The July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and already we've seen a few significant trades. Last week the Yankees made with the White Sox to bolster their bullpen, and earlier this week the red-hot Royals added three arms to their pitching staff in with the Padres. There are plenty more moves to come over the next few days.
So, with the 2017 trade deadline right around the corner, it's time for some predictions. I wouldn't classify these as bold predictions, but they are predictions, and chances are they're going to be wrong. That's usually how it works, right? Right. Here are seven predictions for the upcoming trade deadline.
Dodgers finally make a big move and nab Darvish
The Dodgers over the last few years have been hesitant to go all-in and make that big move at the trade deadline to improve their chances of winning the World Series. The closest they've come to making a deal like that is last year's Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade. Los Angeles has passed on the opportunity to acquire big names like David Price and Cole Hamels at the deadline in the not-too-distant past.
I expect that to change this season. The Dodgers come into Tuesday with baseball's best record at 69-31, and they look every bit as good as that record. It would be very easy to sit back and say this team is good enough as is, though that's the wrong way to look at it. The Cubs were far and away the best team in baseball last season, yet they still went out and added Aroldis Chapman. Remember what Cubs president Theo Epstein said about that trade? "If not now, when?" Now is the time for the Dodgers.
The Rangers, meanwhile, are 48-51 and barely hanging around the AL wild-card race. They're 3 1/2 games back of the second wild-card spot with six teams ahead of them, and they've yet to demonstrate they can go on the kind of extended run it will take to climb into a wild-card spot. The four-game sweep at the hands of the Orioles last week was very telling. That doesn't happen to contending teams.
Depending on who you ask, Texas has either made it clear to teams they're willing to trade staff ace Yu Darvish, or they've told teams they plan to keep him. My guess they're probably done both. They've likely indicated they're willing to talk about Darvish while saying they'll have to be blown away to move him. Darvish is an impending free agent and he would fetch a big return. The Rangers want to re-sign him long-term, no doubt, but the risk of losing him for nothing after the season is too great to pass up a trade.
The Dodgers, who should be in "If not now, when?" mode, make the most sense for Darvish, and I thought that was true even before Clayton Kershaw suffered a back injury over the weekend that will . Darvish gives the club another dominant pitcher and knocks Alex Wood and Hill back a notch on the depth chart. Simply put, Darvish would make a great team even greater. Los Angeles has prospects to trade and I think they'll finally trade them for a difference-maker.
Astros beef up rotation with Gray
It's not a question of if the Athletics will trade Sonny Gray, but of when and where. There's too much downside to keeping him based on his injury issues the last few years. Plenty of teams are in on Gray because he's both very good and under team control for another two seasons beyond 2017. He's not as good as Darvish, no, but he's also not a rental.
The Astros are in a very similar situation as the Dodgers. They have the best record in their league at 66-33 and they could justify sitting back and doing nothing. They're good enough to get to the postseason and contend for the World Series as is. That said, success in this game can be fleeting, and I think general manager Jeff Luhnow recognizes that. I expect him to put his best foot forward, get his club an impact pitcher in Gray, and make them even more dangerous.
Verlander stays put
It's inevitable the Tigers will trade Alex Avila and Justin Wilson at the deadline. Trading Justin Verlander is another matter. He was the AL Cy Young runner-up just last season -- he actually received more first-place votes than Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, remember -- though he's having a bit of a down year this year, throwing 124 innings with a 4.50 ERA (96 ERA+). There's also roughly $70 million left on his contract.
The money is the big obstacle here. I don't think another team will agree to take on that entire contract and give up top prospects, and I don't think the Tigers will agree to eat enough money to demand top prospects. They're kind of caught in the middle. The Tigers don't want to pay Verlander to pitch elsewhere and other teams are not going to want to assume a huge contract for a pitcher who very well might be in decline in his mid-30s.
Also, keep in mind Verlander is a franchise icon. The Tigers are going to retire his number one day and he has legitimate marquee value. Verlander's value to the franchise transcends his on-field performance. He helps sell tickets and merchandise. Dumping him as part of a bad contract for bad contract swap makes no sense, because whoever comes back in such a trade won't have that marquee value. I see too many obstacles here for a deal to get done at the deadline. Maybe in the offseason.
The Yankees stay busy, but keep top prospects
The Yankees have already made one big trade, getting David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox to bolster the bullpen, as well as Todd Frazier to add another bat. I don't think they're done, either. New York is currently sitting in the top AL wild-card spot and I don't think you make a trade like that trade with the White Sox only to close up shop and call it a deadline. Not when you just lost Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery and have a rotation opening.
Now, that said, the Yankees are very protective of their top prospects, and I don't see them trading any of them at the deadline. That takes them out of the running for Gray and Darvish. The Yankees still have enough prospect depth to add a rental fifth starter, however, plus pick up a new first baseman. Right now, the Yankees are the only contender that needs a first baseman or designated hitter. They're in position to let the market for Lucas Duda or Yonder Alonso come to them,
As for pitching help, the Yankees would love a young controllable starter, though that's not going to happen without trading top prospects. That makes a rental more likely. With Jaime Garcia and Trevor Cahill being dealt yesterday, the top remaining rentals are Cardinals righty Lance Lynn and Padres righty Jhoulys Chacin. Don't be surprised if the Yankees do something creative like add another reliever, then move Adam Warren or Chad Green back into the rotation. Point is, the Yankees are not done.
Padres overplay their Hand
Forgive the pun. I couldn't resist.
Anyway, the Padres have a very desirable trade asset in lefty reliever Brad Hand, who has thrown 51 innings with a 2.12 ERA and 66 strikeouts this season. He also won't qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season, so Hand is not a rental.
Not surprisingly, San Diego has set the asking price quite high for Hand. They were reportedly seeking a return on par with last year's Andrew Miller trade, for example. There's always a little wiggle room there, though I think they've set the price so high that many contenders are looking elsewhere for bullpen help. The Yankees brought in Robertson and Kahnle. The Nationals went for Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson. The Royals turned to Ryan Buchter and Brandon Maurer (from the Padres!). The Mariners brought in David Phelps.
Contenders looking for bullpen help still have plenty of options as well. Phillies setup man Pat Neshek will be moved before the trade deadline. The Orioles have reportedly made Zach Britton and Brad Brach available. The Tigers are going to trade Wilson and the Marlins are going to trade A.J. Ramos. Hand is excellent. There are also so many other quality relievers out there that aren't attached to such a high asking price.
I think the Padres have already pushed too many teams away with their demands and are going to end up keeping Hand at the deadline. They'll hope he stays healthy so they can try to trade him again in the offseason.
Brewers stay the course, avoid splashy move
The Brewers went into the All-Star break with a 5½-game lead in the NL Central. That lead is already gone. They're only a half-game up on the Cubs. That's what happens when you go 3-7 in your last 10 games while the second place team goes 8-2.
Truth be told, the Brewers are ahead of schedule this year. They're in the middle of a rebuild and to see them contending for a division title in late July is a bit of a surprise. This recent 3-7 skid -- that makes things sound a little better than they actually are because the Brewers are 1-7 in their last eight games -- drives home the point that they're probably not good enough to outlast the Cubs the rest of the way, especially with Chicago kicking it into juggernaut mode since the All-Star break.
I think the Brewers front office recognizes this and will act accordingly. They won't trade their top prospects for a quick fix despite reported interest in Gray and Verlander. That doesn't mean Milwaukee will do nothing. I suppose they could still make a play for Gray with an eye on next year, though they won't do it with the same urgency as they would have, say, three weeks ago. The Brewers are a fun and exciting team, and I don't think general manager David Stearns will risk their fun and exciting future.