team embraces heliotropism and turns to the (Ander)son to buttress their rotation. (As an added bonus, he's owed just over $1 million the rest of the way.)
15. Trey Mancini, Orioles
Trey Mancini has authored the feel-good story of the season, and he's certain to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award this fall. It feels trivial, and perhaps even a touch unfeeling, then, to include him here. The reality is that the Baltimore Orioles were engaged with other teams on him prior to his cancer diagnosis, and that they're likely to revisit those talks at some point prior to his date with free agency in winter 2022. Perhaps the best way to view Mancini's possible availability is that he's a good player with a good story who could soon be rewarded with the opportunity to play for a good team.
16. Jesús Aguilar, Marlins
The most fun-loving first baseman in the majors, Jesús Aguilar has hit .272/.339/.465 (117 OPS+) with 23 home runs in 136 games since joining the Miami Marlins prior to last season. There's a lot to like about his game. He hits the ball hard, he walks a fair amount, and he doesn't strike out as often as many of his slugger ilk. He's down this far because he's just a right-right first baseman. The Marlins could control Aguilar for another season, by the way, so his availability could boil down to how badly they want to install Lewin Díaz.
17. Eduardo Escobar, Diamondbacks
Eduardo Escobar, who is in the final year of his contract, has already been linked to the Chicago White Sox, so his inclusion here should come as no surprise. He's rebounded from a brutal 2020 in an odd way: his topline numbers are back to their old form, yet his strikeout and walk rates have each ventured in the wrong direction. Escobar has also become more of a dead-pull hitter than he was in the past. That isn't necessarily a bad development -- he ranks eighth in the majors in that respect, behind José Ramírez and José Altuve, among other effective hitters -- but it is a notable one all the same.
18. Richard Rodríguez, Pirates
Richard Rodríguez has been one of the game's most consistent pitchers in at least one respect. He's been a full-time big-leaguer since 2018, and in that time he hasn't thrown fewer than 70 percent fastballs in a season. Oddly, Rodríguez has walked back his slider usage from last year's mark (27.6 percent) despite it fueling a career-best strikeout rate (36.6 percent). He's still an effective reliever because of his strike-throwing savvy and his fastball's phantom ball qualities, but you wonder if his next employer will ask him to break out the slider more frequently again. Either way, Rodríguez will be under team control through the 2023 season.
19. Ian Kennedy, Rangers
Did you know that Ian Kennedy has accumulated the fifth-most Wins Above Replacement among 2006 first-round picks? That's behind only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Evan Longoria, and Tim Lincecum. (For the political buffs out there, it's also far, far more than what Brad Lincoln mustered.) Kennedy doesn't fit in with that group of superstars, but he deserves flowers for having reinvented himself once again, this time into a fastball-slinging closer. He's one of six pitchers to use his heat more than 80 percent of the time. Kennedy gets away with it because of his command, his deep release point (relative to his height), and his flat approach angle.
20. Jonathan Schoop, Tigers
Through some fault of his own, Jonathan Schoop has become a fixture in pieces like this one. He's essentially the embodiment of a second-division regular, in that he provides enough average, power, and defense on the right side of the infield to start for non-contenders. Alas, his swing-happy approach leads to scant walk rates and low on-base percentages (career: .299), making it tough for contenders to justify relying upon him as Plan A. Schoop wasn't traded for last deadline, suggesting contenders might not even view him as a suitable Plan B anymore.
21. Joely Rodríguez, Rangers
Joely Rodríguez won't inspire the same fanfare that others on this list do, but he could be a nifty acquisition for a team seeking left-handed help. Despite an unsightly ERA this season, he excels at two things that bode well for his future: missing bats and coercing grounders. Rodríguez throws his sinker and changeup more than 80 percent of the time, and batters can't seem to lift either, resulting in a 69.7 percent groundball rate. He's been more effective against lefties this year, and that shouldn't come as a surprise; he has one of the majors' most extreme release points thanks to a crossfire delivery and a low-three-quarters arm slot. Rodríguez's contract includes a $3 million club option for next season, making him more than a short-term rental.