The trade deadline hits Friday at 4 p.m. and it’s a real deadline. As of 2019, waiver trades no longer exist. Players can be claimed off waivers, but that’s it.
So for contending teams, this is their best shot to improve.
In 2019, there were 25 deals made in the 48 hours leading up to the deadline. The deadline was pushed back to Aug. 17, and 17 trades were made on the final day.
With 17 teams within six games of a playoff spot, the expectation for many executives is that Thursday and Friday will be busy days.
“For now there are a lot of names being thrown around nobody is too interested in,” one American League executive said. “It’ll take the deadline to force the action, as it usually does.”
A look at the people and developments that will drive the coming days:
▪ The rental market: Teams have been reticent in recent years to give up much for veteran players who can become free agents in two months. That could change with the Rays trading two legitimate pitching prospects for Nelson Cruz.
Cruz, 41, is an outstanding hitter who brings leadership to any clubhouse in addition to 46 games of playoff experience. Maybe he’s the outlier.
But the Cubs have to feel better about what they can get for Javier Baez and/or Kris Bryant, and the Rockies for Trevor Story.
The Rays were aggressive, dipping into their reservoir of prospects for Cruz and taking on $5.1 million in salary. That’s a big hit for the budget-conscious Rays. They mitigated that somewhat by trading Rich Hill to the Mets a day later, saving roughly $800,000.
▪ Creative GMs: Cruz hasn’t played in the field since 2018, and that was for four games. But National League teams were asking about him.
Along with Baez and Story, shortstops Andrelton Simmons (Twins), Freddy Galvis (Orioles), and Nick Ahmed (Diamondbacks) are available.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team in need of a third baseman or second baseman acquire a shortstop and use him at a different position. It worked for Toronto with Marcus Semien.
Or a team could trade for a shortstop and move its shortstop to another position. With how often teams shift, middle infielders in particular are comfortable moving around.
▪ The Twins: Cruz is probably only the first to go. They also have Simmons, and pitching options with Michael Pineda, Tyler Duffey, Alex Colome, and Taylor Rogers.
Josh Donaldson, who has $59 million left on his deal as of Aug. 1, will be tough to move. They are willing to discuss Max Kepler, but the price is high.
▪ The National League East: Outside of the Marlins, every team is in the mix. The Mets still need pitching, even after acquiring Hill. The Phillies, as usual, need relievers. The Braves already have supplemented their fractured outfield with Joc Pederson.
The Nationals are in fourth place. It’s not in Mike Rizzo’s DNA to concede, but he conceded there may not be much choice if his team doesn’t make a run soon.
“We’ll attack the trade deadline as we always do. We’ll be aggressive in whatever we do,” Rizzo told reporters. “This year it’ll be a little bit different because of where we’re at in the standings. I think we’ll kind of go by a dual path, try and maximize our place in the standings, wherever that is, whenever we make that decision.
“We’ll have our lines in the water on the buy side. We’ll also prepare some type of sell scenario if we have to.”
If that happens, the Nationals have a lot to offer. Max Scherzer, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Josh Harrison, Josh Bell, Jon Lester, and Kyle Schwarber are all pending free agents, although Schwarber has a mutual option.
The Phillies have always avoided exceeding the luxury-tax threshold. But Dave Dombrowski has a way of convincing ownership to spend. He’s not one to sit on the sidelines.
▪ The Dodgers: As days pass, it becomes increasingly unlikely Trevor Bauer pitches again this season. He’s on administrative leave as MLB investigates charges of sexual assault.
They’re built to win now and need pitching. If the Nationals become sellers, Scherzer is a natural fit.
▪ The Yankees: They’re on the periphery of the American League East race and, like the Nationals, are at the point where a decision about whether to buy or sell could come the day of the deadline.
But what do they have to offer unless a team is willing to take on a lot of salary? It’s far more likely the Yankees wait, get healthier, and try to make a run in August. At the moment, 26 of their final 59 games would be against teams with losing records.
