The trade deadline is Aug. 2. As the weekend approached, there were 19 teams in playoff position or within five games of a spot and 11 others in various stages of hope or despair.
Major League Baseball believes a 12-team playoff field will add excitement to the summer. But how many teams actually have faith they can get past the Dodgers or Yankees and will expend the prospect capital making trades to prove it?
Steve Cohen’s Mets are one. The Padres and Braves also are win-now teams. So are the Cardinals.
Counting the postseason, the Astros are 13-11 against the Yankees since 2019. They’re not afraid. The Blue Jays haven’t won a playoff game since 2016. They’re hungry.
The Red Sox should be active to take advantage of what has been better than expected starting pitching.
The Angels, Mariners, Rangers, and White Sox are all within striking distance despite losing records. How aggressive can the Phillies be with Bryce Harper out at least two months?
Here’s a look at the players available now or expected to be soon. This does not include players on the injured list or players under team control who aren’t necessarily being shopped at the moment.
Starting pitchers: RHP Luis Castillo (Reds), RHP Frankie Montas (Athletics), LHP Martín Pérez (Rangers), RHP Tyler Mahle (Reds), LHP José Quintana (Pirates).
The Marlins could trade from their rotation to improve the lineup. The Diamondbacks also have starters who could be made available. But these are the most realistic candidates. If Michael Pineda (Tigers) and Drew Smyly (Cubs) come off the injured list and pitch well, they’ll likely be in the mix.
Pérez, at 31, is pitching better than at any point in his career. The Rangers may want to sell high before the inevitable regression.
Closers: RHP Daniel Bard (Rockies), RHP Mark Melancon (Diamondbacks), RHP David Robertson (Cubs).
These are familiar names. Melancon has played for nine teams in his career and been traded five times. He’s not having a good season, but was an All-Star a year ago.
Bard, 37, conquered the yips and has pitched well for the Rockies the last three seasons and has become a team leader. He’s found a comfort zone. Returning to Boston and succeeding would be quite a story.
Robertson is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and throwing his cutter for strikes. He’s never had a postseason save, oddly enough.
Relief pitchers: RHP Anthony Bass (Marlins), LHP Andrew Chafin (Tigers), RHP Alex Colomé (Rockies), RHP Steve Cishek (Nationals), RHP Carl Edwards Jr. (Nationals), RHP Michael Fulmer (Tigers), RHP Mychal Givens (Cubs), RHP Ian Kennedy (Diamondbacks), RHP Jorge López (Orioles), RHP Chris Martin (Cubs), LHP Matt Moore (Rangers), RHP Lou Trivino (Athletics).
This is a big group that almost certainly will get bigger. The real game-changers could be younger relievers under control beyond this season who will command a higher price.
Middle infielders: SS Elvis Andrus (Athletics), 2B César Hernández (Nationals), SS-2B Jose Iglesias (Rockies), 2B Rougned Odor (Orioles), 2B Whit Merrifield (Royals).
Iglesias gave the Red Sox a lift in September last season. He had a .345 OBP through 61 games with the Rockies but his defense isn’t what it once was.
Corner infielders: 3B Miguel Andújar (Yankees), 1B Josh Bell (Nationals), 1B C.J. Cron (Rockies), 1B Dom Smith (Mets).
Andújar has asked for a trade and Smith has said he wants to play full time. But they won’t be given away. Cron should have been traded last season and maybe the Rockies will finally make a deal this time.
Catchers: Tucker Barnhart (Tigers), Willson Contreras (Cubs).
Barnhart has two Gold Gloves and Contreras is a two-time All-Star. Both could help their new teams for a few years.
Outfielders: Andrew Benintendi (Royals), Charlie Blackmon (Rockies), Kole Calhoun (Rangers), Randal Grichuk (Rockies), Robbie Grossman (Tigers), Ramón Laureano (Athletics), David Peralta (Diamondbacks), Tommy Pham (Reds), Victor Robles (Nationals).
Benintendi could be on the move again with the Royals one of baseball’s most disappointing teams. He’ll be a free agent after the season. Some good gloves in this group.
DH: Nelson Cruz (Nationals), Daniel Vogelbach (Pirates).
At 41, Cruz is seeking a World Series ring. He still could be a helpful player, especially with the universal DH.
Utility players: 1B-OF-DH Seth Brown (Athletics), 3B-OF Charlie Culberson (Rangers), INF-OF Ian Happ (Cubs), 2B-OF Tony Kemp (Athletics), 1B-DH-OF Trey Mancini (Orioles), INF-OF Nick Senzel (Reds), 3B-OF Patrick Wisdom (Cubs).
