About half of the teams in baseball are good or competitive. The other half are lousy or tanking. So there’s a lot of inventory to choose from for contending teams hoping to improve their rosters. Consequently, the teams with players on the market may not be able to get as much in return this season.
This likely doesn’t apply to the Orioles, who can get what they need for Manny Machado, even though he is a perceived rental. But the others?
Here’s a look at the top teams that might be looking to upgrade:
■ Red Sox — The reminders are aplenty from Dave Dombrowski teams of the past. He loves the big splash and when he has a team he feels can win it all — and I believe he feels that way about the 2018 Red Sox — don’t look for him to sit still. Yes, he’s handicapped by a lack of depth in the farm system. But he may be able to turn some lower-level pieces in Greenville and Salem and perhaps Blake Swihart and/or Brian Johnson into something of value. We know the Red Sox like Orioles closer Zach Britton, who will have about eight teams interested in him as he is now beginning to look like the Britton of old. Don’t be surprised if there’s also shopping going on for a righthanded starting pitcher (Dan Straily?) and a second baseman (Brian Dozier?)
■ Yankees — As of Thursday, the Yankees still had the best offer on the table for Machado, according to an Orioles source, even though he wasn’t their main need. The Yankees seem to believe they can pull off both Machado and a starting pitcher if things break correctly. They have a few pieces. Baltimore wants Justus Sheffield, but they could settle for Miguel Andujar and a secondary pitching prospect. The Yankees could save Sheffield for a deal with the Mets on Jacob deGrom. Those seem to be the two most prominent names mentioned with the Yankees, but if not deGrom, there’s Michael Fullmer, J.A. Happ, and Cole Hamels.
■ Astros — They need to do something to separate themselves from the Red Sox and Yankees, which has been harder to do this season. They’re after Britton. They have an eye on San Diego lefthander Brad Hand, though he might be harder to get. If they can, they’ll add a righthanded power bat such as White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu or Tampa Bay catcher Wilson Ramos (with Brian McCann on the DL).
■ Indians — You never know where they are with expanding their payroll, but it appears they’d be willing to do so. They have been linked to Machado, Britton, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and other relievers because their bullpen is 30th in the majors with a 5.37 ERA. If not Machado then Mike Moustakas? Adrian Beltre? They may also be looking for an outfield bat and Baltimore’s Adam Jones makes a lot of sense.
■ Mariners — They would love another starting pitcher (Happ or Hamels seem to fit) and reliever. Their need for a bat may not be as prominent with Robinson Cano coming back after his 80-game suspension in August, but Jones seems appealing to them. The Mariners are also trying to stave off the Oakland A’s for the final wild-card spot.
■ Athletics — They have played well enough to be buyers and fight for the second wild-card spot. Much will depend on how they come out of the gate after the All-Star break. If they’re buyers they could use upgrades to their offense and starting pitching. If they sell, then Jed Lowrie would be an attractive piece, as would catcher Jonathan Lucroy and closer Blake Treinen.
■ Dodgers — They have had so many injuries to contend with, including losing shortstop Corey Seager for the season. They are very much in the Machado hunt and have the pieces to make it happen. They also have a bullpen need and the Reds are heavily scouting the Dodgers’ system, likely ahead of a possible Raisel Iglesias deal. They’re also in on Britton, Hand or Miami closer Kyle Barraclough.
■ Braves — You hear two different things about them: They’re not necessarily going to go all out for the top trade targets because they don’t want to disrupt their team and young arsenal of players just yet, or they’re waiting to see how things break and could thrust themselves into a number of deals, including a third baseman (Beltre, Josh Donaldson, who is on DL, or Moustakas) or a starting pitcher (perhaps Happ, who Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos once traded for in Toronto). But will Anthopoulos give up prospects such as lefty starter Kolby Allard, righty starter Kyle Wright, or third baseman Austin Riley?