▪ The sellers: There are roughly 10 teams with no hope and they’re fielding calls from all the others. The Marlins can build a big market for Starling Marte and the same is true for other sellers with prominent players.
“As you can imagine, there’s a lot of interest in our players. We are trying to figure out exactly what we’re going to do and when,” Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen said.
▪ The closer: Craig Kimbrel is on his fourth team in eight years. “I’m good at packing,” he said at the All-Star Game. “I’m prepared for whatever happens.”
After struggling from 2019-20, Kimbrel has been dominant this season, sharply cutting his walk rate and giving up one home run though his first 131 batters.
Kimbrel has roughly $7 million remaining on his deal. The Cubs might pick up some of that to get better prospects in return.
One intriguing potential landing spot is Boston. The Red Sox don’t need a closer necessarily. But Kimbrel is probably the one pitcher Matt Barnes would step aside for. Barnes also has the security of a new contract extension.
Having Kimbrel, Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Josh Taylor, and Garrett Whitlock in the bullpen would be intimidating come the postseason.
The future is now for Bloom
Chaim Bloom joined the Red Sox with a long-term plan and the team unquestionably has a much better foundation as a result. Now he has a chance to impact the present and show those in the clubhouse he wants to win as much as they do.
I asked manager Alex Cora what he felt the Sox needed.
“It changes on a daily basis,” he said. “One thing for sure, having Jarren [Duran] and Tanner [Houck] here already, and Chris [Sale] whenever he comes here, we’re going to be in good shape.
“Every team has question marks. Every team needs to add something to get better. Look around at the standings and there’s a lot of teams in contention. I don’t know how the market is going to move.
“We’re talking. The front office is doing their homework. There have been questions about players and names thrown around.”
It would be a surprise if the Sox gave up the prospects needed to bring in a notable player such as Kris Bryant. But they have the depth to land a reliever to fill the multi-inning role Matt Andriese wasn’t able to hold down. With Bobby Dalbec struggling, a first baseman such as C.J. Cron would make sense. Or they could pursue a utility player with Christian Arroyo and Marwin Gonzalez on the injured list.
Does Cora subscribe to the idea that a contending team has earned the right to be supplemented and deserves an upgrade?
“I’ve been on both ends,” he said. “You’re still going to play good baseball if you’re a good team, right? It’s just a matter of how you finish your season. I don’t think you need a savior, to be honest with you. But sometimes there’s a few [places] where you have to get better. It doesn’t have to be a Gary Sheffield kind of guy. An Ian Kinsler and Steve Pearce, they do the trick.
“Different teams have different needs. The fan base, they’re the ones that get excited. You have to play the game and you know the pieces you need. It doesn’t have the effect on the clubhouse that people think.”
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Garrett Whitlock has 11 scoreless appearances of at least two innings this season, the most in the majors. The 25-year-old righthander has a 1.34 ERA after missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Sox won’t acknowledge having an innings limit on Whitlock this season, but they’re clearly being careful with him. He has not pitched on consecutive days and has made 17 of his 28 appearances on at least three days of rest.
Once the Sox get through this season, Whitlock can return to starting.
▪ Sale has been working on more than his elbow. He told reporters in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday that he changed his diet
“I made a lot of changes with junk food and processed stuff and gluten. The list kind of goes on and on,” Sale said. “Looking back, I really didn’t take good care of myself in that aspect of my life. How I was fueling my body, the stuff that I was eating.
“You can ask my teammates. I’d show up on game day with a bag of McDonald’s and Taco Bell and that was my pregame meal to go pitch. That, mixed with a little better sleeping patterns and more hydration, I think it’s helped me out a lot.”
Considering the Sox owe Sale $85 million from 2022-24, that’s good news for the club.
Nate Eovaldi recently made a similar point, saying the quality of the food served to the players at Fenway Park had improved significantly.
“I feel like it’s made a difference for a lot of guys, myself included,” Eovaldi said. “A lot of us are eating better.”