Mancini would be a nice pickup for a contender. He’s versatile defensively, a good clubhouse presence, and hungry to win after playing for a series of bad teams.
A few questions with Terry Francona
It was good to see Terry Francona when the Red Sox played the Guardians last week. He missed the final 63 games of last season attending to health issues but has guided Cleveland back into contention in the Central.
He likes his young team.
“They’re learning on the run,” Francona said. “But they’re fun to be around. We’ve talked to them about base running and playing the game right and they’re trying their damnedest to do that.”
Francona, 63, is in his 22nd season managing in the majors. He’s 17th all time in victories, which doesn’t count 40 in the postseason.
Here’s the rest of our conversation:
How are you feeling now?
Francona: “I’m still a little beat up. But I am having fun. I would like to feel a little better, but they get me revved up and that helps a lot.”
How much longer do you want to manage?
Francona: “I’ve given it a lot of thought. More thought as I get older and more beat up. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t want to pull the plug too quick. But I’ve thought about it and I’ve even reached out to a few people, friends of mine, to get opinions.
“If it wasn’t for the [front office] here, I’d probably be done. But I love the people I work for here. I just don’t want to ever miss so much time again. That’s not fair to them.”
Is there a role for you in baseball outside of managing?
Francona: “I don’t know. That’s what I don’t know. I can’t imagine not being around baseball. But if you’re going to do something full time, I’d stay managing. But I just don’t know. Those are things I’ll think more about when the time comes.”
What did you think about David [Ortiz] getting into the Hall of Fame?
Francona: “I think it’s great. I’m so happy for him. He’ll never be Big Papi for me. He’s David. We come up to Boston in a few weeks and I hope he’s there so I can give him a hug.”
Red Sox need bullpen help
Outside of Tanner Houck, John Schreiber, and occasionally Ryan Brasier, the Red Sox do not have any trustworthy righthanded relievers and that’s a big problem.
Replacements are needed — and soon — for Tyler Danish, Hansel Robles, and Hirokazu Sawamura. That plan cannot include hoping Matt Barnes bounces back. Anything he can contribute has to be seen as a bonus.
If history is any guide, Chaim Bloom won’t seek only quick-fix veterans. He’ll look for pitchers with control beyond this season.
The Sox have the minor league depth to make such deals. Here are some of the pitchers they could target: Scott Barlow (Royals), Jaime Barria (Angels), David Bednar (Pirates), Dany Jiménez (Athletics), Andrés Muñoz (Mariners), Dennis Santana (Rangers), and Josh Staumont (Royals).
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ The Sox could be sellers, too, with Josh Taylor coming back from the injured list soon. The Sox have been pleased with the work of lefthanders Austin Davis, Jake Diekman, and Matt Strahm. Taylor would give them four in an eight-man bullpen.
That’s likely one too many. It would not be a surprise to see one of the lefties get traded.
▪ Strahm is an interesting character. He’s one of 20 big leaguers in history born in North Dakota, has hair down to his shoulders, is an avid collector of baseball cards, and remains committed to being a starter, even though he’s made only one start since 2019.
“Give me the ball. I want to go seven,” Strahm said. “I still feel like I could do that. I have five pitches and I’ll come up with six if you want me to.”
Strahm, 30, hosts a YouTube show where he opens packs of cards.
▪ Xander Bogaerts finished third in the All-Star voting behind Bo Bichette and Tim Anderson.
Bichette has a .720 OPS and doesn’t belong in the game. Anderson has 1.5 bWAR, half that of Bogaerts. But the Jays did well in firing up their fans and had six finalists. The Sox had one, Rafael Devers.
Bogaerts, Devers, and probably a few others will make the team. The bigger point is whether the Sox should be concerned about the lack of enthusiasm among their fans.
▪ So Jarren Duran caved in and will get vaccinated after three days of blowback from fans and media. Houck wouldn’t comment, but Alex Cora said he’s confident other players will, too.
So medical experts and team officials weren’t able to persuade them, but bad publicity did?
In their end, “doing more research” was looking at Twitter.
MLB vs. the NCAA?
It didn’t get a lot of attention outside of Minnesota, but pitching coach Wes Johnson leaving the Twins for the same position at LSU has been a big topic within the industry.
Johnson accepted a financial package worth a reported $750,000 to leave the first-place Twins mid-season. His last game was Thursday.