■ Phillies — They also are uncertain whether to jump in and deal their arsenal of prospects now or wait until the offseason. There’s a clear opportunity to pick off Machado or Act II of Hamels in Philly. One of the two could happen, but we doubt both will. And do they need power? Rhys Hoskins has 14 homers and a .465 slugging percentage. You wonder if Jose Bautista could help the Phillies.
■ Brewers — They have an aggressive owner in Mark Attanasio and he wants the Brewers to possibly do something that changes the game in the NL Central — where the Cubs are also liable to shock the world. The Brewers are deep into the Machado hunt and would love to land the superstar and also try to sign him long term. The Brewers know they’ll have to overpay to get Machado. Would they pay a bigger price than anyone else? They also need another starting pitcher. Straily could fit here.
■ Cubs — Theo Epstein normally doesn’t sit out the trade deadline and we doubt he will this time. He’s been quiet on the Machado front, which leads me to believe that he’s ready to pounce. Like Dombrowski, Epstein doesn’t have a lot left in the farm system after his deals of the past two years. The Cubs, however, have been scouting Happ.
■ Diamondbacks — Mike Hazen did it last year, obtaining rental J.D. Martinez, and his thoughts seem to be geared toward doing the same with Machado. Baseball executives feel Hazen has enough to pull off a Machado deal, but his farm system is also thin.
■ Cardinals — They could do some reshuffling in their infield to make room for a productive hitter such as Donaldson, Moustakas, Beltre or Todd Frazier. They could add to the pitching staff either in the bullpen or in the rotation. The Cardinals have a very good farm system with the chips to pull off whatever they need to.
■ Nationals — Mike Rizzo has already pulled off the Kelvin Herrera deal with the Royals and it’s likely he’ll do more with the catching position (perhaps even reacquire Ramos). Rizzo isn’t about to throw in the towel despite an underachieving team. As Alex Cora said, “They’ll be around at the end.” And we suspect they will.
Apropos of nothing
1. Could Kevin Cash be Manager of the Year in the AL? He’s got that team four games over .500 entering the weekend. With virtually no starting rotation, that’s impressive. The Rays are set up to be a spoiler team down the stretch.
2. These Braves remind me of the 1991 Braves, who weren’t supposed to be in this position butnearly won a World Series (Atlanta lost to the Twins, 4-3). That team had older positional players and young pitchers. If I’m Alex Anthopoulos, I go for it. Don’t think just because you have great young talent that this opportunity is going to be around the following year and beyond. He’s got redundancy with some of his prospects. Go get that veteran third baseman, veteran starter, and make your run.
3. Turns out Gabe Kapler isn’t the far-out guy everyone thought he was when he got off to a bizarre start with the Phillies. Turns out he’s a pretty good manager.
4. This Pawtucket stadium situation turned out to be tougher than expected.
5. Book plugs: Bill Nowlin has done great work lately with his Tom Yawkey book and now he’s got a book out titled “Ted Williams: First Latino In the Baseball Hall of Fame.” It’s about Williams’s Mexican heritage. Fascinating read.
6. Bob Melvin could be the best manager in baseball. He exhibits a nice blend of instincts and analytics. He’s had to adapt to so many situations in Oakland — from rebuilding to building — and he’s survived and thrived in every situation.
7. Please, Rob Manfred, do something with shifts. They are killing baseball.
8. I’ve been accused of making too much of the Red Sox’ record against teams above .500. But the Indians should be concerned. They entered the weekend 15-23 (.395) vs. teams that are currently above .500.
9. Katie Kirschner Haas, who has been the Red Sox’ vice president of Florida operations, is leaving her post to become COO of The Western and Southern Open. Big loss for the Red Sox. Congratulations, Katie.