▪ Duran scored from first base in just under 10 seconds on Kiké Hernández’s double Thursday. His speed is going to make a difference down the stretch.
▪ Navy graduate Cameron Kinley was allowed to pursue his football career by getting permission to attend training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But that doesn’t change the status of Sox prospect Noah Song.
Because Song is already a commissioned officer, he wasn’t eligible for that exemption. The Sox also checked into whether Song could pitch for Team USA in the Olympics, but there was no route there.
For now, he remains a Navy officer.
Connaughton made the right choice
NBA champion Pat Connaughton of Arlington and St. John’s Prep was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA over six games and 14⅔ innings for Single A Aberdeen in the Orioles system in 2014 after being taken in the fourth round of the draft and signing for $428,100. That team included nine prospects who went on to play in the majors, including future All-Stars Kevin Gausman and John Means.
Connaughton, who played baseball and basketball at Notre Dame, was a second-round pick of the Brooklyn Nets in 2015 then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.
He agreed to a three-year contract with Portland that prohibited him playing baseball for two seasons.
Connaughton, now 28, remains Orioles property. He was placed on the restricted list after the 2014 season and remains there, according to Orioles director of minor league operations Kent Qualls.
Jon Lester pitched seven shutout innings and belted a two-run homer for the Nationals on Monday in an 18-1 rout of the Marlins. The victory put Lester four away from 200 for his career. He’d be the 119th pitcher in history to hit that mark. Lester also is 54 strikeouts shy of 2,500. Only 32 pitchers have at least 200 wins and 2,500 strikeouts . . . Wander Franco hit .210 with an .634 OPS in his first 21 games since being called up from Triple A. The Rays have stayed with the heralded 20-year-old hitting second or third. One scout said Franco isn’t getting rewarded for the contact he’s making and isn’t overmatched . . . Terry Francona went into the weekend with 721 victories with the Indians, tied with Mike Hargrove for second in team history and eight away from passing Lou Boudreau for the franchise record. As for the soon-to-be Cleveland Guardians, that’s not a bad name. But the Cleveland Spiders would have been better . . . The Dodgers are 1-9 in extra innings, which helps explain why they’re still in second place . . . As the Red Sox, Cubs, and five other teams remain below the 85 percent vaccination rate, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers has been using his status to promote vaccines in Michigan, in particular to Latino fans. That’s something more star players should be doing . . . Infielder Eddy Alvarez and basketball star Sue Bird served as the flag bearers for the United States at the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics on Friday. Alvarez, who was a silver medalist in team speed skating in 2014, was the first baseball player to carry the US flag in the Opening Ceremony . . . The Blue Jays are 22-22 at “home” this season, going 10-11 at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla., and 12-11 at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. The Jays have 37 games at Rogers Centre starting Friday. Toronto averaged 7,738 fans in Buffalo. That’s better home attendance than Miami, Oakland, and Tampa Bay . . . The Nationals offered fans who attended the July 17 game that was suspended because of gunfire outside the ballpark a free ticket for any game the rest of the season (subject to availability) . . . Add Mariano Ricciardi to the unusually long list of New England players who were drafted this year. The Dayton second baseman was taken by the Athletics in the 18th round and signed this past week. Ricciardi is a West Boylston native who played at Worcester Academy. He hit .349 with an .866 OPS in two seasons for the Flyers. His brother, Dante, is a Red Sox amateur scout in Florida. Their father, J.P., is a senior adviser to Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi . . . Happy 50th birthday to Billy Wagner, who appeared in 15 games for the Red Sox at the end of the 2009 season after being acquired from the Mets on Aug. 25. He allowed three earned runs over 13⅔ innings and struck out 22. Wagner helped the Sox make the playoffs, but they were swept by the Angels in three games in the Division Series. Wagner received 46.4 percent of the Hall of Fame votes this year and has four more years to get to 75 percent. He could join Orlando Cepeda, Rickey Henderson, Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, and John Smoltz as Hall of Famers who spent one season (or less) with the Sox in the last 50 years.