Major League coaches have taken college jobs in the past. But for a coach to leave during the season is unprecedented.
The Twins aren’t pleased with LSU going after Johnson without giving the team any notice. Johnson told the Twins on Saturday he was considering the job and accepted it a day later. He did not seek a raise from the $400,000 the Twins were paying him.
In the age of biometric and statistical analysis, pitching coaches have gained increasing clout within many organizations and in some cases have greater job security than the manager. They’re also asked to work longer hours, assist in evaluating amateur prospects, and work closely with people whose backgrounds are in medicine, computer science, or kinesiology.
Long gone are the days when the pitching coach was one of the manager’s buddies.
The Twins hired Johnson away from the University of Arkansas before the 2019 season. His contract prohibited him from making a lateral move to another major league team but contained no language about going to the college ranks.
That may be something MLB teams will want to include. SEC and ACC schools are paying exorbitant salaries for baseball coaches and offering a better lifestyle. When Clemson hired Erik Bakich away from Michigan to be its coach, his contract was for six years and $6.25 million.
It seems incredible a college pitching coach would merit $750,000. But LSU’s average ticket is $41 at its 10,326-seat ballpark.
Freddie Freeman joined Trevor Story as players who weren’t happy with their agency, Excel Sports Management, after landing nine-figure deals. Freeman made an emotional return to Atlanta with the Dodgers last weekend, crying more than Will Hunting in Sean Maguire’s office. Then came word that he had fired Excel. Freeman admitted only that the situation was “fluid” but it’s clear he wanted to stay with the Braves as opposed to the six-year, $162 million deal he received from the Dodgers. He carried on so much that Clayton Kershaw told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I hope we’re not second fiddle. It’s a pretty special team over here, too.” The Red Sox signed Story for six years and $140 million. He fired Excel a few weeks later. Story has declined to comment on his reasons … The Astros played nine consecutive games against the Yankees and Mets starting June 23. They went 7-2 and both losses were walkoffs. Justin Verlander pitched twice, allowing one run on six hits over 15 innings. The 39-year-old is 10-3 with a 2.03 ERA after Tommy John surgery limited him to one start in 2020-21 … Angels reliever Archie Bradley fractured his right elbow when he tumbled over the dugout railing rushing to join the brawl against the Mariners last Sunday. He could miss two months … Chad Kuhl’s three-hit shutout of the Dodgers on Monday came out of nowhere. The 29-year-old Colorado righthander had not pitched a complete game in his six seasons in the majors, never mind a shutout. The Dodgers also came into the game having averaged 5.13 runs, tops in the majors. The game took 2:19 and was only the 27th individual shutout in the 27 seasons Coors Field has been open … Jack Leiter, the second overall pick of the 2021 draft by the Rangers, is 2-6 with a 5.36 ERA in 13 games for Double A Frisco. The 22-year-old from Vanderbilt missed his last start to deal with command issues. He has walked 28 over 48⅔ innings, and 13 in the last 14 … Maria Amanda Flores of Northeastern was one of the recipients of the Michael Weiner Scholarship for Labor Studies, a program funded by the Players Association in honor of its former executive director, who died in 2013 of brain cancer. Flores is chair of the Northeastern Employment and Law Association … The Orioles were 14-12 in June. It was their first winning month since August 2017 … Casey Motter, the Braves public address announcer since 2007, died unexpectedly at age 53. Former Atlanta executive Frank Wren heard Motter announce a youth football game in 2006 and encouraged him to try out. His first three words before every game, “Hellooo baseball fans!” became a signature … Congratulations to Yarmouth-Dennis manager Scott Pickler, who set the Cape Cod Baseball League record for wins last weekend when he won his 540th game. Pickler has been the Y-D manager since 1997. The record had belonged to John Schiffner, who managed Chatham from 1993-2017 … For his upcoming book on comedian Sid Caesar, David Margolick is looking for any information or recollections about Caesar’s visit to Boston and Fenway Park on Opening Day 1954, which included a gala dinner for local sports luminaries thrown by the Sports Lodge of the Boston B’nai B’rith. Reach David at email@example.com … Happy birthday to Frank Tanana, who is 69. The lefthander was 240-236 with a 3.66 ERA over 21 seasons. That included going 4-10 for the 1981 Red Sox. Tanana came to the Sox as part of the reviled trade that sent Fred Lynn to the Angels. Danny Heep is 65. The outfielder and first baseman played for the Sox from 1989-90 and hit .278 in 154 games.