Updates on nine
1. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Giants — The Giants would deal Samardzija, whose performances have been uneven the past couple of years, mainly due to injuries. But he’s healthy now and you’re likely to see scouting on him by teams, such as the Yankees, that may be seeking a middle-rotation starter. Samardzija is 1-5 with a 6.42 ERA, but he pitched decently in his return start, going five innings and allowing three runs in a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals on July 7. Salary-wise, he’s at $19.8 million in 2019 and 2020, which means the Giants would have to swallow some greenbacks.
2. Brad Ziegler, RHP, Marlins — Ziegler has started to pitch better and his market is starting to heat up. The Marlins are getting calls and may be willing to eat some of the remaining portion of his $9 million salary to make it happen. Ziegler offers the submarine view, which proved effective for the Red Sox in 2016. Ziegler had 11 consecutive scoreless outings heading into the weekend.
3. Adam Conley, LHP, Marlins — Conley’s 96-mile-per-hour heat is starting to attract suitors. The one question a contender would ask is whether he can do it when the heat is on. He’s a strikeout guy because of his electric stuff, but he’s pitched in noncompetitive situations in terms of being in a pennant race.
4. Clint Frazier, OF, Yankees — Teams looking to make a big deal with the Yankees may take on Frazier, but not as a primary piece, according to an NL executive. Frazier, however, “could be a good second or third piece depending upon who the trade is built around.” Frazier has a love/hate relationship with the trading world. Evaluators like his competitiveness and ability but feel he’s a bit pigheaded about instruction and they’re not sure how good he’s going to be as a full-time major leaguer.
5. Manny Machado, SS, Orioles — The subject of whether Machado would move to third in any deal he’s involved with is a “discussion point,” according to Orioles GM Dan Duquette. “But that’s up to an individual team.” It’s an interesting point. Machado is a Gold Glove third baseman and a good shortstop. His long-term future is obviously at third base, but Machado may not see it that way just yet.
6. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Tampa Bay — Eovaldi has drawn interest from scouts who have watched his recent outings. He was always a guy who lit up the radar gun and impressed scouts. But he’s had an injury history that has prevented him from reaching the next level. Is he good enough to be a back-end starter? Sure. And that’s why his former team, the Yankees, as well as the Brewers and Braves among others, have been watching closely.
7. Whit Merrifield, 2B, Royals — Jackie Bradley Jr.’s teammate at the University of South Carolina is an impressive player who the Red Sox really like and who the Brewers are pursuing. But the Royals would be hesitant to move him given he’s not even arbitration eligible until 2020. The Red Sox are certainly torn about their second base situation. Dustin Pedroia is likely not coming back this year. Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are holding down the position and the Red Sox need to use what resources they have toward a bullpen piece. Merrifield is desirable because of his salary ($569,000), but there are second basemen aplenty out there, including Brian Dozier, Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Brandon Phillips, who is working his way back in the Red Sox minor league system.
8. Hanley Ramirez, 1B/DH, free agent — Sources close to Ramirez indicate that the former Red Sox would consider signing with a new team. Ramirez had kept himself out of the game after there seemed to be initial interest in him when he was first released by Boston. Ramirez decided to take some time off and then had to fend off a phony allegation that he was part of drug investigation.
9. Jose Bautista, OF/3B, Mets — Bautista has almost an .800 OPS and despite a .219 average is back to being a power threat. “He’s done a great job for us,” said J.P. Ricciardi, who is running the Mets with John Ricco and Omar Minaya in Sandy Alderson’s absence (cancer). “He made a terrific play at third base the other night and he’s played a good outfield.” Ricciardi said he was surprised there wasn’t more action on Bautista and also said most of the interest has centered around Mets pitching — Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The Padres have not been over .500 this season. In fact, the last time the Padres were over .500 was June 8, 2015.” . . . Also, “With all the talk about MLB’s overall decline in attendance, you must note that five losing teams are responsible for a two million fan drop in attendance. Miami and Toronto account for one million lost fans, and Baltimore, KC, and Pittsburgh combine for another lost million fans.” . . . Happy birthday (Saturday), Mark Brandenburg (48), John Dopson (55), Chuck Rainey (64).